I’ve been wondering lately why Jesus had to die on a cross for our sins.
Recently I came across a story that I had written in 1989 in reflection of my time serving in Tanzania. The story was about a survey that Mennonite missionaries had just completed with elders of many of the tribes around the villages where we lived. The subject of the survey was how ancient historical beliefs and culture viewed blood and sacrifice and how this tied into Old Testament teachings.
The stories gathered from the tribes told many things about how they viewed the blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifices were valued for many reasons: to offer healing to their village, for reconciliation and peace with another tribe, as an offering to their god, to right a wrong, etc. We wondered where this belief in blood and sacrifice came from, especially since these practices have been happening long before Christ was introduced to the region.
We began to imagine that perhaps this need for a blood sacrifice as atonement is written by God onto human hearts. Afterall, how did Abel know that his sacrifice of an animal would be most pleasing to God? It isn’t recorded that God told anyone at that time to do this. Was it written on his heart?
When the missionary group told the tribal elders biblical stories (such as Numbers 25 and II Samuel 24 and the need for a blood sacrifice to stop a plague), the elders fully understood. One tribe even believed that they were descendants of the Israelites because of their great herds of cattle and the need to sacrifice the best of their herd for an atonement.
The Old Testament need for a blood sacrifice is explained very well in Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (NIV).
The scripture goes on to state that repeating the same sacrifices year after year can’t be the solution, as the blood of bulls and goats can’t get rid of sin. Earlier in Hebrews, it says that this will only make you outwardly clean.
Enter Jesus Christ. Hebrews 9:14 says the blood of Christ will cleanse our whole lives, inside and out, from acts that lead to death. And, Christ only needed to be sacrificed once to to take away our sins forever (Hebrews 9:28) Through this, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10, NIV)
We sometimes wonder why the church in parts of Africa is growing so quickly. Could it be because they have this understanding of the need to die for an atonement written on their hearts from the ancient days and that Jesus Christ fulfills that need, once and for all?
Thank you, Jesus, for loving us enough to die for us.