I recently read a book about a civilization set in a pre-Messianic times, and one of the things that struck me – bothered me, truth be told – was that there were no animal sacrifices. God was portrayed as powerful and loving, but His righteousness and justice were completely ignored.
There was one line where the stones of the demon temples were blood-stained from the rites of child sacrifice, whereas no blood stained the stones of God’s temple. And yet… and yet, it DID. Much blood stained the floor of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. When you consider the Levitical offerings of ram and bull and ox and goat and lamb, and the fact that the head of every family was to bring an offering to the Temple on the holy days, you realize that's going to result in lot of blood. The beast was tied on its back to the altar and its throat cut so that the blood spurted out. There would have been blood everywhere. On the priests, on the stones, on the altar. And it was supposed to be that way. The pure and helpless and unblemished and innocent white lamb, bright red blood spurting out with every beat of its heart. It’s a shocking picture for us. I suspect it was shocking for them…
And one thing was sure: it was very clear a creature was bleeding and dying for the sins of the person who had brought it. A death was required. Just as a death was required from the very beginning. The first thing God did after Adam and the woman fell was to give them the promise of a redeemer, and the second thing was to kill at least one animal and more likely two to provide for them the skins to cover the nakedness brought about by their sin.
Abel’s blood sacrifice of a lamb from his flocks was required and accepted while the work of Cain’s hands, even the best of his human efforts was rejected. We know because God is fair and because of the way he questioned Cain after his offering was rejected, that Cain had been instructed as to what sort of offering was needed. No doubt he resented having to go to Abel to get a lamb for his own sacrifice and thought God would like it better if he did a lot of work and offered something his own efforts had produced. He didn’t understand the point of the sacrifice at all – not to give something of ourselves, but to obey the command so we would understand that one day God was going to provide that ultimate sacrifice – the perfect seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.
By blotting out all the blood-sacrifice imagery of the OT, we lose the impact of what Christ did. The life of the animal is in its blood, says , but the life of man is in his soul and spirit. Jesus didn’t have to have his throat cut like an OT lamb or ox, because he wasn’t dying physically for our sins. The blood spurting was to make a picture of the death. The substitutionary and spiritual death He would one day die for all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and unbeliever alike.
Why is this needed? Why does it matter if a story left this out? I’m sure some readers wouldn't care, and others would even be grateful to have been spared such gruesome imagery. But for me, it circumvents the most vital aspect of salvation, the whole reason Jesus had to come. God does love us, and does want to give to us and have a relationship with all of us. He is love; it’s part of His essence. But He is also perfect righteousness and perfect justice and He cannot compromise any aspect of His essence or he would cease to be God.
So even though God loves us, if He were to ignore our sin, his righteousness would be compromised, His thwarted. So here we are, sinful people. He loves us and wants to give to us, be He cannot because His righteousness demands that sin be punished, destroyed, separated from Him… put to death. That’s what death is, really, a separation. We are born spiritually dead – spiritually cut off from God. We have no relationship with Him as sinners born and we cannot establish one with Him on our own. He has to do it.
So He sent His son, who put aside the powers and rights of his deity to take on the form of a man, walk this earth for 33 years and then die spiritually on the cross outside Jerusalem when the sins of every person that ever lived or ever will were poured out on him and judged. Righteousness was satisfied by this payment, and Justice declared God free to bless us – but only because of what Jesus had done. So yes, He loves us and he seeks us and draws us to Him, but only through Jesus’s work on the Cross. He offers us an eternal relationship with Him if we will acknowledge we are sinners in need of a savior and believe that Jesus is that savior, the perfect one who paid the debt we owed and couldn’t pay.