Why is the cross necessary? Why is it not enough to simply follow the teachings of Jesus? I have been mulling these questions over in my head the last few days and continue to be drawn to one word:
This is the difference between simply following Jesus’s teachings in order to try to earn salvation and believing in the power of the sacrifice on the cross to provide a gift of salvation.
Why sacrifice? A recurring theme on LITR is that sin eternally separates us from God. In the Old Testament, God required the Jewish people to make annual animal sacrifices to forgive their sins. An appointed person, called a priest, would enter God’s temple and present the sacrifices before God on behalf of the people. God required that the sacrifices be performed in a very specific way, with specific animals, and on a specific date. It became known as the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16). These sacrifices were meant to be a substitute for what we owe as a result our sinfulness.
But these sacrifices were only temporary. It was not a permanent solution. The people had to sacrifice year after year. Their hearts remained hard and bitter and evil. God cannot delight in such a sacrifice. He can’t delight in a sacrifice performed by hands, when the hearts of these hands do not change (Isaiah 1:11, Psalm 51:16-17).
Furthermore, we can’t change our hearts on our own. It’s impossible for us to provide the permanent, heart-transforming sacrifice that we need. Thankfully for us, these sacrifices were a shadow of what was to come.
Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross, not only “perfectly fulfill(s) the Day of Atonement and eve-ry other requirement of the law for us” (Bloom, John. “Yom Kippur: It Is Finished”. 18 Sept. 2010.), but also provides the transformational, once-for-all atonement and forgiveness that our hearts desperately need. .
Hebrews 9:24-26 explains it this way,
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Jesus turned out to be far more than anyone expected. He was the temple, the priest, and the sacrifice all-in-one, and once-for-all. So, stop striving, dear friends. Stop trying provide the sacrifice that you can’t. Rest in the beautiful news that the sacrifice we need is already finished.