Chapters 4 and 5 of Leviticus lay forth the laws for sacrificing a bull in cases of unintentional sins. The sins of the priests and the people would be placed on the bull, and the bull would die in their place, their sins thus removed. Once again, as in the other sacrifices so far, we see this sacrifice pointing us to Christ. For just as a bull was sacrificed to “make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven” (4:20), so Christ was sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16). Other passages are worth quoting to show Christ as the fulfilment of these offerings:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself… And every high priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.Hebrews 7:26-27; 10:11-14
And, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
The people of Israel had to keep offering these sin offerings at designated times every time they sinned unintentionally, as was the case for the other offerings and their own purposes as well. Yet Christ, the holy, innocent, unstained (unblemished) High Priest offered Himself as the sacrifice to take away sins once and for all people for all of time. On Christ our sins were laid; He took on our blame and removed them in His death.
As we sing in the hymn, “Christ’s altar was the tree, / Where on the world’s behalf / He shed a blood, unlike the blood / Of goat or calf, / To seal God’s guarantee / Of grace that cannot fail; / With blood He entered for our good / Behind the veil. / What costly sacrifice / To cover human sin! / Who but Christ Jesus had the right / To enter in? / His blood, that sprinkled price, / So we might be assured / That our inheritance in light / Has been secured” (LSB #564 Christ Sits at God’s Right Hand, stz. 3-4).
There’s a reason why we have crosses in our churches and hang them around our necks. The cross gives us a Law-Gospel reminder. As Law, we have these crosses everywhere in our churches and homes to remind us of what it cost God to redeem us from our sins. As Jesus says in John 3:16, it cost God His only-begotten Son. While this verse can certainly be interpreted as Gospel, it’s we who put Him there; it was because of our miserable, sinful condition that Jesus was born so that He might die for us.
Yet, as always, the Law serves the Gospel. As Gospel, the cross reminds us also of what Jesus accomplished: the removal of our sins and imputation of the justification of ungodly people (Romans 5:1, 6-10). Luther explains this quite beautifully:
Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that He has becomes ours; rather, He Himself becomes ours. …he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as He. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness.LW 31:298
Theology Terms Used
- Justify: literally, “to make right,” or “to put in the right.” (In Greek, the words “justify” and “righteousness” come from the same word. Thus, to be justified is to be made righteous. Furthermore, to be righteous is to be justified in all you do, no matter what. This is why God alone is righteous; He needs no justification for what He does. That is, He doesn’t need to defend His actions like we constantly try to do.)