Tag Archives: Atonement

Another Choice

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…Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. They themselves shall eat the food by which atonement is made…
Exodus 29:32-33 (NRSVCE)

Along my life journey, I have observed that we like things simple. In fact, we like things in twos, binary, either-or, black-or-white. Even when it comes to spiritual matters, human beings find it easiest to reduce things down to binary terms.

We teach children that they are either “good” or “naughty.” It’s one or the other. As David Sedaris once noted, if you’re naughty then Santa will fill your stocking with coal. If you’re good and live in America, Santa will pretty much give you whatever you want.

As an adult, I am supposed to mature in my understanding, but I’m not sure I do it all that well. The systems still largely cater to lumping me in one of two binary choices. I’m either a Republican or a Democrat. I’m either left or right, liberal or conservative. I’m either woke or a racist. I’m either selflessly trying to protect the world from COVID or I’m selfishly contributing to the perpetuation of the pandemic. I’m either FoxNews or CNN. I am privileged or oppressed.

Even in spiritual terms, I am good or evil, going to heaven or hell, saved or sinner.

For the ancient Hebrews we read about in today’s chapter, they spiritually saw things in a binary option, as well: clean or unclean. The ancient Hebrews perceived that they moved spiritually back and forth between clean and unclean based on what they ate, what they touched, or bodily fluids were recently excreted. If you were unclean, then you needed to cleanse yourself in order to be “clean” before God. It happened all the time.

In today’s chapter, God is cultivating another spiritual level altogether as the system of worship and sacrifice is prescribed through Moses: being “holy.” The text describes a strange, mysterious, and somewhat gross set of rituals that consecrated Aaron and his boys to make them “holy” priests who could stand before God to represent their people.

What fascinated me as I read about all of the rituals was the fact that Aaron and the priests were asked to sacrifice a bull and a ram and then eventually they would eat the meat of the animal whose blood was shed to atone (that is, to make right and correct what is wrong) for their sin.

Hold the phone.

Fast forward 1500 years or so. Jesus is in the middle of nowhere with thousands of people. They’re all hungry (yeah, kind of like Moses and the Hebrews). When Jesus asks the Twelve what they can spare from their lunch box, it’s nothing but a loaf of Wonder Bread and a couple of fish sticks. Jesus has them split it into baskets and then spread out and start serving the people. Miraculously, there was enough filet-o’-fish sandwiches for everyone plus leftovers (Sounds a lot like the Manna and quail God provided for the Hebrews).

That night, Jesus slips into a boat and goes to another region. The next day, the crowds hurried to rush around the shore and find Jesus before lunchtime. They were thinking in the simplest of binary terms. I’m hungry. Jesus is giving out food.

Then Jesus does something very, well, un-Jesus-like. He cuts them off. No more free meals:

When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.

“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”

Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me…

“Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you.”

from John 6 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but once again see the parallel between the Exodus story, and the Jesus story. Exodus was the foreshadow provided to an infant nation. Jesus came to mature our understanding of what God’s Kingdom is all about in contrast to the simple satiation and indulgence of our earthbound appetites of the flesh. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world, and it requires the eyes and ears of my heart to see and hear beyond the simplistic choices fed to me by this world.

As mentioned in the last couple of posts, Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the word-picture God gave Moses and Hebrews in the sacrificial system. Aaron sacrificed a bull, was sprinkled with the blood, and then ate the sacrifice to make things right.

Jesus came to be the sacrifice.

“This is my body broken for you,” He said as he passed the bread and told His followers to eat.

“This is my blood shed for you,” He said as he passed the wine and told His followers to drink.

Just like Aaron and his boys, we spiritually consume the sacrifice.

The sacrifice consumes us.

Everything is made right.

Holy.

Jesus said to the crowds that day:

“Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

Until that day, I keep pressin’ on, one-step-at-time, one-day-at-a-time trying to be an agent of God’s Kingdom on this earth. So begins another day in the journey.

Have a great day, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Transformed by Love

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 (NIV)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the letters of John are, chronologically, the last of the letters to have been written by Jesus’ apostles. Tradition holds that John outlived all of the other apostles and is the only of the original Twelve to die of natural causes. The rest were all martyred for their faith.

The indisputable theme of John’s writing and life is love. He was known as “the disciple Jesus’ loved.” He was the only disciple with the courage to personally show up at the crucifixion. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, entrusted John with the care of His mother. As you might expect, having been the last of Jesus’ disciples, John was sought out and revered by Jesus’ followers. Tradition holds that, in his old age, John said nothing except “Children, love one another” over and over and over again.

