The Day of Atonement

In Leviticus 16, the Lord God commanded Old Covenant Israel to observe the Day of Atonement on the 10th day of the 7th month as a perpetual ordinance. The Day of Atonement was a type and shadow that pointed forward to New Covenant fulfillment in and through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The stated purpose of the ritual of Leviticus 16 was “to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year” (v.34). The word ‘atonement’ means ‘to cover’ and is used in other contexts to refer to ‘forgiveness’ and ‘ransom’ and ‘cleansing.’ The ritual was also designed to teach Israel several lessons concerning atonement.

In the first place, the Day of Atonement demonstrated the holiness of God. The historical occasion for the instruction given in Lev 16 is found in vv.1-2 which refers to the death of Nadab and Abihu when they offered strange fire before the LORD (Lev 10:1-2). After the death of the two priests, the Lord nailed down a fundamental lesson that Israel needed to learn, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (Lev 10:3). The floor plan in the tabernacle (where the ritual was conducted) further demonstrated the holiness of God: there were two rooms and the room behind the veil (the Holy of Holies) was where God manifested His presence. Access to the second room was guarded, restricted, and further revealed that sinners do not just wander into the presence of God without mediation.

Secondly, the Day of Atonement reminded Israel about their sinfulness. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, he did so in order to make atonement for sin. The ritual demonstrated the pervasive power of sin: the high priest made atonement for himself, his house, and the children of Israel. It is interesting to note that atonement had to be made even for the Holy of Holies, the holy place, the tabernacle of meeting, and even the altar. The lesson is obvious: even holy things are defiled when they come into contact with sinful man (cf. Hag 2:10-14). Andrew Bonar commented on atonement for the altar in this way,

Strange that the altar should need to be purified! And yet what spot had more connection with sin? Was not ever sin confessed there? Was not every sin laid down there? Was not that the spot where wrath was ever falling? Here is a strange combination – sin, and the atonement for sin. It may have been typical of the fact, that the foulest sin and the fullest atonement were found at the cross.[1]

Thirdly, the Day of Atonement taught the children of Israel that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission” (Heb 9:22). The high priest did not enter behind the veil without blood. He brought blood to atone for his sins, his house, the children of Israel, and the tabernacle. Lev 17:11 indicated the significance of the sacrifice of blood, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” The Christian church ought not to reduce (destroy?) the gospel message by portraying it as a self-help message, a moralistic message (be like Jesus!), or one message among many. Furthermore, the Day of Atonement taught the children of Israel (and us) that we are not free to be innovative in our approach to worship; God alone determines how we may approach Him. While modern man seeks signs or wisdom like the Jew and the Greek before him, we must echo the Apostle Paul, “but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). Blood atonement through Christ the Lord is what sinful man desperately needs if he is to gain acceptance with a holy God.

Finally, the Day of Atonement instructed Israel in how blessed atonement really is. The high priest brought two goats for sacrifice on behalf of Israel (not for the nations surrounding Israel: it was a particular atonement). One of the goats was killed and the other served as a scapegoat. The children of Israel were forbidden from entering the tent of meeting while the priest offered the blood of the first goat, but the ritual concerning the scapegoat was witnessed by the children of Israel. The high priest laid his hands on the goat, confessed the sins of Israel, and then drove the goat into the wilderness. The action demonstrated substitutionary curse-bearing and the removal of sin. If the children of Israel had would have had Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn “When Peace Like a River,” perhaps they would have sung the third stanza in this way,

My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part, but the whole, is laid on this goat and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul![2]

[1] Andrew Bonar, Commentary on Leviticus, (Carlisle:  PA, Banner of Truth Trust, re. 1998), 310.

[2] Horatio B. Spafford, Trinity Hymnal – Baptist Edition (Suwanee: GA, Great Commission Publications, 1995), #580.

The Killing Continues

With the recent decision of a B.C. Supreme Court judge, the province inches closer to creating a macabre open season on human beings. In a strange twist of logic, Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled that the provisions of the Charter of Rights unjustifiably infringe on a disabled person’s life, liberty, and security.[1] If this logic were applied to liberty and security, the Justice would authorize freemen plunging themselves into slavery and secure men placing themselves in harm’s way. Why bother with a Charter of Rights at all?

