The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Most of us have heard about Yom Kippur, even if we are not Jewish. The descriptions of Yom Kippur on the Internet are universally serious and sober. One site calls Yom Kippur “the most solemn of Jewish religious holidays, observed on the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishri (in the course of September and October), when Jews seek to expiate their sins and achieve reconciliation with God.” Many Christians are unaware that Yom Kippur, translated as the “day of atonement,” is part of every Bible. The fundamental teaching on the day of atonement is given in Leviticus 16, and that is where I will be focusing for this post. The New Testament book of “Hebrews” also spends a good bit of time explaining the significance of the day of atonement and teaches how Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled this foreshadow or “type” by His sacrificial death on the cross.

With this post, I want to carefully go through Leviticus 16 and show how this Jewish ceremony established by Moses 3,500 years ago points to the finished work of Jesus the Messiah that He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

(I will be using the New American Standard translation of the Bible.)

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE CEREMONY

Before we get into the actual ceremony and what Aaron the priest was commanded to do on the day of atonement, there are several preliminary observations to make.

  • First, the LORD Himself spoke to Moses and gave him the requirements for this day. In fact, The LORD is the only person who speaks in Leviticus 16. The LORD speaks to Moses and describes the precise requirements for the day of atonement if the sins of the people were to be removed. Therefore, the ceremony was not invented by Moses, nor were the details of the ceremony made up by other people. Rather, “The LORD spoke to Moses (16:1, 2).”
  • Second, the day of atonement was observed on one day of every year, the tenth day of the seventh month, and it was a permanent statute for the children of Israel, meaning that they were required to perform this ceremony every year (Leviticus 16:29). Yom Kippur was not optional.
  • Third, the purpose of Yom Kippur was that “on this day, atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD (16:30 – read 16:29-34).” The LORD God is a holy God and our sin creates a separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and brings us under His righteous judgment and condemnation (Ezekiel 18:4). In the Law (Torah) of the Old Testament, the LORD, through Yom Kippur, provided a way for the sins of man to be cleansed and washed away, so that men and women would not be condemned before Him. Every year the Hebrew people were required to repeat the ceremony, as a reminder of their ongoing sinfulness.
  • Fourth, only the high priest could perform the ceremony of the day of atonement and, as we will see, he was required to perform his duties precisely according to the instructions the LORD gave. Every part of the priest’s duty was for a purpose and no part could be omitted. Acceptable atonement depended on the priest performing his duties exactly as prescribed. If he did not do everything according to the instructions, the priest would die before the LORD and the people’s sins would remain.

THE CEREMONY ITSELF

            As we have said, the ceremony for Yom Kippur is carefully explained in Leviticus chapter 16. There are many steps and actions described in this chapter which are necessary to atone for sin and trying to follow all these details can be confusing, especially to a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with Israel’s sacrificial system. To simplify matters, the whole ceremony can be described in three broad ideas, namely:

  • The forgiveness of any sin requires shedding the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. Therefore, the high priest must bring blood into the Most Holy Place to be sprinkled on the mercy seat (“the propitiatory”).
  • The central focus of the day of atonement is on the two goats, one goat that is sacrificed as a sin offering and another goat that remains alive and is sent away into the wilderness. To understand Yom Kippur and how Yom Kippur allowed for the atonement of the sins of the people, a person must understand the meaning of the two goats.
  • The ceremony is steeped in holiness and was a unique sacrifice among all the sacrifices of the Hebrew sacrificial system. This was the only sacrifice when the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place (“the Holy of holies”). This was the only sacrifice that required two animals. This was the only ceremony in the sacrificial system where a live animal survived. 

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 1-10

            The first ten verses give an overview and preliminary instruction for what will happen during the whole ceremony. The LORD reminds Moses of how serious this day is and that even the high priest must not enter the Most Holy place (“Holy of holies”) unless he brings blood to atone for his own sin. We are also introduced to the two male goats, who are the focus of the ceremony. Aaron is to “cast lots for the two goats (16:8).” One goat will be sacrificed to the LORD as a sin offering and the other goat will be the scapegoat (or “the goat of removal”). “The scapegoat will be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as a scapegoat (16:10).”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 11-14 – The bull of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            Now the action of the sacrifices begins. Aaron, the high priest, must offer the bull of the sin offering (16:11); he must slaughter the bull of the sin offering (16:11); and he must take some of the blood of the bull into the Holy of holies (“inside the veil” – 16:12) to sprinkle it on the mercy seat (16:14).