What’s fascinating about the perpetual theme of love in John’s writing and the description of John as a person consumed with love is that it stands in stark contrast to the John we meet in the biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” for their intense anger and rage. At least twice John pleaded with Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn up those he was condemning. John, his brother James, and their mother were at the center of multiple attempts to selfishly claim positional power within Jesus’ followers.

John was transformed from a raging, self-centered Son of Thunder into a generous, humble man who knew nothing but “love one another.”

In today’s chapter, John makes an interesting statement. He states that Jesus’ death was the atoning sacrifice for “the sins of the whole world.” In ancient times, a sacrifice of atonement was an offering or a literal animal sacrifice intended as a type of penance for wrongdoing in order to appease God and ward off God’s wrath. The atoning sacrifice was limited to the person making the sacrifice, or in the case of the sacrificial system handed down through Moses it was limited to the people of Israel. Jesus’ sacrificial death, however, was unlimited atonement. It was a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

I have often observed that Jesus’ followers often get focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the very things those doctrines mean (I’m including myself in this). If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then every person in the world is a person for whom Jesus died. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I think that simple fact should transform how I view others, how I address others, and how I treat others.

My life should be transformed by love the same way John’s was. If not, then something is amiss. Or, as John put it in today’s chapter:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Want to read more?

Click on the image of John to be taken to a simple visual index of all the chapter-a-day posts from 1 John.

You can also click here to open a simple visual index of chapter-a-day posts indexed by book of the Bible.

The Fat

All fat is the Lord’s. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.
Leviticus 3:16b-17 (NRSV)

I am married to a fabulous cook. Anyone who has had one of Wendy’s amazing cheesecakes can attest to this. Just this past Saturday she made a Italian chicken and pasta dinner that I’m still thinking about it. When it comes to grilling, however, I am the grill master at our house. If we’re going to grill meat, then I’m in charge, from choosing the meat, to preparing it and grilling it.

I don’t claim to be great with the grill, but I’ve learned a few things along the journey. For example, if you’re going to choose a nice steak then you have to look for a cut which has good “marbling.” In other words, the fat runs throughout the lean and creates an effect that looks a bit like marble. It’s the fat throughout the meat that melts and creates a juicy steak. Fat makes it a “choice” steak.

In order for those of us in 21t century western culture to being to wrap our heads around the ancient  semitic sacrificial system, we have to understand the metaphors involved. To the Israelites, blood was synonymous with life. So when a sacrifice bled and died on the altar it was viewed a substitutionary death for the death God had prescribed to all humanity back in the Garden of Eden. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God,” as His death on the cross was the substitutionary, sacrificial death for humanity – once for all.

Likewise, the fat of the sacrifice represented how good it was. Just as  a good cut of steak, marbled with fat, is known to be the best – so an animal’s fat was was made it a choice sacrifice. It was the “best.”

Today, I’m reminded of two things:

  • A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if it really doesn’t cost me a thing.
  • A sacrifice is giving my best, not my leftovers.

 

Sacrifice and At-one-ment

You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
Leviticus 1:4 (NRSV)

I have blogged through the book of Leviticus only once since starting this chapter-a-day blogging journey ten years ago. That compares to the 2-3 times I’ve blogged through most of the other books in God’s Message. The reason for this is not a mystery. Leviticus is not an easy read and it’s even more difficult for most people to understand in a 21st century western culture. And yet, it’s part of the Great Story. Without it, our understanding of the story God is telling through history is incomplete.

Leviticus is ancient legal text. It’s part of what’s known as “The Law of Moses” (a.k.a. “The Books of Law” and “The Torah”) which is the first five books of what we commonly know as the Old Testament. Leviticus is a rule book and an instruction manual for the people of Israel regarding the system of sacrifices and offerings they were to make to God. As we see in today’s opening chapter, it’s a bloody affair.

The underlying reason for this gory, intricate system of sacrifices is given. If you blink you might miss it:

“…and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.”

The word “atonement” is not one we use much anymore. It’s a medieval word and the meaning is simple if you just break the word apart: at-one-ment. It’s to make two things one or to bring two dissonant parts into harmony.

We have to think about it in context of the story. The Great Story begins with creation, and with God placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobey God. They committed a sin by knowingly doing what they had been commanded not to do. God banishes them from the Garden. They are told that the punishment for their sin was that they would be separated from God and they would have to die a physical death. The punishment of sin was death.

In the Book of Leviticus, God is providing a prescriptive remedy for this situation. The appropriate animal, without defect, sacrificed on the altar would make temporary at-one-ment for that person and God. The person bringing the animal would place their hand on the animal and the animal became a substitutionary, sacrificial death for their sin. The death sentence God place on all of us in the Garden of Eden was transferred to the sacrifice.

