It was late at night or early in the morning. I was sitting in my 62 Mercury Comet station wagon outside my apartment. The dash lights were illuminating the inside of the car. The street light on the corner behind me dimly lit the outside.
I had blown it again. I knew the rules of Christian living. I’d spent the last 19 years in church at least once a week. I knew what the rules were. I just couldn’t keep them.
I was remorseful. I repented…again. It felt like it wasn’t just what I’d done that night. I was weighed down with what I had done on all the nights. All the nights and all the days. All the rules that I had broken. And now add one more to the pile of my sins. It felt like I was seeing it all at once. It also felt like God was sitting next to me staring at the huge pile of mess Then he asked me “what are we going to do with all of this?”
I was crying pretty hard at this point and I answered, “…I don’t know God…”
He said “Peter, someone has to pay for all of this. You know the rules, someone will have to die for all these sins…”
I said “ok” assuming he meant me.
I wiped away my tears and snot and went into my apartment and went to bed, expecting to wake up dead.
But life went on. I didn’t die, and life returned to normal.
In an animated version of my life, there would be a map of my spiritual journey and on that map would have a cartoon bubble that instead if saying, “you are here” it would say “for this someone must die”.
What did it mean that someone would have to die? How could God require a death?
Let’s look back to the beginning.
Not my beginning, but OUR beginning, the garden.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17
Adam and Eve broke the only rule. They ate the forbidden fruit. They sinned and fell short of the glory of God.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:6-10
There were consequences to Adam and Eves sin. Among them was being cast out the garden.
But God did two things. First, he made a promise to them (and so also to us) while speaking to the serpent , “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15
God promised a helper, a savior. Someone who would be bruised in the fight, but that would crush or destroy Their enemy (and so our enemy) the serpent.
Second, God provided a covering for their nakedness.
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21
Adam and Eve were covered by the skin of animals after attempting to cover themselves with plants.
Unlike the cartoon world of Wile E. Coyote, where Wile E. can unzip his skin, in the real world of Adam and Eve, (the same world we live in), the animals died to provide their skins. This is the first recorded death in creation, and it took place in order that Adam and Eves nakedness would be covered.
Sin caused Blood to be shed.
Sin must be paid for. I guess that is not entirely true. Sin doesn’t have to be paid for. But if we want to undo the damage that sin does, and the worst of the damage is the separation between us and God, we can go on without the sin being covered. If we do that, we die separated from God. Our inclination tends to be to want to even out the score. Do good stuff so we can outweigh the bad. It doesn’t work like that. We can’t pay for it with good works. Our good works, our best possible behavior appears to God looking like filthy rags.
Sin causes death, it must be paid for with a sacrificial death, life for a life.
The pattern of sacrificial death to atone for sin is throughout the old testament. We see it in Abel’s good sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock. We see it in Abraham offering Isaac and God intervening and providing the lamb. We see it in the lamb that was sacrificed on the eve of the Exodus, and then God used animal sacrifice over and over throughout the tabernacle worship that was prescribed for his people in laying out how to worship.
But I was in modern times. Animal sacrifice had faded away. Besides, God had said to me not something, but someone. Someone would have to die to pay for my sins.
My spiritual journey continued. I was trying to pay for my sins with good works and Christian service. I planned on becoming a Lutheran Pastor. Those plans were waylaid, and I was left wondering how I would ever clean up my mess. Then early one Sunday morning, I was alone in the back room of my parent’s cafe, getting breakfast for myself and my very pregnant bride and God continued our conversation that he had started sitting next to me in my car about a year earlier. I had left school to take over the café so I could support our little family. It seemed like I would never finish school and become a pastor so how could I ever right the wrongs that I had piled up?
“Peter, Your sin problem, I took care of it”.
“How God? You said someone would have to die? I’m still alive, I’ve tried to pay for it by being good and doing good, but that’s not working either, I just keep failing…..”
“Peter, I sent Jesus for you. I sent Jesus to die for your sins, it’s my gift to you and for you”.
And then he reminded me of the verses in Ephesians 2;
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10
I would later read and understand that over and over again God says in his word that he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place. From the garden and even before, he had a plan to redeem us, us his beloved fallen race.
Another of my favorite verses is in Romans chapter 5.
“6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” God has brought us reconciliation, he has restored the relationship between us and him through Jesus. That night, the night of tears, it was so hard and yet it was a stepping stone on the pathway back to my God. Jesus didn’t just die for me. He died for everyone. His one death covers all of our sins. He is waiting and wanting for all of us to return, through his gift of love, his gift of sacrifice, his gift of his own blood to cover our nakedness.
What will you do today about this gift? Will you receive it?
Jesus did not stay dead. Once his work was accomplished by his death, 3 days later he rose again and now he is busy preparing a place for us and also interceding for us. Going to his Father and now our Father and reminding him, that we are covered by his blood. Our sins are now forgiven.
There is room for all of us in his house. Will join Jesus and me in our Fathers house and in his family?