Sunday, May 16, 2004

Substitutionary Atonement

Our Lord God is and always has been a gracious Lord. Even before the fall God’s relationship with man was a gracious relationship. God could have placed Adam and Eve in a wilderness, where they would have had to struggle from the beginning . Instead, Adam and Eve were placed in a garden that was able to supply all their needs. They were placed in the midst of plenty, and they were given the job of keeping the garden, but the garden was such that even this work was not hard or strenuous labour.

Some people believe that Adam could have earned salvation for him and for us had he perfectly kept God’s Word. But this is not correct; even had Adam perfectly kept God’s word God would have owed him nothing, because perfectly keeping His Law Word was Adam’s duty. His works could not then, it can not now, nor could it ever have earned eternal life. Had Adam not sinned he would have lived forever, but he would not have earned that life, it would still have been of grace and not something aquired by works. Eternal life is all of grace and it always has been.

We can see the out working of God’s grace immediately after the fall. God had told Adam "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) But this did not happen; Adam and Eve did not die, instead God killed animals and he clothed the sinners in the skins of the animals that were substituted for them.

The guilty did not die when Adam and Eve sinned. Innocent animals died in their stead, and then God covered the nakedness of the guilty party (i.e. Adam and Eve) with the skins of the animals that died in their place. Right here in the first chapters of Genesis we see the shadow of the reality of redemption that is accomplished for us in Christ Jesus.

We, like Adam and Eve, are guilty of sinning against the Lord. We, like Adam and Eve, are deserving of the wages of our sin, which is death. We see the pattern of substitutionary atonement throughout the Old Testament. This is seen in the bloody animal sacrifices that fill the pages of the Old Covenant Scriptures. Like the animals that died in the place of Adam and Eve, all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were but shadows that pointed to the true Sacrifice for our sins.

The sacrifice of animals can not ultimately redeem us from our sins; they can only point to the true Redeemer. We see this clearly taught in Hebrews chapter nine. All those countless animal sacrifices, over several millennia, pointed to the true Sacrifice which is Jesus Christ. Because of sin someone had to die. God’s holiness and justice demanded it, but yet God’s grace allowed for a substitute. Either the sinner or the substitute had to pay the penalty for sin. We see this too in Hebrew 9. We are told that without the shedding of blood there is no remission from sin.

Jesus came to fulfill the justice of God. In Him God the Son entered His creation. The Lord became flesh and blood. He kept His own Law Word and He gave himself to pay the penalty for the sins of all that will receive eternal life. Again in Hebrews 9 we read "he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Jesus atoned for our sins and like the animal skins that covered Adam and Eve, our nakedness is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Dominus Vobiscum,

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