Today I want to talk about what the universal atonement of Christ means to us. The fact that He not only died for my sins or yours, but for the sins of the whole world. And we see this teaching in Scripture such as in 1 John where the author says to the Israelites, "
1 John 2:2, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
Now, some people are willing to debate verses like that till the cows come home. That isn't my intention here. Rather, this is my purpose in this message:
That we, as Christians, tend to often forget that God's grace, mercy and love isn't only about those who are already saved, but is concerned with the whole world.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not pointing fingers at all. I know some Christians who show such love to the unlovable because God first loved the unlovable when we couldn't. What I do want to get at is this mindset that we sometimes slip into. This idea that because of who we are or what we have, we are somehow better than those around us and we try and use this to our advantage.
And this isn't just a mindset that was adopted by Christians once Christ came and died for us.
No, this is something that goes back to ancient Israel.
In 1 Samuel 4 we hear the story of Israel's battle with the Philistines and early on in the chapter Israel goes out to war and is defeated and the elders ponder, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies." (v. 3 NIV)
In other words, "Look guys, something's not right. Instead of consulting God, let's go get the ark so that we can be confident that God is with us."
Now, I could try and give a heavy theological explanation for this, but none is needed. Instead I want to share what the NIV Study Bible notes. Now it gives a decent but lengthy explanation so I'll simply share the last sentence as it summarises the mistake made by Israel.
It says, "They [Israel] reflect the pagan notion that the deity is identified with the symbol of his presence and that God's favor could automatically be gained by manipulating the symbol."
And man... we may not have an ark but we have the crosses around our necks to our very status as Christians to justify ourselves rather than consulting the King of kings and allowing Him to speak through us.
And we forget to remember that the very people that we are shunning are the very people that Christ came to save. From the religious leaders who had Him crucified to your neighbour down the road who is so full of pride that we, in our own way through judging him, have become prideful ourselves.
I can confess to that. The pride I sometimes have in my heart and I think to myself about some people, "Nah, they don't deserve God's grace. " And instead of humbling myself in servitude, I judge instead.
I hope we can all see the irony in that.
Many people like to claim that God in the Old Testament is different from who He is in the New Testament. This can't be further from the truth because the very same God who died for us, is the same God who pleaded with the wicked in Ezekiel.
In Ezekiel 18:23, God asks this question, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (NIV)
And He answers this very question in Ezekiel 33:11,
"Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?'"
When people die without Christ, does He rejoice?
This is the question we need to ask ourselves, because if He does, why would He die for us in the first place? Scripture continually attests to the doctrine that God shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34), that He would rather have everyone come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9) and that even in the midst of our most wicked sin, our most deceitful personality... He died for us and gave us the choice to be made alive in Christ (Romans 5:8).
So does He rejoice? No. And in the relisation of this, we come to know that this salvation we have... it isn't about us and our own prejudice.
Its about Him and His love, His desire and His glory.
Sometimes, we simply need the reminder that Israel received in Joshua 5:14 when the commander of the LORD's army proclaimed that he was neither for nor against Israel, and in saying this, reminded Israel that it is not God who fights their battles, but they who fight His.
In the same way, it is not us who decide who is worthy of receiving God's grace, but God Himself.
Let us not turn from this truth, in our own false sense of self-righteousness, but allow God to minister to us as we serve as witnesses of His grace and glory.
God bless you all.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 NIV