The Atonement – Christ as a Sin Offering



This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4)


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The sin offering was to be made when someone became aware that they had unknowingly done something wrong. An animal was taken to the priest to be sacrificed. It blood was sprinkled on and around the alter and its fat burned on the altar. The rest of the animal was then burned outside the camp. The type of animal used depended on the position of the offender; a bull for a priest or the whole community, a male goat for a leader and a female goat for everyone else.


What did the Offering do?


The sin offering was to make atonement for the wrongs that a person had done. By their actions, they have created a rift between themselves and God. Previously they were his friends, but by disobeying his laws they set themselves in opposition to him. The sin offering is therefore an attempt at reconciliation. The person reaffirmed their submission to God by subjecting themselves to his law. They meet him halfway, implicitly acknowledging the destructive nature of their act and asking for his forgiveness. God accepts the offering and all is made right.


Atonement: adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favour


By way of illustration, Sarah has wronged her friend Jake. Rather than go to him with an apology, she buys him a gift to give with her apology. This says “I’m sorry” better than the words alone could.


Jesus As Our Sin Offering?


I know what you’re thinking: So, God sent his son to die a torturous and humiliating death so that if we’re sorry for wronging him we could accept that sacrifice as a symbol of our repentance? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just request a box of chocolates?


Well, Jesus’ dying on the death wasn’t only for reconciliation. If it were, it would be a bit much. But it does seem a bit odd that the death of his son should be appeasing to him.


If you notice, the sin offering was not determined by the wealth of a person such that the rich paid more than the poor. Nor was it determined by the worth of the sacrifice to the person. After all, a wealthy member of the community could spare the goat for the offering. In fact, it seems to be a symbolic gesture. Sarah’s offering to Jake might not be worth as much as she had cost him. It is merely an attempt at reconciliation. It is a symbol of something that is hard to put into words. Everyone who has been offended knows that a gift carries greater weight than the words ‘I’m sorry’, even if we can’t say why.


If Sarah had stolen something, she would still have to return it. If she had broken a possession, she would still replace it. Such an actions do not restore the relationship between her and Jake. That’s the difference between restitution and atonement. The sin offering is not an attempt at restitution.


So, the size of a sin offering is not judged solely by the offense. It depends on both parties. You don’t make an attempt at reconciliation by pouring manure on the other person’s porch. That’s likely to make them angrier. An attempt at reconciliation, therefore, should be pleasing and acceptable to the offended party.


And that is where I end this. I don’t know in what possible world our accepting Jesus’ death is pleasing to God and consequently sufficient atonement for our many wrongs, but all that is necessary is that it makes sense to him. I, on the other hand, prefer multi-layered cakes as sin offerings. They’re tastier.


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I’m Tracy

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