Meditations in Romans : 39: Atonement
Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
Some of us don’t like talk about ‘the blood’ or ‘the Cross’ but, fortunately or unfortunately, they are at the heart of the Gospel. In fact there are words in our verses above that bring great revelation to what the Gospel is all about – if we hadn’t caught Paul’s flow in the previous verses we’ve been considering in a number of mediations: we are lost, helpless and hopeless and we need God’s help. In the previous verse Paul has just spoken of “the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t often use the word ‘redemption’ in modern life, unless we have been unfortunate enough to use the services of a pawnbroker. If we have then we put an article into pawn in exchange for a loan which will need paying back with interest at some time in the future. In the getting it back by a payment, we thus ‘redeem’ the article. So when Paul uses that phrase he is referring to the fact that Jesus’ death mean that our lives could be bought by his blood and reclaimed from the death cell (life on earth) where we awaited our eternal punishment for our sins.
There is in all of us, this deep down knowledge that wrongs deserve punishing, which is why we spend so much time trying to justify ourselves and make out why such punishment shouldn’t apply to us! Yet our innate sense of justice declares that wrongs should be punished. In fact when we hear of the existence of a holy God, we fear even more (and make more efforts to deny Him).
Then Paul speaks of ‘atonement’ which, in its simplest form means ‘making up for’. But what can make up for the myriads of failures that we have in life? What can make up so that we do not have to bear the punishment due to us? His answer is ‘the blood’ of Jesus, which is simply shorthand for meaning his death on the Cross at Calvary, taking our place, taking our punishment. His death was a sacrifice, in the same pattern as the sacrifices brought into the Temple in Old Testament times. Hence Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36, Rev 5:6,8,12). It is the picture of an animal dying in the place of the sinner, taking upon it their sin and guilt and death penalty.
It is perhaps only when we think on these things do we realise the awfulness of Sin. Much of the time we downplay Sin in our lives and think little of it, but the truth is that in God’s eyes, it is so important and provides such a division between Him and us that He was willing to pay the ultimate price of being separated from His very own Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Surely if there had been any other way possible God would have taken it? Surely if there any other way possible, Jesus would have taken it. Yet, there throughout the history of the world was this enormous mountain of sin, the sins of every human being throughout history, with justice crying out to be done. If justice cannot be seen to be done, then God can never speak to and correct a single human being, for all that is left is their utter judgment and so why bother to restrain sin? Why not let it just run and get worse and worse until we destroy ourselves?
But God is not a defeatist; He knew from the moment He planned to give us free will that we would first exercise it to reject Him. He knew from the outset that sin after sin would mount up and if nothing was done, it would cause the ultimate destruction of humanity. But, as we said, God is not a defeatist. He planned to call mankind back to Himself. Throughout the Old Testament He is there seeking to forge relationships with individuals and with the nation of Israel, so that they may be a light to the rest of the world, drawing the eyes of the world to God. But how could He do that with all the sins of the world still being there and being there as a barrier between us and God, as much for us as for Him?
We feel guilt-ridden and incapable of changing. He sees us constantly doing our own thing and ignoring Him. How was there a way to break into this cycle? It was to provide a means for this guilt to be dealt with, for somehow justice to be satisfied and the price paid for each and every sin that we feel bad about and the millions we don’t. The only way, and we really can’t take it in even though we seek to explain it, was for the eternal Son of God to take it for us, for him to step into our place and take the punishment – and that was what was happening on the Cross.
How does it happen for us individually? It happens, as we saw in a previous meditation, when we respond to this news in faith. It is faith in his blood, faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross on our behalf, which opens the door to God’s heart and which brings salvation. It is an act of faith to say we believe God when He has said that this is the way to be saved, by simply believing that Jesus has done it for us.
As we act in faith and declare our belief by coming to God to receive the forgiveness that Jesus has earned for us, it enables Him in return to declare us forgiven and declare us adopted, so that He is then able to put His own Holy Spirit within us, so that a new experience can be ours for the rest of our years on this earth and into eternity. This new experience of life means we can live free from guilt, and free to have a relationship with God, whereby He guides and leads us. All of this is the outworking of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross when it is received by us. How wonderful!