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The Great Atonement

The Great Atonement poster

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” —Leviticus 16:21–22

There are two great facts standing over against each other right from the very beginning of man’s history up until this present moment. The first of these is that every man born of a woman comes into the world with a sinful nature, with a disposition to sin. We are not all sinners alike, but we are all alike sinners. Some are worse sinners than others. “But there is none righteous, no not one.” That is God’s solemn statement concerning the natural man.

Of course there was one exception. One sinless Man came into the world, and only one. But that exception proves the rule. Jesus was “holy, undefiled, separate from sinners.” “He knew no sin.”

There was one other in history of man that seemed also to prove an exception to the rule. Before David was crowned king, he was known as the man after God’s own heart. But after he was crowned king over all Israel, there came to him a terrible temptation and he discovered in his heart a depth of wickedness that shocked his whole kingdom and nearly plunged him into hell. He cried out to God: “I was shapen in iniquity. I was born in sin. In sin did my mother conceive me.”

It is not difficult to establish the fact that all men come to the world with a depraved nature. When a man tells me that he does not believe all men are sinners, I never waste any time trying to argue with him. I believe it because God’s Word declares it; my own experience establishes the fact with me; and I presume it does with every honest man. My reason for emphasizing the fact is that we may better appreciate the other truth that I want to talk about, for it is absolutely necessary to recognize the one if we are going to appreciate the other.

A Glorious Fact

The second is that: Our sins may be forgiven and put away forever, but not without the sacrifice of life. With all the modern theology to the contrary, I say that sin cannot be put away without sacrifice of life. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” At the very gateway of Eden, this solemn truth was visualized in the slaying of animals to provide a covering for the nakedness of Adam and Eve. And throughout all the centuries that followed, the lesson is repeated in those offerings placed upon Jewish altars. In every dove, lamb, goat, heifer, or other sacrifice, God was saying: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”

Before us in this sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, we have the law of atonement. “The great day of atonement” is before us here. There were many other ceremonies in connection with the Hebrew ritual, but none of them signified so much or were so important as the ceremonies of the day. Indeed, it gave value to everything in connection with Hebrew ritual. It sets forth more perfectly than any other figure in the Bible the finished and completed work of Jesus Christ for us; and that is why on this eve of Good Friday I would take you back to this Old Testament picture of Calvary and preach to you the Gospel of grace.

Someone said to me since I have been in Chicago, “I cannot see how you preach the Gospel from the Old Testament.”

Well, if a man professes to be a Christian and a believer in the Bible and cannot see the Gospel in the Old Testament, I feel sorry for him; for the New Testament message is set forth in type all the way from Eden to the cross.

God’s Perfect Program

Let us look at some of the features of this great ceremony. First, the time of the day of atonement. You will observe in verse twenty-nine that God Himself fixed the date. It was not left to the decision of Moses or Aaron. God decreed that the atonement should take place once a year, and should cover the sins of the people for the whole year. It should take place “on the seventh month” and on “the tenth day of that month” and should never be held at any other time. Why do I emphasize that fact strongly? Because, friends, I want to contradict the theory that some men have been advancing who profess to believe the Bible, that Calvary was an afterthought with God. If I know my Bible at all, Calvary was planned before the foundation of the world. I cannot explain to you why. I cannot explain to you all the mystery that is associated with those councils held in heaven before the creation of men, but I do believe because my Bible states it, that the Jesus who died on the cross between two thieves was foreordained by God from the foundation of the world to die in that very place at that very time for you and me (1 Peter 1:18–25). It is a great thing to see that God has a program. God has a plan to which He is working, a program which He is following, and in the “fullness of time”—His time—it comes to pass.

How our hearts were touched when our brother was speaking about the confusion and the unrest in the world and other discouraging features that seem to be growing worse and worse. But when he called our attention to the singing of that great angel choir: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory,” he said: “They see it from the divine viewpoint and declare that ‘the whole earth is full of His glory’ for they see God’s plan fully worked out and the devil defeated.” Jesus as King shall reign from “the rivers unto the ends of the earth.” Oh, yes, God has a plan and a great essential part of it was the sending of His Son to Earth “to become the propitiation for our sins.” “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

Important Particulars

Please observe: “To redeem all who were under the curse of the law.” His Son at a particular moment and for a specific purpose came to ransom man and redeem him from the curse. How did He do it? By becoming “a curse for us;” by becoming our substitute, by taking our place for “cursed is every one that hangeth upon the tree.” So you see, when God, in His love, gave His Son to the world, He gave Him to the cross of Calvary. The atonement that Jesus made was not an afterthought with God.

Note again, the Person who made this atonement. There were many priests associated with the temple in the Jewish economy, but there was only one priest that could make the atonement—no other. Only one priest was allowed to officiate on that day, and that was Aaron, the great high priest, because Aaron typifies Christ. The other priests typified the believers; Aaron is a type of Jesus Christ.

