Atonement Under the Prophets
February 26th, 1975 @ 7:30 PM
ATONEMENT UNDER THE PROPHETS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-26-75 7:30 p.m.
I do not suppose that there could ever be a lesson to which a minister could address himself that would be more fraught with unfathomable meaning than the subject of the lecture tonight. We are talking about the theology of the atonement. Last Wednesday night that I taught, it was The Theology of the Atonement in the Ritual, in the Mosaic legislation, in the ceremonial law. And tonight we move into The Theology of Atonement in the Prophets. And then the next Wednesday night that I teach, it will be The Theology of Atonement in the Interbiblical Period, between Malachi and the introduction of Christ by John the Baptist [John 1:29-36]. Tonight it is The Atonement Under the Prophets. And I hope you will have your Bible at hand because we are going to look in a moment at some of the tremendous things that are said by these God-called deliverers of the message of the Lord.
First, we will say a word about the conception of sin under the prophets. In the ritual, in the ceremonial law, sin is against the holiness of God. And every worshipper must be ceremonially clean. Now the emphasis there is “ceremonial.” The worshipper must be ceremonially clean. There are certain things that he has to do. There are certain washings, and certain approaches, and certain ways to do it, and certain instruments by which it is done, and certain people through which you go; all of those multitudinous rites in the ritual. And for the sinner to come to God, he must be in keeping with all of those ceremonial orders and mandates. And sin in the ritual is looked upon as against the holiness of God, and he must approach God, himself being ceremonially clean.
In the Prophets, there is another aspect of sin that is most profoundly and universally emphasized. In the Prophets, sin is also against the righteousness of God. The ethical character of God is presented. Sin has to do with morality, its ethical content. The ceremonial is pushed into the background, and the moral character of God is in the foreground. In the ceremony, only sins of ignorance could be atoned for—we found that last lecture in Numbers 15:22-31—there was no provision in the ceremony for a high-handed sin [Numbers 15:27-28]. If a man volitionally rejected the overtures of God, there was no atonement in any ceremony for him. Sins of purpose threw the sinner outside of the covenant. If a man was incorrigible and obstreperous in his spirit, in his heart, there was no way by which he could approach God. In the ceremony, there was no provision made for high-handed sins [Numbers 15:27-28].
In the Prophets, all sin is born of an attitude, an act of the will. All sin threw the sinner outside of the covenant and upon the mercy of God. Not just sins of inadvertence or omission or ignorance, such as could be atoned for in the ceremony, but all sin in the Prophets threw the sinner upon the mercy of God. And only the mercy of God could save us and could atone for us. In the Prophets, there is nothing in the ritual, nothing in the ceremony, nothing that a man could do by which he could make atonement for his sins. If he was atoned for, if he was covered, if he was saved, if he was washed, it was because of the grace and mercy of God.
A good illustration of that is Hosea’s wife; as you know, Hosea’s wife left her husband and became a prostitute, and God told Hosea to buy her back. In her prostitution, in her harlotry, she came so low that she was finally sold for a slave. And Hosea bought her back, and took her back to his bosom and to his heart as a wife, having bought her out of prostitution and as a slave [Hosea 3:1-3].
Now under the ritual, what would have been done to Hosea’s wife? It is very obvious; she would have been stoned to death [Leviticus 20:10]. So you can see that when you move into the Prophets, you move into an altogether different world. Under the ceremony, in the ceremonial Mosaic legislation, she would have been stoned to death [Leviticus 20:10]. But under the prophets you move into a world of grace and of mercy. You find that also in the sin of David, in the fifty-first Psalm, and we will look at that in a moment. In the fifty-first Psalm, he casts himself upon the mercy of God, declaring that only God could create in him a clean and a new heart [Psalm 51:10, 17].
Now you will notice, ah! how vividly so, and here we are going to look at some of the things in the Bible; I want you to turn to them in a moment. One of the vivid things that you read in the Prophets is they are denouncing these sacrifices. Now isn’t that something? Over here you have the ritual presented, and the sacrifices presented, and all of those multitudinous things by which they were perfectly ordered before God, and in which a man could be ceremonially clean in coming before the Lord [Leviticus 1-7]. But in the Prophets, the sacrifices and the rituals are denounced [Isaiah 1:10-18].
