atonement

Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, Psalm 103

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, and Psalm 103.

This devotional is about Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a 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.”

Before the tabernacle existed, people offered animal sacrifices wherever and however they wanted. God’s laws described how the sacrifices should be offered and where they should be offered, namely the tabernacle. But people are creatures of habit and stubborn. If Israel was ever going to worship as God had commanded, the people had to stop doing their own thing and start bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle. That’s what Leviticus 17 is about. It commands the people not to offer sacrifices anywhere else but the tabernacle (v. 5) and it prescribes a severe penalty for those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle (v. 4).

A key reason for these commands was to stop idolatry in Israel (v. 7). If anyone can sacrifice whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, they also can sacrifice to whomever they want--God or some idol. Creating a central place of worship had many benefits but guarding against idolatry was one of the biggest.

A key theme within this chapter has to do instructions about handling the blood of an animal sacrifice. The word “blood” appears 12 times in this chapter in verses 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it is an important detail. The reason for this attention to blood is stated in verse 11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood....” Blood is necessary for life. When it stops flowing through the veins of a man or an animal, the organs and tissues in the body stop working and the animal or person dies. Because it is essential to life, blood is a perfect way to represent life and death. The later part of verse 11 goes on to explain the significance of blood in animal sacrifices: “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 Hebrew word translated “atonement” here means “to cover or conceal.” God is saying that the blood conceals one’s sins; it is God’s appointed method for receiving forgiveness. When a person brought an animal as a sacrifice for his sins, that animal became the person’s substitute. God accepted the life of that animal, symbolized by its blood, instead of the life of the person who committed the sin.

Ultimately, of course, all of this anticipated the death of Christ on the cross for us. The statement, “For the life of a creature is in the blood... it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (v. 11) explains why Christ had to die on the cross for our sins. Because he was the perfect man, sinless in every way and righteous by merit for obeying God’s law perfectly, he was the only man who could die as a substitute for sinners. Because you have believed in him, you can be certain that God has forgiven you based on Christ’s death and has accepted you. The death of Christ is central to our faith because only his death could atone for our sins.

Mark 15

Today we’re reading Mark 15.

Yesterday, when we read about Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14, we read these words in verses 48-49, ““Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Christ was pointing out how absurd it was to be arrested by so many men who were so heavily armed. Jesus was a peaceful man and a public man who could have been arrested easily many times.

The reason for the precautions, of course, was the miraculous power he displayed. If you were Judas and had seen him casting out demons and walking on water, you’d bring an army to arrest him, too. Had he chosen to resist, of course, all the armies in the world could not have detained him. Although he had shown miraculous power, it was never violently directed. Though Christ arrived in Jerusalem like a king and exercised authority, he never attempted a military coup.

Barabbas did, though. As we read today in Mark 15:7, “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” Not only did Barabbas try to overthrow the government, his group killed a man while doing so. Yet, when given the choice to release either Jesus--the merciful healer or Barabbas, the violent revolutionary, the crowd wanted Barabbas, not Jesus, released.

Why?

Because of how dark the sinful heart of humanity is. Given a chance to kill God, the author of life, humanity jumped at the opportunity to rid the earth of him. Only the sinful heart of man would think it was better to have a killer like Barabbas on the loose than the merciful son of God.

This illustrated why we needed Christ’s redemption. Humanity longs for god, but not not the true and living God because he is holy and we are accountable to him. In order for any one of us to be reconciled to God, God the Son allowed himself to be taken into the hands of sinful men so that he could die as our substitute. Due to his death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” giving those who believe in him free and open access to God the father. This is something to praise God for; it is also something that should draw us in to speak with God in prayer. The way is open, the channel is clear, and God is listening because of the atonement of Christ.

What will you asking him for today?

Hebrews 7

Here we go with today’s reading, Hebrews 7.

We are far removed from the world of animal sacrifices in the temple and the priests who offer them but this letter was written to “Hebrews” not to “North Americans.” Priests and their work was important to Hebrews because their law and their worship revolved around the temple and its sacrifices.

Imagine that someone told you to move whatever you had in terms of money out of dollars and into something new like Bitcoin. I am not recommending that you do that nor am I giving you any financial advice at all. But if someone whose financial acumen you respected told you to move to Bitcoin, I think you still might have a hard time doing that. Dollars are all we’ve ever known, right? So could it really be a good idea to move away from all of that?

That’s sort of what it was like to tell a Jewish person to forget about the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews in this chapter argues to them that there is a priesthood that is older than Aaron’s priesthood in the law of Moses. To return to our analogy, then, the author of Hebrews is not arguing for Bitcoin but for gold. Gold has been used for currency long before money came along and the value of our money used to be based on gold. Spiritually, then, Jesus is less like Bitcoin and more like a return to the gold standard. His priesthood, symbolized by Melchizedek, predated and was superior to Aaron’s priesthood (vv. 1-10), was spoken about during Aaron’s priesthood (v. 15-17, 20-21), and is superior to Aaron’s priesthood because he represented a better covenant than Moses’ covenant (v. 22).

The Hebrews who read this letter were drawn in faith to the promises and person of Jesus but they were uncertain about leaving Judaism behind. Judaism felt like a reliable currency for them; it wasn’t, really, but it was all they knew. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were trying to keep a foot in both worlds; that is, they wanted to be Christian and Jewish at the same time. His warnings, one of which we looked at yesterday, were written to urge them not to turn their backs on Jesus to return to Judaism. Now, here in chapter 7, he urges them to turn their backs on Judaism and go completely with Jesus.

Verses 23-28 brings this discussion of priests to a point where we Gentiles can see the importance of Jesus’ priesthood. Verses 24-25 tell us that Christ is a permanent priest. Since there is no longer any “changing of the guard” now that Christ is our priest, we can be certain that our salvation is eternal because “he always lives to intercede for” us (v. 25b). In addition to being our permanent priest, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. His perfect moral nature (v. 26) means that he is always qualified morally to be our priest. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, too (v. 27b-28), our sins are atoned for permanently.

Our eternal salvation is secure eternally because our priest is permanent and perfect. Although we have not yet been perfected, we don’t need to worry that our sins will cause us to fall out of God’s favor because Jesus’ perfect sacrificed atoned for all our sins--including those in our future and his perfect priesthood causes him to intercede on our behalf perpetually. If you struggle with assurance of your faith, the priesthood of Christ is just the doctrine for you. God gave us the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer and the perfect person to speak to God on our behalf when we sin.

Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 17.

Blood was really important to the rituals associated with Israel’s worship and to the purification of God’s people. This chapter in Leviticus demonstrates just how serious it was with dire consequences spelled out for anyone who sacrifices away from the tabernacle (vv. 1-9) or who eats blood (v. 10). Why was this so important? Verse 11a: “For the life of a creature is in the blood…” Blood carries oxygen (and other important stuff) to every cell in the body of a person or animal and it carries away waste from those cells. It is so essential to life that God chose it to symbolize life itself. When an Israelite sacrificed an animal, the blood of that animal represented the exchange of one innocent life for one guilty life. That’s what verse 11b is saying: “…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.” All of this symbolized and prepared God’s people for the coming sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When the Bible says that “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), it is drawing on the theology stated and explained here in Leviticus 17. When Jesus died on the cross, he poured out his innocent life in order to erase the sin debt for my guilt. His sacrifice was, finally, the one life that could truly solve the problem of our guilt. Thanks be to God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.