As millions of Christians worldwide stop to remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made over two-millennia ago, do we fully understand why this had to happen? Why does innocent blood need to be shed to make amends, or atone, for sin?
“For the life of a 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
The word atonement, when looked at as components, are “at-one-ment,” and suggests that a person is at one with God. Another word used often, similar to atonement, is “reconciliation” — we are reconciled to God through Christ. Reconciliation literally means “to sit again with.”
At a deeper level of understanding the atonement, we should think about the character and attributes of God first; the creator of all that exists. God is holy, which has a richness of meaning: He is good, sinless, pure, all knowing, ever-present, all powerful, a divine Spirit, and the very essence of what is love. This is not a complete list of who God is; we will never have an exhaustive knowledge of Him since He is infinite. What we do know, we have learned from the Bible, theologians, creation and personal experience. God is perfection defined.
When humanity rebelled against God’s authority by going our own way, and wanting to be our own “god,” this was a sin against God—there is only one God and we aren’t it.
So, why must sin be punished? Why couldn’t God just let it go, and not set up those Old Testament blood sacrifices, and the final sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ?
God is so holy—much more than we can fathom. Many have lost sight of that today. But because of God’s holiness, sin must be punished since justice is a mode of holiness. True holiness includes justice; that innate sense of right and wrong we all have inside us, put there by our Creator. If we have this sense, how much more does God have that sense of justice? He sets the moral laws to live by, and thus, He must follow through with justice.
This holy justice was paid for in the person of Jesus Christ, and is what has been called, “Retributive Justice.” This term often used in a court room. Some define this as “let the punishment fit the crime.” This theory of justice considers punishment, if proportionate, as the best response to crime. When an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they forfeit something in return. It is not the same thing as vengeance. Unlike revenge, retribution is directed only at the wrongs, and it involves no pleasure of the suffering of others.¹
Retributive justice is an attribute necessary in the case of an act against the moral law—there are consequences. A penalty must be inflicted on the transgressor personally or vicariously on a substitute.
The most amazing thing God has ever done for us is to become that substitute! The most amazing thing God has ever done for us is to become that substitute! Click To Tweet
In His trinal being, one God expressed in three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He chose to send Himself in the person of Jesus Christ as human, and to die in our place to serve this holy justice. This is a most compassionate act because it has the entire safety of the universe at stake, as sin is punished and ultimately contained.
What would happen if God did not punish sin? Jeremiah Johnston wrote a book, Unimaginable, on what our world would be like without Christianity, and suffice it to say, it would not go well with the world, or the universe for that matter.
Punishing sin is a form of purification, or ridding the world of evil. Sin brings death and all kinds of evil with it. Some theologians trust this redemptive process in the person of Jesus is how God is ultimately ridding the entire universe of evil, while keeping humanity’s free will. When you believe in the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross with His innocent blood, you’re given a clean slate. You are pardoned from sin eternally. God set it up this way because He wants people to choose to believe in His Son freely, as God will have a world full of beings delighted to spend eternity with Him.
People who accept Christ as their Savior, and become born again, are forgiven through Jesus’ innocent blood. How precisely this occurs in the spiritual realm is a bit of a mystery, but the Bible does gives us a hint how this could happen: “…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:6.)
Once we accept Jesus into our lives, the Holy Spirit moves in, and begins His work of regenerating our spirits. He moves us along the renewal process of becoming less sinful and more holy, as was God’s first intention when He created humanity. We were meant to be Sons and Daughters of the Living God, holy and in constant communion with His Spirit. When we went our own way, that communion was broken. God, in His omniscience, knew this would happen and had a plan to offer Himself as a human, humble sacrifice to bridge the gap that sin caused when it entered our souls. This is how much He wants relationship with us — that He would chose to become human, and to suffer the tortuous death of crucifixion at the hands of those He designed. God made us with a free will to reject Him, but made a Way for us to return to Him if we so choose.
This is what Love does. This is Good Friday.