As Mom unpacked my suitcase, I told her stories about Easter Seal Camp Harmon, sorry that I’d never go back. At age 18, I’d found that all the adult campers had intellectual disabilities, and as a result the counselors gave me more attention (I could converse on their level). Reluctantly, Mom agreed that it would be unfair to the other campers for me to continue going. We kept talking, both enjoying our time of bonding.
Finally she unpacked a large red cross attached to a cord so that I could wear it as a necklace. I explained that the counselors had helped me make it in Ceramics class, and that I’d painted it red to remind me of the blood Jesus shed for my sin. Looking a little disgusted, Mom blurted out, “Well, that’s rather ghoulish!”
In the law given through Moses, God required that the blood of innocent animals be shed to atone for sin. Leviticus describes those bloody sacrifices in such detail that most Christians can’t make it through the book. The writer of Hebrews, thankfully, helps to explain why the Jews offered such horrible sacrifices:
18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. ~~Hebrews 9:18-22 (ESV)
God takes sin so seriously that only blood provides full atonement. We, on the other hand, sin so naturally and with such ease that we think a simple (and not necessarily heartfelt) apology should do the trick. We forget that God is so absolutely holy that He cannot tolerate the least amount of impurity. Even the smallest, most socially acceptable sin offends Him so deeply that it requires the death of something.
And in His inexplicable mercy, God the Son willingly shed His precious blood, knowing that it provided a much more lasting atonement than the blood of sacrificial animals. Again, the writer of Hebrews explains:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. ~~Hebrews 10:1-14 (ESV)
Jesus shed His innocent blood in atonement for the sin that you and I commit simply because we’re born sinners. In so doing, He simultaneously satisfied justice and showed mercy to all who believe on Him. Oh, I know it boggles our limited human minds, and I also know I can’t explain it as thoroughly as I’d like. Nevertheless, I pray you’ll see that, far from being ghoulish, the blood stained cross of Christ radiates the powerful beauty of Christ’s love for us.