Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

Come Together

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:14

There are a lot of people in recent days talking about what divides us as a nation and how to bring some sort of reconciliation between people. We have all seen the protests and the anger and hurt. We have seen grief and sadness and bitterness and distrust – and all our protesting and postulating and town-hall meetings only seem to make the chasm wider. In this season of Christmas, this time when there should be “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) and we should “love one another” (John 13:34) we see everything but. How did we become such an angry society? What is the root of our discord? And how do we reclaim the peace we’ve lost?

We can try to lay the blame on any number of societal issues: race, prejudice, poverty, substance abuse, distrust, hatred, abuse, oppression, even down to the simple matter of differences of opinion. But the truth is there is one deeper root, one all-encompassing cause to which we can point and say: “This is the heart of all our problems.”

We stand in enmity against God.

From the beautiful Garden of Eden, throughout the history of humanity to this very day, mankind has set himself against the Creator and righteous King and declared himself as his own authority and ruler. He has turned away from God, not realizing that he has made a deadly eternal choice.   We don’t like to admit it, but the truth is that at our core, we are all sinners. We have all inherited a sin-nature from Adam and Eve, the first man and woman and the first sinners. It is not our sin that makes us sinners; it is our sinful nature that makes us sinners and leads us into sin.   It is that sinful nature that sets us against God as His enemy. It is that sinful nature that says we deserve to be punished and condemned. God is righteous and He will judge every human; we will not stand in judgment before Him in our standard of goodness, but in His.

Yet . . . God, who is righteous and holy in His nature and His judgment is also loving toward all His creation – toward Adam and Eve and every person throughout human history, right down to you and me. His holiness demands judgment, but His loving heart passionately desires to be merciful.   And that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s mercy breaking through man’s sinfulness and rebellion like the star that cast its light on the face of an infant in a manger. Jesus. All God’s love and mercy was wrapped in human flesh and swaddling clothes.  And He later wrapped Himself in mankind’s sin – your sin and mine – and died on the cross to take away our sin and break our sinful nature; to bear our punishment and condemnation. God gave Jesus as His gift to humanity to reconcile the creation with the Creator. To bring us peace. And when we are restored to God, when we have peace with God, we can then be restored in our human relationships and have peace with one another. But not until we first receive the gift of Jesus into our lives.

The apostle Paul said “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). This is not reconciliation between men, but rather a ministry of reconciling man and God as Paul also said: “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:15, 16-emphasis added). Restoration and peace between angry people will not be settled as long as we are out of fellowship with God. The root cause of all the hostility in the world is man’s hostility toward God, and the fighting and hatred will never stop until we are reconciled to God. True peace will never come until we have peace with God.

The season of Christmas can become the starting point of a new life, of being reconciled to God and of having true, lasting, real peace – peace that spills over onto those around us. Come to Jesus, not just the babe in the manger, but the man on the cross – and let peace on earth start in your heart today.

Holy Father, please stir in our hearts a desire to be reconciled to You, to know and share Your peace in this angry, hurting world. I pray that the person who reads this will come to receive Your gift of love – Jesus Christ – who alone will bring “peace on earth.” Amen.