************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 21 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on November 29, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 21
"Christ: The Great Atonement"
The last article of the Blegic Confession told us all about the Justice of God and the Mercy of God as we see it in Jesus Christ. This general truth finds its specific outworking in this evening's article; THE ATONEMENT. I thought it fitting to read our text from Isaiah this evening for three reasons.
First, it is one of the most well known passages regarding the atonement.
Second, it fits in with the words we find in the Belgic Confession, "as the prophets had predicted" as well as many other quotes.
Finally, I think it speaks to the way we see Christ's work in the atonement.
With this in mind we ask the question, what does Christ do in this great atonement? He is both the Priest and the Sacrifice.
I. The Priest Who Offers
A. Nature of a High Priest
In the Old Testament the High Priest offered up sacrifices on behalf of God's people. His greatest work took place on the Day of Atonements. As he prepared to go about his work he had to make himself clean. He had to wash; wash himself, wash his clothes, and put on white garments. He had to prepare clean sacrifices, and he approached the Holy of Holies. He only dared to do this one time a year, this time when God had commanded.
As he did this it was a moment where the priest was meeting with God. He was making intercession for the people. He was making atonement for their sin. Yet in all of this his work was complete. The book of Hebrews states:
Hebrews 9:7-9 "7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper."
The author continues in Chapter 10
Hebrews 10:1-4 "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-- not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."
These verses make it crystal clear that a greater sacrifice and a greater Day of Atonement were needed. Ultimately they point to the fact that a greater High Priest was needed. One who could fulfill the words of Isaiah 53:12, one who could have "made intercession." This is why the Belgic Confession goes on to speak about the order of Melichizedek and say how that was the type of priest that was needed.
B. Order of Melchizedek
We say that Christ is a priest, but we know that he is not a Levite. We looked at his genealogy this morning and Levi does not appear, so is this a contradiction? This is where the figure of Melchizedek comes in to play.
Genesis 14 Tells us about this man Melchizedek;
"17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything."
Melchizedek is unique. Here we are introduced to one who is both a priest and a king. We do not see that elsewhere in scripture, except for in the person of Christ. He is a prophet, priest, and king, so when we speak of Christ's priesthood we can do so by comparing him to Melchizedek. What's more, Melchizedek predates the entire line of Levi for he was in the time of Abraham. Therefore it is said of Christ in Hebrews 7 – "You are a priest forever, after the Order of Melchizedek." This means Christ is a greater priest…the GREAT HIGH PRIEST!!!
That being said, what again does the priest do? The priest sets forth an offering. What kind of offering. The Belgic Confession tells us; "offering himself on the tree of the cross."
II. The Sacrifice Offered
Christ is not only the Priest who offers he is also the sacrifice that is offered! As this great sacrifice we see that Christ is an innocent sacrifice, a bloody sacrifice, and a beautiful sacrifice.
A. Innocent Sacrifice
In the Old Testament we see the need for "innocence" in the sacrifice. They were innocent, so they could bear the sins of the people. For example again we look to the Day of Atonement. The sins were confessed and placed upon an innocent goat and he was released into the wilderness to bear the people's sins away into the desert. But of course the goat didn't really bear the sins away. It was a symbol, and in Christ that symbol was realized. As the confession states, Christ was "condemned though declared innocent…the just for the unjust." This is the concept of the Old Testament realized. Pontius Pilate declared Him innocent. He was truly righteous, and yet He was offered up, or rather He offered Himself up as an innocent sacrifice.
B. Bloody Sacrifice
Not only is Christ an innocent sacrifice, He is also a bloody sacrifice. In Isaiah this image of blood is clearly portrayed; Isaiah 52:5 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." … "he was led like a lamb to the slaughter." This is vivid sacrificial imagery, imagery that appears throughout the Belgic. The confession cites these words of Isaiah. The confession cites Luke; "Big drops of blood falling on the ground." The confession cites Matthew, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" And it also uses that words that Christ was "pouring out his precious blood." All of this is very graphic image
Why the reason for this language? Why the need for blood? Well it was the same in the Old Testament too. Sometimes we don't really dwell on what it was like in the Old Testament. Sometimes we romanticize the temple like something in a movie, something clean, beautiful, and pristine. However, one big element we neglect is blood. Blood was everywhere. We receive detailed descriptions of the sacrifices that would take place. The altar was a dirty bloody place.
So too it is with this language about Christ, and so too it had to be. The cross was the ultimate altar, and Christ hung as the ultimate bloody sacrifice, bearing the ultimate death of cursing (Deut. 21:22-23). Christ was offered up that His blood might cover us, and finally we see that His blood is beautiful.
C. Beautiful Sacrifice
Christ is the beautiful perfect sacrifice to our Lord, and we see that in one key word in the confession, "satisfaction." That simple word in the Belgic confession has so much confession. It points to the full wrath of God appeased. It is full satisfaction, full PAYMENT for the debt of sin. And this satisfaction is complete. There is "no need to seek or invent" anything else that would satisfy. This statement stood in the face of the Roman Catholic church, where many things (confession, made-up sacraments, prayers to saints) were needed to satisfy the wrath of God.
However, the confession goes on to say that Christ is the "one and only." We still need Him and Him alone. That message needs to be shouted from the mountain tops. "We know nothing but Jesus and him crucified." The confession makes this proclamation of Christ's beauty to the point that we are to consider any other things that would claim the ability to make satisfaction "as dung." We are to view any such things as refuse, trash, dung. Beloved, hold to nothing else! Maybe you're not longing to follow saints or extra sacraments, but we're always longing to turn to SOMETHING else. But I say to you, cling to Christ! For that is the only place our salvation can be found. Christ is our savior, and as the confession proclaims, "he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins."
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