Justin Taylor links to a shocking video. It depicts Jews preparing, then slitting the throat of a sacrificial animal, and gathering its blood.
You watch it, hearing their ritual in rapid Hebrew, not understanding. But you have this feeling of dread, a horror for what you know is coming. Odds are that you had never quite seen the like, as I hadn't. But you feel it coming, you watch perhaps with a hand to your mouth, wanting to look away, but stopping yourself. The struggling victim, no clue what is coming; bound, prepared, shaved, given some liquid (sh'teh! sh'teh! — "Drink! Drink!" a speaker urges in Hebrew).
Then the blade slashes, the blood spurts and is gathered, and surprisingly quickly, the victim's struggles subside.
This was God's ancient pedagogy. From the very start, He taught us all that sin called for shed blood. He showed this to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). Somehow Abel knew it (Genesis 4:4). Shed blood meant death (Genesis 9:6), and shed blood was the means that Yahweh instituted, for covering and paying for sin (Leviticus 17:11, 14).
This was God's pedagogy for the nation of Israel. The sight that so shocks us in the video is a sight every Israelite was exposed to from childhood, by divine design. Had they heard Yahweh, had they listened and learned, they would have known: sin-blood-life. Sin can only be atoned for by innocent life, life is in the blood, blood brings life and forgiveness. Violent death of an innocent victim, a substitute on whose head the offerer presses his hand, transferring, marking it as his substitute.
Yet all those animals never really finish the job. God forgives the believing worshipers... but then they have to bring another victim. And another. And another (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11).
Then God tells Israel that these animals would one day be summed up, fulfilled, in one grand Substitute, a Man who would die for His people and bring final and lasting peace and atonement (Isaiah 52:13—53:12).
That Man comes. Many reject Him, many do not. He dies. God removes the Temple. No more sacrifices according to the prescription of the Law are even possible. As if embarrassed (but not humbled), the nation fabricates substituted traditions, works, programs, rituals. The reality has come, but they keep trying to pencil in shadows.
It is like a child that ignored its entire childhood instruction. Blood is necessary for atonement; it would be offered, it has been offered. But the lesson was not heard.
Don't feel smug, Gentile reader, Christian reader. From our own numbers, from professed "evangelicals," there are plenty who just as badly — more badly — miss the point.
Imagine that, instead of watching a video of an animal's death, you somehow saw this day, nearly 2000 years ago. Imagine that, instead of that animal, you were watching Jesus Christ at last night's supper, at prayer in the garden, arrested, subjected to mock-justice, condemned. Imagine you were watching him being beaten and whipped, and led away.
Imagine the sick, nauseated, worsening clench in your gut as you saw Him stagger off, carrying the cross. You want to tear your eyes away. You want to make it stop. You want to scream "Stop! STOP! This is wrong!"
Yet He goes. He hangs. He bleeds. He dies. He is buried.
Why such an ugly, horrid death? Why, if penal, substitutionary, blood atonement were not indispensable for our salvation? Do we dare shake our heads at Jews who don't "get" the millennia of instruction?
Best not to mock, while such folly is tolerated in our numbers.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.
Isaac Watts, 1707
(There is a companion-piece up at my blog)