Imagine a world of peace, justice, and love. In a world like this, how would people communicate with one another? How would people spend time and money? How would authority figures use their power?
When people neglect to act with peace, justice, and love, it wreaks havoc—we call this evil. What is one way our relationships and the surrounding environment suffer from evil (e.g., Gen. 4:10-12, Rom. 8:22-23)?
In order to heal this suffering, something first must be done to remove the evil. But what would happen if God removed everything contributing to the evil in the world? Would anyone remain alive? Discuss this predicament as a group and, if needed, review the video (0:22-1:07).
Discuss how God resolves this predicament through animal sacrifice and later through Jesus’ sacrifice. What does animal sacrifice represent? What is one way that Jesus is a more perfect sacrifice? Review the video or dive deeper by reading Hebrews 9:6-14.
Read Matthew 26:26-28. What is one practical way we can remember Jesus’ sacrifice? What is one specific way we can imitate Jesus’ sacrifice and repair relationships (e.g., John 15:9-13, Matt. 5:23-24, and Col. 3:12-14)?
Leviticus 17:11-21Leviticus 4:1-7Isaiah 1Isaiah 531 John 1:5-7Hebrews 9:23-28Romans 6:1-11Matthew 26:26-29
The Effects of Evil [00:00-01:015]
Jon: We all long for the world to be good, for people to live in peace, act with love and justice. But there’s a problem. Something compels us humans to constantly wreak havoc and destruction instead. And we call this evil.
Tim: And from the Bible’s point of view, evil ruins things in at least two ways. There’s a direct effect of our evil, like when someone steals from another person, they’ve created injustice.
Jon: Yeah. Therefore, they owe something to make it right.
Tim: But there’s another indirect effect of evil because they’ve also ruined the environment of the relationship, creating a lack of trust. There’s emotional damage. It’s like vandalism, and they need to make that right too.
Jon: Now, many people believe, “Hey, God is good. He should be the one to just get rid of all the evil in the world!”
Tim: But let’s be honest. The evil that I see everywhere out there is the same evil that’s inside of me. We have all contributed, and we keep doing it.
Jon: So this kind of puts us in a bind. If God is going to rid the world of evil, he’ll have to get rid of us.
Tim: And this is what’s so remarkable about the story of the Bible. This God is so good that not only is he going to rid the world of evil, he is going to do it without destroying humanity.
Jon: So how is he going to do that?
The Sacrificial System [01:16-02:49]
Tim: Well, early in the story of the Bible, we’re introduced to this practice of animal sacrifice. Which, I know, it seems weird to us. But for the Israelites, it was a very powerful symbol of God’s justice and of his grace. So remember, I’m a contributor to evil that’s in the world. I should be removed. But God is allowing this animal’s life to be a substitute. It’s symbolically dying in my place. And the biblical word for this is “atonement,” which means to cover over someone’s debt.1
But there’s a second part to this ritual. Remember, evil also causes this relational vandalism. And in the Bible, this idea is described as polluting or defiling the land and making it “unclean.” So the priests would symbolically wash away the vandalism by sprinkling the animal’s blood in different parts of the temple.
Jon: So the animal’s blood is cleaning things?
Tim: Well, remember, this is all a symbol, and it’s a symbol that we’re not used to. The blood represents life, and the sprinkling of the blood is this representation of how God is cleaning away these indirect consequences of evil in their community. In the Bible, this process is called purification. And so the temple and the land now become a clean space where God and his people can live together in peace.
Jon: So this ritual makes things right between Israel and God.
Tim: And more than that! The Israelites experienced God’s love and his grace through these symbols. And by being forgiven, ideally, this would compel them to become people of love and grace too.
Jon: Right. That’s the ideal, but it wasn’t always happening.
The Prophets and Israel’s Sacrifices [02:50-03:28]
Tim: Right, so the prophet Isaiah, for example, he talks a lot about this. He opens his book by saying that the continual sacrifices of the Israelites had become meaningless because they were also allowing great evil in their midst, ignoring the poor and the oppressed. Even the Israelite kings were distorting justice.2
But Isaiah looked forward to a day when a new king from the line of David would come and deal with evil, but in a surprising way. The king would become a servant, and not just serve but also suffer and die for the evil committed by his own people. And his life would be offered as a sacrifice.3
Jesus’ Sacrifice [03:29-04:41]
Jon: And this is the promise Jesus believed he was fulfilling. He’s the king of Israel, suffering and dying on the cross.
Tim: In fact, Jesus himself used Isaiah’s words when he said that he came “to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:45] And that word “ransom” refers to a sacrifice of atonement, and so all over the New Testament, we hear about how Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice for us. It covered the debt that humans owe God for contributing to all of the evil and death in this world.4
But the New Testament authors also talk about his death as providing purification. And so we hear about Jesus’ blood, as a symbol of his life, having this ability to wash away the vandalism that evil has caused in us and around us, so we can now live at peace with God.5
Jon: So that’s the meaning behind Jesus’ death. But there’s more to the story.
Tim: Yeah. The New Testament makes this powerful claim that Jesus’ death was not final. He rose from the dead. And so he’s the sacrifice who broke the power of death and evil, which means he lives on to offer his life to anyone who will accept it. He is the perfect sacrifice to which all the previous sacrifices were pointing all along.
Baptism and The Lord’s Supper [04:42-05:59]
Jon: So because of Jesus, the early Christians stopped participating in the ritual of animal sacrifice.
Tim: But they were given new rituals. There are two that Jesus taught his followers to perform. The first is called baptism. Just as Jesus died, so going into the water becomes this personal connection you now have to his death. And in coming out of the water, you, so to speak, come back to life with Jesus. So baptism is this sacred ritual that joins your story to Jesus’ death and his resurrection.
The second ritual is called the Lord’s Supper, which is a reenactment of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. And he used bread and wine to portray his coming death as a sacrifice. And so now followers of Jesus they take the bread and cup regularly to remember and to participate in the power of Jesus’ death and in his life.
Jon: So these rituals, they remind us of God’s love and encourage us to live a life of love and grace.
Tim: But they do more than that. They connect us to a new life source. The very power that brought Jesus back from the dead is the same power that can deal with the evil in our own lives and transform us into people who lead lives of love and peace.