SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
Why Can't God Just Choose to Ignore My Sin If I'm Sorry for Committing It?
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Sunday, October 31, 2010 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1416
Pastor Don Horban

Leviticus 16:1-10, 15-16, 20-22 - ďThe Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, [2] and the Lord said to Moses, "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. [3] But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. [4] He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. [5] And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.[6] Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. [7] Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. [8] And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. [9] And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, [10] but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel....16:15-16....Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. [16] Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses....16:20-22....And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. [21] And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. [22] The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.Ē

To this day, this is by far the hub of all of Israelís religious observances. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is observed for the very first time in todayís text. Passover was celebrated at the beginning of each year. The Day of Atonement was celebrated in the fall of each year. Both were to be celebrated annually. They were never to be forgotten.

The Hebrew verb ďkipperĒ is most commonly translated into English as ďto make atonement.Ē I hope you notice that it occurred four times in the verses we read. And Iím arguing that it carries a meaning that includes, but goes beyond forgiveness. True, it results in forgiveness, but reaches it in a very specific and careful way. Iím arguing that the idea of atonement has at its core the expressing, and yet diverting, of Godís just wrath.

In other words, while atonement is mercifully aimed at accomplishing forgiveness, it doesnít begin with forgiveness. Atonement is never blind forgiveness. It is forgiveness at great cost. It is forgiveness that reaches our hearts via the fulfilling of justice. A price is paid and forgiveness is won.

1) THE MEANING OF BIBLICAL TERMS MUST BE DETERMINED BY THEIR TEXTUAL USE AND NOT BY OUR CULTUREíS PREFERENCE

Iím thinking specifically about the two terms weíre studying in this series right now - Passover and, now, atonement. Both terms face squarely the wrath of God. They both carry the idea of forgiveness. But neither one deals with forgiveness merely as forgetting or overlooking or putting up with sin.

We overlook sin and put up with sin and forget about sin because we canít help but get used to sin. We forgive and forget because we know weíve done the same thing to someone else, or something similar. Weíve upset friends by our thoughtlessness. Weíve made promises we havenít kept. Weíve lost our tempers. So, unless weíre just incredibly short sighted (and we sometimes are), we just forgive those same faults in others.

But itís all different when we deal with God. God is a being who does not know what itís like to be less than absolutely perfect. Not ever. That means there is no way for Him to relate to sin. His very nature means He canít possibly be sympathetic toward it. So how does God come to forgive sinners? His being wonít allow Him to tolerate sin any more than your being will allow you to breathe under water.

So thereís a sense in which, even though God is infinitely loving, itís much harder for God to deal with sin than it is for you and me - sinners - to deal with it. And thatís where these Biblical terms come into the picture.

Iím going to look at two Biblical stories that reveal the meaning of atonement. We arenít going to study the whole teaching of these passages. Iím just referring to them to point out the meaning of atonement in Biblical usage:

a) Numbers 25 describes the occasion when the Israelites committed sexual immorality with the Moabite women and began worshiping their gods. The text says ďthe Lordís anger burned against themĒ(3) and He caused a plague to break out against them. Moses tried to deal with the situation by putting the ring leaders to death as per the Lordís instructions (4-5).

While all of this was going on an Israelite man brought one of these women right by the tent of meeting to be with her. This so enraged Phinehas, the priest, that he left the meeting with a spear and followed the couple into their tent. He drove that spear right through the man and womanís body and pinned them to the ground (7-8). And immediately, when this happened, the plague of the Lord was stopped!(8).

Now for the strange part of the story. While we may have thought the actions of Phinehas extreme, the Lord had nothing but praise and reward for what he did. And hereís where the idea and explanation of the key term - atonement - comes into the story:

Numbers 25:10-13 - ďAnd the Lord said to Moses, [11] "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. [12] Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, [13] and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.' "

Notice carefully, what Phinehas did, he did in anger. The text is clear - ď....he [Phinehas] was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousyĒ(11). So, what Phinehas was manifesting was Godís anger against this sin. There was nothing personal in Phinehasí violent actions. No one had wronged him. He was acting out, according to the text, Godís anger against this sin.

