Don’t let free grace cheapen the cost of sin

Last night in my Bible study we were talking about blood and blood sacrifices, mainly because the reading for the past week has been in Leviticus. (Ever want to be really thankful for salvation by grace through faith? Read Leviticus. Just saying.)

In our modern world, we cringe at the thought of sacrificing animals, but in the ancient Israelite culture, it was part of their culture. It was the system that God set up as a picture for them of the seriousness of sin and what it costs Humanity.

lambofsacrificeToday’s verses are Hebrews 9:22-26.

In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.

From the beginning, the shedding of blood has always been a picture of forgiveness. Starting in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden because of their sin, God made clothes for them out of animal skins (Gen. 3:21). The animals weren’t still alive after God used their skins for clothes. No, those animals had to die so Adam and Eve could have clothing to wear. Blood had to be shed.

And blood doesn’t wash away easily. It sort of hangs around. Whether you’re talking about human blood or animal blood, it’s all pretty much the same.

Every culture (nearly) grasps the importance of blood on some level. Even people living far back in the jungles understand the concept that if wrong is done, atonement is required–and it’s usually an atonement that has something to do with blood. What they don’t grasp is Who atonement should be made to–and that the most precious blood has already been shed.

See, that’s the point of the Book of Hebrews. The writer is comparing the Old Covenant God made with Israel to the New Covenant God made through Jesus Christ, stating that the New Covenant is better. It doesn’t make the Old Covenant obsolete by any stretch of the imagination, but faith in Jesus Christ’s blood for the payment of sins is better. Jesus’ sacrifice is once and for all.

It makes us cringe to talk about blood sacrifices. It did in our Bible study last night, especially the people who haven’t grown up in rural or agricultural areas. The concept of slaughtering an animal turns people’s stomachs. But I truly believe that’s something we need to get over, frankly.

Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Sin requires a sacrifice of atonement, and before Jesus came, the people who followed God were instructed to sacrifice bulls and goats. But the blood of bulls and goats only covers sin, like the clothing God made for Adam and Eve. It didn’t take sin away (Heb 10:4).

That’s why Jesus had to die. He became the sacrifice for us, shed His blood for us, so that we could be free of our sin forever.

Maybe it’s not comfortable to discuss sacrifices anymore. Maybe it makes us squirm to think about slaughtering a lamb or a bull or a goat. But I really think that’s because we’ve grown accustomed to sin. We don’t grasp what sin really costs. We take advantage of God’s grace because we don’t have to sacrifice anymore, so in our view the price of Jesus’ blood is cheapened.

Sorry to be somewhat morbid this morning, but I think it’s important to talk about the roots of what a Christ-follower believes. We’re so fortunate to live in this era where Jesus’ sacrifice has given us free access to God, especially with Easter approaching.

Don’t let our comfortable modern era and our comfortable New Covenant faith make you forget what our sin actually costs. The price is the same today as it was 10,000 years ago.

Change stinks . . . or does it?

Change is hard. It doesn’t matter what is changing, I find it difficult to adapt. Maybe it’s because I’m a creature of habit. Maybe it’s because I get too comfortable. I’m not really sure. Change is just hard for me.

I know many other people who don’t struggle with change, though. Some people thrive on it. It seems to me that these folks never stop changing. Like they can’t ever do the same thing twice or they decide to change things just to keep life interesting. Personally, I find life interesting enough without changing my plans or my habits daily.

However, sometimes change is good. I know it’s necessary most of the time. And even the changes I don’t like, I can see the need for, even if I have a hard time adapting to it.

The book of Hebrews is one of the deepest books of the Bible. It’s really really difficult to wrap my head around most of the things that go on in Hebrews, but one of the concepts throughout the book is change. Hebrews is talking about the difference between the old religious system that used to be the way to God and the new promise God has set up through Jesus.

This was something that had to change. It needed to change. The old system was flawed, broken, insufficient. It had worked for the time being, until the time was right for God to send Jesus into the world. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the old system wasn’t necessary anymore. So it was time for a change.

In the old system, people had to live under the crazy, detailed laws set down in Leviticus. They had to make sacrifices, portraying a picture of innocent blood spilt for their sins. There was a laundry list of things people had to do to be right with God in the Old Testament. But every rule and every law people had to follow pointed forward to the promise God had made them — that the rules He’d set up were only temporary and that Someone Better was coming to take away their sins.

The whole chapter of Hebrews 7 is talking about Jesus as our High Priest.

Israel had hundreds of high priests, and they had a tremendously somber responsibility of being the ones who communicated with God. The priests were the ones who made the annual sacrifice. They were the only ones allowed into the holiest chamber of the temple, where God’s presence resided at times. The high priest, I guess you could say, was the intercessor for Israel. The high priest was the one who stood in the gap and communicated between God and the people of Israel. But the high priests before Christ were limited because they were only human. They sinned. They died. They could only do so much.

But Jesus isn’t limited by humanity. He was human, so He knows what it’s like to be human. But He’s also God. Jesus lives forever so as our new High Priest, His priesthood lasts forever.

This is where we find our verse of the day in Hebrews 7:25.

25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save[e] those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Through Jesus, we have direct access to God Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, because He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins, when we choose to believe that, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us, and we are granted access to the throneroom of God. We no longer need to go to a priest to ask forgiveness. We can just ask for ourselves. We no longer need anyone to stand between us and God; Jesus already did that once and for all.

If you read the Old Testament, you’ll see that there were many high priests and most of them were utter failuers, if not in their leadership than in their family lives. But Jesus is something different. He always has been something different.

The old system didn’t work. It was like putting a bandage on an amputated limb. It treated the symptoms and not the illness itself.

What Jesus did changed everything.

Change is hard and difficult to get used to, but some changes have to happen. Some things need to change. And God had been planning this specific change for millennia. For thousands of years, God had been promising that the old system would go away in favor of a New Covenant.

Change is difficult. It’s scary. It’s unknown and it always presents a risk because you don’t know what else changing your life will affect. But if God is calling you to change something, you need to do it. Because when God directs a change, the results will be better than what you’re living with right now.