1 John 1:7 “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
People do not all share the same expectations when they go to church. Lutheran services have been traditionally marked by a sense of reverence and awe. Some Bible churches have more of a breezy and laid back feel. Among some Pentecostals the services contain uncontrollable laughter for hours.
But no one I know expects their worship to be a gory, bloody mess. Somehow bloodshed seems more “appropriate” in the latest action-adventure film than it does in Christian worship.
There was a time, however, when God’s people expected the spilling of blood to be a natural part of their worship. The temple in Jerusalem was the sight of one of the biggest, on-going slaughters of animals in history. Little there resembled the comfortable worship environment with which we are familiar.
Worship then was just as different for the worship leader as it was for the worshiper. We expect our ministers to be well dressed and well groomed, with their hair combed, shoes shined, and shirts pressed.
The Old Testament priest had his own uniform to wear, but he wouldn’t get far into the day before his robes were dirty, sweaty, and covered with blood. To us his work might resemble that of a butcher more than that of a minister. As God’s chosen representative, he offered the sacrifices the people brought for their sins.
Why such an emphasis on blood? Why such an arrangement with the priests doing the “dirty work” of sacrifice? Both things were reminders of sin. Sin separates us from God. The fact that the priest served as a “go-between” to offer the sacrifices for the people reminded them of that separation.
Sin deserves serious punishment, and it requires a horrible price to get rid of it. The bloodshed at the temple reminded the people that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
But, as the old Lenten hymn reminds us,
Not all the blood of beasts, on Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away the stain.
Those sacrifices preached the message of sin and grace. They drew attention to the blood that must be shed for sin. They reminded people of what God must do. But the blood of animals itself did not actually pay for the sin. It pointed to the payment to come.
All those sacrifices and all those priests were symbols or “shadows” of our real high priest and our real sacrifice, Jesus Christ. When he came to God to make his sacrifice for our sins, “he did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
That makes Jesus the last priest we will ever need. The payment for sin is done. “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). We don’t have to keep trying to pay for it ourselves.
The separation of sin is done, too. We don’t need priests anymore. In fact, Jesus has made all believers into a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). For us Jesus is always the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Is this just dusty theology? Is this just Bible trivia? No! This means a blessed life with God! The author of Hebrews encourages us, “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:21-22).
As our high priest, Jesus has made it possible for us to be close to God. Are you struggling with life? Are you lacking direction? Plagued by doubts and questions? Overwhelmed by pain? Through Jesus you and I can come close to God, and know that he will stay close to us. We can tell him our problems, and we can be sure he will be there to help.
In fact, God will never be distant again. Forgiveness means heaven. And heaven means that “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:3-4).