So, in the sacrifice, an animal served as a substitute and was killed. But, it wasn’t just the animal but the blood of the animal that was indispensable to this restoration and atonement.
Leviticus 17:11 (NIV): “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
Leviticus 17:11 (NLT2): “for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.”
You see, to the Hebrew culture blood was the symbol of life. Blood can make atonement because blood is necessary for life, and when blood stops flowing in our body, when it flows out of the body, we stop living. Blood shed represents a life given in place of another – a substitute that was sacrificed for the sake of the people, to take their sins away.
God instituted this sacrificial system as a forerunner of what Christ would do to enable atonement and the restoration of our relationship with God. The New Testament continues and affirms this.
Hebrews 9:22 (NLT2): “…without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
But, it also recognized that there was a problem with ongoing sacrifices of animals.
Hebrews 10:1, 4 (NLT2): “1The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. … For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
In the end, no animal can consistently and continually atone or make up for human sins. That’s why the sacrifices had to be offered over and over and over again.
A better, more complete sacrifice was needed, and once again, the model comes to us from the Old Testament – the Passover. The Passover describes an event found in
Exodus 12 that describes the final plague God unleashed on the Egyptians so that the Hebrews could be freed from captivity and slavery.
God told the Hebrews to sacrifice a flawless first-born lamb and use the blood of the lamb to mark the door jamb over their doors. When God saw that blood, that symbol of life, his angel of death would “pass over” that home and not take the life of the firstborn.
The Passover Feast became an annual remembrance of this mighty act that saved and redeemed the Hebrews. And Jesus, even before his death, was recognized as this Passover Lamb.
John 1:29 (NLT2): “The next day John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
Jesus’s last meal is regarded by many scholars to have been a Passover meal. And the Gospel of John shows Jesus hanging on the cross, dying, at the very moment the Passover lambs were being slaughtered.
In the Passover, God was the Judge, ruling that the Egyptian slavery of His people was wrong, while passing over Israelite homes to protect them & serve as their Savior.
The Hebrews were saved by a substitute, a lamb whose life was sacrificed for them. Yet, each Hebrew family had to take this sacrifice for themselves – they had to take the blood and mark their own homes to save their families. And in being passed over, each family now belonged to God – they owed Him their very lives, through the substitute that He provided. And Christians believe that in all this, God was foreshadowing what Jesus would do for us on the cross.
On Good Friday Stuart Rothberg, a messianic Jew and pastor, is joining us to show us in even more detail how Christ was foreshadowed in the Passover meal. Mark it on your calendars and join us that evening – April 22.
Jesus became our Passover lamb, who takes away the sins of the world. And he did this by serving as our substitute, becoming our sin.
The Bible affirms that Jesus never sinned, so he did not deserve death, but he died our death by bearing or taking upon himself our sins.
1 Peter 2:24 (NLT2): “(Christ) personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”
On the cross, in the moments before Jesus died, he cried out what seems very strange.
Matthew 27:46 (NLT2): “At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, … ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’”
This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, written a thousand years earlier by King David, prophetically describing what the Messiah would endure on Good Friday. Jesus was certainly pointing everyone around him to this Psalm, but there was something more happening here. On the cross, Jesus became our substitute and God’s justice placed the sins of the world, all the sins for all time, onto Him in that moment, and he experienced, for the first time in his life, what you and I live with – in fact, it’s all we’ve ever known – complete separation from God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (or, so that we might be made right with God through Christ – NLT2).
Jesus bore not just my sins or your sins, but the sins of all people of all time – a full, perfect, complete sacrifice that did not ever have to be repeated. He bore our curse, the curse of sin, in that moment, and became cursed.
We wondered two weeks ago how Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, could died on a cross, hung from a tree, because the Jews knew that such a person was cursed.
Deuteronomy 21:23 (NIV): “…anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.…”
But now we see that God placed His curse on Jesus, as an act of His justice, so that Jesus could become our curse, die our death, be our substitute, our Passover lamb, and enable God to forgive us and cleanse us from all sin.
It’s nothing we did – it is completely & totally an act of grace and mercy by God. It allows God to be just and holy and still allow His love to win the day for us. And to mark this victory, just before his death and the payment for sin, Jesus cried out: “…‘It is finished!’…” (John 19:30 NLT2). The price is paid, the sacrifice of the lamb is complete, & our sins are forgiven.
In that moment, the separation between heaven and earth, between God and humanity was restored.
Mark 15:38 (NLT2): “And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
Notice that it was torn from top to bottom – God was tearing the curtain down because through Christ’s substitution sacrifice and atonement, it was no longer necessary for God and humans to be separated – sin did not have the last word!
Romans 8:3-4 (NLT2): “3The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own
Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”
And if you ever wonder about the depths of God’s love for you and if this sacrifice really applies to you or still matters, just remember God’s timing – not when we got our act together or were finally doing good.
Romans 5:8 (NLT2): “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
John Stott: “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to
God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.” (p. 159)
You see, it’s only as we stand before the cross that we begin to get a clear picture not only of ourselves – with all our sin and corrupted nature – but also of God – and His incredible love for you & me and the relationship He desires with us. (p. 160)
Author and speaker Brennan Manning has an amazing story about how he got the name “Brennan.” While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the front-lines together. One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.
When Brennan became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name “Brennan.” Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”
The cross of Jesus is God’s way of doing all he could do for us. And yet we often wonder, Does God really love me? Am I important to God? Does God care about me?