Now why? The reason is very plain and obvious, when you look in the prophetic Book itself. The prophets denounced the sacrifices and the rituals because Israel sought to buy Jehovah’s favor by them [Isaiah 1:10-18]. Israel sought to use the ritual and the ceremony and the sacrifice as a bribe to incur, to buy, to win God’s favor. The sacrifices were denounced by the prophets because repentance, a change of heart, is required when a man comes before God [Hosea 6:6]. Repentance, in the Prophets, is the sine qua non in sacrifice; and the lack of it made the sacrifice shallow, sterile, and ineffective.
Israel took what God intended for a symbol, the sacrificial system, the whole ritualistic system; Israel took what God intended for a symbol and made it the sufficient means in itself for salvation. God gave the ritual as a symbol and a type of something that God was going to do in the antitype, when the thing that God was portraying was finally realized, which, as we know, is the atonement of Christ [Hebrews 9:25-28], and God took all of those things, the whole thing, all of it, there was no part of it that was intended to save the soul—all of it was type; all of it was picture; all of it was a presentation of what God was yet to do [Hebrews 9:9-11, 10:1].
As the New Testament would say, and as Hebrews avows—out of which Dr. Draper is preaching now—the blood of bulls and of goats could never find adequacy in itself, in the sacrifice, to wash away sins. And the author of Hebrews says the plain avowal of the ineffectiveness of that sacrificial system was seen in the fact that it had to be repeated again and again and again and again [Hebrews 7:27; 10:1-3].
The blood of a bull or a goat could not wash away sins [Hebrews 10:4]. If it could have the man would have been clean. But the sacrifice was made over and over and over and over again. The Hebrews author calls it, “The remembrance of sin” [Hebrews 10:3]. It just brought back to us how sinful we are, and just continually reminded us of our degradation and depravity.
The ritual was symbolic, that God might teach us the way of salvation [Hebrews 10:9]. But Israel took the ritual and the sacrifice in it and made it a means of salvation in itself [Romans 10:1-3]. “You do this, and you will be saved,” however the man might be personally. Is that a funny and strange and unusual thing? Why, no. There has never been any kind of a religious ritual, so far as I know, that has not finally come to be looked upon as a means of salvation in itself.
Let’s take the two in the Christian church. I am not standing up here saying anything about any other denomination, or any other church organization, opprobriously, critically, when I say that there are denominations that are built upon the doctrine that baptism saves us. And if you are not baptized, you are damned. The salvation is found in the baptism. Why, when I was out in the country preaching as a boy, I could not describe the number of people that I would run into who would say to me, “I want to be baptized in running water that my sins can be washed on down the river.” And, as a youth, I would look at those people who would say that to me in startled amazement! “Are you kidding? Are you serious?” My sweet people, they were as serious as life is serious, and as earnest as death is earnest. They believed that you ought to be baptized in running water that your sins would wash on down the river.
And of course, the people who believe that you ought to be baptized in order to be saved, and if you do not be baptized you are damned, those people are the majority of Christendom. They will even baptize a fetus, an unborn, unmade, incomplete baby because they believe if this child is not baptized, it will live in a limbo of damnation and separation from God. Why, you cannot imagine until you look at these things!
See the doctrines of a church sometimes are largely hidden away from the people; they do not know; they just live on the peripheral, they look on the outside. But, when you get on the inside and look at the doctrine of the church, sometimes you will be astonished at what the people believe, what the theology of the denomination is. All right, that is one: that is taking a ritual, a type of a thing, a symbol of a thing, and making it the instrument of salvation itself, just like Israel did, just as Israel did.
Now I could expatiate in a like manner on the other ordinance that God gave us: the Lord’s Supper. Why, I suppose practically all of Christendom believes that in the institution of the Lord’s Supper we have means of grace to reach down to bring to us God’s mercy, and God’s loving kindness, and God’s forgiveness, and God’s blessing, and God’s salvation, or some might say, “to keep us saved.” It is done through the Lord’s Supper.
Why, to us as we read the Bible, the Lord’s Supper is just and only a memorial. Jesus says so! “For as oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord’s death till He come [1 Corinthians 11:26]; take, eat, in remembrance of Me, take, drink, in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25]. The whole purpose of it is to bring before our minds the sacrifice of Christ for us, but to go beyond that and to take the Lord’s Supper and to make of it one of those strange mediums of grace by which God keeps us saved and sustains us in that salvation, ah! these things. We are just pointing out that what you find in Israel, taking the ritual, the ceremony, and the sacrificial system, and making the thing itself an instrument of salvation is what you find in religion everywhere, and what you find in the majority of the Christian church.
