Recommended Reading: Leviticus 16:1–34; Matthew 6:19–21; Romans 8:28–39; 1 John 1:1–4
The sacrifice of atonement involved lots of blood—that should be a clue for us as to its importance to God. Once a year the high priest entered the most sacred place on Earth to offer up to God the blood of an animal. As a result, according to the law, the people of Israel temporarily stood in right relationship before their Creator Father.
Those of us who grew up attending Sunday school sometimes have a misperception that the temple was a place like the church in which we grew up—typically clean, orderly and with a planned program for worship. Most people, dressed in their “Sunday best,” sat quietly during the service and then enjoyed refreshments afterward. But that’s not what the Israelites experienced. The temple was for them a place of slaughter, bloodletting and sacrifice.
To be sure, the sacrifice was a messy business—hearing the cries of the resistant animal; watching the priest execute the slaughter and spread the sacrificed animal’s blood on the altar; and then watching the carcasses being sliced, cut and burned in sacrifice to God. Yes, this was a visceral experience quite opposite of what we experience in worship today. Yet this brutal ritual represented God’s provision for Israel to become once again right with him.
We shouldn’t be surprised that God’s new, permanent arrangement for people to come to him also required blood on someone’s hands. Jesus’ blood stained many hands: those of Judas, the Jewish Pharisees, the Roman government—even Pilate, who tried in advance to wash the symbolic stains from his hands. But Jesus’ blood fell mostly on the hands of his own Father, the God who “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Our sin separates us from God, makes us wrong before him. In turn, God’s sacrifice of his own son cancels our separation from God. The blood of his Son sets us right before the Father.
That’s the far-reaching extent of our Father’s love for us. He reaches out to us today with those same bloodstained hands. The permanent, atoning sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb, Jesus, permits us to “draw near to God” (Hebrews 10:22), to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (verse 23), to “spur one another on” (verse 24), to “not [give] up” and to “[encourage] one another” (verse 25).