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Precious Sorrow, Beautiful Catastrophe – 5) Pardoned
by Bruce Paul
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Red rain is falling down, Red Rain,
Red rain is pouring down, pouring down all over me.
(Peter Gabriel)

A story has been passed down from generation to generation about a great king who ruled among the tribes of pre-Christian Germany. This valiant warrior and wise ruler had established a set of laws to govern his people and maintain order. One of the laws he instituted was a judgement of twenty lashes for a minor theft offence.

To the king's dismay, his own mother had broken this law and was brought to him after being caught. The king wandered aimlessly for days as he pondered his choices. To let his mother go would mean that his laws and his leadership were unjust and yet, to put his mother through such a sentence would surely mean her death.

The king finally set a date for his mother's judgement and was there to command it to be carried out. After he gave the word to begin and his official had raised his arm to bring the whip down on his mother's back, the king shouted for him to halt. He then took off his cloak to expose his bare back, stood behind his mother, wrapped his arms around her and gave the command to continue. Justice was carried out that day and the life of the king's precious mother was spared.

The Demand of God's Holiness

Central to God's character is holiness, which is to say, He is morally perfect; He is right in all His actions; He is just in every judgement; He is faultless. This would imply that wrong must be righted, crime must be judged, evil must be dealt with, and sin must be punished.

For God to allow you or me to live our lives without any accountability for our moral failures and twisted sense of values, would not mean God was forgiving and loving; it would mean He was indifferent to His own holy standards. God cannot compromise the punishment man's sin deserves, because it would mean renouncing his own character. If reconciliation could be won, it would not be through some sort of universal amnesty, for then God would cease to be God. In His wisdom, God devised a way in which full punishment could be made for our sins, without eradicating the human race.

After Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they felt ashamed of their nakedness and attempted to cover themselves by sewing fig leaves together and wearing them as garments (Genesis 3:7). This is the first example of man-made religious rite being used to pacify man’s own seared conscience. Adam and Eve attempted to cover over their guilt with something they created themselves.

Their effort was futile. When God came into the garden they attempted to hide from Him because their sin remained. (Genesis 3:8) God found them and after judgement had been pronounced on all the guilty parties, "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21).

The clothes Adam and Eve created were ineffective in covering their shame, so God created a legally binding precedent by shedding blood and sacrificing an animal, supplying them with the skins as clothing. These skins represented a death substitute and they effectively covered over Adam and Eve's guilt, temporarily deterring God's judgement of death.

The Cleansing Power of Blood

From this time on throughout the scriptures, a blood sacrifice is upheld as the only means by which sinful man would be able to enjoy fellowship and forgiveness, "For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). The Bible is a bloody book, which has shades of crimson underlying many of its pages. Often, the voice of the Holy God can be heard between the lines of the verses, "When I see the blood I will pass over you" (Exodus 12:13).

From Abel's sacrifice that found God's favour where Cain's sacrifice of fruit did not (Genesis 4:4), to the animal sacrifice of Noah that pleased God and invoked a promise (Genesis 8:20,21); from the ram sacrifice of Abraham that brought a blessing (Genesis 22:13-17), to the blood of the Passover Lamb that secured the safety of the children of Israel from the angel of death (Exodus 12:1-30), God requires blood to atone for or cover over man's sin.

"For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Leviticus 17:11). If you reflect on the function of blood, you can start to understand why God made this substance hold so much significance. Blood takes away the waste products that would otherwise poison our bodies and provides the essential elements our bodies need to survive.14

Symbolically, the blood of the sacrifice took away the guilt of man's sin and imparted the covering of God's righteousness. Blood is also the only cellular matter in any living body that is able to move throughout the entire body. It is the only substance that permeates ones whole being and is therefore able to cleanse every part of our lives that is touched by sin.

The Ark

The way blood was used to atone for the sins of the people under the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law was very particular. These ordinances present us with a clear representation, or shadow of what the cross of Christ is like. Under this system, a high priest was chosen once a year to enter the innermost room of the temple (the Holy of Holies) and sprinkle the blood of a goat or a ram on the Ark of the Covenant.

This ark was a wooden chest that contained the Ten Commandments (the Word of God), and a measure of manna (the bread of God that had sustained the Hebrew people in the desert). The ark was also a symbol of the presence of God, by it, the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground (Joshua 3), and by it the walls of Jericho fell (Joshua 6).

The stone tablets in this ark with the Ten Commandments written on them were not the originals. Moses had smashed the first tablets after the Israelites had built a golden calf as an idol, while he was receiving the commandments on Mt. Sinai. These tablets were not just a record of God's law, but a reminder of how the Hebrew people had broken His law.

When the blood of the lamb was sprinkled over the ark, something amazing happened. The ark miraculously transformed from being a symbol of judgement (the container of the broken law of God), to being a symbol of God's grace and a place of forgiveness (the mercy seat). It was as if God could look up out of the ark, through the blood, to see His people and have mercy on them. This process imparted a portion of God's righteousness by making the people ceremonially clean, both deterring His wrath and bestowing on the people His favour.

Imputing Righteousness

For God to re-establish a relationship with humanity, it has always been necessary to both forgive man's sin and impute a measure of His righteousness. An example of this can be made in the financial realm. If you owed the bank a large sum of money and I came along and paid your debt, you would be debt-free but you might die of starvation, for you would still be utterly impoverished.

In the same way, the Israelites' faith in God to provide an effective means of restoration through the Old Testament sacrifices brought a measure of forgiveness and imparted a form of righteousness to the people by making the them ceremonially clean. However, the sacrifices never took away their sins but only covered or atoned them, "because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). To bring forgiveness for man's sin, a sinless Adam had to offer himself as a substitute for the crime of the sinful Adam, and to propitiate God, or satisfy all of His righteous requirements; people had to become holy, in the same way that God is holy.

The New Ark

At the appointed time, a perfect atonement was provided through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. The Lord Jesus is referred to as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews (5:10). He is also called "the Word" (John 1:1) and Jesus proclaimed, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). The presence of God, a priest, the word of God and the bread of God were the very elements present in the Mosaic sacrificial system of the old covenant. The cross became the ark of the new covenant15, and as the flawless blood of Jesus was poured out on its wood, guilt was permanently removed and God's righteousness was fully imputed to any that trusted in the son.

So the great masterpiece of God's plan took place; God, the only one capable of bearing the sins of the whole world, became the recipient of His own anger in our place and, in doing so, imparted holiness to His children. "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: `Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.' Then I said, here I am - it is written about me in the scroll - I have come to do your will O God."' . . . And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:5-7,10).

Bruce Paul is a Christian business man, father of three, lay apologist, and freelance writer. He is a principle of Faith-Friends, a new portal concept to promote local Christian ministries and Christian business people in the marketplace, one community at a time. http://www.faith-friends.com/

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