Pastoral Perspectives

It’s A Bloody Religion

In the recent ASK Class, one of the participants asked why blood is needed for the atonement of sins? It does sound gross, doesn’t it? But this is what the bible says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Let me take you back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden. God warned Adam and Eve, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17).

Well, Adam and Eve did exactly what God told them not to do, i.e. they ate the forbidden fruit. That’s how sin, shame, guilt, and death entered their lives. They didn’t drop dead immediately but their relationship with God was surely broken – they became spiritually dead!

Adam and Eve covered themselves attempting to hide their sin and shame. They were trying, by their own efforts, to solve the problem of their sin, to cover their guilt and shame.

However, their solution was inadequate. It did not solve the problem of sin; it did not even cover their own nakedness very well. God in his grace stepped in. “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)

An animal had to die for them to be covered. Although the passage does not mention it, blood must have been shed, foreshadowing the sacrificial system which God would institute under the covenant he was going to make with his people where blood would be involved.

When God called Abraham and made a covenant with him in Genesis 15:9-21, he had Abraham placed 5 bloody animal carcasses on the ground, three of them split in half with the halves separated a short distance from each other.

We may find it gross but during Abraham’s time, this was how two parties entered into a blood covenant with each other. They were supposed to walk the path between the slaughtered animals, saying to each other, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my oath.”

It was interesting that when evening came, God appeared in the form of “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch that passed between the pieces” while Abraham had fallen into a deep sleep. Thus, God alone passed through the pieces of dead animals, and the covenant was sealed by God alone. Nothing depended on Abraham, yet it was called the Abrahamic covenant. (I’ll return to this point of interest at the end of the perspective.)

430 years later (Galatians 3:17), the covenant which God made with his people Israel after they left Egypt was known as the Mosaic Covenant because Moses was the mediator between God and his people. That was also a blood covenant in that it required blood to be sprinkled on the tabernacle, the scroll and all the people for the atonement of sins (Hebrews 9:19ff).

“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)

To make atonement is to satisfy someone for an offense committed.  The sacrificial system taught God’s justice. It shows us that God cannot just overlook sin. Since God is just, sinners must be punished. Someone must pay the consequences.

Sin is serious and the consequences are ugly. Unblemished animals were taken to the tabernacle to be sacrificed. Every sacrifice would be a reminder about the ugly consequences of sin.

In the Mosaic covenant, the blood of animals served as a covering for the sins of the people. The animal’s life was given in place of the sinner’s life. Recall God saying to Adam and Eve, “If you eat the forbidden fruit, you will surely die.” Instead of humans being put to death, the animals were put to death in their place. Their blood was shed, and their life taken, so that the humans were spared.

But animals were never intended as a long-term solution. Animal sacrifices did not take away sin, but instead covered it. They pointed to the ultimate sacrifice. When John the Baptist saw Jesus in the distance, he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29)

The old covenant foreshadowed the new covenant that Jesus came to mediate, and again it is a blood covenant for Jesus said, This cup I pour out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

The new covenant is more superior to the old covenant. Under the old covenant, the high priest made sacrifices for the Israelites’ sins at the tabernacle. The high priest would only enter the tabernacle’s holy of holies once a year and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (Hebrew 9:7)

Since the new covenant supersedes the old covenant, Jesus went further than the high priest. He himself was the sacrifice. From the nails that pierced into his hands and feet and the spear that pierced into his side, blood, lots of blood, was shed, and it was Jesus’ shed blood on the cross that saves us from our sins.

Sin is so insidious, so powerful, that to fully deal with it, the Creator himself had to die to atone for our sins. Jesus did this once for all on the cross. His sacrifice was final. Unlike with animals, it was not necessary to repeat it. Because Jesus’ blood has infinite worth, His death can effectively be a substitute for an infinite number of people and take away an infinite number of sins throughout all time.

Recall the Abrahamic covenant? The two parties were supposed to walk the path between the slaughtered animals and saying to each other, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my oath.” Breaking a covenant was a deadly thing, blood would have to be shed.

But Abraham was in a deep sleep and God alone passed through the pieces of dead animals, and the covenant was sealed by God alone. God wouldn’t break the covenant. What happened when his people broke the covenant? They ought to face a bloody death  but through Jesus’ shed blood, God himself paid the deadly price for humanity breaking the covenant.

Blood is the most basic ingredient of life. No blood no life. When Jesus shed His blood, he gave us his most precious possession – his life.

As we enter Holy Week, the last week in the season of Lent, and make our journey with Jesus to the cross, we marvel at the logical coherence of God’s salvation plan. From Adam to Abraham to Moses to Christ, we need a fresh appreciation of how bloody our religion is so that we can be truly grateful for what God has done for us. We will then be able to make a rightful response to him – gratitude, obedience and service.