All this is done to atone for the high priest’s own personal sins. He cannot come into the presence of the LORD unless his sins have been atoned for. Also, notice that, before he enters inside the veil and into the presence of the LORD, the high priest must prepare a cloud of incense (16:12-13) to cover the mercy seat, “otherwise he will die.”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 15-19 – The goat of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            After making atonement for his own sins, the high priest goes back out to the holy place inside the tent and slaughters the goat of the sin offering (the first goat). He then brings the blood of that goat inside the veil, into the Holy of holies, to sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat “to make atonement for all the assembly of Israel (16:17).” In this part of the ceremony, the blood of the sin offering atones for the sins of the people.

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 20-22 – The goat of removal (outside the tent)

            But now the high priest goes outside the tent of meeting and offers the live goat (16:20). Then the priest “shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins (16:21).” By confessing the sins of all the people over the head of the live goat, the high priest has transferred those sins to the live goat. Then the goat, which is now bearing the sins of all the people, is sent away into the wilderness so that their sins will be remembered no more.

AN ODD CEREMONY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

            As we consider this ceremony of Yom Kippur that the LORD prescribed for taking away sins, a number of questions may arise, like:

  • How can animal sacrifices, even those commanded by the LORD, atone for human sins?
  • What sorts of sins did the children of Israel have to confess? I am pretty sure their sins were different than our sins.
  • This ceremony took place a long, long time ago. What does this have to do with me today? Things have changed since then. Surely God does not still require atonement for my sin and does not still require blood sacrifices.
  • Why would God create such an unusual ceremony to atone for sin? Doesn’t God just sort of wave His hand and forgive sin? Why this elaborate ceremony?
  • Why did this have to be repeated every year as a “perpetual statute?” It seems like it would be done once for all time and that would be that. Why the repetition?
  • This ceremony cannot be done now because neither the tabernacle nor the temple still exists, and because sacrificing animals is just not done in our culture. How, then, are God’s people supposed to atone for their sins now?

YOM KIPPUR IS A FORESHADOW OF SOMETHING ELSE

            These are all interesting questions, and they probably deserve answers, but these questions miss the main point. The main point, and the point that will answer most of the questions above, is that the LORD prescribed the ceremony of Yom Kippur not as an end in itself, but as a picture of something much greater that was to come. We refer to this picturing of something in the future as a “foreshadow.” The idea is that we see the shadow now, but we know that the greater reality is coming soon. Since we see the shadow now, the substance will be right behind it. So, Yom Kippur is a foreshadow of a greater reality to follow.

The day of atonement as described in Leviticus 16 shows us several things:

  • All people have sinned against the commandments of the LORD. Notice that the high priest needed to make atonement for all the people. That means that all had sinned.
  • The LORD God is holy and requires atonement for sin. That is the entire purpose of the ceremony. God is very serious about sin.
  • We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we need a sin offering to atone for our sins. The priest had to bring the blood of the prescribed sin offering inside the veil to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Just so, we need the blood an acceptable sacrifice to atone for our sins.
  • We also need a “goat of removal” who will take our sins away “into the wilderness” so that we will no longer be under the judgment of God.
  • Leviticus 16 describes Yom Kippur, which was to berepeated every single year, but we need a permanent solution to our sin problem. We need a once-for-all time sacrifice to atone for our sin and we need some way to permanently take our sins away into the wilderness.

Yom Kippur foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as an atonement for the sins of His people. In His death on the cross, Jesus was “the goat of the sin offering.” He was the acceptable sacrifice who “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is His blood that serves as atonement for the sins of His people. But Jesus is also “the goat of removal,” because by His resurrection “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That is, because He rose from the dead and lives forever, He is always able to take away the sins of His people into the wilderness.

HOW DO WE RECEIVE THE ATONEMENT JESUS OFFERS?

APPLICATION: Jesus grants atonement and forgiveness of sins to all His people. Who are “His people?” His people are all those who have placed their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Regardless of ethnicity or past sins or social position or age or any other external differentiation, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” – Romans 10:9-10.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we figuratively place both our hands on His head (Leviticus 16:21) and declare our faith in Him and we confess our sins to God. In that act of faith, Jesus dies for us as “the goat of the sin offering” (Lev. 16:15-19) to take away the penalty for our sin, and, by His resurrection, He also lives for us as “the live goat” (Leviticus 16:20-22) to continue to take our sins away into the wilderness, “to a solitary land” (16:22). If you have never done that, now would be a good time to receive that atonement and the forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.