Thereís more. In carrying out Godís wrath against this couple Phinehas actually protected the rest of Israel from the plague of judgment God had sent - Numbers 25:8 - ď....[Phinehas] went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped.Ē

Verse 13 makes this point even more striking. Why did the plague of Godís judgment stop right at this point? How could the death of this one wicked couple stop Godís wrath from continuing on a whole nation? ď....and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.' "

So the connection between wrath and atonement is unescapable in this passage. Godís wrath was expressed and then the people were spared. You can see the pattern of the events of the Passover repeated again.

b) Numbers 16 makes a similar point. The Lord sends a plague on the people because of their faithless, persistent grumbling in the face of all His care and provision (41). Again Moses and Aaron must respond. Moses tells Aaron to offer up incense to the Lord to stop this outbreak of Godís wrath:

Numbers 16:46-47 - ďAnd Moses said to Aaron, ĎTake your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.í [47] So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.Ē

Again, the only point Iím making is there is a consistent link between atonement and wrath (manifested in these accounts in the plagues God sent). Yes, the people are spared. Mercy triumphs. But not automatically. Atonement must be made for the peopleís sin.

So remember, atonement is the provision made for the removal of Godís just, righteous wrath. It results in forgiveness. But itís more than mere forgiveness. It deals with the issue of how sinful, fallen people can exist in the presence of an absolutely just God. It was easier, in a sense, to be delivered from Egypt than it was for a sinful people to live near to a holy God.

In fact, this is the issue that brings about the specific instructions in our opening text on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:

2) IT IS NOT EASY FOR SINFUL PEOPLE AND A HOLY GOD TO LIVE IN THE SAME CAMP

This was the painful discovery of the Israelites after they made their exodus from Egypt. God would go with them. And that caused all sorts of problems. In fact, the whole ceremony of the Day of Atonement had its roots in just such a disastrous encounter: Leviticus 16:1 - ďThe Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died....Ē

There is no mistaking the purpose behind this opening reminder. Everyone in Israel would remember the occasion recorded in Leviticus chapter ten when Nadab and Abihu approached God disobediently. In stark simplicity the text says ď....fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed themĒ(16:1).

So, with this reminder, everyone feels the urgency of listening when God tells the people how they are to deal with their sinful hearts before getting too close to Him. Sinful people need to know the specifics of atonement where a holy, just God is concerned. And itís the condescending mercy and love of God that labors to reveal just how this is to be done.

But why canít God just not do this to sinful people? Why canít He just accept them and leave them alone when they come before Him? Those sound like such reasonable questions, but they betray a misunderstanding of Godís essential nature.

You can see an example of this when Israel comes around the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses will receive the Ten Commandments. The people will wait at the bottom of the mountain. But they are specifically told they mustnít come near the mountain or touch the mountain because God is coming to that mountain. And if sinful people touch even the base of the mountain while God is there in His unguarded presence - full strength, so to speak - the people will die.

And now we start to learn. God canít turn off His nature like you turn off a light-switch. He is what He is. And what He is - by nature - incinerates impurity. Godís wrath isnít an emotional fit. It is unaffected, uncompromising, justice, not warped energy out of control. Fallen people canít come before God without atonement for the same reason a spaceship canít land on the surface of the sun. The sun just is what it is. And the spaceship, as it is, is in no condition to deal with it.

3) ATONEMENT AND THE TALE OF TWO GOATS

Leviticus 16:5-10 - ďAnd he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. [6] ĎAaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. [7] Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. [8] And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. [9] And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, [10] but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.Ē

More explanation is given:

Leviticus 16:15-16, 21-22 - ďThen he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. [16] Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses....16:21-22....And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. [22] The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.Ē

How will God show the coming substitutionary work of Christ in all its effects to these people so early in the unfolding revelation of redemption? You canít both slay a goat and show that same goat carrying away sin. Dead goats donít carry anything anywhere and God wanted to show His people that He wanted to do more than just pay for their sins with sacrifice. He wanted to remove their sins from their lives.