This is a foreshadowing of the story. Leviticus sets the theme. The temporary sacrifices which the people of Israel made over and over again would one day be replaced by a permanent solution. The sacrifice of God’s own Son. The Lamb of God, without defect, sacrificed once for all.

This morning I’m thinking about foreshadows. I’m thinking how glad I am to have been born in the 20th century A.D. and not the 20th century B.C. I’m thinking about the long list of my own sins and acts of willful disobedience. I’m thinking about the physical death that I will eventually experience. I’m thinking about the nagging sense of loneliness, confusion, and spiritual isolation I felt before experiencing at-one-ment when I entered into relationship with Jesus and followed.

 

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featured photo: Mate Marschalko via Flickr

I am Achan

And Achan answered Joshua, “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
Joshua 7:20-21 (NRSV)

The story of Achan is fascinating. God miraculously delivers the city of Jericho to Joshua and his big band of trumpet players. The walls of the city come tumbling down and the nation of Israel plunders the city with one simple rule: don’t take any of the pagan idols or things used in the worship of the idols and false gods of the people of Jericho. Does this remind you of anything? (Hint: “You can eat of any tree of the garden except for that one in the middle.”)

Sure enough, a man name Achan takes some forbidden spoil for himself in direct disobedience to the order (that would be calls sin) and then hides it by burying it in his tent (that would be called shame). God clues Joshua in that someone has disobeyed and, eventually, Achan is confronted and confesses his sin. Achan and his entire family are stoned to death to rid the nation of sin (that would be called a “scapegoat”).

When I was younger, I always saw the story of Achan from the idealistic view of the majority. “Achan, how could you ruin it for the whole nation? Dude, you knew the rules! How simple was it just to do the right thing? What an idiot!

As I have progressed in my life journey I have increasingly come to terms with a simple fact: I am Achan. I am the child who, at the age of five, stole all the envelopes with money in them off my grandparent’s Christmas tree and buried them in my suitcase. I am the one who is guilty of lying, and cheating, and stealing, and breaking my word, and being disobedient to God and my loved ones. Not just once, mind you, but over and over and over again. If I point the finger at Achan, there are three pointing back at me.

In the context of the Great Story, Achan serves as a thematic waypoint. Achan hearkens us back to Eden and reminds us that the problem of sin has not been dealt with.  Achan reminds us, in the moment, of one of the meta-themes of God’s great story: one little sin taints the whole. As Jesus put it, one smidgen of yeast affects the whole loaf. Achan reflects our fallen human nature’s penchant to blame one for the failure of the whole, and a Cubs fan need only to hear the name Bartman to realize that human nature has not changed across time. Finally, the story of Achan is a foreshadow of the solution God will provide when He will send His one and only Son to be the One who will die the death that idol stealing and  Christmas money stealing criminals deserve. Jesus will be the sacrificial lamb and make atonement for the whole.

This morning I am once again humbled by an honest reflection of my own shortcomings. I am thinking about Achan and accepting that I am him. Throw the rocks, man. I deserve it. I am once again grateful for that which we have just celebrated: God becoming man to die for my sin, to take my shame on His shoulders, and then to rise from the grave to give grace, hope, forgiveness, and redemption to one such as me.

 

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Marriage as Metaphor

Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God's relationship with His people. Buesking's artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com
Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God’s relationship with His people. Buesking’s artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com

“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” Ezekiel 16:8 (NIV)

Across all human relationships, the marital relationship is unique in many respects. Two people choose to enter into a covenant relationship with one another, to be exclusively faithful and more completely intimate with that person than with any other. Marriage is the closest thing we have on Earth to embody the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and God uses the marriage relationship over and over again to embody the intimate relationship He desires to have with each of us.

In today’s chapter, God once again instructs Ezekiel to use marriage as a metaphor describing God’s relationship with the people of Israel. He uses imagery around the marital traditions of that day. God chooses Israel as His bride and enters into a marriage covenant, but Israel commits adultery by chasing after other lovers in the form of the many gods and idols that were popular in that culture.

God makes it prophetically clear that He will not ignore the unfaithfulness of His bride. There will be disgrace and consequences in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, in the end of the chapter God makes it clear that He will continue to honor His covenant; There will be a remnant who will survive and return to Jerusalem. God says he will make atonement for the adulterous sins committed; He will send His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, once for all.

Today I am struck that God, through Ezekiel, has been speaking the same message in many different metaphors and word pictures. I find that in the human experience not everyone “gets” a message the same way. Some people connect with one medium, some with another. A word picture may be profoundly revelatory to one person while another person remains blind to the message. Across the book of Ezekiel I am impressed at how God is desperately trying to get through to His people, His spouse. He keeps trying to get through.