If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.

The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.

Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.

This is then contrasted with 1:7.

1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),

Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and

Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.

Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.

1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”

This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.

Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”

The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.

1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.

Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and

Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.

Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?

Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.

CONCLUSION

What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.

SDG                 rmb                 9/5/2021                     #432

The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

Luke 5:17-26. Part 2 – Who is this who claims to forgive sins?

Here in this article I will continue to explore the lessons that the Scripture teaches us from Luke 5:17-26, the story of the healing of the paralytic. In the previous post from November 30, we looked at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and in this post will examine the Person of Jesus as the object of faith and find out more about His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside His house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

THE PROTEST OF THE PHARISEES

            The four men and their paralyzed friend had placed their faith in Jesus, believing He had the power to heal their friend. But faith is only as good as faith’s object. The sincerest trust will not make a false hope true. Jesus was the object of their faith, but was He worthy of that faith and that trust? What a horrible deception it would be to believe that you had been forgiven of your sins, only to find out that you had trusted in a lie!

            So, when Jesus claims to forgive sins, in a sense it is right for the scribes and the Pharisees to challenge His claims. Here was a mere Man claiming to do what only God could do. By the way, it is important to note that there was no debate among the Jews about the statement that God alone could forgive sins. The Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees, the common people, and Jesus all agreed that only God can forgive sins. The protest from the Pharisees and the scribes was not a protest based on theology (“who can forgive sins?”), but was a protest based on identity (“who is this who claims to forgive sins?”). If Jesus was a mere man, then the Pharisees’ charge of blasphemy was sustained, Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness was void, and the men’s faith in Jesus was useless. If, however, Jesus proved to be God in human flesh, the Pharisees’ charge of blasphemy collapsed, Jesus’ forgiveness was certain, and the men’s faith had reached its fulfillment. So, the issue is the identity of the Man who claims to forgive sins. Is He mere man, or is He God?

THE POINT OF THE STORY

            What is the correct identity of Jesus? This is the entire point of this story in the gospel record. While in this story Jesus performs a miracle of healing, the miracle is not the focus of the story. Jesus is recorded as performing many healing miracles throughout the gospels, so this miracle is anything but unique, and this healing is relatively insignificant in itself, but is immensely significant in what it reveals. Who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? Is He, in fact, God in human flesh and, therefore, the worthy object of my faith, or is He a mere pretender, a blasphemer making grand, false claims?

WHICH IS EASIER?

            Jesus settles the issue as conclusively as it can be settled. As only God can do, Jesus perceives the thoughts of the Pharisees (5:22) and then brings the critical question out into the light by asking, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’ (Luke 5:23)?”

This question is not intended to be limited to its literal meaning but is to be understood by what it is really asking. Jesus is saying this to the Pharisees: “You are correct in saying that God alone can forgive sins. And you are correct to challenge My claim to forgive, since there is no visible evidence that any forgiveness has taken place due to My pronouncement. So, it is ‘easier’ to tell someone, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ because it cannot be readily disproven. But to command a paralyzed person, ‘Rise and walk,’ with only the sound of My voice is also something that God alone can do. A mere man has no authority to grant movement to the paralyzed. And, unlike forgiveness, if someone were to command a paralyzed person to rise and walk, there would be unmistakable evidence whether that command came with divine authority or not. So, if someone were able to command a paralytic to rise and walk, and the paralytic rose and walked, then that “someone” would have done something only God can do, and that Person would, therefore, have to be God.” Now back to the Scripture: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the man who was paralyzed – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home (Luke 5:24).” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (5:25).

Jesus had given clear evidence that He had the authority to do what only God can do. The conclusion that must be reached is that Jesus is God. His identity has been unmistakably established. And since Jesus is God, He has authority to forgive sins.

AND SO . . .

            This story has conclusively established the identity of Jesus: Jesus is God. Certainly, there are many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3) throughout the Scriptures that attest to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but here the point of the story is to establish Jesus’ identity.

            Jesus has authority to forgive sins. This is a consequence of the fact that He is God. Since God alone forgives sins, and Jesus is God, Jesus can forgive my sins. Hallelujah!

