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One Little White Lie

Recently, a friend called me. She asked me to explain why Jesus had to die such a gruesome death. A friend of hers had asked that if God was such a loving God, why was Jesus’ death so horrible.

Immediately, my Jewish mind kicked in and I thought of myriads of Old Testament passages about sin and trespass offerings. I thought of countless sheep and goats and bulls slaughtered in the Tabernacle and Temple to stave off God’s holy anger at our willful choices of sin over righteousness. I thought about how temporary these sacrifices were: each day, with each new sin, a new lamb had to die a bloody death.

Sacred Scripture tells us that blood is necessary for the remission of sins. Leviticus 17:11 tells us, “Because the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you, that you may make atonement with it upon the altar for your souls, and the blood may be for an expiation (atonement) of the soul.” Hebrews 9:22 repeats the idea, saying, “And almost all things, according to the law, are cleansed with blood: and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

The idea of bloodshed for the remission of sins begins in the Garden of Eden, with the fall of our ancestors, Adam and Eve. When they sinned, they tried to make clothes for themselves of fig leaves. After God pronounced judgment, he “made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) The only way to convince an animal to surrender its skin is to kill it. This then is the first reference to bloodshed in Scripture and it is associated with sin.

The first chapter of Job, the oldest book in the Bible, tells us the concept of sacrificing for sin was well understood: And when the days of their feasting were gone about, Job sent to them, and sanctified them: and rising up early, offered holocausts for every one of them. For he said: Lest perhaps my sons have sinned, and have blessed God in their hearts. So did Job all days.” (Job 1:5) Again in chapter 42: 7, 8 it is written,

And after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Themanite: My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends, because you have not spoken the thing that is right before me, as my servant Job hath. Take unto you therefore seven oxen and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer for yourselves a holocaust, and my servant Job shall pray for you: his face I will accept, that folly be not imputed to you: for you have not spoken right things before me, as my servant Job hath.

The idea of bloody sin offerings is made clearer in Torah where the specific sacrifices are described in detail and with Leviticus 17:11—“… the blood may be for an expiation….”

That this carries over to Jesus is made clear in His own words. While instituting the Eucharist, upon taking the chalice, He said, “Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:27, 28)

The Epistle to the Hebrews ties together the new and old covenants:

For it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats sin should be taken away. (Hebrews 10:4)

But Christ, being come an high Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)

Jesus died a brutal and bloody death because God’s justice demanded death (Ezekiel 18:20 The soul that sinneth, the same shall die…. Romans 3:23 For the wages of sin is death….) and because blood is required to purify the soul. Jesus agreed to die on the cross because God is loving and merciful.

For which sins did Jesus die? He died for all of them—the sins of impurity, the sins of violence, the sins of irreverence and blasphemy. Big and little sins, mortal and venial sin were paid for at Calvary. One little white lie was enough to nail Jesus to the cross.

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, "I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life"—John 8:12

Jerusalem Time