It’s kind of gross, really–we’re not on the farm, but in the beautifully outfitted tabernacle, with the priests in their robes woven of scarlet and blue and purple linen ornamented with precious gems and twisted cords of gold… It’s a beautiful setting. The furnishings are overlaid with pure gold. The altar with bronze. Skillfully embroidered curtains hang on silver hooks all around… But what’s that smell?!
Burning on the altar are the fat, the kidneys and the liver of the bull that’s been killed for the priests’ consecration. The rest will be burned outside the camp. It’s a sin offering. Up next is the ram. Its blood will be spattered on the altar and its whole body burned there. It is a burnt offering to the Lord. He is pleased with the smell.
There’s blood everywhere. A second ram has been killed. Its blood is spattered on the priest’s clothes and pools at the base of the altar. Aaron and his sons wear this blood on their right ears, right thumbs and right big toes. It marks them as God’s priests. It sets them aside as holy to the Lord. This ram has been killed in their place. They will boil it and eat it.
The sacrificial requirements for the consecration of the priests are all quite detailed, all quite bloody, and all quite pleasing to the Lord. And I get this uncomfortable feeling as I read (Ex.29) that this God is so ‘other’, so different from the One I think I know…
I flip to Numbers and read about the cleansing of the Levites. This is the tribe set apart to serve in the Tabernacle. They own no share of land but are themselves the Lord’s possession in exchange for all the firstborn Israelite children. Ever since the death angel passed over the houses with blood on the doorposts, God has claimed the firstborn of man and beast for Himself. The Levite tribe represents them and will serve in the tabernacle making atonement for the sins of the people ‘that there may be no plague among [them]’ Num.8:19
It all sounds so stern, so foreboding, so…serious. And then comes the institution of the Passover feast (Numbers 9) It is the first month of the second year since they were liberated from Egypt. In each home a lamb will be slaughtered, its blood spilt as a reminder of the night the death angel passed over their homes in Egypt resulting in their rescue from bondage. They must never forget how God spared their lives that night: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you” (Ex.12:13) They must remember how He freed them from bondage to serve Him. It cost the death of many lambs.
The system of animal sacrifice that God established disturbs our modern sensibilities. In our day animals have rights to long and happy lives, babies don’t, and ‘sin’ is nearly obsolete. We sense its reality when our own perceived rights are violated, but seldom spot it in ourselves, and certainly not as something necessitating or ending in death. Even as Christians we tend to define sin in terms that describe somebody else’s behavior. We prefer not to think of it at all except perhaps as something forgiven and forgotten. Over and done with. We are after all forgiven, and that’s that, right? The Old Testament is… well, it’s old, obsolete.
To refer to oneself as ‘just a sinner saved by grace’ is strictly taboo in some circles. We are saints now. Sin is past tense.
Meanwhile sin wreaks havoc all around us. It spreads like a cancer even in the Church. No lambs are slaughtered in our sanctuaries and we seem to have forgotten the cost of sin. The fear of God is little known. We prefer to think warm fuzzy thoughts about how special we are to Him. We have misconstrued grace to mean we are ok because we are loved.
God loves me? Oh, so do I! Great, everything’s good.
Into this kind of fuzzy thinking Old Testament teaching comes as a sharp jolt. What kind of God is this who requires perpetual blood sacrifices and demands the death sentence for rebellious children and adulterous women… How is this loving? Where’s grace? We look at the Law and fail to see it for what it is–both a manual containing our design specifications and a set of warning lights to show us when we’ve exceeded them.
For the last couple weeks I’ve been immersed in the study of grace, stuck there trying to perceive the connection between a grace-filled life and a holy life. You’d think one were at odds with the other based on the way ‘grace’ is lived out in the modern church scene! But the Bible describes a grace-based life that leads us always to a holy life as described by the law.
The initial passage that arrested my attention was this:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-12)
Hmm… Grace teaches us to live righteously. There it is. How is that?
I’ve done more reading and thinking than I can pack into a read-able blog post. But what is the ‘take-away’? My study started with a question posed in a small group setting: “Do we really need more teaching on grace?” Isn’t that part of the problem? I mean, we’re saved by grace, true enough. We (think we) get that. But surely we need to move on, to grow up, to learn to be holy and not always default to ‘grace’. And what value is teaching on grace if we don’t recognize that we are sinners?
