A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on June 26, 2011 by Pastor Dale Raether  The Christian Faith One Word at a Time - AtonementRomans 3:21-28Children, when you’re naughty, do your parents love you less than when you’re being good?  No, they always love you the same.  It’s important to remember that, because if you did something wrong and your mom or dad said, “Come here!” would you immediately go to them?  Sure, because they love you.  Or when they ask you, “What did you do?” will you right away tell?  Sure, because they love you.  And then your parents might give you a consequence to help you learn.  But after that they might say, “Let’s start over fresh!” Do you know why your parents would say that?  Because they love you!  Children, this is how it is between us and God.  His love for us is always the same.  And so whenever we sin or feel bad about ourselves, God helps us and gives us a fresh new start.  You can go back to your moms and dads.   Guilt is everyone’s biggest problem.  People feel guilty because of bad choices.  They feel guilty over habits they can’t kick.  They feel guilty for not keeping up with everything, or for not being kinder and more patient with others.  Because of guilt, we can fall into thinking God’s doesn’t love as much as He does others, especially those who seem to have it altogether.  As a result when Jesus says, “Come to my house”, we might respond by staying away.  Or, if we do come, we might feel like we’re being a hypocrite. That’s not how God wants us to feel!  This morning we’re starting a sermon series based on the Book of Romans.  It’s called, “The Christian faith – one word at a time.”  In this series we’re going to hear Bible words that aren’t used much anymore.  And it’s a shame, because these words help us to know God’s love better.  And this turns our guilt turns into joy, and our joy becomes strength to truly live our faith.  Today’s word is Atonement.  What atonement means for us 1.  We are acquitted of our guilt.  2.  Because our sins are paid for.  3.  And we are cleansed for life with God.   We read in our text, “21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace.”  Righteousness, justified – more big Bible words!  Actually in the original Greek those two words are the same word, and it’s a word that would be spoken in a Roman courtroom.  For example, Jesus was accused of trying to start a rebellion against Caesar.  Pilate examined the facts and found those charges to be false.  Pilate then should have acquitted Jesus and let Him go.  Anyway, now you know what our English word righteousness means in this verse.  It means acquittal, and justified is the verb form of the same word.  It means acquitted.  And now with this in mind, here’s a more literal translation of some of this verse.  “But now apart from the Law (apart from anything we do) acquittal from God has been made know… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are acquitted freely by his grace.”   Do you see why I say that God’s love for us doesn’t change because of our sins?  We are acquitted.  But how do we know God’s acquittal applies to us?   Well, look at the word all in this verse.  All have sinned.  Ever since Adam and Eve, all are continually in a state of sin, and all are continually falling short of glory from God and His being able to say to us, “Good job!” Do you agree with that?  When you search your heart, do you see as much falling short in yourself as God sees in you?  Well, don’t be afraid to ask God to open up your eyes so that you do see yourself more clearly, so that He can help you and give you a fresh new start, because remember this.  God’s love for us stays the same, whether we’re the kind of person others look up to for having it altogether, or whether we’re down on ourselves for not having it altogether.  We are all continually in the state of being acquitted.      Incidentally, this is not just a New Testament teaching, as though in the Old Testament people saved in a different way.  For example in our first lesson this morning, God told the Children of Israel, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Many take this verse as, “Teach your family the Ten Commandments.”  That’s true enough, but it’s not whole truth.  God’s first word to the Children of Israel was actually, “I am the Lord your God who redeemed you from Egypt”, and then after that He gave them the Commandments.  In other words, the Children of Israel weren’t acquitted by God, because they kept the Commandments.  Rather first God acquitted them and they would have joy and strength for the Commandments.    Unfortunately, the Children of Israel did not care.  Right at the foot of Mt Sinai with God’s pillar of fire in plain sight, they built a golden calf and worshipped it with a drunken orgy.  Now God was angry enough with them, but He did not strike them all dead.  Instead He continually acquitted them, because He was looking ahead to when His Son would pay for their sins.    