“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22). The greatest problem in all the Bible is how can God be just and righteous and still forgive sin? God cannot simply pardon us and still be righteous. That would make him corrupt. He is holy and cannot allow sin into his presence. Sin demands punishment, for the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve God’s judgment for that sin.
How, then, can God love if all humans must die? There had to be an answer to satisfy God’s love without compromising his holiness and justice. A life was necessary, and the life is in the blood; for “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
Beginning with the first animal sacrifice to make clothing for Adam and Eve, to the ram caught in the thicket that took Isaac’s place on the altar, to the Passover lamb of Exodus, the Old Testament teaches the concept of substitutionary atonement, that an innocent die for the guilty.
When John the baptizer saw Jesus walking near the Jordan, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John knew that one day, Christ would be that Lamb foreshadowed by the sacrificial system. At the first Passover while the Israelites still lived in Egypt, every house slaughtered a year-old lamb without defect, spot, or blemish and placed some of its blood on the sides and tops of the door frame. The when the angel came to slay the first born, he saw the blood and passed over the house leaving the first-born son alive. Again, an innocent lamb died to spare the life of the son.
The Last Supper took place at Passover. After finishing the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and established the Last Supper to be a memorial of the sacrifice he was about to make. Later that night he was taken captive and forced to stand trial. The next morning, He was beaten and whipped. Then the soldiers forced him to carry his cross to the place of the skull. Having forced a crown of thorns upon his head, they drove spikes into his hands and feet. He struggled on the cross for six hours while God turned his back on him. There in utter darkness, Christ bore your sin and mine, and paid the ultimate price for the wages of sin. He became the Passover Lamb.
Two other men were crucified with Christ that day, but another man often forgotten in the Easter story is Barabbas. Mark 17:7 described him as a murderer and a rebel. Surely, he was guilty. Matthew 27:16 called him a notorious criminal. The crowd that day, however, demanded his release and Jesus’ execution. Christ carried Barabbas’ cross to Calvary that day. Again, the Innocent died in the place of the guilty.
That is how God can be holy and just and punish sin, and still be loving and offer forgiveness to all who repent and believe in Jesus. How do we know God accepted that sacrifice? Once Christ was taken down from the cross, his body was placed in a tomb. The Jews demanded that the stone that covered the tomb be sealed so that no one would steal the body of Christ and claim he had risen from the dead. Even they knew that Christ had said he would rise from the dead.
That was the darkest moment in human history. The Son of God who had promised to establish the kingdom of God was now dead and buried. The Sabbath passed and Christ remained in the tomb. The next day as some women went to the tomb, they wondered who would move the stone away. Even they did not believe Jesus when he said he would rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21 and others).
Matthew 28 gives the account of the women on their way to the tomb as dawn was breaking. They experienced a great earthquake as the angel came down to move the stone away. Verse 3 said the angel’s face was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. That terrible darkness caused by the crucifixion now gave way to the brightest day. God had accepted Christ’s sacrifice and he came out of that tomb alive! The angel told them that Christ they were seeking was alive.
That is the gospel story of Easter. Paul wrote: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:3-6). Christ’s death did not take God by surprise. He had foretold it in the scriptures and through the sacrificial system.
The writer of Hebrews states: “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). God no longer expects animal sacrifices. They never washed away sin anyway. Only Christ’s death could do that. Paul also preached in Athens, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31). There is no sacrifice you can make except “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).
When each of us stands before God in judgment, we will not be compared to others. We will be compared to Christ. Compared to others I may think I do fairly well; but compared to Christ, I fall way short. All I can do is repent and call upon him to have mercy on me and save me.
How will you do? Will you measure up compared to Christ? Or will you accept Christ’s substitutionary atonement for your soul?