That set my wheels churning. Are the grace-resistant sticklers for ‘holiness’ right? Are we designed to move on from grace and learn to tackle sin some other way? Does teaching on the grace of God prevent people seeing sin for what it is?
Long study short, I don’t see this disconnect in Scripture. (Cf. I Pet.1:15-19 Luke 6:46 II Pet.1:9 ) Grace births us into lives of holiness, when rightly apprehended. The problem seems to be with our understanding of grace and our misunderstanding of what the law is for. The law was never intended to make us righteous, but neither has it become outmoded.
As a standard of righteousness it is truly an expression of God’s love for us; it shows us something is terribly wrong about us that requires a blood sacrifice to be made to buy our pardon. It is good, but it cannot save us. Try as we may, we will always fall short. This is part of the definition of sin, that which falls short of God’s glory!
This is where all that blood comes in. Blood everywhere. Blood sacrifices day after day, year after year to remind God’s people of the gravity of sin, the destruction it causes, the death it entails. It’s so messy. Blood is, and sin is. Yes, this is the Old Covenant, based on law and blood sacrifices for failing to keep it. But without going back here to read Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers we miss the immensity of our sin problem, the terrifying holiness of our God and the significance of Jesus death on our behalf.
John the Baptist declared:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Jn.1:29
With the imagery of the Tabernacle in mind, this makes perfect sense. Every lamb slaughtered foreshadowed this ultimate solution to sin. The grace we live in and lounge in and tend to take for granted, was bought with BLOOD.
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Heb.9:22 It is good to be reminded. This is what the Passover observance was for. We no longer need look back to the worth of a bleating sheep in deterring the death angel. We look back to God’s Lamb who ‘by means of his own blood secur(ed) an eternal redemption.’ Heb.9:21
This do in remembrance of Me Lk.22:19
Every time we pick up the little cube of bread or the chip of matzah cracker, and every time we sip a few drops from a ‘Communion’ cup… we are remembering Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood, for us, until He comes again to complete this saving work He has begun. It’s not over!
Our redemption’s been purchased; we’re brought near to God. But this grace in which we now stand is for a purpose. We’re not meant to stay in subjection to sin, anymore than the Israelites were left helpless slaves in Egypt! The blood has bought us newness of life–the Lamb’s life. In Him we live, by grace, for God’s glory.
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. I Cor.6:20
And when we fail, when we return to the sin that promises freedom but always enslaves leaving us vulnerable to condemnation…there is the BLOOD of Jesus to lay claim to. Because of it we can simply confess our sins and our slate is washed clean.(I Jn.1:9) It’s the Lamb’s blood; it’s grace that acquits us of guilt and restores us to fellowship with the Father of lights. The Accuser cannot defend his case when we lay claim to Jesus’ blood as our claim to righteousness. This is the grace of God in which we humbly stand.
It is not grace to sin—how is that freedom? Sin enslaves. But it is grace to stand in blood-bought freedom from sin’s clawing grasp. And it is good. We stand ears, thumbs and toes tipped with blood, priests made holy for God’s service. We stand freed from the law’s condemnation, but ironically, now fulfilling its decrees from the heart as the risen Lamb lives His life through us.
Grace has brought us to this place and will enable us to live lives befitting saints in the midst of an increasingly corrupt world. The world would squeeze us into its mold were it not for God’s grace as ministered to us through His indwelling Spirit. And that is a glimmering of what I see of grace in Scripture. It is inseparable from Blood.
Grace is not merely a necessity to clear the guilt of the moral slacker…It is not something we outgrow as we become more proficient saints. (II Pet.3:18) It is not a painless ticket to glory… It is a hard-won, blood-bought provision of God for the one who finds himself a hopeless sinner with no lamb good enough to bring.
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…”
Behold “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Pet.19) The Lamb has been given; it is ours to lay claim to in humble faith, whether we be sinners far from God, or sinners who have been brought near. We all need the Lamb. We all need grace. We all need blood everywhere.
You have come to… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Heb.12:24
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Heb.9:11-12
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Heb.9:13-14
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… Heb.10:19-24