LIFE APPLICATION. Here’s one main teaching of Christianity that doesn’t seem to make much sense to people outside the faith: “Our sins are a capital offense, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus bled and died for the sins we committed” (Romans 3:25). How would you explain why Jesus had to die and how on earth his sacrifice saves us from getting punished for our sins?
That’s a tall order for most Christians. Many would simply say they take it on faith, which doesn’t help make a case for Christianity. Taking it on faith might come across as, “That’s what I’ve been told all my life, so I believe it and I don’t think much about it.”
The problem is that when we think about it, it’s still hard to figure out. That’s because God doesn’t often answer our why questions. Instead, he tells out how is, instead of why it is.
The Bible teaches that sin separates us from God; it creates a barrier. That gets made clear when after Adam and Eve eat forbidden fruit, “God banished them from the Garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23). The point gets made over and over through the history of the Jewish people, especially in the book of Judges. There, the people sin. God sends punishment, usually raiders. The people repent. God saves the people from whatever is hurting them. That cycle gets repeated throughout the book. Sin and God don’t get along.
God set up a sacrificial system, allowing people to sacrifice animals to express their sorrow for sin. “Life is in the blood, and I have given you the blood of animals to sacrifice in place of your own” (Leviticus 17:11 CEV).
We can only guess why God chose animal sacrifice. Perhaps because it was common among other religions and familiar to the Jews; it would have made sense to them because it fit into their culture. In addition, it expresses the seriousness of sin. A creature had to die because of sin. Human senses registered the seriousness in several ways: the squealing sound of the creature dying, the feel of the blood, the sight of the creature cut up and displayed on the altar, the smell of burning meat.
It’s also tough to explain why God didn’t come up with a plan of salvation that didn’t involve his Son getting crucified. Maybe one reason is that the Jews wouldn’t have understood any other means of forgiveness because they had been offering sacrifices for about 2,000 years. On the other hand, Jews prohibited human sacrifice: “Don’t sacrifice your son or daughter” (Deuteronomy 18:10).
Yet Jesus voluntarily sacrificed himself for others. People understand it when someone gives up their life to protect another. A father lies on top of a child, to protect the child from a shooter. A soldier falls on a grenade. For many Christians, why Jesus had to go through this may remain a mystery. But why he did it is clearly taught: “The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them” (John 15:13 CEV).
Here’s one of many ways of looking at it. Sin created a gap between people and God. Jesus bridged the gap. God invites everyone to cross the gap and join him in his kingdom. Some people have faith in the Bridge, so they cross the gap. They find themselves welcomed into God’s world.
Reprinted from Leader’s Guide & Atlas for Romans.
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“We can only guess why God chose animal sacrifice. Perhaps because it was common among other religions and familiar to the Jews; it would have made sense to them because it fit into their culture.”
It’s not like there was a lot of people around when Cain and Able made their sacrifice to God.