            Jesus is worthy to be the object of our faith. We can confidently place our faith in Jesus and trust Him for our forgiveness and salvation and eternal life, because He has proven Himself to be trustworthy. SDG                 rmb                 12/03/2020

Luke 5:17-26. Part 1 – Faith and forgiveness

What is the nature of genuine faith in Jesus and who is this Man who claims to forgive sins? These are some of the questions that are addressed in the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, a well-known story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels, in Matthew, in Mark, and in Luke. Over the next couple of posts, we will be looking at the account from the gospel of Luke, in Luke 5:17-26. I will be borrowing from the other gospel accounts for some of the details. This post will look at the nature of faith and forgiveness, and the next post will examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity.

THE PLOT OF THE STORY

            As the story opens, Jesus is teaching to a big crowd inside his house when four men try to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, presumably for healing him of his paralysis. Since they are unable to get to Jesus through the crowd in the house, they go up on the roof and lower the bed-ridden paralytic down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who seem to always be there to give Jesus a hard time, complain that Jesus is wrong to claim to forgive sins, since only God can do that. Jesus then miraculously heals the paralytic, proving that He is, in fact, God and, as God, has authority to forgive sins. The crowds are duly amazed.

FAITH RESULTS IN FORGIVENESS        

            What principles can we learn from this story about the nature of saving faith?

            First, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins. Faith is the trigger for Christ’s forgiveness, because Jesus always perceives and responds to genuine faith. After Jesus saw their faith, He declared to the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you (5:20).” Notice that neither the paralytic nor the paralytic’s friends asked Jesus to do anything, but Jesus, “when He saw their faith,” spontaneously granted forgiveness of sins. This is always the case. Then and now, faith in Jesus always results in forgiveness of sins and salvation. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, you, too, have received forgiveness of sins.

            What does Jesus require for Him to forgive sins? Faith alone! “When He saw their faith” What “works” does He require to extend His forgiveness? None! Unlike other false religions and false teaching, there are no works required for Jesus’ forgiveness (Romans 4:2). It was the men’s faith that saved, not their effort. Just so, your faith alone saves you.

            Jesus granted unlimited forgiveness, in essence, absolute forgiveness. “When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Jesus did not say, “Your known sins and your felt sins are forgiven,” so that the man would need to return later if he felt guilty. Nor did Jesus say, “Some of your sins are forgiven, but some are not.” Rather, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).” When Jesus forgives sins, He forgives ALL sins forever. He does not forgive some but leave the rest unforgiven. His forgiveness is permanent and comprehensive. If Jesus has seen your faith, then you can have complete confidence that all your sins, past, present, and future, are forever forgiven.

            The proper end of all faith is salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and Jesus grants forgiveness and salvation to this man based on the man’s faith. When Jesus grants forgiveness, He is declaring that the righteous requirement of the Law (death for sin) has been fulfilled in us by means of His death on the cross (Romans 8:4). Because Christ has fulfilled the Law’s requirement on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18), our forgiveness and our salvation are two sides of the same coin. Thus, the person whom God has forgiven has also been saved.

FAITH PRODUCES ACTION

            There is another principle that we see here in this story about those who have genuine faith: Genuine faith manifests itself in faith-filled actions.

            Notice that faith precedes the “works,” or faith precedes the action. So, first, the men had faith that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, and then, second, they visibly demonstrated their faith in Jesus by carrying their friend all the way from where he was to where Jesus was. Their faith led to faith-filled action.

            In this story, the men’s faith-filled action was not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the benefit of the crowd that was watching. Jesus saw their faith, but the crowd needed to see the radical action that their faith produced. It is most often faith-filled action that makes genuine faith visible. Those outside of Christ cannot see or understand faith unless our faith is manifested by the actions of our lives. As James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).”

APPLICATION

            An application of this principle that genuine faith produces action would be to ask ourselves, “Does my faith in Jesus produce faith-filled action?” In other words, if anyone were watching my life, would my actions clearly betray that I am a man or a woman of faith in the Lord Jesus? This is a challenging question for us all, but I think it is incumbent upon us to consider it. Does my faith manifest itself in my life such that an unbeliever could see it?

            Some actions that have occurred to me as evidence of faith are: prayer (Do others know you pray? Do they know to whom you pray? Do they know why you pray?), obedience to Scripture (Do you make decisions that puzzle others because you are obeying a clear teaching of the Scripture?), submission of all aspects of your life to the Lord (Does the Lord have first priority in your life?), unselfishness, humility, your speech. These are everyday ways that we can make our faith visible to others.

