There are two terms we need to consider: Repentance and remuneration.
Both are major themes of Scripture, but only one is demanded of us. Surprised? What if I steal $20.00 from you and return it? That’s not repentance. That’s remuneration, not repentance.
Remuneration is where I pay back what I owe. Make no mistake, when remuneration is within my power, it is emphatically something I should do! Repentance takes place when I change my lifestyle of stealing people’s money!
The old law speaks of remuneration when it expresses the principle of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life (Leviticus 24:17-20). This is the legal application of the principle of remuneration. In one sense it was designed to avoid escalation of violence. But the principle is easy to see; remuneration occurs when you pay back what you owe.
Recall the role of the scapegoat in the Mosaic Law? On the unfortunate animal were placed “all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, and all their sins (Leviticus 16:20-22).
Aaron would choose a goat, place his hand on its head, and send it out into the wilderness. (Don’t worry, of all the animals on God’s earth, a goat can handle himself pretty well for food and shelter). This goat was carrying a heavy load. All the sins of Israel? How many Israelites, and how many sins each? How heinous are the crimes? How hurtful the words and actions.
Are you telling me this little goat’s banishment paid for all of that?
A thoughtful Israelite might have said: “You know, my sin is a far more serious matter than one goat!” Such an Israelite would have a good understanding of the weight of his sin, its seriousness, and what it might take to actually pay for it. Apparently the Lord accepted Israel’s sins on a discounted price, namely an unfortunate goat!
But what if we owed a debt we could not pay? We’ve spoken of returning a $20.00 debt. What if I became drunk, drove my car and killed a mom and a dad, leaving four children orphans? Even if I had the financial resources to pay for their care for the rest of their lives, I have not remunerated them my debt! I can repent of the sin of drunkenness, but I can never adequately repay them for their loss.
Isaiah’s great prophecy of the Messiah expresses this idea perfectly. Please notice the sweet switch of personal pronouns: “Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4,5).
Jesus took the burden, the weight of our sin. He was the ultimate scapegoat, you could say. But, take note of this: Instead of all the sins of Israel for one year, he bore all the sins of the world for all of time.
We cannot remunerate the Lord, or each other, for our sins, so Christ did what we could not. He paid the debt. We are, in turn, expected to repent of those sins. That is in our power to achieve. Understanding remuneration will drive us to repent.