It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Shortly after sin had entered the world and God had pronounced judgment on sin, we read the following in Genesis 3:21: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
God looked at their clothes and said, “Nope. That’s not going to work.” The clothes that Adam and Eve had made for themselves were not adequate covering to face the new fallen world in which they were now living. Remember when they first sinned? Sin opened their eyes, but not in a good way. Sin laid them bare, left them feeling exposed. For the first time, they realized they were naked. So, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths, single-piece garments. And ever since, the human race has engaged in an enterprise of self-covering that always falls short.
God knew that Adam and Eve needed something more substantial for covering. They needed something made by his hands, not their own. When we read Genesis 3:21, it is apparent that some animals died in order that the man and woman could be sufficiently clothed. This is the first hint of substitutionary atonement that we see in the Bible. “Substitutionary atonement” is just a fancy way of saying that an innocent one died so that a guilty one could be covered. You see, covering sin is not simple, quick, and easy (like grabbing some leaves off a tree and sewing them together). Covering sin is costly, painful … bloody. Sin produces suffering and death, so the cost of covering sin involves suffering and death. It involves sacrifice.
Did Adam and Eve think they could just sweep things under the rug, tidy up the disastrous mess they had made without any cost, without any price being paid? Do we think that? When we try to cover our own sin, we are engaging in a futile self-salvation project. We are essentially saying, “I can atone for my own sin.” But this is a gross under-estimation of both the breadth and depth of sin’s devastation.
The death of the animals in Genesis 3 is the first biblical hint that atonement requires sacrifice. It points us forward to the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died so that we could be adequately clothed—clothed in his righteousness. The blood of Jesus is our atonement, our covering. Just like Adam and Eve, we can’t cover our own sin. God must do that, and he has made that possible with the costly sacrifice of his own Son. In light of this: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10).
What are some of your fig leaves ( false coverings)? These are just things you and I use to try to make ourselves look okay or feel okay about ourselves (good works, talents and abilities, religious duty and discipline, performance at work).
God calls us to put our faith in the covering that he alone provides. He calls us to faith in Christ. The bloody death of Jesus is our only hope. What would it look like for you to believe that today when you are tempted to “self-cover”?
Everlasting Creator-Father, I bless thee for the everlasting covenant, for the appointment of a Mediator. I rejoice that he failed not, nor was discouraged, but accomplished the work thou gavest him to do; and said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ I exult in the thought that thy justice is satisfied, thy truth established, thy law magnified, and a foundation is laid for my hope. I look to a present and personal interest in Christ and say, Surely he has borne my griefs, carried my sorrows, won my peace, healed my soul. Justified by his blood I am saved by his life, Glorying in his cross I bow to his scepter, Having his Spirit I possess his mind. Lord, grant that my religion may not be occasional and partial, but universal, influential, effective, and may I always continue in thy words as well as thy works, so that I may reach my end in peace.