Death by Love
- Thursday, October 09, 2008
The most succinct summary of the gospel in Scripture provides insight into this theological meaning: "That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3b-4). In this packed section of Scripture, Paul appoints the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the most important event in all of history and the verification of the truthfulness of all Scripture. He then explains why this is good news with the simple word for, showing that Jesus died "for our sins." The word for (huper in Greek) can mean either "for the benefit of" or "because of." Think for a moment: Jesus did not die "for the benefit of" our sins. He did not help them at all! Rather, he died "because of" our sins. So it was our sins, but his death.
From the beginning of sacred Scripture (Gen. 2:17) to the end (Rev. 21:8), the penalty for sin is death. Therefore, if we sin, we should die. But it is Jesus, the sinless one, who dies in our place "for our sins." The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died to take to himself the penalty for our sin. In theological terms, this means that Jesus' death was substitutionary, or vicarious, and in our place solely for our benefit and without benefit for himself. Therefore, we find the cross of Jesus to be the crux of good news, because it was there that Jesus atoned for our sin according to the promises of Scripture.
Among the central events in the Old Testament was the act of atonement, including the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) according to the regulations of the book of Leviticus.
The Day of Atonement was the most important day of the year. It was intended to deal with the sin problem between humanity and God. Of the many prophetic elements on this special day, one stands out. On that day, two healthy goats without defect were chosen; they were therefore fit to represent sinless perfection, perhaps in spite of the protests of animal rights activists.
The first goat was a sin offering. The high priest slaughtered this innocent goat, which acted as a substitute for the sinners who rightly deserved a violently bloody death for their many sins. He then sprinkled some of its blood on the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place. The goat was no longer innocent when it took the guilt of sin; it was a sin offering for the people (Lev. 16:15). Subsequently, its blood represented life given as payment for sin. The dwelling place of God was thus cleansed of the defilement that resulted from all of the transgressions and sins of the people of Israel, and God's just and holy wrath was satisfied. Theologically, we call this the doctrine of propitiation, whereby God's wrath is propitiated, or taken from us, because of Jesus so that we are no longer under God's wrath.
Then the high priest, acting as the representative and mediator between the sinful people and their holy God, would take the second goat and lay his hands on the animal while confessing the sins of the people. This goat, called the scapegoat, would then be sent away to run free into the wilderness away from the sinners, symbolically taking their sins with it. Theologically, we call this the doctrine of expiation, whereby our sin is expiated, or taken away, so that we are made clean.
In summary, all of this foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ, our High Priest who mediates between unholy people and our holy God, the sinless substitute who died a bloody death in our place for our sins, and the scapegoat who takes our sins away to be remembered by God no more. Subsequently, only by rightly understanding the function of the two goats is the atonement fully appreciated. Although there were two goats, there was only one slaughter. The first goat was slaughtered for the propitiation of sin. The second goat was not slaughtered but rather sent away with sin, showing the cleansing expiation from sin. Both of these great themes, propitiation and expiation, will be further explored in separate chapters in this book.
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