The familiar phrase "Jesus died for your sins" is normally stated as if it needs no explanation. Yet to me, it never made any sense. Eventually I learned that the Jews had, for centuries, practiced a ritual of sacrificing goats as "scape goats". The idea goes something like this: "the LORD" demands the shedding of blood for remission of sins:
Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
However, instead of our own blood, God will accept the blood of a substitute, a goat whom we kill instead of ourselves. Apparently the LORD wanted blood, but it was ok if it wasn't our own, as long as someone's blood was shed for our sins. So, contemporary Christians saw Jesus as a scape goat who was killed instead of us, and whose blood absolves us of our sins. Unfortunately, this still made no sense to me. How can our killing of a goat or Jesus make the LORD willing to forgive us of our sins? I wanted to understand this. In fact when I started reading the Old Testament, this was the number one question I wanted answered, and I felt sure it would all be explained in there somewhere. But it wasn't. Instead, what I found is that this ritual of "sacrifice" has its roots in a very simple idea: the idea that the LORD liked roasted meat as much as we do:
Genesis 8:20-21 And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
and that we could please him by offering him a goat, or other meats. Later, through Moses, he even gave elaborate instructions on preparing the meats, including salt.
Of course, for any of this to make sense, the LORD would have to actually take
the offering. And guess what? He did
take it, and in dramatic fashion, as the verses below show (for "fire", maybe we should read "beam of light"):
Jasher 1:15 And it was at the expiration of a few years, that they brought an approximating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the firstlings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it.
Leviticus 9:24 And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
1Chronicles 21:26 And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.
2Chronicles 7:1 Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house.
And in this example, the beam of light is used not only to consume the sacrifice but to transport the angel of the LORD back up to heaven!
13:20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.
But now we have a glaring question: If the LORD was a spirit, how could he enjoy eating meat? In the following verses, the LORD and his angels do
in fact eat meat with Abraham:
Genesis 18:1-8 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 18:2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them [...] And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
As time passed, however, the LORD stopped consuming the sacrifices, but the Israelites did not stop the ritual. Now the ritual twisted into something which involved the shedding of blood for remission of sins. The idea of the scape goat emerged. Instead of providing food for the LORD, they were shedding the blood they believed he demanded for the remission of sins, in order to get back in his favor. So what started as a simple act of giving the LORD some good food eventually became something completely different: a ritual shrouded in mystery and making no sense, but which nevertheless persists to this day as the basis of our salvation through Jesus. For an alternative basis, see The Passover Event