I think if I didn’t have something a little more logical to go on than just blind faith (although that does indeed play its part in trusting God), I wouldn’t have been able to stay faithful for the past 18 years. I need to know more. I need to see behind the scenes. I need to know why.
One of the things I could never figure out was why Jesus even needed to be sacrificed at all. I mean, if God is so all-powerful, why couldn’t he just say something like – Oh that’s fine – doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Come on in and take your spot in heaven. He’s supposed to be God, right?
I think this confusion is answered in part by the law and sacrifices required under Moses, and in part by the nature of God.
See, if God is to pick and choose whose sin gets wiped away, how could he possibly do that in a way that’s fair? Is it just the murderers who have sinned enough to deserve hell? What about the murderers who were abused as children – do they deserve more compassion? What about those who murder in a war because the alternative is that they will be killed?
Should the liars get a free pass because lying isn’t that bad? Well, what if someone lies about having checked the safety valve in their routine inspection at work (ashamed that they had forgotten, or afraid of getting fired), and as a result of this negligence, compounded by a lie, someone dies? Is it still not that bad?
What about not doing the good you know you ought to do. Everyone is weak and stumbles sometimes, right? But what if someone’s weakness (and fear) leads them to buckle under the pressure of an oppressive government and betray the whereabouts of an innocent family, who is then imprisoned and tortured. Is it still okay?
In the courts, a judge determines whether a law is broken or upheld. There might be some disputes on the fine points of certain matters of the law, but in general it’s a rather black and white thing. And there is always a sentence when it is broken.
There is a law that our consciences acknowledge and agree upon – a universal moral code. And playing with that moral code, to determine shades of it, is … complicated. God is perfection, but he would no longer be perfect if we couldn’t count on him for fair and equal treatment – if someone’s salvation or rejection was based on a whim.
We may be further along in our struggle to do what is right than another (i.e. I’m not a murderer, “just” a liar), but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever get anywhere close to perfection when it comes to doing everything right all of the time. And if God lowers his standard of perfection to allow imperfect to suddenly be okay, he is no longer a perfect God. He denies his own nature.
So how then do we get to him, if it is indeed a relationship with us that he wants? If one person is able to jump five feet, another three, and still another only one foot, it’s obvious the one who can jump five feet is more skilled than the other two. But if the three were required to jump across the Grand Canyon, those two extra feet the skilled man can jump won’t do him any good. So there God’s perfect law in place, and no matter how “good” we are, we are unable to follow it perfectly. The sacrifice was necessary when it became clear there was no way we’d jump that hurdle without a little help.
But why sacrifices? (And here we get into the meaty, intellectual Bible study part that you will either love or hate. Don’t worry, not all my faith posts will be this . . . chewy).
Sacrifices were around ever since the fall from grace. Cain killed Abel over a sacrifice because his was better. Noah offered a sacrifice of thanks when the water receded and he found himself on dry land. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own son Isaac (the son he had waited so long to have). But when God found him faithful and willing to do it, he stopped his hand from killing his son.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)
God knew how much such a sacrifice cost a person, and in the end, he didn’t force Abraham to do the heartbreaking thing He (God) himself would one day be willing to do.
It’s commonly accepted that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, and though sacrifices had been around for a long time, it wasn’t until Moses wrote Leviticus that sacrifices became official things – a way of paying for transgressions committed against the law. You can see it in Leviticus 1 – the animal had to be without defect, of his own flock, and the person offering the sacrifice had to put their hand on its head before slitting its throat.
Today in the Christian world, we’re so tuned into grace we often completely forget about the sacrifice. We don’t connect with this graphic description of a bloody offering, but in those days the connection was very clear. Under the law of Moses, a man who sinned could be put to death just on the testimony of two or three witnesses. It was a very visceral reminder that this bleating, innocent lamb was being put to death so the sinner could go free.
The sacrifice was required to get the promise of forgiveness and salvation. Take a look at this explanation in Hebrews 9:16-22.
In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
A will, or – in other words, a testament – is in effect when there is a death. That’s logical, right? According to God’s law, if there is no bloodshed (no death), there is no promise of forgiveness. And the first example of this is found in the Passover.
Do you know where the Passover comes from (Exodus 12:21-23)? It was the first time God commanded that a sacrifice be made for his people’s deliverance. The people had been trying to get out of the land of Egypt where they were slaves, and none of the plagues God had sent had softened Pharaoh’s heart enough to let them go.
So God told Moses to have the Israelites put the blood of a sacrificial lamb over their door frames, and then shut their families inside for the night. The Spirit of death would pass over the houses that were covered in blood, and only enter those of the Egyptians.
And it happened just like that. Every single household in Egypt suffered the loss of a firstborn son – even Pharaoh – even losing the firstborn of their livestock. God’s people were protected by the blood of the covenant, and that led to their being able to exchange their lives as slaves in Egypt for one of freedom in the promised land. It was following this deliverance that sacrifices became a regular thing in the worship of God – the death of one bought life for another.
And what is just . . . remarkable to me is how this all relates to Jesus. It relates in a way that brings the centuries back full-circle – in a way that is too perfect to be left up to chance.
At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 26:2: “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
And then in vs 28 – two days later – he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.“
Jesus was killed on Passover. Jesus was the lamb slain, whose blood was poured, so the Spirit of death would pass over us – so that we could exchange a life of slavery to sin for one of freedom from all guilt.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
So why the sacrifice? Because on our own, without any help, we cannot achieve God’s perfection. We can never perfectly obey God’s law in a way that lets us approach him.
Why the Cross? Because God provided the sacrifice himself, once and for all. He paid a steep price in allowing the slaughter of his firstborn so that he could bridge the Grand Canyon gap between us and Him.
For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)
* (Photo Credit for lamb: 123RF)