The sacrificial goat was slain in the holy place. No one saw that shedding of blood. And all of those references to the holy place and the tent of meeting and the mercy seat show the effects of our sin on Godís side of things. Something about my sin needs to be made right before a just and holy God. There must be some kind of satisfaction before God. His wrath must be dealt with, just as in the case of the Passover lamb. Even if God is faithful to just forgive my past sins, there may well be others. How will I continue to function before a just and holy God? Godís justice requires satisfaction. A price must be paid. Thatís the meaning of the slain goat.

But there is also the human side of forgiveness. My record needs erasing. I need deliverance from sinís bondage. Thatís where the second goat - the scape-goat comes into the picture. The scape-goat was sent out into the wilderness. And on its head were the confessed sins of the people. This actions shows that the death of the first goat does something active that couldnít be demonstrated with a dead goat. The same sins that were paid for - expiated - by the blood of the slain goat on the altar were now removed from the people by the scape-goat into the distant recesses of the wilderness.

God is trying to visibly show these people how forgiveness works. Back to the question of our title today - ďWhy canít God just ignore my sin if Iím sorry for committing it?Ē The Day of Atonement is Godís answer to that question. Forgiveness should be simpler for Christian people than it is for a Holy God. We are called to freely forgive on the basis of the costly forgiveness - the purchased forgiveness - we have already received from God the Father through the death of God the Son.

In other words, all of the hard work of forgiveness has already been done by the Godhead. We would be wicked hypocrites if we didnít extend freely what we have received so freely. Blessed beggars should be the first to bless other beggars.

But the process of forgiveness is never the same for a just and holy God. For our own good, and true to His just nature, He never just forgives. A holy, just God never has the same luxury He has purchased for His redeemed children. In these two goats of atonement we have pictured the whole story of divine forgiveness. The first goat is slain. The sacrifice has been made. That means the wrath of a just God has been poured out on the substitute for sin.

And then thereís the second goat. Please notice, even though the first had been slain for the peopleís sins, those sins still had to be confessed over the second goat. Confession and repentance were needed to symbolically place those sins on the head of the appointed scape-goat. I wonder if Paul had this picture in mind when he said, ďFor our sake he made him [Christ Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of GodĒ(2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is atonement. This is our joy! Atonement does something marvelous both with the blight and stain of sin and a holy Godís required wrath and punishment against it.

So the picture of that second goat was designed to teach that this costly forgiveness wasnít automatically received. Repentance and confession were made visible activities in the Day of Atonement process. And finally, those sins were carried away from the people. God doesnít just deal with my sins in a technical fashion. His grace is experienced as deliverance. As far as the east is from the west, He has borne my sins away(Psalm 103:12).

But thereís more. Get a picture of Aaron, wrestling with that second goat. How badly do you want to repent of your sins? Picture the effort of getting a two-handed grip on the bobbing, bucking head. And then see him struggle to hold on while he lists and confesses all the sins of the people, all the while holding on to that live goat. How long did that take?

Wrestle through repentance. Donít just calmly agree that, yes, youíre a sinner. After all, nobodyís perfect. List your sins if you donít want to be constantly repeating them. Think them through. Pardon is free, but itís not casually entered into. What a picture of the effort of deep repentance. This is not earning righteousness. Itís laboring over thoroughness in repentance. Itís refusing to take any sins lightly - even very little ones - even very common ones. This is how free atonement is embraced and entered into. This is the path into that grand substitution of Christís righteousness for your sin. Without this, the wrath of God remains!

No wonder, the great puritan Thomas Goodwin said, ďLay hold of Jesus Christ with two hands! That is, with all your might, and confess all your sins....as that high priest did over the head of that live goat!Ē