Contrition

Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 2...
Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27 (NIV)

For over 20 years I have been training and coaching people in the art of delivering customer service. In that time, I have found that there is no more contentious and divisive service skill than the simple apology. I increasingly find that individuals struggle with saying a simple, “I’m sorry that happened,” even when saying it as a representative of a business and there is no interpersonal relationship between customer and representative. I also find it common for clients to exchange the word “unfortunately” for any form of “sorry” or “apologize.” I find this fascinating.

The root word of “unfortunately” is “fortune” which is synonymous with “luck.” When saying, “Unfortunately, you don’t have a receipt with you,” it’s like saying “It’s bad luck that you don’t have a receipt with you.” It acknowledges the other’s stinky situation, but does nothing to express any kind of personal empathy. It avoids having any personal skin in the game like the statement “I am sorry, but you don’t have a receipt,” or “I apologize, but without a receipt your options are limited.”

We don’t talk much, at least in the protestant circles in which I run, about contrition anymore. Contrition is the act of being sorrowful or remorseful about the ways you’ve blown it and the things you’ve done (or should have done but didn’t). In culture, and in media, it seems to me that we commonly find individuals who stonewall, obfuscate, deny, and deceive in order to escape taking responsibility for their inappropriate or damaging words or actions. As I write this, we are nearing an election day. One need only turn on the television to be bombarded by every politician with the same message: “I’m all good and am going to make your life rosy. My opponent is all bad and is going to ruin your life. Here are some gross misrepresentations of truth to deceive you into believing it.”

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus addressed potential followers, the call to following and believing were regularly predicated by an act of contrition. “Deny yourself,” “Take up your cross,” “Repent,” and “Sell all you have,” were prerequisites Jesus placed to faith and belief. Sincere contrition is a gateway to spiritual reconciliation, as we see in the example of Ahab in today’s chapter. By acknowledging our impotence, God’s power is loosened in our lives. By accepting our need, God’s sufficiency is quickened to provide. With the honest confession of our failures, God successfully showers us with grace through the blood of Jesus which was sacrificially poured out to atone for them.

Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

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Chapter-a-Day Mark 15

This is a diagram of the Biblical tabernacle o...
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And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:38 (NLT)

For those unfamiliar with the larger story of God’s Message, this obscure reference in the middle of today’s chapter makes little sense. When God gave Moses the blueprints for the Temple back in the book of Exodus, it included an inner room that was blocked off by a huge curtain. It was behind that curtain that God’s presence resided and it was considered so holy that only the high priest could go behind the curtain, and he could only do it once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people. The word picture was obvious and powerful. There was a separation between God and man and no man could stand before God in His holiness.

When Jesus died, that curtain was mysteriously and miraculously torn in two. Once again, the word picture is both obvious and powerful. With the death of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, the penalty for sin was paid once for all. There was no longer any separation between man and God – not because of anything man did to earn God’s favor, but because of what God did to pay the penalty of humanity’s flaws.

Today, as I look forward to Christmas, I’m thankful for God who sent his Son. A baby, born in the most humble of circumstances, who would eventually give Himself up to a cruel death to make a way for me to enter through the curtain of eternity.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 16

Cover of "Harry Potter and the Philosophe...
Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

Aaron grabbed the censer, as directed by Moses, and ran into the midst of the congregation. The plague had already begun. He put burning incense into the censer and atoned for the people. He stood there between the living and the dead and stopped the plague. Numbers 16:47-48 (MSG)

The last Harry Potter movie comes out this weekend. Wendy and I are excited to see it and the last few days, while I’ve been on the road, I’ve been listening to the first Harry Potter book over again. It’s amazing to me as I listen again just how much of the story is foreshadowed in the early chapters, and how many key characters are subtly revealed. It’s part of what makes the series of stories so great. The fairly short and simple first installment is actually a brilliant foreshadowing of the much larger, complex story. I also happen to believe that all great stories are a shadow of the Great Story.

I admit, I don’t always get why God did things the way they happened in the ancient stories. I do know, however, that the circumstances and stories were the very early chapters of a much larger, epic story about the relationship between God and humankind. Like the early chapters of any great story, these ancient stories foreshadow and become a living word picture of God’s plan to redeem humanity. In today’s chapter, sin has brought about a plague on the people. Aaron, the high priest, runs to make atonement for the people. He “stood between the living and the dead and stopped the plague.” There is no better word picture of the role of a priest than this. A priest stands in-between and makes atonement.

A priest is a mediator, and in that moment Aaron foreshadows the much larger plan of God: that He would send His one and only Son, Jesus, to become the mediator, the priest, and the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the totality of sin of all humanity once, and for all.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man, Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

“Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:27 (NIV)

Jesus, as He hung on the cross, became the fulfillment of the word picture Aaron provided over a thousand years before: Jesus hung between the living and the dead and stopped sin’s plague.

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