This recent decision should come as no surprise: in light of legalized abortion (a feature of Canadian society since 1969), it was only a matter of time until other human beings were the lawful subjects of murder, whether self-inflicted or “physician” assisted. A society that justifies murdering the most helpless members of that society is certainly proclaiming its moral bankruptcy. It is an unfortunate and grim reality: “beautiful B.C.” is a place where those deserving increased protection are marginalized and disposable.

This disregard for human life is a further indication of how far society has devolved from an objective moral standard, namely, the revealed truth of God. I suspect some will question the validity of such a position, but follow along for a moment. The Bible reveals that God made man in His own image and wrote His law upon man’s heart. Man defected from God shortly after his entrance into the world, but he can never fully shake the law of God. He is conscious of certain truths, even though he tries very hard to suppress those truths when they conflict with his wishes. One of those truths is the commandment, “You shall not murder.” If a society excludes this particular commandment, there will be inevitable consequences: physician assisted suicide, abortion on demand, and any number of horrific crimes may potentially become accepted realities. The society in question is left without an objective defense against the encroaching tyranny of lawless men. After all, why shouldn’t the government declare open season on any or all groups within that society? Why shouldn’t the government commit any number of atrocities if there is no absolute standard of right and wrong? A society that authorizes the murder of the preborn and the disabled is a society that has created a culture of death; death becomes the solution for any who do not meet the societal standard of being wanted or having a certain agreed upon quality of life.

The law of God is the standard of right and wrong that will protect man from the always arbitrary and oftentimes murderous tendencies of governments.  Science effectively tells man what is, but science can never tell a man what ought to be.  Francis Schaeffer wrote,

In the flood of the loss of humanness in our age – including the flow from abortion-on-demand to infanticide and on to euthanasia – the only thing that can stem this tide is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people.  And the only thing which gives us that is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God.  We have no other final protection.  And the only way we know that people are made in the image of God is through the Bible and in the incarnation of Christ, which we know from the Bible.[2]

The Bible reveals that man is created in the image of God, and therefore to murder man is to assault the divine majesty.[3]  The fact that man is created in the image of God is not true only of healthy adults, but it is true of man in every phase of his life. Man is the image of God before the fall into sin (Gen 1:26-28), after the fall into sin (Jas 3:9), in the womb (Ex 21:21-25), as a child (Lev 18:21; Eph 6:4), as one physically handicapped (Lev 19:14; Mk 10:46-52), as an elderly person (Lev 19:32; Prov 16:31; 1 Tim 5:1), and as having dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28; Ps 8:6-8).

Instead of authorizing murder for the vulnerable ones in society, the Supreme Court ought to uphold the Charter of Rights for every person, for a failure to uphold the Charter is wrong in at least two ways. In the first place, it is wrong to permit the unlawful killing of another human being.  It is unfortunate that reasons have to be added to this most fundamental principle, but such is the hardness of man’s heart. And secondly, if the rights of one group are violated, it will not be long until the rights of all groups are violated. That potential open season on human beings may be extended in the next Supreme Court ruling and another group’s right to life, liberty, and security may be at risk.

[2] John Piper, A Hunger for God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 158.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology:  Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans Publishing, re. 1991), 54.

The Authority of Scripture

The role of the Bible in Christianity cannot be overstated. The Scriptures declare that God is and that He has spoken. It is true that God has revealed Himself through the created order, but the special revelation of God recorded in the Old and New Testaments is foundational for all matters of faith and practice.

In Deuteronomy chapter 5, Moses rehearsed the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel on the Plains of Moab. After completing the Decalogue, he said, “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.” In the first place, the divine origin of God’s law is highlighted as Moses states plainly “the LORD spoke.” Secondly, the absolute authority of the law is underscored: if the authoritative Lord spoke His truth then it necessarily follows that His word is authoritative. Thirdly, the permanence of God’s law is established as the Lord Himself “wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to [Moses.]”