Now the prophets would say that the ritual is but a shell; it is but an outward covering, and repentance and righteousness is the content of a man’s approach to God, without which he cannot enter into the grace and mercy of the Lord. So we are going to look at some of these denunciations of ritual and sacrifice by the prophets. First of all, let’s take Isaiah, out of which I am preaching, and let’s take the verses that follow the text of this coming Sunday. This coming Sunday, I am going to preach on The Doctrine of the Remnant, which is an Isaiahan doctrine, and the most glorious and comforting of all the doctrines that you could read in the Bible. Now, my text will be verse 9. Now we are going to start and read at verse 10, and we are going to see the prophetic denouncing of the sacrificial system. Listen to it:
Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom;
Give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Now he is addressing Israel. He calls them Sodomites and Gomorrahites:
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord: I am full, I am satiated, I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread My courts?
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth: they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them.
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are covered with blood, they are full of blood.
Now, Wash you—
the prophet immediately pours into his appeal ethical and moral content—
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
How do you get white as snow? How do you get your sins to be as pure as fine-spun, carded, washed and woven, wool? How do you do that? Well, Israel said, “We must do it with the blood of bullocks, and lambs, and goats, and incense, New Moons, and Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies, and observing all of these rituals” [Isaiah 1:13-15]. “No!” said Isaiah. “ You are to repent, wash you, and make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes” [Isaiah 1:16]. You see, you move into an all-together different kind of a world.
Now I want us to turn to Amos chapter 5, Amos chapter 5, we are going to read verses 21-24. Amos chapter 5; listen to the prophet as he is speaking for the Lord:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
Though ye offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
Immediately, the prophet turns away from the shallow and cheap persuasion that men could buy the favor of God by certain things that you could do in ritual, or certain offerings you could make in sacrifices, and the prophet is demanding righteousness like a mighty stream [Amos 5:24].
So the prophets are saying that it is not sacrifice that made the Israelite acceptable to God, but the walk with the Lord. That’s what does it. It’s the man’s turning in his heart; it’s the man’s repentance; it’s the man’s giving of himself to the Lord; it’s the man’s casting himself upon the mercies and grace of God that saves him and not any ritual [Titus 3:5].
Now let us look at this: let us turn to Jeremiah. Jeremiah [chapter] 7; we are going to read 22-28. Jeremiah chapter 7, Jeremiah chapter 7, “For I spake not,” verse 22, Jeremiah chapter 7, verse 22:
For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:
But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.
But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.
Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all My servants the prophets, rising up daily, early and sending them:
Yet they hearkened not unto Me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.
Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee.
But thou shalt say unto them, This is a nation that obeyeth not the voice of the Lord their God, nor receiveth correction: truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth.
“I am not telling you,” said God, when He brought them up out of the land of Egypt, according to Jeremiah, “about sacrifices and offerings and ceremonies; but this is what I am saying to you. From the day that you came out of Egypt, obey My voice and walk in the ways that I have commanded you.” “But the people were hardhearted and stiff-necked,” says Jeremiah, “unto this day. And they obey not the voice of the Lord God, nor receive correction, and truth is perished out of their midst” [Jeremiah 7:22-26]
Let’s turn once again to Jeremiah, and look at chapter 18, Jeremiah chapter 18. And we are going to look at verses 7-10, Jeremiah 18, verses 7-10:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
And at what instance I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
If it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
There Jeremiah says that whether a nation lives or dies depends upon its inward repentant attitude toward God. All the rituals in the world, and all of the ceremonies in the world, and all of the things and rigmaroles, and all of the accouterments of religion cannot save a people. But it is only when they turn in their hearts to God are they ever delivered.
I do not know of a finer illustration of that than in the life and ministry of Jonah. With a vengeance, he entered into the heathen city of Nineveh [Jonah 3:1-4]. Do you remember in my preaching in Jeremiah? The scourge of Assyria covered the life of Israel, of Judah, of both Northern and Southern Kingdoms, covered it like an ominous cloud. Four times—do you remember my preaching in Isaiah? Four times in the life of the prophet did the Assyrian come down and waste Judah [2 Kings 15:19, 17:3-6, 24-27, 18:13-37].