So Aaron alone was compelled to render every bit of the service in connection with the great atonement. The first thing he had to do was to humble himself. He was clothed on every other day in a most gorgeous robe. I cannot stop to describe it. He had a great mitre on his head and a golden band about his brow and a breastplate set with very costly gems and stones. They called these garments of the high priest, “the golden robes.”

But, said Jehovah, on the great day of atonement, you must lay aside the gold garments and clothe yourself in common linen. What a story that tells of our great High Priest who, though “equal with God,” “made himself of no reputation.” Think of it for a moment. He humbled Himself, was made in the likeness of man; He became a servant “obedient unto death even the death of the cross.”

The Humblest Of All

I want you to see how He descended and came down to the very lowest place. As you read that great prayer of our Lord’s in the seventeenth chapter of John, think of the glory He had with the Father before He was a babe in Bethlehem. “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” ( John 17:5). Oh brethren, does it require too great a stretch of one’s imagination to see Him laying aside the crown of glory, that regal robe, coming down from the heights of heaven—down to the common estate of man—not only to be like man, but to be man’s servant and the sacrifice for man’s sin? “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I saw this striking wall motto over the desk of a Christian brother the other day: “God had one Son and He was a missionary.” Yes, this is true, but no other missionary was ever sent on such a mission, nor was any other ever treated as the world treated the Beloved One. He came among us and healed the sick, fed the hungry, saved the sinful, and raised the dead. What did we do to Him? We crowned Him with thorns. We put a robe of mockery upon Him. We hated Him. We spat in His face and said, “Crucify Him!” We took Him to a place called Calvary and stripped Him naked and hung Him between two thieves in the sight of the universe—and He allowed us to do it. Surely our great High Priest humbled Himself to make an atonement to save you and me from the curse of the law.

The Figure Fails

But not only must the high priest humble himself, he must purify himself. Here is an evidence of what I have been saying that there is not and never has been a sinless man on Earth apart from Jesus Christ. If I had time to read you the Scriptures, I think I could show right here that Aaron was told specifically in the first part of this chapter that he must not undertake to make an atonement for the people until he had taken a bullock and made a sin offering for himself. He must, first of all, make an atonement for himself and for this whole household before he was permitted to do anything for anybody else.

You will find if you study the subject that he had to wash himself at least five times during the day. There must not be a spot upon him. The thought is that he who comes to make an atonement for us must be the spotless Lamb of God. And it is just here that the type seems to fail, for our great High Priest needed not to offer anything for Himself.

“For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (Hebrews 7:26–28).

Our High Priest needed not to offer anything for Himself for He was the spotless, holy One. Oh friends, if I could not believe that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh, I could not believe my Bible at all. I am going to tell you what I believe some of my brethren in the pulpit and in the universities are doing by their destructive criticism (and I am not railing on them; I am saying this with a sad heart)—they are heading men to infidelity. I honestly believe that. If Jesus of Nazareth is the Man that this Book pictures Him to be, He was God manifest in the flesh.

All Alone

You will notice if you read this seventeenth chapter of Leviticus, that the high priest must serve all alone on that day. There was no help afforded him. Not another man was allowed in the tabernacle when he went in to make the atonement; the high priest was absolutely alone.

If you will take the twenty-ninth chapter of Numbers and read it, you will have another account of that day. On the day of atonement, the high priest had to slaughter at least fifteen different animals. He was not allowed help from any other living soul on Earth. Other priests could minister on other days, but on the day of atonement, the high priest must do everything himself.

Let me read you some words that the prophets have put into the mouth of Jesus Christ. When He came to the place called Calvary, “He looked and there was none to help.” “His own arm brought salvation.” “As for the people, there was none with me.” “I have trodden the wine press alone.” When the moment came to Him to yield Himself up as the great sin offering, “they all forsook him and fled.”

I believe that was in God’s plan. Is it not a remarkable thing that none of His disciples were indicted with Him, and not one of them died with Him? Had it been so, it would have looked as though He needed their help and they were sharing the shame of our sin. He alone must bear our sins in His body on the tree—oh hear me—Himself, Himself, HIMSELF bear my sins in His body on the tree!

Now notice, one goat was chosen to die, and when the moment came, they cast lots and it says in this way the choice was made by God. Can you imagine how those people felt on that day when they confessed their sins and saw them laid upon the goat? That confession included not only the sins of the seven months in the past, but five months in the future. I am glad the death of Jesus Christ and the atonement of Jesus Christ covers not only my past sins, but also the future; so I have no fear of judgment.

The atonement has been made and the blood has been shed. Some of these days our great High Priest will reappear and especially will He reveal Himself to Israel as a nation. “They shall look upon Him whom they pierced. They shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for an only son. A fountain shall be opened in the house of David for sin and uncleanness, and a nation shall be born in a day.”