A family had planned a trip to a Major League baseball game to cheer on their favorite team. The whole family, parents and kids, were very excited to put on their team jerseys, drive to the big city, eat ballpark food, and cheer with the crowd. The day before the game, though, a son in the family was disobedient, and his punishment was that the son was no longer allowed to go to the baseball game. We call that getting grounded. The day of the trip, alone in his room, he heard the sounds of the rest of the family excitedly getting ready to leave without him. He looked at his team jersey hanging in his closet, and he felt angry, guilty and frustrated. Then he heard a knock on his door.
I thought of this story and it’s fascinating conclusion, which I will tell you a few paragraphs below, when I considered God’s response to his people who had rebelled against him. We’ve been studying Ezekiel 15 and 16 in a five-part blog series starting here. In the previous post, God likens his people to his wife who has prostituted herself to others, terribly hurting him. When you hear his emotions, and you read what they did to God, the first thing that comes to mind is that God should divorce them. He would be totally justified in doing so. What is surprising is that God says he will restore their fortunes! Read Ezekiel 16:59-63.
God says he will remember the covenant. Though they have broken covenant, God will not. Instead he says he will establish an everlasting covenant, and they will know that he is the Lord. How? He mentions a very important word. Atonement.
He will make atonement for them, for all they have done. That is a concept that is vital for us. Atonement. This word conveys the idea of covering for someone. You’re out to eat, the bill arrives, and you go for your wallet, and you are embarrassed to discover it is not there. You must have left it at home. So you ask your friend, “Can you cover me?” When your friend pays your bill and does not expect to be repaid, they are atoning for you. God says he is going to atone or cover for the people of Jerusalem, meaning that he will not count their very substantial sins against them. When they see what God does, it will cause them to feel the weight of the sin to the point that it will silence them.
Now let’s return to the story of the son who was grounded and missing the baseball game. Just before the rest of the family left for the game, the father came to the son who was sulking in his room, and the dad said, “Get ready, son, you’re going to the game.” The son was shocked and elated, and he scrambled to pull his team jersey over his head. As he thanked his dad, he asked, “What are you doing this?” His dad went on to explain atonement and said, “Someone’s covering for you.” The son was confused, “What do you mean? Who?” The dad, “I am staying home in your place.” Just as fast as the son felt the consequences of his sin lifted, he now felt it heavy on him when he realized that his dad was atoning for him.
That’s what God says he will do for the people of Jerusalem, and for us! How so? This passage wonderfully looks ahead to what God does for us in Christ. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are atonement for us. They are God covering for us, making right which was wrong. Atonement does that. It enables us to be transformed.
The grape wood, which is no longer producing fruit, maybe even broken off and laying on the ground, waiting to be collected for kindling, is given new life. It is reconnected to the vine, and the life-giving power of the vine enables it to produce fruit.
The baby which is left to waste away is given new life when God rescues it.
The queen turned prostitute is redeemed.
God’s atonement changes everything.