Language of the Cross (2): Sacrifice
If you have read the OT you have undoubtedly come across the gruesome descriptions of the ceremonial sacrifices commanded under the Ceremonial law (Leviticus 4, 16). This brings us to our first important word to associate with the Cross: Sacrifice. The gist of these sacrifices is that God, who rightly has wrath towards sin, instituted the sacrificial system as a temporary determent of the payment of sin until later (Rom. 3:25).
Established in the law was the bloody standard that, “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Lev. 17:11, Heb. 9:22). So the idea was this, when an Israelite sinned, he took a spotless lamb to a Priest who could mediate/intercede between the man and God. This priest would then sacrifice the animal by spilling its blood on behalf of the sinful man and this act would appease the wrath of God. But what does this have to do with the cross?
Hebrews (Heb. 9:8-14) explains that the problem is these sacrifices cannot fully pay for sin. This is true for two reasons. First of all, the blood of bulls and goats cannot fully pay for sin, but that they served as a symbol for the need of forgiveness of sins. Secondly, since they were incomplete and could only atone for individual sins, sacrifices must be made continually, day and night without end. Their imperfect was compounded by the fact that the sacrifices were made by a sinful, mortal priest who had to continually offer sacrifices for himself (Heb. 5:1-3).
Only in light of this can we understand why Christ’s death was a sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness, and the Old Law was imperfect in that it “made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19), therefore “Christ appeared as a High Priest” (Heb. 9:11-15) and became both the Perfect Priest (who needed no sacrifice) and the Perfect Lamb (who could cleanse once for all the sins of the people of God).
Therefore, Hebrews tells us that in the same way an imperfect priest would spill the blood of a perfect animal, Christ, the Priest-Lamb spilt his own blood once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26).