In studying how the old covenant feasts and festivals are fulfilled in the new covenant, some new covenant realities of these old covenant types and shadows are easy to see because they jump right off the page for us. For example, the Day of Atonement is fulfilled in the cross of Christ. Hebrews 9 says the death of our Lord purifies our consciences “from dead works to serve the living God” (v. 14). Expiation, or the sending away of sin, pictured by the scapegoat (Lev. 16:20–22), occurs via the cleansing effects of Jesus’ blood. The author of Hebrews also says the death of the Savior “redeems [us] from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (9:15). Christ’s death propitiates the wrath of God — in Him our Creator manifests His justice through executing the sentence of death on a substitute in order that He will not have to execute it on repentant sinners. This was typified through the death of the sacrificial bull and goat on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:11–19).
First John 4:10–12 confirms that the death of Jesus atoned for the sin of His people and propitiated God’s wrath (v. 10). Since we discussed propitiation last month, we will focus today on how the Lord’s fulfillment of the Day of Atonement is grounded in His love and is a model for how we are to love other people, especially believers. As the apostle writes, if we want to understand true love, then we have to look at the atonement (v. 10). This was the most loving act ever performed in history, for there has never been and can never be a gift greater than the life of the Son of God given for the “sins of the whole world” (2:2). Without God’s Spirit indwelling them, people cannot look to the love they have for others or even the “love” they have for God as an example to be emulated (4:10), for we are born self-centered and remain so unless the Holy Spirit changes our hearts. No one seeks God (Ps. 53), and the atonement not only shows us the Father’s love but also enables us to love Him in return, for without the death of Jesus, there is no outpouring of His regenerating Spirit (John 16:7).
Fulfilling the Day of Atonement, Jesus has turned away God’s wrath, shown us true love, and empowered us to love Him and others. By His Spirit we can now love others through acts of self-sacrifice that, however faintly, mimic our Lord’s willingness to sacrifice all for us (1 John 4:11).
Dr. Joel Beeke writes in his Epistles of John that “the great motivation for practical, Christlike living is the doctrine of the cross; hence, every failure to love can be traced back to a failure to understand the cross. When the cross of Christ grips us, everything in our world changes” (p. 161). True love is costly and does good to others even when there is a risk of being hurt. Where can you sacrifice in order to show real love today?