|I was in my 20’s and had just embarked on a grand adventure. I was moving 1200
miles away from home in North Carolina to Texas. I had become a Christian at an
early age and wanted to pursue ministry. So I enrolled in a Bible school in Fort
Worth and set off for the year-long course. In the school, I grew even more as a
Christian, but then I had a class that literally changed my life.
From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be good and to follow the
rules. So when Jesus was presented to me at an early age, I accepted Him and
loved Him. It was a very easy decision for me. But I’m sure like most who accept
Jesus at an early age, there comes a time when you have that Aw-ha! moment and
you understand the great, great story behind your faith. This happened to me in
that Bible class.
One day as our teacher entered the classroom, we were all talking and laughing
and not wanting to settle down for our study. He stood at the podium, waiting for us
to calm down. When we didn’t, he shook his head slightly, gathered his books and
papers, and walked out the door. We were shocked and his actions had the right
effect. The next day, we were ready to listen.
The class I was in was called The Life of Christ. Over the six weeks, we had studied
where Jesus fit from Genesis to the New Testament and were in the final days of His
life. As our teacher stood before the quiet group that day, he shared on the
crucifixion, the finishing work of this great life, and he did so with tears streaming
down his face. We had never seen our teacher react this way and understood the
great emotion within him as he shared the culmination of Jesus’ life. We now knew
why he couldn’t speak the day before. It was much too precious to share with those
who weren’t sober enough to receive it.
What he taught us that day was called the Subsitutionary Sacrifice of Jesus or
simply the Atonement.
First, There Was Sin
To understand the Atonement, we have to go back to the beginning, to the Garden
of Eden. God’s creation, Adam and Eve, did something that started the need for
atonement. They didn’t murder each other, nor commit adultery, or any of the other
BIG sins we think of. What they did was to disobey God. That disobedience was
called sin. They were thrust out of the Garden of Eden and everything changed for
them. They were separated from God.
Then Came Redemption
Basically, redemption is bringing us back to God. But how? There has to be a price
paid for sin, that’s called justice. We hear it on the news every night. A person was
jailed, convicted of their crime or sin, and was punished. When we hear about a
murderer being caught, we all breathe a sigh of relief. That person has been
required to pay for what he did. Justice has been done.
Rebels at Heart
But, you may say, I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve never broken the law. I’ve
never killed anyone or stolen from anyone. But just like Adam and Eve, our
disobedience is the same. If you only break one of God’s laws, then you are guilty.
And until you recognize Jesus as the Savior, you are guilty of not accepting Him. If
we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of
the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left (Hebrews 10:26).
And never think for a moment that this is unfair. People may sometimes think they
are a victim to this system. But we are all willing participants of sin and selfish
choices. We are all rebels at heart and the same nature that caused Adam and Eve
to eat the apple anyway, even though they were told not to, is in all of us. Justice
must be done.
But as much as the Holy God of the universe demands justice, He also is forever
wanting to show mercy. Because one of His main attributes is love, He is even
called by that name. He exemplifies this part of His character in the great lengths He
is willing to go to show mercy to His creation.
A King of Mercy
Let me illustrate this with a story. It is a true story about a king
over one of the Greek city states in ancient times. King Seleucus
had a problem during his rule—adultery was rampant and no
one seemed to know how to stop it. He knew if it continued, it
would undermine the family and corrode the city state he was
One of the common punishments at this time in history was to
have one of your eyes gouged out for certain wrongdoings. He
sent out a command that the next person caught in adultery would
have two eyes gouged out! He was certain no one would be willing
to give up their sight for this sin.
Time passed and someone was caught in adultery. They were brought before King
Seleucus and it was found to be his own son! The king was heartbroken but he
knew he had to carry out the punishment or he would lose the power over his
kingdom. He knew justice had to take place. But he was also filled with love and
mercy for his son.
As he contemplated what he must do, he came to a conclusion. He had his son
brought forward and had the first eye gouged out. He then took his son’s place and
had the second eye gouged out. He fulfilled both justice and showed mercy for his
son by having one of his own eyes gouged out.
God Had a Plan
So, like King Seleucus, our Father had a plan to show mercy and to also fulfill
justice. He instituted a system long ago called the Sacrificial System.
We see the beginnings of this system when the Jewish people had been in Egypt
for many years. Joseph had helped deliver his people from famine and they had all
lived and grown in number. Now they were being mistreated and God was ready to
deliver them and send them back to the Promised Land.
As Pharaoh continued to fight against God’s plan and keep the Israelites as his
slaves and captives, God declared, through Moses, that every first born in that
nation would die. But the Israelites were also in that nation, so God presented them
a way of deliverance from the punishment He had meted out.
Very specifically, they were told how to kill a lamb, how to cook it, and even how to
eat it. From that lamb, they were to take some of the blood and sprinkle it on their
door posts. Then God made his intention clear: On that same night I will pass
through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—
and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood
will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the
blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I
strike Egypt (Exodus 12:12-13 NIV).
The blood was the sign. How they killed the lamb, cooked it, or ate it wasn’t the sign
for judgment to pass them by, but it was all about the blood from the lamb. Hebrews
9:22 says, In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with
blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. If there is
no blood shed, there is no forgiveness.
