“On Our Side!” A Devotional on the Atonement

Atonement“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
—1 John 2:1-2

When I was a child my siblings and I worshipped with our parents and went to Sunday school before worship. I don’t remember much about Sunday school, but I have many powerful recollections of worship.

We were Episcopalians and so worship was out of the old Book of Common Prayer, with its grand 16th century language, a good bit of which I didn’t understand. Nonetheless, my faith was shaped and formed by those words that washed over me from Sunday to Sunday.

The passage above from 1 John was often read in the service. I wasn’t exactly sure what the passage meant, but somehow I knew it meant Jesus was on my side, even amidst whatever sins might befall my little life. It was a comforting thought.

Perhaps that is why since I began to study theology I have had a preoccupation with the meaning and significance of Jesus’s cross and atonement. I have had three study sabbaticals at ancient British universities on the subject and written a book about it. I know the ins and outs of the various theories and the criticisms and objections to them.

After all that study I still find that my childhood trust that Jesus is on my side is at the heart of what it means. That God is for us and not against us. The atonement is not something that Jesus does for God, or that God did to Jesus. It is the great reconciliation that God in Christ accomplished for us, and not just for us, but for the whole world that God so loves. I call that good news!

Prayer: Loving God, may the power of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ bring healing to your broken world.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for July 19, 2016. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. Photo: “The Crucifixion” from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthius Grunewald)

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