NEXT POST

            The next post will use this same passage to examine the Person of Jesus and find out more of His identity and why He claims to forgive sins.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2020

The death of David’s son (2 Samuel 12:14)

“Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:14

If we are watching a courtroom drama unfold where the guilt of the accused party has been clearly proven by evidence and cross-examination and there is no reasonable doubt that they committed the crime, and then the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty,” we are justly outraged. The guilty one has been unjustly acquitted. The law has been violated because the guilty have gone free. The law is in place to punish the guilty, and yet this guilty one has not been punished.

In these situations where men have ignored and run roughshod over man’s laws, it is right to be angry and outraged. How much more outraged should we be, then, when a person is proven guilty of violating God’s Law and is unjustly acquitted! Yet this seems to be exactly what we find in 2 Samuel 11-12 in the incident with David’s famous sins.

A quick review is in order for this familiar story. In 2 Samuel 11, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David remained at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1).” Whether by design or by chance, David is walking on his roof and sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing. He sends messengers to bring her to his house, “he lay with her, then she returned to her house (11:4).” Bathsheba becomes pregnant by David, and now David has a problem. After calling Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefield to Jerusalem, David tries to convince Uriah to go to his house to be with his wife. The noble and loyal Uriah refuses to go to his house to lie with his wife while Joab and Israel’s army are out in the open field fighting the Ammonites. With Plan A foiled, David then implements Plan B, which is to have Joab “set Uriah at the forefront of the fiercest fighting and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down and die (11:15).” Uriah is thus killed, so Plan B appears to have worked, “but the thing that David had done displeased the LORD (11:27).”

In the next scene, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a story about a grave injustice done by a rich man against a poor man. Incensed by the injustice, David cries out, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5).” Nathan famously declares to David, “You are the man!” The prophet then proceeds to tell David the details of his sins and the consequences that the LORD is going to bring on David because of his sins. David then says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13).” Astonishingly, after this simple and brief confession, Nathan responds to David by saying, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die (12:13-14).”

What?? This is outrageous! David willfully commits adultery with Bathsheba whom he knows is married to Uriah the Hittite, one of his thirty mighty men (23:39), and then wickedly sees to it that this noble man, Uriah, dies in battle, effectively murdering him, and then utters a brief confession of “I have sinned,” and he gets off the hook? “I have sinned,” and adultery and murder are just sort of swept away? How can this be right? O yes, I am sure it was extremely painful to watch as your infant son die, knowing that his death was your fault, but that in no way satisfies the demands of the Law. Surely this is gross injustice! How can the LORD allow this?

SOLVING THE OUTRAGE

            This does seem to be an outrage but consider these things. The death of the child born to Bathsheba highlighted David’s guilt and reminded him of the wages of his sin, but the death of that child brought him no forgiveness. For if Nathan is telling David that he is forgiven because of the death of the child of Bathsheba, then the injustice of that forgiveness and the outrage remain. David violated the Law of God on two counts, and the Law of God demands death for the violator. By David’s own words, “The man who has done this deserves to die!” “The soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The justice of God demands a death penalty for these sins, and the death of Bathsheba’s son could never satisfy the Law’s demands. Bathsheba’s son died as a judgment for David’s sins, not as a propitiation for David’s sin, because this unnamed son of David was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin. This child was not a worthy substitute.

            How, then, can the LORD take away David’s sin, and how can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? If the death of this child cannot atone, what can wash away David’s sin?

            Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin not based on the death of Bathsheba’s son, but based on the death of Mary’s Son. The death of David’s son born in Jerusalem could not atone for any of David’s sins, but the death of David’s Son born in Bethlehem atoned for all of David’s sins. The unnamed son of Bathsheba was not an acceptable sacrifice for David’s sin, but the Son of Mary, who was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), gave His life as an acceptable ransom (Mark 10:45) for David’s sin by His substitutionary death on the cross. Therefore, Nathan can declare that the LORD has taken away David’s sin because Jesus the Messiah, the glorious Son of David, that Child who is born to David shall die.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a  propitiation in His blood through faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

APPLICATION

            Now the question that we asked earlier about David must be answered by every one of us. How can the LORD legally forgive one who has flagrantly and repeatedly and willfully rebelled against His holy Law? For the truth is that we have all rebelled against the Lord and we have all flagrantly and willfully violated His holy Law. How can God legally forgive us? But the good news of the gospel is that the Jesus who died for David’s sins is also the Savior who died for the sins of all those who put their faith in Him. If you repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15), then Jesus died for your sins, as well. Praise God that the Child who was born to David died!

