God had a problem. Of course, God has lots of problems. And, of course, He always solves them. The interesting thing about God is not whether He’ll solve a problem, but how He’ll do it. He comes up with the most unusual ways of doing things— which is why it never pays to fret about your prayers not being answered because they probably were and you just didn’t catch on.
But back to God and His problem. Thanks to the devil, we humans got ourselves into a terrible mess a few thousand years ago. It’s called sin and death. The devil laughed because he thought he’d come up with a problem God couldn’t solve. But God did solve it, and every Christian knows the solution. Jesus gave His own life in place of ours, then rose from the dead, and went back to heaven to ask God to forgive us. Eventually, He plans to rid the entire universe of sin and put the devil away forever.
Put yourself in God’s place. You’ve worked out this marvelous solution to the sin problem, and now you need to let people know about it. Oh, you’ve told them about a Messiah who’ll come and save them someday, but words don’t seem to be enough. Somehow, you’ve got to get the idea across that sin means death—that someone must die so they can live. How do you teach that? How do you make it seem real?
Actually, God decided to do more than tell people about His solution. He decided to show them! We can call God’s plan His “show-and-tell”—the greatest show-and-tell in the history of the world. God’s answer to the problem had three parts, and He gave a fairly detailed illustration of each one.
Illustrating Christ’s death for our sins
The cross was fresh history for Paul, and so it was easy for him to say, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). But the people who lived before Christ’s time knew nothing of His life and death. God could have told them about the cross, but He had a better way. He showed them.
God instructed anyone who had a sin to confess to bring an animal to the sanctuary and offer it as a sacrifice.
Imagine yourself as a wealthy rancher 3,000 years ago who cheats to the tune of $10,000 on King David’s income tax one year. You get away with it; but a few years later your conscience still smarts, and you decide to make things right with the Israelite IRS. After paying back the $10,000 plus a penalty, you choose a sheep from your flock, tie a rope around its neck, and lead it to the sanctuary—a tent made of animal skins and set in the middle of a courtyard with cloth walls.
A large bronze altar stands about midway between the entrance to the courtyard and the sanctuary. Smoke rises from the altar, and you wrinkle your nose at the smell of burning flesh.
A white-robed priest steps up and asks, “May I help you?” You explain your situation, and the two of you walk to the bronze altar. Laying your hands on the sheep’s head, you say, “I repent of cheating King David out of $10,000 income tax five years ago.” By this act, you transferred your sin to the sheep.
Now the priest hands you a knife. You hold the blade under the sheep’s throat a few seconds, then, pressing its sharp edge to the sheep’s jugular vein, you bring it up with a swift stroke. The sheep bleats a little, and the priest catches the blood in a basin. A few minutes later, the sheep wobbles, then slumps into your arms. It died for your sin.
The priest dips his finger in the blood and sprinkles it on the altar. Then he skins the sheep, cuts its body into pieces, and lays the pieces on the altar to burn. His last words ring in your ears as you walk back out the gate: “God has forgiven your sin.”
This was God’s show-and-tell. He didn’t just tell
Illustrating Christ as Mediator
Let’s look at the second part of God’s show-and-tell. To do this you must go inside the sanctuary. On entering, you discover that it has two rooms. The first room is called the Holy Place, and the second one is the Most Holy Place. When you enter the Holy Place, you see on your left a golden lampstand with seven branches, and a flame flickers on the wick at the end of each branch. To the right, you see a low table about like a modern coffee table on which have been placed two piles of cakes, six to a pile. The cakes look something like our pancakes. Straight ahead is a waist-high, gold-covered altar. A priest stands before the altar, burning incense on it and sprinkling the blood from a recent sacrifice on a curtain that hangs just beyond the altar. The curtain stretches from wall to wall but doesn’t quite reach the ceiling. You notice angels embroidered into its fabric.
A bright light shines over the top of the veil, and the priest beckons you to see where it comes from. He pulls back the veil, and you enter the Most Holy Place. Normally, only the high priest is allowed to enter this room, and he only once a year. But, of course, this is an imaginary trip.
Once inside the veil, you see a gold-covered box about the size of a modern cedar chest. Two golden angels are standing on its top facing each other. This box with its angels is called the ark of the covenant. The light that you saw shining over the veil seems to come from between the angels, and it almost blinds you. The priest tells you that the light is God’s visible presence. The priest opens the ark, and inside you see God’s Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.
This is another part of God’s show-and- tell; but what does it mean?
From the New Testament, and especially from the books of Hebrews and Revelation, we discover that the entire inner complex of the sanctuary (the Holy Place and Most Holy Place) represents God’s throne room in heaven. The lampstand represents the Holy Spirit; the table with its two stacks of bread represents Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life; the burning incense represents the prayers of God’s people as they ascend to God; and the ark of the covenant represents God’s throne.
When a priest entered the sanctuary to sprinkle blood on the veil, he represented Christ entering heaven after His resurrection to appear in God’s presence, pleading before God for the forgiveness of our sins. Hebrews 9:24 says, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands [the earthly temple], which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (KJV). In 1 John 2:1, we read, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (KJV).
The second part of God’s show-and-tell for ancient Israel showed that the Messiah would plead before God for the forgiveness of their sins.
Illustrating the end of sin
The third part illustrates the elimination of sin. To understand this, you must take another imaginary trip. But this time you’ll have to wait till the Day of Atonement, which is the high point of the Jewish religious year. Early in the morning, the high priest takes two goats and “draws straws” over them. He sets one goat aside as the Lord’s goat and the other becomes the “scapegoat.” The priest offers the Lord’s goat as a sacrifice. Catching some of its blood in a basin, he reenters the Most Holy Place and sprinkles the blood seven times upon the ark of the covenant. Then he goes back outside and sprinkles the goat’s blood seven times on the altar of sacrifice.
Next, the priest lays his hands on the scapegoat’s head and confesses over it all the sins of the people. Then he ties a rope around its neck and hands it off to a rugged-looking man who leads the goat into the wilderness. When he returns without the goat, the people know that their sins have been removed from them forever.
God says that He has cast our sins into the depths of the sea and removed them from us as far as the east is from the west (Micah 7:19; Psalm 103:12). The Day of Atonement was God’s show-and-tell, picturing for the Israelites how the Messiah’s death and His ministry in God’s temple in heaven will eventually eliminate sin from our world, and, indeed, from the entire universe!
God could have just told the Israelites all this, but instead He chose to give them a show-and-tell—symbols through which they could act out His plan of salvation.
I think God’s idea was much better than anything any of us could have dreamed up!