And in the life of Jeremiah the Assyrian came down and destroyed the Northern Kingdom, utterly wiped out Samaria to this day [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30]. Do you remember that? You could not boil down all of the bitterness and hatred of the whole world and make it congruent with how the people of Judah felt about Assyria and about that great, wicked, capital Nineveh. Can you imagine, therefore, with the vengeance by which Jonah the prophet of God entered that city and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. Hallelujah! Praise God! Forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!
Did you know? I have heard preachers in my youth, I do not hear it much anymore, they don’t preach about it anymore, but when I was a boy, I used to hear preachers preach about souls being damned in hell as though it were a triumph. I have always felt, did then and still do, that when a man preaches about hell, he ought to do it after long, agonizing prayer, and he ought to do it with tears and lamentation. Shall we rejoice that a life is damned? Shall we be glad that a man is lost? That a soul is shut out forever from God? When a man preaches the doctrine of judgment and damnation, he ought to do it with a broken heart. It is sad and tragic beyond what words could describe, to think of people being lost.
Well, Jonah was an Old Testament saint; he was not a New Testament saint. He was an Old Testament saint. And when he entered into Nineveh and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4], he said it with triumph: the judgment of God is to fall. Well, that’s what God said; that’s what God told him to say. But what happened? From the king, down to the most menial servant, including the donkeys, they covered the city, and the throne, and the princes and the rulers in sackcloth. The whole city humbled itself before God, and repented, and cast themselves upon the mercies of God [Jonah 3:5-9].
And here is a great doctrinal revelation in the Bible. [I am] talking down here now. When a man turns, God turns. When a man changes, God changes. Or using the King James Version, “When a man repents, God repents” [Jonah 3:10]. Now way up there in the elective foreknowledge of God, all of that is seen, but down here where we are, not knowing the foreknowledge of God, and not able to enter into the infinitude of the infinite, sovereign wisdom, we just see things happen down here, and that’s the way they happen in our eyes, as we look and judge.
When God says to a man, and now going back to Jeremiah, when God says to a man, “You go this way, and you are going to be judged and damned,” if that man turns, God turns and says, “This is the way of forgiveness and blessing” [Jeremiah 18:7-10]. But when a man goes down the way, and God says, “This is the way of life and blessing,” and the man turns and changes, God changes, and the man enters into judgment and damnation [Jeremiah 7:22-28]. The whole content of the prophetic ministry is what we are looking at now. Its moral, spiritual, ethical repentance side is the whole way that a man comes before God.
Now making a comment on what we see in theology today, I could not number the fine, believing, theologians who point out that the problem with so much of our soul-winning efforts today is that it leaves out that vital side of repentance. “You do this and this and this and this and you will be saved.”
No, you cannot do this and this and this and this and be saved, and leave out the turning in your heart, leave out the repentance in your soul [Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, 3:19], leave out the confession of sin [Matthew 3:6; Acts 10:43]. You cannot be saved; you can do this, and this, and this, and this, forever! Just name it. Whatever the ritual, whatever the way; whatever the coming down the aisle, whatever the confession, the baptism, the Lord—name it! You cannot do this, and this, and this, and this, and be saved without that something in your heart that says to God, “Lord, be merciful to me; I am a lost sinner” [Luke 18:13-14].
I remember one time in a revival meeting out in the country where I preached for so long, I was eating dinner with a family. And a hired hand was eating right straight across the table from me. He was a boy, he was not more than eighteen, nineteen years old. He was a hired hand, very uneducated. I suppose, he had never been to school a day in his life, way, way out, out, out. So as I sat across the table from him, I began to talk to him about Jesus, and about the Lord, and about being a Christian, and I asked him, “Son, are you saved? Are you a Christian?” And he looked back straight at me across the table and said, “No, sir. I ain’t no Christian, I’m a lost sinner.” And I said to the lad, “Son, you are near the kingdom. And I will make a prophecy. In the days of this revival, you are going to find the Lord and be wonderfully saved.” And he was.
When a man gets to the place where he says, “I am a lost sinner,” he is nigh the kingdom; he is right at the door. It is when the man doesn’t feel himself lost, and he doesn’t feel that he needs forgiveness, and he doesn’t feel that he needs God, and he doesn’t need to be forgiven, that man is far, far away and hard to reach. So the prophet is saying that it is the ethical content of a man’s approach to God that makes his approach acceptable.
