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Lesson 6: Atonement in Symbols: Part 1 *

Introduction: This past Sunday evening I was sitting on a bench overlooking the lake by my home. The quiet, beautiful evening turned my thoughts towards God and my place in His world. I thought about why it was I believed God existed, that Christianity was true and Jesus was the Messiah. Our lesson this week speaks to those issues. My reason for believing God exists is the order I see in the Creation. Owning cars and houses has taught me that things move from order to disorder, not the other way around. That God foretold the Messiah through the symbols of the Atonement shows His order. The three major world religions believe in the account of the sanctuary service, yet only Christianity can match it up to Jesus the Messiah. Only Christianity relies on these fulfilled symbols for the forgiveness of sins. Christianity is the logical, consistent, reasonable religion. Let's jump right into our study of the Bible to better understand this!

  1. The Path From Sin

    1. Read Leviticus 6:1-4. Why are all of these sins being "unfaithful to the Lord?" Isn't it the fellow next door who is short his property? (God is the One who said these things are wrong in the Ten Commandments. It is God's standard that is being broken.)

    2. Read Leviticus 6:5. What is the first step to recovery from sin under the Old Testament system? (Although God's law is being broken, God wants us to restore what we have taken. We need to try to fix things. The first step is to admit our error and try to make things right.)

    3. Read Leviticus 5:6. Why does this text say "and as a penalty?" I thought the 20% premium was already paying a penalty! What else is required for sin here? (The 20% penalty was paid to the person cheated. This penalty is paid to God.)

      1. If the animal is "of the proper value," what does it matter if it is "without defect?" Why not kill the defective animals if they have sufficient value to satisfy the penalty?

      2. Why would you kill the animal anyway? You pay penalties with something that works, not something that is dead! "I'm sorry I stole your rims (wheels), here is a dead battery to make it right." (These two requirements make no sense without the Christian understanding of the Messiah.)

    4. Read Leviticus 5:7. Up to this last point in the text we have what I would call a typical system of justice. The state tries to take the profit out of criminal activity, restores the victim of crime and requires a penalty be paid to the state for keeping order. What does this text add that is unusual? (It has to do with this last point about the dead animal. We move into something more than criminal activity. We now specifically address the matter of sin.)

      1. Who does this text say makes atonement? ("The priest shall make atonement for him" for his sin.)

    5. Let's explore this atonement idea a bit more. Read Leviticus 4:27-31. Who kills the animal? (The person who sins puts his hand on the head of the animal and then kills it.)

      1. Notice that this involves unintentional sin. Would this process make you more careful about sinning in the future? (I would hate to kill the animal. For me it would deter sin.)

      2. If you were to walk up to a wise person and say "I've harmed someone, what do you think I should do?" The answer would likely be "Try to make it right and don't do it again." We've looked at the restitution idea. Killing the animal would help to keep me from doing wrong again. Is that all there is to it? Is that what atonement means - discouraging future wrongdoing? What important element is missing?

    6. Read Leviticus 17:11-12. In this text and the last, we have all of this discussion about handling the blood. How does blood fit into this picture?

      1. Why is blood something which can atone? (Read Genesis 2:15-16. The result of sin is death. God says in Leviticus that life is in the blood. The death of the animal substituted in some way for the death-causing sin of the human. The animal's blood atoned for the person's sin. This is something quite different than restitution or deterrence. We started out saying that sin is being unfaithful to God. It is a violation of His standard. His standard says sin results in death.)

  2. Atonement As Prophecy

    1. We considered before what a wise person would say to someone who had done something wrong. I think it is safe to say that a blood sacrifice would never enter the mind of the wise person. Are there any major world religions who believe in blood sacrifice for personal wrongs (short of murder)? Are there any who believe or teach an atonement?

    2. Read Romans 3:23-26. How does the Bible suggest that the atonement component of the sanctuary system predicted Jesus? (The sanctuary system introduced the novel idea that the blood of the animal could somehow free the human from having to pay for his sin with his life. The person could avoid the ultimate result of sin by using a substitute.)

      1. Notice that Romans 3:25 says this atonement idea demonstrates "justice." Is that how you see it? If I were the advocate for the animals, I would be calling this system "injustice."

    3. Judaism no longer practices animal sacrifices because the temple has been destroyed and not rebuilt. Is that a reasonable excuse not to follow the clearly laid out procedure to eliminate sin? (Read Exodus 20:24-25. The sacrifice did not require a temple. It could be made upon an altar of dirt or stones.)

    4. Does Islam, which accepts the Old Testament as God's revelation, have anything approaching atonement by someone other than the sinner?

    5. Read 1 Peter 1:18-21. What does Peter say is the usual way to make wrongs right? (Pay a penalty: silver, gold or money of some sort.)

      1. How are our wrongs made right? (By the blood of Jesus.)

      2. Notice that Peter refers to the lamb being without blemish or defect. I raised this issue before saying that it made no sense in the abstract. How does it make sense now? (The reason why God required a perfect animal - without blemish - was to predict that Jesus, who lived a perfect life, would die to atone for our sins.)

      3. Was God making the sanctuary system up as He went along? (No. This text says that God had this plan in mind before the world was created. He put in place the sanctuary service as a symbolic device to teach us about His plan for the salvation of humans.)

      4. Why not just settle for animals dying? Why did Jesus have to die? How is this justice? If I were God I certainly would have used farm animals instead of my son! (This is still a difficult concept for me to grasp logically. My father's friend, Patrick Stevenson, helped me to better understand this. If I committed a crime worthy of death, I could not offer the court my dog or any other animal. I could not offer the court any member of my family. The court would require my life. We corporately fell into sin when Adam and Eve sinned. When we become a Christian we become "in Christ." Jesus is the "second Adam," and we corporately become part of Jesus who lived, died and was resurrected on our behalf. Thus we died when He died. Contemplate Romans 5:12-19 to better understand this.)

  3. Practical Living

    1. Does the fact that Jesus atoned for our sin give us freedom to sin? (Read Romans 6:1-2. When we died with Jesus, we died to sin. If you remain in Jesus, you want to steer clear of sin.)

      1. If killing an animal would deter you from future sinning, what about killing Jesus?

    2. Read Psalms 51:3-4. What element does this highlight? (God says that wrongdoing is sin against Him. Confession of sin is to God because He is the one ultimately wronged.)

    3. Read James 5:13-16. Is James telling us that we need to confess our sins to fellow believers to be forgiven? How is this consistent with the idea that we sin against God when we break His rules? (James seems to be writing about how fellow believers can help each other to steer clear of sin. By letting a trusted believer know you have a problem in a certain area, that person may be able to encourage and counsel you. This might help you to avoid sin. Some call this an "accountability partner.")

    4. Friend, Christianity is the thinking person's religion. If you accept the Old Testament as God's revelation to humans, the entire system for shedding sin pointed to a coming Messiah who would die to atone for our sins. Christianity alone accepts this logical link. Will you confidently take hold of what Jesus has done for you? Will you today live like you believed Jesus died for your sins?

  4. Next week: Atonement in Symbols: Part 2.
* Copr. 2008, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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