Have you ever had someone take your punishment for you? Probably not. If you were caught cheating on an exam in school, I doubt that a classmate would rush to your side and say, “I’ll gladly take the F for him.” If you broke the speed limit and got stopped by a policeman, I doubt that some passerby would walk up and tell the officer, “I’d like to pay that ticket myself.”
People generally don’t volunteer to take someone else’s punishment. But that’s exactly what happened to Little Jim.
Little Jim was a student in a one-room schoolhouse in Virginia. The boys in the class were known for being rude and unruly—so much so that teachers never stayed very long. One day another new teacher arrived. But this teacher came with a plan. He asked the boys to make their own set of rules. Each gave his ideas, and the teacher wrote them on the chalkboard.
Then the teacher asked, “What should be the punishment if one of you breaks a rule?”
The boys were quick to decide: ten lashes across the back with a switch—and with no coat on (whipping was a common punishment for misbehavior in school back then).
Unfortunately, the boys’ good behavior didn’t last long. Just a few days later, someone stole Big Tom’s lunch, and stealing was against their rules. The teacher soon discovered that Little Jim had stolen the lunch because he was hungry and didn’t have his own. But rules are rules, and the teacher told him to come up front and take off his coat.
The class gasped when Little Jim reluctantly removed his coat. He was so poor that he didn’t even own a shirt. Now his bony back was bared to the whole room.
But Big Tom couldn’t stand to see a kid as skinny as Little Jim take a beating, so he jumped up and shouted, “I’ll take his whipping for him!” The teacher agreed. So Tom bared his own strong back, hunched himself over Jim’s frail body, and took the beating in Jim’s place.
Afterward, Jim wrapped his arms around Tom’s neck and cried, “I’m sorry I stole your lunch. It’s just that I was so hungry! Thank you for taking my beating for me.”
You and I can experience the same sense of relief that Little Jim did. Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed Himself in our place when He died on the cross. He became the once-and-for-all fully sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
Old Testament sin offerings
Imagine yourself living during Old Testament times, and one day you committed a serious sin. What would you have had to do to obtain forgiveness? Back then, Jesus had not yet died for our sins, but God wanted the people to understand that sin has a consequence: death. Sin cost Jesus His life! But how could God teach the people that idea? That’s why He instituted a sacrificial system that was part of their regular temple routine.
There were two types of animal sacrifices that the priests offered every day. The first actually consisted of two sacrifices—one that was offered each morning and the other each evening. These sacrifices were offered on behalf of all Israel.
Then there were individual sacrifices. Here’s how God explained it to Moses in Leviticus 4:27–29: “If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering.”
Picture what it would have been like to commit a sin back then. Instantly you’d realize that you’d have to take an innocent animal’s life (usually a sheep or goat). You’d have to bring the animal to the sanctuary. You’d have to personally cut the throat of that innocent victim and watch it bleed to death. Then the priest would sprinkle some of the blood on the altar, and you would be forgiven.
Why did God institute this ceremony? Because He knew that the Israelites needed to understand that He took their sins very seriously. At the same time, He knew that they needed a symbol to show they had been forgiven.
Sacrificing animals seems odd to us today. How could the blood of an animal remove sins? And the answer is, it couldn’t. Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” These animal sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus, the Messiah, who would later become the one and only true sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Generations later, when Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized, John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John recognized that Jesus’ whole purpose for coming to Earth was to become the sacrifice, not just for the sinners of His day but to pay the price for all the sins of all human beings throughout history!
Our High Priest
After Jesus died as the ultimate sacrifice, He rose and ascended to the heavenly sanctuary. There He took on a new role as our High Priest—our Advocate. The Old Testament priests who ministered in the earthly temple actually represented the work Jesus took on after He returned to heaven. Hebrews 8:1, 2: “Here is the point of what we are saying: We have a high priest who sits on the right side of God’s throne in heaven. Our high priest serves in the Most Holy Place, the true place of worship that was made by God, not by humans” (NCV).1 And Hebrews 9:12 says that “Christ entered the Most Holy Place only once—and for all time. He did not take with him the blood of goats and calves. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin forever” (NCV). We are set free from sin—forever!
The beauty of Jesus’ work in the heavenly sanctuary is that the One who died for us is the One who is standing up for us. We are absolutely guilty and deserve the death penalty, but He presents His sacrifice for our sins before God, and we are forgiven! It’s one thing to expect a good defense when you’re innocent. But when you face God’s judgment in heaven, it’s amazing to find that you have an Advocate in Jesus who defends you even though you’re guilty!
Approach with boldness
In all my years of driving, I’ve only received one parking ticket. I’d taken our daughter to the city park, and when I parked under the shade of a tree, two of my tires ended up barely on the grass. A policeman driving by noticed and cited me for parking illegally. I decided to go see the judge, because I did not deliberately park on the grass, and no harm was done. I figured maybe he’d have mercy.
When I entered the courtroom, there sat the judge, high up on a raised platform behind his desk. And even though mine was a very small offense, I felt very intimidated! I knew I was guilty and that my punishment rested in his hands.
You would think that going before God when we sin would be incredibly intimidating. After all, life and death are in His hands! But Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach [God’s] throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” The King James Version says that we should come “boldly” to God’s throne. How can we possibly do that? By understanding that Jesus has paid our penalty.
On my day in court, no one came forward to say, “She’s guilty, but I will pay her parking ticket for her.” That would have been nice! But every day, Someone in the heavenly sanctuary comes forward for me and says, “She’s guilty, but I paid for her sins with My life.” That kind of sacrificial love overwhelms me! And it frees me to come confidently before God.
The Old Testament sanctuary provided limited access to God. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and he only once a year. But now you and I have full access to God—every single day. In spite of the fact that we have sinned, we can come to Him boldly because we know that Jesus—our Sacrifice—is the very One who defends us.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NLT).2
1. Bible verses marked NCV are quoted from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. Bible quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.