If there was ever any question about God's grace today's reading should have answered it. God's people had sinned...repeatedly. Moses had spent time face down in intercession for the Israelites. The disobedience went from the lowest man on the camp totem pole all the way to the high priests two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu. Always there are consequences. And sometimes they are harsh. Because of Nadab and Abihu’s actions the priests were no longer to enter the holy of holies anytime they wanted. Now that can only happen once a year and only by the high priest. This is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is the most holy day of the year, the most solemn day of the year. And for the high priest the most dangerous day of the year.
This is all about the forgiveness of the sins of the nation. The Israelites believed God dwelt hovering above the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. So, to look at the ark or the mercy seat was akin to looking at God. The penalty for that was death. The time frame here is mid-September to mid-October, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. On the first day off the seventh month the trumpet is blown announcing the beginning of the new year. This is Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur follows on the tenth day, so God's people begin the new year clean and forgiven of their sins, at least for a little while. This ritual involves the shedding of innocent blood, one bull for the high priest and his family and a goat for the nation of Israel. The instructions are detailed and the high priest is alone in the tabernacle so there are no distractions.
This ritual of the forgiving of the nation's sins points us directly to Jesus' death on the cross. First the bull is killed, its blood drained out into a basin. The high priest took his censor filled with coals from the brazen altar and two handfuls of incense, plus the basin of blood and he went into the holy of holies. The incense made a cloud that obscured the high priests vision of the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat of God. He sprinkled the bull's blood on and in front of the mercy seat, a blood offering for the atonement of the high priest and his family's sins. His offering had to come first because he could not approach holy God and ask for the forgiveness of the nation's sins if he wasn't first cleansed of his own. Once that was completed the high priest did the same with the blood of the goat. This time the blood was atonement for the sins of the nation. There can be no atonement, no payment for sins without the shedding of innocent blood.
Not only did the high priest make atonement for himself and the nation, he also made atonement for the tabernacle. Over the course of the year the tabernacle became defiled because sin offerings were brought into the courtyard where they were killed, their blood drained out before being offered as payment for sins. Blood was sprinkled on the altar of incense, the table of showbread, and the lampstand in the holy place. Finally, blood was put on the horns of the brazen altar and sprinkled around the altar to make atonement for it. It is the blood that not only has life in it, but it cleanses as well.
Over the course of Israel's history thousands of innocent animas gave their lives to pay for the people's sins. But the animals offered to the Lord, while spotless and without blemish were still tainted by the sin of the world. However, this was the way God made for His people to return to Him. When God sent His son to earth to live as we do again, we see God's grace again. Jesus lived a sinless life. And when the time was right Jesus entered His public ministry. He taught and healed and performed countless miracles. Crowds flocked to see and hear Him. After three years of ministry, time spent sowing into twelve men about the love of God, it was time. Jesus came to teach us about God’s love for us. He came to show us how we're are called to live. And he came to be the perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins.
Just as the bull and goat were offered up to pay for the sins of the people, Jesus was offered up for our sins. The blood of the animals was shed and sprinkled in the holiest of places. Jesus hung on a dirty, roughhewn Roman cross; His blood shed for the payment of our sins. God made a permanent way for us to return to Him. The curtain that separated God from His people since it was first hung in the tabernacle, the one that hung in Solomon's temple and the one rebuilt by King Herod as well, separating God from His people...hung until Jesus' death. It was 60 feet tall and four inches thick. When Jesus cried out it is finished that curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. And once again God's people could come to Him. We come to Him in prayer, an incredible gift.
Jesus offered Himself up as the once and for all sacrifice. No longer do innocent animals shed their blood for the atonement of sin. Jesus, the Lamb of God paid the ultimate price. He took the full measure of God's wrath that is deservedly ours. All so we can stand righteous before holy God. Our debt has been paid in full. Not because we deserve it. Not because we have earned it. Just because He loves us.
Chapter 17 reminds us of the significance of blood. In 17:11 we read, ”For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Long before medical science discovered the significance of blood in the human body and its importance for life, scripture told us that blood was life. When a sacrifice was offered and its blood was shed it meant the giving of one life for the life of another. The innocent victim died in the place of the guilty sinner. Throughout scripture it is the blood that makes atonement. And that is what we see in Jesus...His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W