During the Lord’s Supper, we pause to remember and celebrate the central event of Good Friday: Jesus’s death on our behalf. Each time I prepare to eat the bread and drink the wine, I find myself —perhaps surprisingly to most!—repeating a verse from Leviticus: “And I have given the blood to you on the altar to atone for your lives, for it is the blood, by means of the life, that atones” (Lev. 17:11). I repeat that verse because it reminds me of the central realities of Jesus’s sacrificial death.
LIFE FOR LIFE
In Leviticus 17:11, the Lord is explaining to the Israelites how sacrifice is able to result in atonement, which, simply defined, is what happens when God in his love makes a way to deal with our wrongs so that we might be right with him. His explanation of how this happens in sacrifice consists of three points.
First, in sacrifice, an innocent party takes the place of the guilty. The sacrificial lifeblood “atones for your lives,” which are guilty because of your wrongs and justly condemned for the ways you have defiled and vandalized God’s world of goodness, justice, mercy, and love. But the blood—the lifeblood—of a blameless animal has been placed on the altar on your behalf, and that blood, “by means of the life” it represents, makes a way for your wrongs to be forgiven. The penalty that justice requires is not denied, but transferred, taken on by another. The animal’s blood is accepted in place of yours; its blameless life is given as a substitute for your guilty one. It has died that you might live and be forgiven and be made right with God.
This is a picture of exactly what happened on Good Friday. Thus, Peter proclaims, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And Paul exults, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus has died in our place that we might live and be forgiven and made right with God.