Though I love the New Testament writings and have always naturally gravitated toward them, nothing seems to refresh and brighten my vision of Jesus’ gospel more than stepping back and viewing it in light of all of redemptive history. So for the last couple of years, I’ve made an effort in my devotional Bible-reading to periodically break away from the New Testament and journey back into the Old Testament. The OT is described as rigid and harsh by some, however to me it is anything but. The first 39 books of the Bible are rich with God’s goodness, mercy, and unshakeable determination to transform rebellious sinners into sons and daughters of light.
As I spent a few days reading through Genesis recently, I was amazed yet again by how redemption-oriented God has been from the very get go. I mean, immediately following the Fall of Man, God promises the coming of a redeemer (Genesis 3:15). He’s always had a plan to rescue us. And he doesn’t rescue begrudgingly! The entire book of Exodus it proof of that. As I worked through this second book of the Bible, my heart was so encouraged as I read again of God’s unrelenting resolve to bring his people out of from under the oppressive rule of their enemies.
And then I hit Leviticus . . .
“Ugh”, I sighed inwardly. “Just skip over it. It’s just Old Covenant ceremonial laws and other boring stuff that’s of no use to you today, anyway.” I know every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, but Leviticus is . . . umm, well – okay, it’s just really boring. Like, incredibly boring. It’s much less narrative and more so lists of moral laws, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial instructions.
However, despite it’s drabness, I decided not to skip over it. I tried to just embrace the boring as best I could and trusted the Lord would, in some mysterious way, benefit me through reading even this less stimulating part of his Word.
And he did.
After I read the first 10 chapters or so, I sat up and thought to myself, “The Bible is a really bloody book.” I mean . . . I know that I know this. I’m sure you do, too. We Christians are people who bank our eternal fate on the shed blood of God’s Son. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins,” the writer of Hebrews penned two millennia ago. There is no Christianity – no Church – apart from the spilt blood of the Divine. We know this and we know it well.
But do we really feel the horror of it? Yes, I said horror. The shedding of blood isn’t a pretty process. It’s gut wrenchingly horrific. I was shaken awake to this reality by passages like this one:
“And the priest shall bring [the turtledove or pigeon] to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” – 1:15-17
Wring off its head…
Drain its blood…
Remove its guts…
Tear it open by its wings…
This is gruesome! If any American were caught doing this, they’d be jailed without hesitation – yet God commanded his people to partake in things like this on a daily basis. Why? Because the audacity of our sin demands extreme payment. Death. Blood. Suffering. The gruesome nature of the sacrifices in Leviticus should awaken us to how enormously offensive our sin is to God. Our rebellion ignites so much anger in the heart of God that it is only through substitutionary blood sacrifice that his holy presence can dwell among us. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that payment must be made.
However, the blood of mere animals cannot cleanse sinful men to the depths in which we need to be cleansed. These Old Covenant sacrifices found in Leviticus, which permitted some level of God’s presence to be among his people, were actually a foreshadowing of the ultimate Cleansing Flow that was to come. Our pardon would take the blood of a man – and not just any man. It would take a sinless man, a righteous man, a perfect man – the Son of Man. God himself, wrapped in flesh that can bleed, is the only one who’s blood is of such high value that it can wash and renew the corrupt human heart.
The author of Hebrews writes,
“[The Law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near . . . For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” – 10:1,4
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…
Christ … offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified…’” – Hebrews 10:1,4,5-7,10,12, 14
The millions of gallons of animal blood shed prior to the Cross are overwhelmingly out-valued by one drop of Christ’s blood. Though he is the most righteous and valuable person to have ever existed, his suffering far exceeded any other that has been experienced since the beginning of time. His physical agony – the scourging, the nails, the crown of thorns, the cross – was nothing compared to what he endured on a spiritual level. Like the sacrificed pigeons of the Old Covenant, the soul of Christ was wrung, severed, and mutilated by God’s wrath toward sin – God’s wrath toward our sin.
Though we probably have good intentions in wearing shiny miniature crosses around our necks or hanging decorative crucifixes on our living room walls, may we be careful to never glamorize the Cross and lose sight of the horror God’s Son went through as he hung upon it. The blood that God’s Suffering Servant shed in our stead as his soul and body were destroyed for our offenses is the only thing in the entire universe that can cleanse us of guilt and “purify our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14).
“… for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Jesus (Matthew 26:28).
I’m glad I sucked it up and didn’t skip over Leviticus. Reading through it with Jesus in mind reminded me of something I really needed to be reminded of: Christianity is no squeaky clean, PG kind of religion. The R-Rated realities of suffering, blood, and death are the very foundation of the Christian faith. The violent ending of Jesus’ life (followed by his triumphant resurrection!) makes possible the blessings of forgiveness of sin and newness of life that those who trust in him enjoy.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14