Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sermon preview--The Day of Atonement

Funny thing about human nature: When we’ve done wrong, we never want to own up to it, take responsibility for it. We always want to cover up, run away, or blame someone else. All of our attempts to mitigate our own guilt only make things worse. Think about it this way: I borrow your phone. While I’m using it, I lose my temper and fling it thirty yards, breaking the phone. There is now a breach in our relationship. It will cost you $200 to replace that phone. To put our relationship in economic terms, it will cost me $200 to make things right between me and you. I can pay that money, or you can say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just buy a new one.” Either way, someone has to pay. The act of paying that debt is what he Bible calls atonement. Either you or I have to bear the atonement. But let’s say that instead of paying the debt, I make excuses. I can blame the person I was talking to, who made me lose my temper. Go bill them, I say. Or I can blame Apple for making such a flimsy phone. Or I can blame you for not buying one of those expensive protective cases. Or I can just say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a phone.” Then I don’t just owe you $200. The debt between us begins to grow. And just like the interest on my credit card, the longer I evade responsibility, the more excuses I make, the bigger that debt grows.

But what if it was more than a phone? Imagine I did something to hurt your child, your parent, your spouse, your best friend. There’s no amount of money I could pay to make things right. There is a debt between us now that I can’t possibly atone for. You could choose to forgive me, but then you would be paying the cost of atonement. You would be denying yourself the opportunity for revenge, for justice…even if that only means the satisfaction of hating me quietly for the rest of your life. That's the cost of forgiveness, and it's a cost only you--the victim--can pay. But if I deny any responsibility for what I did, if I cover up or run away or blame someone else, the cost of that atonement grows exponentially. The longer I wait to seek your forgiveness, the less chance there will ever be reconciliation between us. Now here’s the bad news, in fact, the worst news you’ve ever heard: Every one of us has that kind of debt, multiplied by infinity, standing between us and God. Every time we’ve done something that varied from His righteous standards, it was as if we had harmed Him personally. And in His righteousness, each sin produces a breach even greater than what occurs between you and me if I hurt your loved one. If you’re anything like me, on your best day you sin at least a handful of times a day. Let’s say you’re very good, and you only sin about five times a day, on average. If you’re 41, as I am, that’s 75,000 sins and counting. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about breaking a friend’s phone anymore. We’re talking about tens of thousands of incidences that stand between us and the One who holds our lives in His hand, who alone will decide the eternal fate of our souls. And every day we live, those sins continue to mount up, and the interest on them compounds.

The good news is that God has a plan to make things right. And the ironic part is, we find it in the book of Leviticus. This Sunday, we'll talk about how to read this very difficult book of the Bible. And we'll walk through the holiest of days to an Israelite--the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16. We'll see what that Day must have been like...and what it means to us today. My prayer for this sermon is that it would be more than information; I pray that it would bring freedom to people who are crushed by guilt and shame.

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