Charles Spurgeon said that at the heart of the gospel was the atonement of Christ. I respectfully agree. Strike that. I wholeheartedly agree. The atonement is the apex, the climax, the heart, soul, lungs and liver of the gospel message. Without the atonement of Christ on the cross there is no salvation. Without the atonement there is no hope.
The word atone means "to make a wrong right" and that's exactly what happened when Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins. He made our wrongs (past, present and future) right. Paul the apostle put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Stop and think about this verse for a moment. It is the great switcharoo. Jesus (the righteous God-man with no sin) took our sin upon himself and gave us his righteousness. He became sin in the courtroom of God and we became righteousness. What was the secret of making all this work out? The atonement!
Here are three realities about the atonement that should shock, humble and transform us:
1. The atonement was a bloody mess.
Everything about atonement is bloody. Hebrews 9:22 reminds us that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."In other words the only currency that God accepts is colored red. It will be either yours or someone else's. That's why it was so dangerous to be a spotless lamb in Old Testament Israel.
And that's why it was so dangerous for the spotless lamb of God, Jesus Christ. He was the only someone else who could die in our place for our sins. As the perfect man he could die for all of humanity. As the Son of God his payment for sin was infinite.
2. The atonement demonstrates the full scope of God's character.
The fact that God demands a blood sacrifice demonstrates his holiness. The reality that he was willing to sacrifice his own Son for us shows his mercy. God's justice and love collide at the cross. Romans 3:24,25 puts it this way, "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunishedâ€”he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
When Jesus stretched out his strong arms on the cross he was demonstrating the full breadth of the character of God. His love and mercy demonstrated by his willingness to die. His holiness and justice demonstrated by the demand of death as the only acceptable payment for our sins.
3. The atonement is proof that God will do anything to get to you.
Maybe you're feeling a little unloved today. Don't. The God of this universe sent his own Son to the earth and used the pestle of his wrath to crush him in the mortar of the cross. The result was a divine medicine that could forgive us from sin and restore us to him. You are that loved. And there are even more implications to that love that are laid out in the poetic and powerful words of the Apostle Paul,
"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us allâ€”how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who diedâ€”more than that, who was raised to lifeâ€”is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
At the heart of the gospel is the atonement and at the heart of the atonement is a God who is desperately in love with you and me. Marinate on that and then go and share this good news with somebody else today. And don't worry if you turn the conversation into a bloody mess. God has a habit of using those bloody messes for his glory!