Some might be tempted to say, “well certainly the Ten Commandments are authoritative, but what about the rest of the Bible?” In 2 Timothy chapter 3, the Apostle Paul sets forth the authority of the entirety of God’s word to Timothy.  He wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (vv.16-17). In the first place, “all Scripture” certainly refers to the Old Testament. It also refers to the New Testament as the NT documents themselves indicate their divine origin. Paul insisted that his letters be read in the churches (1 Th 5:27), exchanged among the churches (Col 4:16), obeyed (1 Cor 14:37; 2 Th 2:15; 3:14), and that his words were taught to him by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:13). The Apostle Peter categorized Paul’s letters with “the Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:15-16). Secondly, the Scriptures are inspired. Inspiration in this context does not mean the sort of thing a poet experiences before he composes; it rather refers to the fact that God breathed His word through the human authors. In much the same way the Lord Jesus was divine and human, so are the sacred Scriptures. Thirdly, the Scriptures are authoritative as they prescribe those things profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. In other words, the authoritative God of heaven and earth has given His authoritative word to His people for all matters of faith and practice.

Whether revealed at Sinai, the Plains of Moab, or at Ephesus, the truth remains the same: Scripture is the authoritative word of God to man. As a result of this, the believer must search the Scriptures, the church must be grounded upon the Scriptures, and pastors must preach the Scriptures. In light of 2 Tim 3:15-16, 2 Tim 4:2 is not at all surprising that Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching.” Let pastors today go and do likewise.

The Worship of the Lamb, Revelation 5

Worship and adoration are the appropriate responses to the revelation of the Lamb who has prevailed to open the scroll of God’s judgment. In fact, falling down before the Lamb, presenting prayers before the Lamb, singing to the Lamb, and worshiping the Lamb are all consistent with the revelation of His glory. This activity is not confined to the twenty-four elders (representatives of the church), but extends to “many angels around the throne” along with the “living creatures” and encompassing a great number of worshipers, “and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11).

Christ is praised with a “new song” because He is “worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals” (Rev 5:9a). Notice one significant difference between the worshipers in heaven and worshipers on earth. Some of God’s professing people on earth do not often talk about God’s judgment and some even seem embarrassed by the Lord’s judgments and try to explain them away. They do not usually admit embarrassment, but their words and actions evidence the disposition of their hearts. Contrary to that attitude the worshipers in heaven see Christ’s execution of vengeance as a reason to sing a new song to Him and praise Him. There is need for the church today to recover this attitude; not with a petty and vindictive spirit, but with a desire to see the justice of God manifested.

Christ is praised because He “was slain, and [has] redeemed us to God by [His] blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9b). This is the Christ of v. 5 who is described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who interestingly appears to John as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (v.6). The King-Priest of Psalm 110 has accomplished the work the Father had given Him, ascended to heaven, and now receives praise from His people. Revelation 5:9 also indicates another difference between the worshipers of heaven and the worshipers on earth:  the multitudes in heaven do not have a problem with particular redemption. Christ did not come to make redemption possible, He came to actually redeem the elect of God by His blood and this glorious truth elicits the praise of the “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands!” The “Five Points of Calvinism” are not only a soteriological formulation; they are also a doxological foundation. The knowledge of a Holy Redeemer who crushed the head of the serpent ought to promote praise and worship for Christ by His church.

Christ is praised because He has “made us kings and priests to our God; and [has enabled us to] reign on the earth” (Rev 5:10). This statement highlights something of God’s covenantal plan:  the nation of Israel was to function as a kingdom of priests in order to mediate God’s blessings to the rest of the earth (Ex 19:6). Of course, Israel failed to execute this because of their sin. Christ as the true Israel fulfills all of His covenantal obligations, saves His elect, and enables them to function as the Israel of God by virtue of their union with Him. The church’s calling is a glorious one because of the redemptive work of her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is praised for having received “power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). In Daniel’s description of Christ’s ascension, he writes “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Dan 7:14). Christ as victor receives great blessing from His Father and the worshipers in heaven ascribe worthiness to Him “who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (v.12). This is not a potential Savior or one who helps His people save themselves; Christ saves to the uttermost and is worthy of the praise of His people.