We read again in our text, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  That word redemption is similar to our word “ransom.”  If someone is kidnapped, the family might pay a ransom to get their loved one back.  In a sense we were kidnapped by Satan.  Sin had made us his slaves, because sin puts a wall between us and God.  This wall cuts us off from God’s blessings and strength.  As a result Satan could keep tempting us into grosser and grosser sins or else into worse and worse pride, until we ended up in hell.  However, Jesus tore down our wall of our sins by paying God the price of our sins for us, which was death.  Also, the original Greek emphasizes that only Christ could do this, and we can’t help.  In our first hymn we sang, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill the Laws demands.  Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow.  All for sin could not atone; though must save and thou alone.”  It’s wrong for us to beat ourselves up with guilt and shame, because then we’re saying that Christ was a failure in paying for our sins.  But He wasn’t a failure!  His resurrection, His descent into hell to proclaim His victory, and His ascension back into heaven, all proclaim God’s verdict.  Because Christ died to pay the price of our sins, all are acquitted. However, does this include even Casey Anthony?  All means all, doesn’t it?  Casey’s only problem is she doesn’t appear to believe God has acquitted her otherwise she’d do the right thing and tell what happened.  Also, if she dies not believing Christ redeemed her, she will be forever separated from God.  So, more boasting, no more belittling, everyone is in the same boat.  We all need faith to believe that God acquitted us because Christ paid for our sins, so that we will have joy and strength to keep the Commandments.   Our text tells us how God gives us such faith.  We read, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”  The word atonement takes us to the Old Testament.  Once a year on the Day of Atonement, a goat was sacrificed and its blood drained into a bowl and mixed with water.  Then the High Priest would take the branch of a hyssop plant and sprinkle the blood on the atonement cover in the Temple and then on the people in the Temple courtyard.   Here’s what the atonement cover looked like.  It was the cover on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the two tablets of stone on which God had written the Ten Commandments.  The golden cherubim on the cover remind of us Isaiah’s vision of heaven with God sitting on his throne and seraphs and singing, “Holy! Holy!  Holy!”  Anyway, God told the Children of Israel that He was present between the two golden cherubim in a special way.  And so, when the High Priest sprinkled blood on the cover, God would look down and see the Commandments they had broken.  But He would also see the blood, which to Him symbolized the blood His Son would shed.  And so in God’s eyes, every sin was washed away, and the people were clean enough to be in His presence forever.     Now, on the part of the Children of Israel, seeing this sacrifice repeated year after year and always being reminded what it meant, … the Holy Spirit used that to strengthen their faith.  Then, as they would become more certain of God’s love, it was to show in their worship, their honesty, and in how they loved one another.       We don’t have the Day of Atonement anymore to give us that joy and strength.  The last Day of Atonement was the day Jesus died.  However, we have the cleansing of our sins through our Baptism.  And so, as we remember day after day what God did for us in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit still uses that to strengthen our faith, that we too are still one with God forever. And now you know what the word atonement means.  Divide it up – at/one/ment.  We are at one with God, because Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  By the way, you hear those words every week, as the pastor announces your forgiveness.  So, no more feeling that we’re better than others because we have the right traditions and so forth!  Likewise no more feeling we’re less than others or beating ourselves up!  We are all at one with God by believing that we are, through the faith God gives us.  Yet how do we know that God wants to give us such a faith, especially if we’re not feeling our faith for some reason?  That’s easy.  Did Christ die for every sin?  Yes!  Did God on that basis acquit all?  Again, yes!  And so, God absolutely does acquit you and He does accept you and is welcoming you into His flock.  Furthermore, as we keep on coming to Him, He will keep on turning our guilt into joy, and our joy into strength, that we all may live righteous, innocent, and blessed lives, until we are at one with Him in heaven.  Amen.        

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