What will you do about sin?
In one way or another, every human being answers this question. Some are intentionally religious about their answers. Others would prefer to call sin something like “mistakes” or “regrets” or “negative energy.” Regardless, the topic is the same. That is precisely the topic taken up in today’s reading, maybe the clearest and most sustained discussion of “atonement” we have come to this year.
By far, the most common answer to the sin question is that we will work it off through good works. It is not always verbalized that way, but that is the point. The solution is up to us. Do more good than bad. Straighten up your own mess. Make better choices. Try harder. Religious people of all sorts answer the question this way, yes, even some that swear an allegiance to Jesus.
The Hebrew author is quite clear what he thinks of that answer:
Gifts and sacrifices are offered which have no power to perfect the conscience of those who come to worship. (9:9)
Good works won’t do it. Offer whatever you wish. Kill a hundred animals. Rely upon yourself and the results will always be the same: failure. We can’t solve the problem ourselves.
Then the writer offers his best answer later:
There’s no pardon without bloodshed! (9:22b)
This is not always a well-liked answer. Some don’t see why God needs to have blood; he can simply forgive. Some see this as barbaric and archaic. Some paint this as the bloodlust of a neurotic, angry god. Well liked or not, the Bible’s answer is always the same: forgiveness takes blood, or more to the point of the symbol of blood, it takes death.
The reason for the death and blood will be answered several different ways as we go through the New testament this year, so we will add to the answer as we go. The point here is a legal or contractual one: we stand waiting for an inheritance (9:15). We look forward to the fullness of the Spirit and the world where “everything will be put into proper order” (9:10). Inheritances come from wills, and a will can only be executed when the death of the person promising an inheritance has been substantiated (9:15-17). Thus, blood as a symbol of death is necessary.