Christ is praised as the One who sits with His Father on the throne “forever and ever” (Rev 5:13b).  This praise comes from “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea” (Rev 5:13a).  This is a vivid application of Ps 103:  David calls on the entirety of the moral universe to bless the Lord (Ps 103:20-22). The church militant ought to join the church triumphant in that blessed refrain, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (v.13).

What is the Gospel?

The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”  The gospel is the historic, revealed message concerning Jesus Christ. It is that record of events which focus upon Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for sinners. It is important to understand this as some Christians with good intentions maintain that believers should “live the gospel.”  Technically, one cannot live the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for sinners – it is a message, it is a declaration, it is good news. One can live in light of it or one can let his conduct be worthy of it or one can pursue holiness; but to live out the events of Christ’s redemptive work on behalf of sinners, is simply not our calling. In 1 Cor 15, the Apostle Paul addresses the doctrine of the resurrection. In verses 1-4, he sets forth the gospel of Jesus Christ as the foundation for the argument that follows. We note several things concerning the gospel in this section of Scripture.

In the first place, the gospel is rooted in history. Before the foundation of the world, God decreed to save a people by His Son Jesus Christ. The gospel is the execution of that decree in history. Paul says that Christ died, was buried, and rose again. These are historic, dateable and non-repeatable events. In fulfillment of the Old Testament word of promise, Christ came in the fullness of the times, was born of a woman, and born under the law. He lived in obedience to the law of God, died to satisfy divine justice in the place of sinners, and rose again.

Secondly, the gospel is revealed by God. The Scripture speaks of two types of revelation, general and special. Ps 19 and Rom 1 set forth the truth that God reveals Himself to His image bearers through the created order. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1) and what God has manifested of Himself to man leaves man without excuse for his sin and disobedience (Rom 1:19-20). However, general revelation does not communicate the necessity for blood atonement. It does not reveal the work of Christ on the cross for sinners. Special revelation is God’s having made Himself and His ways known through the Scriptures. Paul highlights this in 1 Cor 15:1-4 by indicating that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection happened “according to the Scriptures” (vv.3,4). The work of Christ was not an after-thought or a reaction in the mind of God; the Old Testament conspicuously promised a coming Redeemer who would crush the head of Satan through His redemptive work which Christ carried out in His first coming.

Thirdly, the gospel is the record of Christ’s work for sinners. The Triune God is actively involved in salvation (Eph 1:3-14) and the gospel message is the outworking of the Father’s decree to save the elect. As well, it is the gospel that the Holy Spirit brings to bear upon the elect:  when sinners are born again by His power, they believe the gospel of Christ.  Because of this, the church and her preachers must set forth Christ in His person and in His work to all mankind. Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2); the modern church does well to imitate the Apostle.

Fourthly, the gospel is received by faith alone.  Christianity is not moralism; it is not a message of “try-harder” and you will be accepted by God.  The gospel addresses the root of the matter:  man before God is completely undone because of his sin.  There is no ability in the sinner to gain acceptance with God. The gospel is the revelation of the One who kept the law; who always did what pleased His Father; who died as a sacrifice and a substitute for His people.  The means by which His people are justified is through faith alone.  Paul highlights the role of faith in 1 Cor 15 — “which also you received [by faith] in which you stand” (v.1), “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (v.2) and “so we preach and so you believe” (v.11).  Verse 2 also indicates the absolute necessity of the gospel for salvation, for if one does not believe and hold fast that word, one is not saved.[1]

The final observation is a very practical one:  the gospel is powerful to save the worst sinners.  In verse 9, Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  Paul declares in Rom 1:16 that the gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”  He highlights his own sinfulness in Gal 1:13 and makes a wonderful declaration in 1 Tim 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”  In light of these observations, we should praise God Almighty for His wonderful gospel!


[1] Other passages speak to the absolute necessity of Christ and His gospel for salvation.  See for example, Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16-17; Eph 1:13-14; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23.