Now, we are going to look here in Micah 6:6-8, Micah 6:6-8. I would think that many of you memorized this when you were a child, Micah 6:6-8:
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I even give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?—
Could I sacrifice my own child and be saved?—
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and right, and acceptable; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
No ritual there, is there? No baptisms, no Lord’s Suppers, no ceremonies, no litanies, no genuflexions, no anything. This is the prophet. It’s the ethical content that makes us acceptable with the Lord.
Let me hasten rapidly because I want to finish this. And the last part of it is the most precious of all, and I don’t want to leave it out: atonement, the covering, the protection from the judgment of God is found in the mercy and goodness of God Himself. It is the mercy of God extended to us in our repentance and confession that covers us, that shields us, that protects us and saves us. Hurriedly, let us turn to the Psalms, first, to Psalm 32, Psalm 32:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my perspiration is turned into the drought of summer.
I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.
No ritual, no baptism, no anything. “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” [Psalm 32:5]. “Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance” [Psalm 32:7]. Verse 10: “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trustesth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about” [Psalm 32:10].
Just trusting in God; not that I have been baptized, or not that I have done this or that ritual, or not that I have anything, but just trusting in God, “mercy shall compass him about” [Psalm 32:10]. Now let us turn to Psalm 51, this is the Psalm of David, after his sin [2 Samuel 11:1-17]:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
You wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and You cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[Psalm 51:1-3, 7]
There is a beautiful song that our choir used to sing once in a while, about “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
“O Lord, Thou desirest not sacrifice”; Verse 16: “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering” [Psalm 51:16]. The sacrifices of God are—what? Bullocks, and rams, and turtledoves, and what? “They are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” [Psalm 51:17].
I am pointing out to you that when you enter the Prophets, you are entering another world from the ceremonial law. Atonement is made by God, Himself. In the ritual it is the priest who atones, and he does so in all of those symbolic ways [Leviticus 16]. But here, it is God who is motivated within Himself to forgive. There are no gifts; there are no sacrifices; there is not anything but a changed heart, a repentant spirit in the man himself who comes before the Lord [Psalm 51:16-17].
Now we are in the Psalms, turn to Psalm 65. Psalm 65:3: “Iniquities prevail against me: but as for my transgressions, Thou shalt purge them away.” God will do it, purge; here, kaphar, “cover,” “atone.” Turn to Psalm 78, and look at 38, Psalm 78:38: “But our Lord, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity . . . yea, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath.” Look at Psalm 79, verse 9. “Help us.” Psalm 79:9: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for Thy name’s sake.” Just out of the mercy and goodness of God, do it, “for Thy name’s sake,” all of it in God.
And Isaiah 6, you needn’t turn to that, I will be preaching on that pretty soon. Isaiah 6:5-7. The aging and the means of the cleansing of Isaiah is directly from God. “Woe is me!” Isaiah cries,”for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” [Isaiah 6:5] . Did God say to him, “Offer a bullock or a kid or a lamb?” No! He took a live coal from off the altar, and one of the seraphim cleansed him of his sins [Isaiah 6:6-7].
Now sweet and dear people, I want to close, for my time is gone. We are talking about atonement in the Prophets. I come now to the Holy of Holies. I come now to the sanctuary of God’s innermost propitiatory, His place of expiation and grace [Hebrews 9:3-4].
In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, human sacrifice is offered [Isaiah 53:6]. It is the first time that it is approved. In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, but He did it as a test of Abraham [Genesis 22:1-2, 12], and He did it as a symbolic story for us. When Abraham lifted high his hand to plunge that steel into the heart of his only son, Isaac, he heard the bleating of a ram and substituted the ram [Genesis 22:10, 13]. That is the only time in this service of God, in the ministry of the Lord, that human sacrifice is ever asked, and there, in symbol, a great substitution was made [Genesis 22:2, 10, 13]. But in Isaiah 53, it is something God does [Isaiah 53:6]; He offers a human sacrifice. And look at that sacrifice: the efficacy in it, the power for saving in it lies in one theme. It lies in the willingness of the Offerer to give Himself for us [Isaiah 53:7, 12; Ephesians 5:2]. This, a sacrificial animal could not do; a sacrificial animal, a bullock, a kid, a goat, could not willingly offer himself for our sins.
