For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.
Let’s start with the last part of these verses: “that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” One of my friends, Wayne Vogt, wrote an entire comprehensive Bible study designed to train new believers in the fundamentals of Christianity. His contention is that, if you’re going to start teaching people about the Christian faith, start with Jesus. Don’t teach the Bible starting at Genesis. Don’t go in chronological order. That causes people to lose interest quickly. Instead, start with Jesus because Jesus is the fulfillment of the Bible. Then, later, teach the rest of it.
The reason for the life, death, and life of Jesus of Nazareth is for Him and Him alone to make atonement for the sins of the people. If you don’t want to study anything else about Christianity, just memorize that sentence. EVERYTHING about the faith and the Bible culminates in Jesus and what He did as God’s perfect sacrifice for humanity.
The ONLY way to atone for sins is by blood; that is one of the primary lessons that all of God’s law teaches us. God Himself made this clear in the Old Testament, specifically in the book of Leviticus. In Leviticus, God outlines to Moses how and when to consecrate priests who were to make offerings and sacrifices to God to atone for the sins of the Israelites. In those ancient days, God commanded his people to sacrifice animals as reminders of how He delivers people from slavery to sin. He commanded the sacrifices so that people could offer blood as a representation of their sins. God didn’t NEED for people to sacrifice animals He created. But they did; we do. So God directed people to do it so they would learn the lesson that He is God. They would learn this lesson by offering up the very thing that preserved life as a way to know that God Himself would ultimately forgive them of their wrongdoings.
Once per year, the high priest of the faith would consecrate himself according to detailed instructions that God gave to Moses. He would then take blood and carefully, reverently enter the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle (later the Temple in Jerusalem). There, the priest would sprinkle blood on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant (which wasn’t just the prop for an Indiana Jones movie). This mattered because the cover was called the Mercy Seat and it was the very spot on Earth where God’s presence made physical contact with humanity. This all took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. By doing these things in obedience to Him, God promised the people He would forgive their sins.
Yet it was only the picture of things to come. Created animals couldn’t atone for man’s sins because the animal itself didn’t commit those sins. Even a human sacrifice Wouldn’t suffice because, in our very nature, humans are sinful. God wanted us to know that He provides everything and He and He alone would have the authority to forgive sins and make man clean from them. Only God could offer up a perfect sacrifice, so He gave Himself to us as Jesus, who lived a life without committing even one sin. When the time was just right – in other words, when God had revealed all He knew we needed to know – He offered Himself as that sacrifice, letting sinful men accuse and convict Him to death of crimes He didn’t commit (just like the rest of our sins). In doing so, God Himself made all things right again. God Himself superseded the need for those animal sacrifices. God Himself created a bridge for sinful men to be forgiven of our sins and come to Him blameless and clean.
He did it with His own blood.
Which is why I agree with my friend, Wayne, that the first, best way to teach people about the Christian faith is to start with Jesus. Once someone understands why Jesus matters and what He did for us, then can branch into history, doctrine, prophecy, and the rest of the Bible. Once someone understands needing Jesus, they begin to understand how we’re saved, as the hymn says, by nothing but the blood of Jesus.
For more reading: Leviticus 16.
Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your giving Your holy blood to atone for my sins and the sins of all mankind.