SDG                 rmb                 11/14/2020

The LORD covered all their sin (Psalm 85:2-3)

The cross of Christ looms over the entire Bible. Ever since the fall, when Adam’s sin plunged man into sin and condemnation and death (Romans 5:12-19), the cross has been required. Man has fallen into sin, and now only the sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God can pay the price of our redemption.

THE MYSTERY OF FORGIVENESS

            But for God’s people living before the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah and before the cross, God’s means of forgiveness was a mystery. Oh yes, it was evident that the LORD did forgive sin, but what was the basis for that forgiveness?

  • Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” But how is that possible? How can my scarlet sins become white as snow?
  • Psalm 103:12 declares, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He (the LORD) remove our transgressions from us.” For whom does the LORD do this? How can I be one of the ones for whom the LORD removes transgressions?
  • Micah 7:19 says, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Who is the “us” and the “our” in this verse? How do I become a part of that group?
  • In fact, this mystery of forgiveness could call into question the justice of God. In Ezekiel 18:4, the prophet, speaking by the word of the LORD, says, “The soul who sins shall die.” That seems very clear, but then we read just a few verses later that if a wicked person turns from their sins, none of his transgressions will be remembered (18:21-23). Wait a minute! How did this sinner who should die get forgiven? Is it right for God to forgive great iniquity? How can God forgive ANY iniquity and remain just? How can God threaten to punish sin but then also not remember sin? What is the basis for His judgment or His forgiveness?
  • In 2 Samuel 12, after the prophet Nathan has confronted King David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his sin of arranging for the murder of Uriah, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13a).” Now the Law required stoning to death with stones both for the sin of adultery and for the sin of murder. Yet the Scripture in 2 Samuel 12:13b says, “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” Wait a minute again! That cannot be right. How can the LORD put away David’s two huge sins and still be a just Judge? If God’s Law requires stoning for a sin, how can David be acquitted after just voicing a simple confession?
  • And so, the cross as the means of God’s forgiveness of sins remained hidden from the Old Testament saints, even though the effects of the cross were scattered throughout the Scriptures. We come, then, to our study text, Psalm 85:2-3, which talks about forgiveness of sin and removal of wrath.

YOU COVERED ALL THEIR SIN – PSALM 85:2-3

You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.

You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.

            We will go through these short verses carefully and see how the cross answers the questions we have been asking, even though it had not been revealed to the psalmist and still lay centuries in the future.

  • You forgave the iniquity of Your people. From the Old Testament Law, we can see that every Iniquity “received a just retribution (Hebrews 2:2).” That means that iniquity requires punishment or an atoning sacrifice. To be forgiven, there must be some recompense or some atonement that removes the offense. So, the cross is implied here as the hidden means of atonement. Also note that all iniquity is forgiven. (It makes no sense grammatically or practically for the LORD to forgive some sins, for even one unforgiven sin is enough to condemn.)
  • You forgave the iniquity of Your people. A critical question is, “Who are ‘Your people’?” Theologically we know that forgiveness is specific. It applies to specific people when specific conditions are met. Here we see that the LORD forgave the iniquity of His people and it necessarily follows that He forgave no others. Since the only forgiven people are His people, it is incumbent on us to be part of His people or to become part of His people. From the Scriptures, we know that we become His people by faith (Hebrews 11) and that we are justified by faith (Galatians 2:16; etc.).
  • You covered all their sin. From the first half of this verse, we can see that this also applies only to the LORD’s people. When the LORD covers sin, He does so that it will be hidden from sight. David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).” Since sin is an offense against the LORD (Psalm 51:4), and since the LORD is the supreme Judge, when He covers sin, that sin has been forgiven and forgotten. Since the cross punished all the sin of all of the LORD’s people, then the LORD can justly cover it.
  • You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger. Sin is an offense against the Holy One, against the LORD our God, and the Lord responds to sin with wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will return to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).” There must be some means whereby the LORD’s people can turn away the Lord’s wrath. But again, we find that the cross of Christ is the answer. For “Christ Jesus is whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:25).” “Propitiation” is a theological word that here means to quench the wrath. By His death on the cross, Jesus has not only paid for our sins, but He has also satisfied the wrath of God that our sins provoked.

