These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
We are here this morning to remember an event that is, on the face of it, very odd indeed. We are here to remember the life of Christ, his teachings, but in particular we are here to remember his death and resurrection. His death is the very odd thing. Why did Christ have to die in such a brutal manner?
Hebrews chapter 9 gives us the answer to that question. I’ll just read a few verses from it, verses 11 to 14 and verse 22:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! … In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
As usual I am reading from the NIV this morning.
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. That answers my question, and I could make this a very short exhortation by sitting down now, but I’m not going to. Instead I am going to ask two other questions: what if there was forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and what does the fact it was Christ’s blood that was shed teach us?
Under the law of Moses, sacrifice was a pretty gruesome experience. Turn to Leviticus chapter 4 verses 13 to 18:
“`If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting. The elders of the community are to lay their hands on the bull’s head before the LORD, and the bull shall be slaughtered before the LORD. Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull’s blood into the Tent of Meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the LORD seven times in front of the curtain. He is to put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the LORD in the Tent of Meeting. The rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
It’s not the sort of thing you want to do every day is it? Your hand is on the bull’s head as it dies. The animal isn’t just killed; the blood is spread around in various places. There is no escaping the grim nature of the sacrifice.
Suppose the Israelite community sinned unintentionally and the required sacrifice was different. Suppose when they sinned they had to pour out a jug of water onto the ground. That would be considerably more pleasant wouldn’t it? That is one of the central ideas the nature of sacrifice teaches us. Sacrifice is unpleasant because sin is unpleasant. It impresses upon us how severe sin really is. Sin, even an unintentional sin, isn’t just a pint of water thrown away, it is the life on an animal. It is slaughtered and you know it is slaughtered. For the elders at least the animal’s death is up close and personal.
We are fortunate that we no longer need to sacrifice animals; Christ has sacrificed himself for us. Doesn’t that make sin seem even worse? The only sinless man who has ever lived was crucified to bring us forgiveness. If anything that impresses on us even more how severe sin really is. It’s not just an animal now; it is a perfect human being. If you thought that sin must be pretty bad because of sacrificing a bull, think how terrible it must really be if you consider the sacrifice of Christ.
Suppose Christ could have fulfilled his role by living a perfect life and dying quickly and cleanly, say by drowning in the sea of Galillee. We would have lost a very very important aspect of his teaching. Sin is terrible and its consequences are terrible. It is important to impress that upon us, and that is certainly one of the reasons why Christ had to die the way he did. God is all powerful, and there is no higher authority that tells Him “You cannot forgive sin unless blood is shed”. There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood because without the shedding of blood the sinner does not comprehend the severity of he or she has done. Christ had to die in such a brutal manner so that we would know what sin is like.
There is another message in Christ’s sacrifice as well: it lets us know just how much God and Christ love us. John 3 verse 16 says this very well:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Can you imagine how that would sound if forgiveness could come from water, not blood?
For God so loved the world that he gave a pint of water, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
It doesn’t mean as much to us does it? Giving your son is much more than giving water, and God’s love for us is so great he is able to give his son for us.
Turn to John 15, verses 12 – 15:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
That is a very simple and beautiful verse that reminds us that as Christ loved us we ought to love one another as well. Christ’s love for us, his sacrifice on the cross isn’t just an academic thing – it is something that should have an impact on our everyday lives.