This verse makes a truly incredible claim: God became man! The incarnate Christ is our merciful and faithful priest. Amazing. But that last phrase, "that he might make atonement for the sins of the people," is also of great importance. In fact, it is absolutely pivotal, dividing the world into two groups -- Christ followers and not. Whether you embrace and live out this verse largely determines your worldview.
Just think about it, people who acknowledge that the human race is imperfect (and most thinking people do!), approach rectifying that imperfection in one of two ways. They work at atoning for their own shortcomings, embracing various religions as means, or they accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Simply put, religions are either works-based, or grace-based, and to my knowledge the Christian religion is the only religion that is grace-based. Muslims observe religious laws in hopes of being accepted by Allah. For Buddhists, Nirvana is something you achieve, not something that is graciously given. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons both faithfully and diligently work to achieve salvation. Hindus achieve liberation. Unfortunately, many "Christians" live like they aim to earn something as well. But true followers of Christ admit that there is no amount of good works that they could possibly do to atone for their sins, and they accept Jesus. It's completely passive. It's 100% grace.
What joy, what freedom there is in not having to earn anything! I'm atoned for. And when you approach life through this lens, good works can be motivated by love instead of points. There is the possibility of being selfless, and other-centered.
But grace is countercultural and counterintuitive -- works is the default setting in our fallen little minds. So we need to continually remind ourselves that we are totally incapable of atoning for anything.
So what's your worldview? Are you working towards salvation, transcendence, or liberation? Or are you basking in God's love, resting in Jesus' atoning sacrifice, and living with freedom? May we accept and embrace the gift we are offered. As Paul wrote, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)