And this Israel did not do. All of the Jews, without exception, all of the Jews believed that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah refers to the nation of Israel, that God hath laid on Him the sin of us all [Isaiah 53:6], and that, “with His stripes, we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5]. All Israel believes that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah does not refer to a somebody, a Messiah, a Savior, a Christ, a Lord, but that it refers to Israel, itself. That could not be true because anytime Israel has suffered, has been driven into exile, has been made captive, anytime Israel has suffered, it has done so against its will. Israel didn’t choose to go into captivity. It didn’t choose to be flagellated. It didn’t choose to have its holy temple destroyed [Matthew 24:1-2]. It didn’t choose to have its holy city destroyed. Any time Israel ever suffered, or suffers today, it is against their will.
But this Servant, in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, willingly lays down His life, willingly bears our sins; He willingly suffers for us [Isaiah 53:7,12]. The power of the death of Christ for us is in His willingness to assume all of our judgment, all of our sins, all of our transgressions. In the tenth chapter of John, he says, “No man takes My life from [Me]” [John 10:17-18]. If the Lord was executed by human coercion, He could never be our Savior. If His life was forcefully taken away from Him by somebody else, He did not atone for our sins. The atonement of the life of our Lord is in the fact that He willingly laid down His life for us [Ephesians 5:2]. If not willingly, there is no atonement. But Jesus made no protest. “He was as a sheep,” as the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah says, “as a sheep brought to the slaughter, so opened He not His mouth” [Isaiah 53:7].
When I was a youth, I went to Chicago as my first time to visit a big city. And, being a young man, I just went everywhere I could, looking. And I went to the great Armour packing plant. It was a vast enterprise, biggest in the world, the Armour packing plant in Chicago. And the first place I went was the slaughtering of the cattle. And, ah! the sound there, the moaning and the lowing of the cattle as they smelled blood, as they were pushed up those chutes and slaughtered, o-o-o-oh, the sound was terrible! The next place that I went was where they were slaughtering hogs, and the sound again was terrible.
The third place I went was where they were slaughtering sheep and lambs. I give you my word, as a minister of the gospel of Christ; I stood there a long, long time, watching it. And the only sound I heard was the clanking of the machinery, as they were held up by their hind legs, as the man would take a knife that long, and knowing exactly where to plunge it, cut the jugular vein, and the animal, taken along that track, watching the lifeblood pour down and out on the floor, no sound, as still and silent as death itself.
That is exactly what the prophet said about our Lord. He willingly offered Himself in heaven. According to the Book of Hebrews, He volunteered [Hebrews 10:5-14]:
Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.
For offerings and sacrifices Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me.
And He came, and in that body He willingly offered Himself a sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:9]. And He did it without protest, without voice, without sound; in silence He gave Himself for us [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the sacrifice is both substitutionary and vicarious [Isaiah 53:5, 8, 11]. Substitutionary, He did it for us [Ephesians 5:2]; vicarious, He did it in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21]. His suffering was that I might not suffer [Isaiah 53:5].
Now my closing remarks: you read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and you see if you find in it any little phrase of ritualistic terminology. It is not there, there is no hint of the ceremonial. The terminology, the nomenclature, the language is not used. Always in the Prophets atonement is ethical, and moral, and spiritual [Isaiah 53:1-12].
And when a man preaches that you do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and you will be saved; that is one thing, but it is not God’s thing. But when a man stands up and preaches for men to turn from sin, and to turn to God, to repent of their sins, and to cast himself upon the mercies of God [Acts 3:19], when a man does that, and preaches that, he is preaching the gospel of the Prophets and of the apostles.
Now it is beautiful to have a glorious baptismal service. It is effective to have a beautiful Lord’s Table, and whatever other of ritual we have in our church; stand up and sing the Doxology, or sit down and pray, or kneel down. Whatever it is, let it be just full of meaning for us, but never persuade yourself that by doing things we find forgiveness of sins. There is only one way God forgives sins, and that is when we come before Him with a contrite spirit, and a broken heart, in repentance and confession, casting ourselves upon the mercies of God [Psalm 34:18, 51:17]. That is atonement in the Prophets.
Well, God bless you. Now, who will be our . . . do you want me to close the service? All right, let us bow our heads in invitation and appeal. Maybe God, tonight, in His grace and mercy, maybe the Lord said something, whispered something in somebody’s heart. Is there someone, in this moment of bowing before our dear Lord; is there someone to give himself to Jesus? God bless you. Come and kneel here. Come and kneel here.