Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Learning from the Old Testament Part 2

In Part 1 we saw that David and Solomon led the nation to build a temple. Although some comparisons are fair, it is not really accurate to say that the temple was like “church.” This temple existed as a way for mankind to appease God’s wrath.

     The temple, which was built according to God’s specifications, had an outer courtyard where each person was allowed to come for a sacrifice. But inside the temple, in the Holy Place, only the priests were allowed to go. At the back of that room was a large veil—a 60 foot high, 4 inch thick veil—that led into the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies). Only the high priest could enter that room, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

     On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest would offer a sacrifice on behalf of the entire nation. This did not forgive sins (“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Hebrews 10:4), but simply appeased God’s wrath (an idea known as “propitiation”).

     The word atonement was invented by William Tyndale when he was translating the Bible into English. He simply combined the words “at one” into atone, meaning that we can become at one with God. The word literally means “to cover.”

     The first time we see this covering is in Genesis 3:21, “And for the man and his wife the Lord made tunics of skin and clothed them.” This is the first picture of salvation. Most believe that God used the skin of a lamb for this covering, and it is impossible to skin a lamb without killing it and shedding its blood.

     So years later, when God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, the Egyptian pharaoh said no. So God sent 9 successive plagues, each to convince pharaoh that He meant business, but each time the pharaoh said no. This led to the 10th and final plague, the death of the first-born. God announced that He would go through all Egypt during the night and kill the firstborn of every creature, man or cattle. But there was one exception.

     God said that if a family would kill a spotless lamb (symbolizing purity) and put its blood on the lintels of their door (forming a cross—centuries before crucifixion was invented), then their first-born would be saved. God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13). This event became known as the Passover, and it is celebrated by Jews each year to this day.

     What the Old Testament shows us is that from the first time man sinned, God required death, both physical and spiritual. Adam did not keel over, but his immortality kicked in. But God also instituted the idea of a sacrifice, that something else could die in one’s place. In the Garden of Eden it was a lamb; in Egypt it was another lamb; at every Passover it was a lamb; and on each Day of Atonement, it was a lamb. To pay for sin God requires death, and the shedding of innocent blood. Anyone can die and shed blood, but none of us has innocent blood.

     That is why when Jesus came on the scene in John 1:29 John the Baptist announced Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When Jesus died on the cross, He shed innocent blood. And for all who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their sacrifice for sins, God will accept it. And we don’t need to worry about making other sacrifices. Read Hebrews 9:6-15 and 10:11-14.

     Just to top things off, do you know what time Jesus died on the cross? The Bible tells us it was the 9th hour, or 3:00 PM. That is not just a random detail: Jesus died on Passover at the exact time that the annual sacrifice was to take place. God made a final sacrifice for us.

     Since it was 3:00, the temple was full of people fulfilling their obligations. They were all witnesses when the temple veil was ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). This was God’s way of saying that the old system was complete, and we now have access directly to God through Jesus Christ.

     But does that mean that everything in in the Old Testament is purely history? Are we still under its laws? Read Part 3.

(Read Part 1 here)

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