Today we are continuing through the Doctrines of Grace, otherwise known as Calvinism, and we find ourselves examining the doctrine of Limited Atonement. It is the “L” in TULIP. Having said that, many people do not like the term limited atonement because they believe it is misleading, and I would agree. For it causes Christians to focus on the wrong side of the equation. Other terms that are commonly used instead of limited atonement are actual atonement, particular atonement, and definite atonement.
What does limited atonement mean?
This morning I want to start with a definition, so that you have a category in your mind to place the truth that you will hear through God’s Word. So here is one from RC Sproul.
- “God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him.” – RC Sproul
For those who were with us last week, you can see the very close connection that limited atonement has with unconditional election. I believe these two doctrines rise and fall together, so if you were convinced last week, this sermon is just icing on the cake.
The Decree from Eternity
Last week we examined Ephesians 1:3- 6. Let us look at that text again as we start this morning.
- Ephesians 1:3-6 – “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. “
Here is the question we didn’t ask? How is Jesus involved in this choice? What is his role? The first thing we want to nail down is that Jesus was actually present when the choice was made.
- John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. “
- John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one.”
- Ephesians 1:4-5 - “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”
- Ephesians 1:7 – “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,”
Now I want to switch gears and instead of looking back, I want us to look forward. Turn with me to Revelation 5:9-10. This is the picture of the celebration song in Heaven for Jesus in his achievement of accomplishing the work given to him in Ephesians 1. This takes place sometime in the future.
- Revelation 5:9-10 – “And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
When Jesus came to earth to save, he was not providing an opportunity for salvation; He was on a mission to rescue specific people. There was a definite, particular, actual atonement, or ransom, to be made for a chosen group of people. This is what a ransom is, a full payment for the kidnapped. Jesus paid it all. He actually achieved the ransom. Lets continue to unpack this idea, that Jesus didn't come in general but came specifically.
Old Testament Evidence
We have looked at the beginning and the end. Let us know look at the in-between to see if we see text that support that when Jesus came to die, he came to die for the elect. Let’s start with the Old Testament. First, I want us to think about the old testament? Who is it about? Israel. Who is Israel? God chosen people. The whole Old Testament points to the reality that God limits his redemption. Moses was sent to save Israel, not Egypt, nor any other nation. Judges were raised up to save Israel, not other nations. David was the King of the Jews, not the world. Prophets and Angles were sent to Israel not China. God is a God who limits his grace, you cannot read the Bible and come to any other conclusion.
In Leviticus 16 God is implementing The Day of Atonement. This is a foreshadow of Jesus' atonement. This was the most holy day for the Jews. It was the one day of the year that the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and he would offer a goat to be sacrificed for the covenant people of Israel. This offering was to atone for their sins. This sacrifice of atonement was not for the sins of the world, it was for the sins of the covenant people of Israel.
- Leviticus 16:16 – “Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. “
- Isaiah 53:7-8 – “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
- Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
- Matthew 26:27-28 – “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. “
New Testament Evidence
Lets now turn to the New Testament. Turn with me to Matthew 1:21. I think this text is extremely interesting. For these words come from an angel of the Lord and are spoken to Joseph before the birth of Jesus. This is what God’s messenger says.
- Matthew 1:21 – “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Next, lets see what Jesus says early on in his ministry about who he came for. Turn with me to Luke 4:24-29. Listen to what Jesus tells his home town and what there reaction is.
- Luke 4:24-29 - “And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.“
Next, let us look at John 10:14-16. These verses spoken by Jesus, may be the most convincing of them all. I cannot see how one can argue with limited atonement after reading this passage.
- John 10:14-16 - “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. “
- John 10:26-29 - “but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. “
- John 11:50-52 - “Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. “
Who is Jesus dieing for? The World? No, he is dieing for the nation. Who is the nation? The children of God? Who are the children of God? The ones chosen before the foundation of the world to be adopted through Jesus Christ. The more you have a category for Jesus particular redemption for the elect, the more you will see it everywhere. Turn now to Ephesians 5:25-27. I text that I look at a lot when I am providing marriage counseling to couples.
- Ephesians 5:25-27 -”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Why would he do such a thing? Look again at verse 25, “As Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” Christ laid down his life for you because he loved you.
And this is why this doctrine is so crucial in your sanctification. Last week we ended talking about how God's love for his elect is an eternal love. We said we need to hear the words from God, “I have loved you forever.” The message of unconditional election is the width of God's love. From forever and to forever. Limited atonement is the depth of God's love. It is God's love in action.
God not only has love for you before time, but he loves you so much that he sent Jesus to die for you. The death of Jesus was not impersonal. It was not Jesus opening up a door and waiting around to see who would chose to walk through, that is not love. No Jesus came and rescued his bride. God chose us personally and sent Jesus to save you, completely. SO once again we will end with Romans 8
- Romans 8:31-33 - “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?”