A Musing on Atonement - 11/4/2021
But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received atonement. Romans 5:11
One of the things that has happened since I began my work as a pastor is folks telling me their favorite preacher jokes. Often, they are about the length of the sermons. Fortunately, I know that has never been an issue with any of my sermons.
Recently, however a friend of mine shared a humorous story about a preacher who was asked to do a funeral for a man he’d never met. The local funeral home director had called the young minister that he knew was trying to get out and meet people in hopes of growing his church.
The pastor had reached out to the family to try to get some information but was unable to actually talk to the man’s wife or children, so he ended up just using the facts from the obituary. Copying parts from the only two funeral services he had ever done and implementing some poetic license to the obituary, he created the service and wrote the eulogy.
What the minister who was conducting the funeral did not know was that the deceased was a rather unsavory character who had lived a hard life. If you had asked anyone who knew him, they would have told you he had never been near a place of worship in his life.
Though the preacher had not known the man, he poured on the praise for the dearly departed. After 10 minutes of hearing the dead man described in terms of endearment as a husband, father, colleague and neighbor, the widow’s expression grew more and more puzzled. Finally, she nudged her son and ordered, “Go up there and make sure it’s your father in that casket.”
We smile and perhaps chuckle, but the truth is if all the mistakes we have made and sins we have committed throughout our lives were to be shared as we stood before the gates of heaven awaiting entrance, we would begin to wonder just how hot hell might be. Because as Paul writes in the book of Romans, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (KJV)
Fortunately, it is Jesus who delivers our eulogy. Now if we were to hear Jesus standing before God describing our lives, we might look as puzzled as the widowed wife from the above anecdote. That’s because when the blood of Christ is poured over my life and your life, it becomes unrecognizable. God will not see us as sinners; he will only see the love of Jesus overshadowing us.
This is known as atonement. The concept of atonement is hard to grasp; there are full seminary courses that cover just this one topic. I will not pretend to think I can fully cover it in one “Musing.”
And yet the words from the late Rev. Dr J. S. Whale stated in Christian Doctrine - Eight Lectures Delivered in The University of Cambridge give us a place to start:
All real religion presupposes the grim and inescapable fact of sin; the language it speaks, in judgment and mercy, is the language of atonement. Communion with God is the very goal of [our] being, but this is impossible without reconciliation to God. Atonement means, therefore, the creation of the conditions whereby God and [humanity] come together.
The Heidelberg Catechism found in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Confessions goes on to say this about The Atonement:
Throughout his life on earth, but especially at the end of it, Jesus bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, so that by his suffering, as the only expiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and might obtain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and everlasting life.
If there is one thing the Doctrine of Atonement should teach us it is this: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, not that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11 ESV).
Thanks be to God for this amazing sacrifice and gift given through God’s only begotten son Jesus, who is the Christ.