Matthew 26:27-28 (Old Testament Sacrifices; Justice and Atonement)

During the Jewish Passover celebration four ritual cups of wine were shared.  These cups were associated with four aspects of the Lord’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt described in Exo 6:6-7, which deliverance also typified the fuller salvation of His people from sin.  As the third cup recalled how the Lord redeemed the Jews from their bondage with an outstretched arm, it was of this cup that Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  For quite unlike the outstretched arms of might by which the world seeks deliverance, it was by His outstretched arms of love on the cross that He redeemed us from the bondage of sin.  And He redeemed us in order that we might find not just forgiveness, but a complete release from our sins that comes only from a complete repentance of death to sin.  Hence Christ died not to pay our penalty for sin as a penal sacrifice to appease God’s wrath according to pagan notions, but as a heroic sacrifice to show us the way to life through death to sin.  The soul that sins will die, not as a punishment for violating God’s commandment, but because sin is a terrible poison that kills the life God created.  And because we have sinned, we will die.  But the good news of the gospel is that God is able to raise us up from the dead and give us life that is life indeed, free from the control of sin, if we but follow Him in the way of the cross and embrace our own death to sin rather than seeking some means to just cover it over.  For the blood of Jesus that was poured out for us on the cross provides forgiveness not by some heavenly accounting trick that pretends our sin isn’t there, but by leading us in repentance and cleansing us from our unrighteousness through the resurrection power of His Holy Spirit that was also poured out for us through His blood.  Forgiveness has always been available for the penitent (cf. Mat 18:23-27), but until the power of sin is broken by death, it is impossible for man to repent unto eternal life.  And yet our own death leaves us dead as the wages of our sin, with no power to live again.  Only one who was sinless could live again because God in His righteousness would not allow His Holy One to undergo decay (Act 2:24-32).  Hence God became a man to effect what we could not.  And it is in this way that Christ gave His life as a ransom for our sins, not to appease His wrath and satisfy His justice, but as the only means by which we could escape the inevitable consequences of eternal death for our sin.  Salvation had to come from above and Christ died for us so that we could be born again from above by His Spirit of sacrifice and enter into His life.  Hence, although the wages of sin always has been and always will be certain death, the gospel is that God is able to raise from the dead those who in faith and sincere repentance follow Christ in the way of the cross to receive the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Tit 3:5-6).

In this light, consider the sacrifices described in the Old Testament, from the animal slain to cloth Adam and Eve, to Abel’s offerings, to Abraham offering up the ram provided by God instead of Isaac, to the Passover Lamb, to the daily offerings and sin offerings required by the Law of Moses:  Should we understand that God ordained these offerings as penal sacrifices to appease His wrath and regain His favor?  Cf. Isa 1:11,16-17, Mic 6:6-8.  Or rather, were they ordained as acts of faith and contrition at substantial cost to those offering them as a demonstration of the heartfelt repentance by which they might experience forgiveness of sins, and as a reminder that the wages of sin is death and the price for atonement is life?  And were they not also ordained especially as a type of Christ and His sacrifice, through faith in which they would find complete redemption from the bondage of sin?  Cf. Gal 3:22-24.  Although the up-front cost of Jesus’ sacrifice was borne by Him and the Father, at what substantial cost to us does His blood actually become effectual to atone for and cleanse us from our sins?  See Mat 16:24-25, Luk 13:23-24, 14:25-33.

But what about God’s infinite justice that we are taught has been criminally violated by our sins and must be satisfied, but that can only be atoned for with blood?  Consider: Is appeasing His wrath for our sins actually the emphasis of God’s justice as described throughout Scripture?  Or is the justice demanded by God throughout the Bible more concerned about dealing righteously with the poor and oppressed and afflicted, i.e., those who are most downtrodden by the consequences of sin in the world, which was also the very emphasis of Jesus’ ministry?  See Deut 10:18, 24:17, 27:19, Psa 82:3-4, 140:12, 146:7-9, Isa 1:17, 10:1-2, Jer 7:5-6, Eze 18:7-8, 22:29, 45:9, Zec 7:9-10, Luk 4:18.  Also, is it actually true that blood is the only thing that can make atonement for our sins and reconcile us to God?  See Exo 30:13-16, Num 16:46-47, 31:50, Pro 16:6; cf. Gen 32:20 where the same Hebrew word for making atonement is translated appease in the sense of pacify, and Psa 65:3, 78:38, 79:9, Isa 6:7, 22:14, 27:9 where the same word is translated simply in the sense of forgive.