Tuesday, February 23, 2010

this i know?

In church on Sunday, Pastor Micah was talking about "atonement".   Under the Old Covenant, atonement was made by the priest for the people of the nation (Aaron, at the time of these commands). Leviticus 16: 20-22 describes something really profound called the "substitutionary atonement".

Leviticus 16: 20-22 "When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins - and put them on the goat's head.  He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed to the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert."

It's an obvious enough parallel. Christ carried our sins on his body on the cross. He was the scapegoat that made atonement for our sins. We've heard it a million times.  But I feel God calling me to reexamine my heart in all of this.

I was talking to my small group this morning about how difficult it can be to receive God's unconditional love. It's easy to know "Jesus loves me". We sing songs all of the time in church of the Father's love. But when it comes down to it, how deeply do we fully receive the unconditional LOVE of God?
My mentality was always performance-based.  I felt that I had to clean up my act, quit drinking, quit smoking, read my Bible every day for a week, and then maybe God would stop being mad at me and we could have a real relationship.  Even at Mercy, I would read my Bible furiously, try to finish our assigned materials faster, and stress myself out trying - trying - trying.

One day God stopped me and spoke into my heart... "Why are you trying to earn my love?"
I said, "I'm not!" (Because clearly, God misunderstood my motives...)
He gently replied, "Yes you are."
I argued back "NU-UH!"
It was quiet for a moment, but I could sense His presence. Like He was waiting. Finally, I humbled my heart and said, "That's all I got". *shrug*
It's hilarious to me now. But isn't it strange how we sometimes respond to God's convictions?

This was the point that God was trying to make:
Romans 5:6-8 "Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready.  And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway.  We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice.  But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him." (The Message)

Selah. Pause a minute and think.
Don't let these stories and metaphors and churchy-rhetoric distract you from the mind-blowing message of God.  We don't have to have some high priest put together an elaborate ritual, lay hands on a goat, confess my sins to it and send it into the desert. Christ made the final atonement. It's not something that demands a repeat performance. Christ took care of it.  And God sent Jesus because he LOVES you. He loves me. He loves us. Passionately, deeply, unconditionally.
You can't earn His love. As Pastor Micah said, "There may be retribution, reconciliation to make, consequences... but never will we ever have to atone for our sins again."
And that's LOVE.

Romans 8:39 
"Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture... None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing -- nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable -- absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."

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