If his gift is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male. … He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. Leviticus 1:3,4
Every Friday for about a year, I met under the stars with about six African women to tell Bible stories. We sat in the shadows of their mud huts often until midnight. It was the only time they had free after a day full of working in their fields, hauling well water, chopping fire wood, and cooking dinner over open fires. Those dark hours were quiet – except for the occasional donkey throwing a braying fit – so we were able to weave our way through the Old Testament.
My African partner and I explained the Jewish sacrificial system to them, and we told them about this verse – how, by laying a hand on the sacrificial animal’s head, the sinner’s sin was symbolically transferred to the animal.
Friday after Friday, we worked our way through the Bible until we reached the stories of Jesus. The women were non-literate, and they had never heard the stories before. I was amazed at the spiritual truth they could mine out of the Biblical passages. Unschooled does not mean un-smart. Some of them were enthralled with this Jesus. Some just came to listen out of curiosity. One, I’ll call her “Jill,” was a skeptic. She asked wickedly astute questions, but it was obvious she didn’t believe anything we were saying
The full moon bathed the whole group in silvery light the night we told the crucifixion story. I asked a question: “Why do you think Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ as he hung on the cross?”
I watched Jill’s face, and I saw the Holy Spirit reveal it to her. She spoke slowly. “Because that was the moment that God laid his hand on Jesus’ head and put the sins of the whole world on him.”
This forgiveness I enjoy? It came at a terrible price. Jesus became a sacrifice – a bloody heap of physical suffering. But when uttered those anguished words, he was separated from God himself. Spiritual suffering. He’d never been separated before. And why? Because my sin had just been laid on his head. It had just rolled off of me and on to him.
He died in my place.
The wages of sin is death. Death is separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Jesus endured them both. For me.
So I could be forgiven.
May I never cease to be awed.