REFLECTIONS

            Think of the greatness of the cross. All are in need of its benefits, because all have sinned, but all are also able to receive its benefits by faith. There is no ethnic or financial or social or physical barrier in your way. All are welcome to bow at the cross. The power of the cross extends into the future until the last of God’s elect comes to faith in Jesus, and it goes backward into the past, applying Jesus’ redeeming blood to all of the Lord’s people since the Garden of Eden. All who will ever be forgiven of sin are forgiven because of the cross.

            And what about those who are not the Lord’s people? What will become of them? A review of the verses just studied will answer the question. Their sins remain unforgiven and uncovered. The wrath that has been provoked by each one of their transgressions remains as furious as ever, and the hot anger of the Lord is still poured out on them. Those who are not the Lord’s people must turn from their sins and trust Christ for their salvation. “For there is salvation in no other name; for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”

SDG                 rmb                 10/16/2020

What if I am unaware of the disease? (Leviticus 5:17)

                I want to start out this article with a medical question:

MEDICAL QUESTION

            Is it possible for a person who does not know that they have terminal cancer to still die of that cancer?

            Many people in our society today have enough medical knowledge to answer this question. From our common medical knowledge, we know that, unless cured, terminal cancer ends in death. So, the answer to the medical question above is, yes, a person who does not know that they have terminal cancer can still die of that cancer. In fact, if the cancer is not both detected and cured, the person certainly will die of the terminal cancer, whether they know they have it or not.

            That answer was pretty easy. Let’s move into a different field and see if we can answer a similar question. So, let me ask a theological question:

THEOLOGICAL QUESTION

          Is it possible for someone who has sinned against the Law of God without knowing it to still be guilty and condemned by that sin?

            This theological question will probably be more difficult to answer than the medical question because relatively few people in our society have a great deal of theological knowledge. God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness in His book, the Bible, and yet few people take the Bible seriously. In the Bible is all the theological knowledge necessary for a person to spend eternity in heaven in loving fellowship with the living God, the Creator of the universe, and all the theological knowledge needed to avoid condemnation and an eternity in hell. Yet, again, few people can be bothered.

            In my current Bible study, I am reading through the book of Leviticus, a book that gives careful instruction about the various sacrifices that the ancient Hebrews were to give to the LORD to atone for their sins. Leviticus is a fascinating book, and in Leviticus 5:17 it says this:

“Now if a person sins and does any of the things that the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.”

            Here in this one verse, in Leviticus 5:17, we find the answer to the theological question that was posed above. From this verse, it is clear that any person who sins and breaks any of the LORD’s commandments is guilty and is under condemnation, whether they know about their sin or not.

            Now, because our sin is against the living God, there is no more dangerous place to be than to be guilty of sin and under condemnation. Just as it is the nature of terminal cancer, unless detected and cured, to end in physical death, so it is the nature of sin, unless detected and removed, to end in eternal death. And because the situation of our sin against the living God is so perilous, the Bible is full of warnings about our sinful condition. Here in Leviticus 5:17 we read one such warning, which tells us that we are guilty of all our sins and liable to punishment, whether we know it or not. Just as the MRI and the CAT scan detect and warn us about our terminal cancer so that we can remove it and live longer physically, so the Bible detects and warns us about our sin so that we can remove it and live eternally in heaven.

            We know, from our medical knowledge, that there are some cures for cancer, but what is the cure for our sin against the living God? If the Bible is full of warnings about our sin, which will lead to eternal death, surely there must also be some instruction somewhere in the Bible about how we can remove our sin. If the Bible graciously tells me about my sin and warns me about my condemnation, doesn’t it also graciously tell me how I can escape from my condemnation? Having revealed to me my disease of sin, doesn’t it also tell me of the cure?

            The Bible does indeed provide the cure for the disease of sin. Having revealed to us the ugliness of our sin and condemnation, the Bible also reveals to us the beauty of our salvation. Or rather the beauty of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. As condemned sinners, we need a Savior who will rescue us, and so God sent Jesus Christ from heaven to earth on a rescue mission. After living a sinless life filled with miracles, teaching and healing, the Lord Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross as an atoning sacrifice for sinners. He died on that cross and was buried. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He had conquered sin and death, and ascended into heaven. Now the good news of the gospel is that any person who has sinned and has done many things that the LORD has commanded not to be done, will be forgiven of his sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

the apostle Paul to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31

SDG                 rmb                 8/9/2020