Given the season we are in, I thought I’d ask a simple, but profound question: Why did Jesus die? In answering this question, many remember what we learned in catechism classes when we were young; Jesus died for my sins. But what does that mean? How does the death of Jesus have anything to do with my sinful behavior. Perhaps a word picture would help. The Old Testament, in some ways, acts as a kind of “word picture”, setting us up to understand something of greater significance that would soon be on display in human history.

Way back in Genesis, after Adam and Eve sinned, they attempted a “cover-up”. The account tells us they made for themselves “fig leaves” to cover their nakedness (i.e., their sin and shame), as if they thought through their own efforts they could “atone” for the wrongs they’d done. But God would have none of that, and “skins” were given them to “cover” their sin and shame, to make them presentable before God. A very early “word picture”; the death of “another” would be necessary to cover their sin.

Many years later, as Israel was about to be delivered from bondage in Egypt, Moses was told by God that the people should slay a lamb and put the blood on the door posts of their homes. They were to do this so that the LORD would “Passover” those families and spare the death of the first-born child. Another “word picture” – the death of a lamb in the place of the firstborn son.

As Israel’s worship became more refined, a “scapegoat” was introduced into the annual Day of Atonement. A “scapegoat” is – someone who “takes the rap” for what someone else did. Upon the head of this lamb, the Priest would place his hands, symbolically transferring the sins of the people. The scapegoat would then be sent into the wilderness symbolizing that their sins had been “taken away” – taken away because he “took the rap” for what they had done. The blood of the Passover Lamb meant their sins were “covered”, the scapegoat “took them away”.

Now an important twist to the redemptive story comes along. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord is likened to a lamb that would be punished for the sins of the people:
“he was pierced for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our inequities;
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

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