One of the key points for this passage that we’ve been talking about is shadows and copies. And in the midst of all this, we’ve been talking about all the sacrifices of bulls and goats that were made as a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross.
But that begs the question: why do we need a sacrifice at all?
Why couldn’t God simply just forgive our sins without the need for blood? Couldn’t there have been another way?
Really the only way I can answer that is to look at what Jesus went through. To look at Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane when he cried out, “If there’s any other way, please take the cross from me.” (Matthew 26:39)
If there truly was another way, wouldn’t have God found it? But for reasons that are truly known only to him, a sacrifice was needed. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (9:22)
We see the seeds of this from God’s commands in Leviticus 17:11. There, God said,
For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
The idea is that blood represents life. And so for one person’s life to be spared, another life had to be taken. In the Old Testament, it was the life of a bull, sheep, goat, etc. But as we’ve seen, they were imperfect sacrifices.
For one thing, an animal’s life does not have the worth of a human’s life. For another thing, the animal’s death was not voluntary on its part.
But when Jesus came, he was not just fully human, he was fully God, and thus his life was sufficient to pay for our sins. And as we saw yesterday, it was a truly voluntary act on Jesus’ part. He told the Father,
“Here I am — I have come to do your will, O God.” (10:9)
There are two other things, however, that the writer of Hebrews points out that may help us to understand the need for blood in our atonement.
First, he calls Christ the ransom that set us free from sins we committed by breaking God’s law (9:15). In other words by dying on the cross he paid the price necessary to set us free from the domain of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:13)
Second, he compares the new covenant with a will (the words for covenant and will are actually the same in Greek, so there seems to be a wordplay here). And just as a will does not come into effect until the one who makes it dies, so the new covenant could not come into effect until God the Son died.
However you look at it, God deemed it necessary that Christ die in order for us to live. And now that Christ has done so, the Holy Spirit comes into those who put their trust in Christ and he transforms their hearts. He writes the law of God in their hearts so that it become only natural that they start to do the things that please him. And as for their sins committed in the past, he says,
Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. (10:17)
And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (10:18)
As Jesus himself said, “It (the work of salvation) is finished.” (John 19:30)
I don’t know about you, but I marvel at it all.
Did Jesus have to die? In a sense, no. He could have let us perish and saved himself. But he loved us so much that he sacrificed everything you and me.
So let us always look upon the cross and the blood Jesus shed with awe. Jesus paid a terrible price, but he did it out of his love for us.
As one song puts it,
How can it be?
That you my king should die for me?
I know it’s true.
And it’s my joy to honor you.
In all I do, I honor you.
— Chris Tomlin