The Sacrificial System
Once God had rescued the Israelites and was leading them toward the Promised
Land, He led Moses to go up onto a mountain to receive His rules for living. These
were rules that if they were obeyed, would bring abundant life. The most famous of
these rules are the Ten Commandments, but there were many others listed in the
book of Exodus.
To many in this day and time, it may sound negative to have rules over our lives.
But think about a world where there are no rules. A world where it is not wrong to
murder or to molest a child. It is not wrong to take what isn’t yours and no one stops
it or punishes it. Think about something as simple as the speed limit and traffic
rules. What if everyone just did what he wants to do on the highways and streets
without any repercussions? God’s rules are given to us to give us abundant life, not
just to make us do things His way.
In Exodus 24:3-4a, the people all agreed to be obedient. When Moses went and
told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one
voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”
But oh how quickly we forget! Just a few verses later, the Israelites had already
turned aside and disobeyed God. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down,
because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become
corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them
So God established the sacrificial system. God was willing to accept the life of an
innocent in place of the guilty. He had the Israelites build a Tabernacle as He
instructed, with altars, tables, and lampstands. He instructed how the priests were to
be put in place and how the sacrifices were to be made.
As the final instructions were instituted, everything became
clear. Blood must be spilled. An animal must be sacrificed
for a person’s sins. The individual was to lay their hands
on that animal before it was killed. He is to lay his hand
on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be
accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him
Let’s think about this for a moment. These animals were
the best of their herd. They were not supposed to have any
blemishes, but be perfect in every way. They were often
set aside just for this purpose, so very likely became like a
Can you imagine as the time drew close for the yearly sacrifice for the cleansing of
sins, and you looked into those innocent eyes of that lamb. You would know that
this animal must die because of things I have done. His blood must be spilled
because of my wrongdoings.
Think about your family pet. What if that system was still in place? What if every
time you sinned, you knew that once a year your family pet was going to die? Your
little Fluffy was going to pay the sacrifice for what you had done all year.
The whole system was to make people think, to get their attention to the penalty of
sin. For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a NIV). Sin, if not atoned for,
brings death. Your death, or the death of a sacrifice—the substitutionary sacrifice!
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 commandment 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 (Hebrews 9:16-22 NIV).
Day of Atonement
Now let’s go back to the Israelites. They had built the Tabernacle; the priests were
all in place, with a High Priest to actually go into the place and meet with God. This
was to happen once a year and was called The Day of Atonement. The Jewish
people now call this day Yom Kippur.
And in the Tabernacle, the actual place God chose to reside was called The Place
of Atonement. The Lord said to Moses, “Warn your brother, Aaron, not to
enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses;
if he does, he will die. For the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—is
there, and I myself am present in the cloud above the atonement cover
(Leviticus 16:2 NLT).
On this first Day of Atonement, Aaron, the high priest, was instructed to bring a bull
as a sin offering to cover his own sins. Then he did something very interesting. He
took two goats from the community of people. They cast lots to decide what would
happen to the goats. One would be a sin offering to the Lord, and the other would
be called the scapegoat. It was to be kept alive, standing before the Lord. Then it
was to be taken to Azazel, in the wilderness. It was to carry away the people’s sins,
so they would be purified.
This was another vivid example to the people, as they watched this goat being led
away, with their sins upon it. It is a term even we know about today. If you've ever
been a scapegoat, you know you’ve taken the blame for something you didn’t do.
The dictionary says it is a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to
suffer in their place.
But then the other goat that was chosen had to be sacrificed; he had to die. His
blood had to be shed for the forgiveness of the people. They were supposed to fast
this day and it was to become a permanent ceremony for the Israelites. Without this
shedding of blood each year, there would have been no forgiveness of sin.
Sinless, Spotless Lamb of God
The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is still being celebrated today. They fast and pray
and recognize it as a holy day, but one thing is missing—the sacrifices are not
being performed! When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the sacrificial system
stopped in Jerusalem. Why? Because Jesus became THE Substitutionary Sacrifice!
He became the innocent lamb, slain for everyone, for the rest of time.
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you
inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold
or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of
God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he
has now revealed him to you in these last days
(1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT).
For Christ did not enter into a holy place
made with human hands, which was only a
copy of the true one in heaven. He entered
into heaven itself to appear now before God
on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven
to offer himself again and again, like the high
priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy
Place year after year with the blood of an
animal. If that had been necessary, Christ
would have had to die again and again, ever
since the world began. But now, once for all
time, he has appeared at the end of the age to
remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.
And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes
judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away
the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but
to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:24-28
The Wonderful Word of God
I want to close with another passage from Hebrews. Let these words wash over you
and show you the great fulfillment that Jesus was to everything God had planned.
This is what I learned that day in Bible school class that confirmed in my heart the
sacrifice of Jesus. I could plainly see God’s plan from the beginning—He knew His
Son would be the spotless Lamb of God. He knew that everything that had come
before was pointing to the sacrifice—to once and for all take away sins from the
people so they could stand before Him, blameless as though they had never
sinned. Justice had been done—forever!
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the
realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices
repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to
worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the
worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer
have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder
of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law
required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do
your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will,
we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ
once for all.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again
and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat
down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to
be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect
forever those who are being made holy.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy
Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us
through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest
over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full
assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty
conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:2-
4, 8-14, 19-22 NIV).