The question, “Why the blood?” naturally comes to all of our minds when reading the Old Testament. To grow in our love for Jesus, it’s one we can’t ignore. We can’t remove the blood like Thomas Jefferson took scissors and cut out the miracles of Jesus to make a version in his liking. Instead of hiding the blood, the Bible calls us to celebrate it. Indeed, Jesus thought it so essential to the preservation of our faith he urged all his followers to continually partake in communion, eating the bread and drinking the cup in memory of his broken body and shed blood.
The offering of sacrifices is something we see from the very beginning. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, God covered their nakedness with animal skins (Gen. 3:21). It was Abel who offered a more pleasing sacrifice by bringing from the best of his flock (Gen. 4:4), while God rejected Caine’s offering of vegetables. Standing on dry ground after the flood, Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice. As Abraham traveled through the promised land not yet his, he built altars to the Lord (Abraham 12:8). Jacob made an altar at Bethel and cleansed his household of all the foreign gods (Gen. 35). While enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites were delivered from the angel of death by the blood of the lamb applied to the doors of their homes (Exodus 12:7). Long before Moses and the law, atonement was only possible through the shedding of blood.
Hebrews 9:22 says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” No sacrifice meant no forgiveness. I’m afraid many have no hint of how grave sin is in the eyes of God. To us it’s something we can live with, believing God will look the other way. But sin is so egregious the penalty is death. We would not be OK with a parasitic worm eating away at our intestines. We would move with incredible speed if we knew our family was being poisoned by carbon monoxide while asleep. We would rush like mad if the garbage in our garage had caught fire and was spreading into the mudroom and kitchen. If we understood the seriousness of sin, we would run to Jesus and have our sinful hearts forever washed in his cleansing blood.
There was another essential purpose for the sacrificial system. The book of Hebrews tells us it was a shadow, hint, glimpse, or harbinger of the much greater sacrifice to come. Hebrews 10:1 says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.”
Long before the invention of the 747, we can see the pictures of the Wright Brothers running off the dunes at Kitty Hawk clinging to their gliders. These crude devices were just hints of the more excellent thing to come. Reading their accounts helps us appreciate and celebrate the gift of air travel made possible by their efforts. Understanding the old sacrificial system also enables us to fully glorify and enjoy the indescribable sacrifice Jesus made for us.