2293) Pulling Back the Curtain (part one of two)

Agnus Dei (The Lamb of God), Francisco Zubaran  (1598-1664)  (in the 1630’s Zubaran painted at least five versions of this)


John 1:29  —  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Revelation 5:12  — In a loud voice (the angels) were saying:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Hebrews 9:26b-28  —  (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.


     The word ‘sacrifice’ appears twice in the passage from Hebrews, and over 350 times in the rest of Bible, mostly in the Old Testament.  It is an important word in Holy Week.  It was on Good Friday that Jesus was sacrificed, killed on a cross, for the forgiveness of our sins.  But even though we know the story and have heard the word many times, this all may still strike us as very odd.  We don’t deal with blood sacrifices in our day to day lives, and talk of someone being killed as a blood sacrifice sounds strange.

     When we read the Old Testament, we see the sacrificing of animals going on all the time:  before battles, after battles, to seal a promise, to ask for a blessing, to give thanks for blessings, and during worship.  In some books, like Leviticus, there are long sections that go into great detail listing the commands of God describing precisely how the animal’s throat should be cut and the blood drained, what parts of the animal showed be burned, and even how to sprinkle the blood on the people in just the right way.  The whole thing might sound bizarre, even disgusting, to us today.

     But all this sacrificing had a very important point and purpose.  It was a part of worship in the Old Testament times, and it largely had to do with the forgiveness of sins.  It was to remind everyone that sin always has a price, a cost.  They were not paying God off for their sins, but by sacrificing an animal that was of value to them, they were being reminded that something is always lost when we sin.  Sin leads to a loss of love, peace, harmony, contentment, well-being, etc.  The visible loss of an animal that was of some monetary value, symbolized the loss in our quality of life that was the consequence of our sin.  The sacrifices were an unmistakable reminder that God takes sin seriously. 

     Things change in the New Testament.  Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, the once and for all payment for the sins of everyone.  Therefore, all the previous rules and rituals about animal sacrifice were no longer required by God, and abandoned.  Jesus died for our sins and now we can be forgiven by believing in him and his perfect sacrifice for us.

     But what does that mean?  What does it mean that Jesus died for us, paid for our sins, and sacrificed his life for us?  We might get so used to hearing this sort of thing in church that after a while the words just slide right on by us without any thought on our part.  But this is a strange concept, isn’t it?  It is as if there is all this sin in the world and God is required to punish us sinners—but then God forgives us and punishes Jesus instead.  But if God had decided to let us get by, why didn’t he just give the word and be done with it?  Why did he have to look for someone else to punish?  If a mother decides to punish her son by grounding him for two weeks, and then changes her mind and gives him a break, she doesn’t look for someone else to ground for two weeks.  She just forgets it.  Why did this sacrifice have to be made?  Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

     Difficult as it may be, this is what the Bible tells us.  In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Isaiah’s prophetic description of what the coming Savior would do says:

Surely he took up our pain and carried our sorrows.  He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep have gone astray; each one of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer and make his life an offering for sin.  He poured out his life unto death and he bore the sin of many.  (Isaiah 53:4a…5-6…10a…12b; NIV and KJV)

     How are we to understand this?  Even Isaiah knew it would be hard to believe.  He began this chapter by saying, “Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1).  In other words, “Who could imagine such a thing?  God punishes not the guilty but one who is innocent!”  Isaiah acknowledges the difficulty.

     Jesus did pay for our sins on the cross.  God did lay upon him the punishment that was ours.  But if that sounds strange to us, perhaps it is because there is more to it than what we see on the surface.  Perhaps our vision is limited and we are not yet seeing the whole picture.  And of course, we never will see the whole picture.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,” says the Lord in Isaiah 55:8.  So we must have the humility of Job and Jeremiah, both who asked “Who can understand the ways of the Lord?” (Jeremiah 9:12 and Job 26:14).  But we can look into it a little deeper.  (continued…)