Review: God created the world to be good. Evil and its consequences were brought into this world by the decision of people to be their own god. God works in this world, even in its broken condition, to teach people about the effects of evil and how they need God in order to be rescued from evil.
This week: The idea of sacrifice is very simple. When we say that we sacrifice something, it means that we give up one thing so that we can have another. In daily life, it means that I can’t do everything, so I have to give up one thing to do another. In extreme circumstances, it means that something very precious is given up, so that another precious thing can be achieved (such as one person giving their life to save the life of another). In business and law, it is possible for one to sacrifice for someone by paying the debt or fine that another person owes. In religious ceremony, it can involve a substitute of one life being given for the life of another. Sacrifice has been an idea that spans across many cultures. Many religions have sacrifice of one kind or another. While we would not agree with all kinds of religious sacrifice, we should at least ask why so many different cultures have felt that there is some kind of spiritual importance to sacrifice.
The main message of the Bible is that God made a supreme sacrifice so that people could be saved from evil and its consequences. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). God temporarily used animal sacrifice to teach the need of a greater sacrifice. Human sacrifices were always unacceptable to God. God made it clear that He hates all religious human sacrifice, except for one. God gave His Son to become human and who willingly sacrificed Himself for other people’s sins.
In the Bible, blood is the physical representation of the life of a person or animal. The blood of the sacrifice expressed that a life was given on behalf of another. This was to point us to the fact that Jesus gave His blood (life) on our behalf to cleanse us from evil and make us acceptable to God. It is the unique structure of the Bible that let’s us see that God was speaking of this long before Jesus was born. Since the Bible was expecting the sacrifice of Jesus hundreds and thousands of years before His birth, it is proof that the Bible is from the true God and explains His will and purpose to us.
Est. Time1 Description
4000 B.C. After Adam & Eve commit evil they recognize their nakedness and make clothing out of leaves. Before sin, people had nothing to hide from God. Like the intimacy of a husband and wife, they could be totally exposed before God (inwardly and outwardly) and yet be unashamed. After sin enters, clothing becomes a symbol of the need for our guilt to be covered by something. God rejected the leaf clothing Adam and Eve made for themselves. Instead, God clothes them with skins (requiring the death of an animal). This shows the problem of evil must be solved through sacrifice. God also predicts the “seed of the woman” who will crush the head of the snake (Satan), but get a wounded heel. (Genesis 3)
3900 B.C. Abel offers an animal sacrifice and is accepted by God. Cain offers a sacrifice of plants and is rejected by God. God can’t be approached in any way we choose or achieve, but by the sacrifice God requires. (Genesis 4)
2200 B.C. Noah offers an animal sacrifice after the great flood. The smell pleases God. As the smell of cooking meat is pleasant to a physical nose, so the spiritual sacrifice God wants will cover the spiritual “stink” of evil. God promises never to destroy all land animals and people by water again. (Genesis 8)
1900 B.C. Abraham is told to sacrifice his son Isaac, as a test. At the last moment, God tells Abraham to stop and to sacrifice an animal instead. God did not want a human sacrifice, but wanted to test Abraham’s faith. But, the prophecy is given that on the mountain of the Lord it will be seen or provided. That is, God Himself would provide a greater sacrifice and substitute to take people’s place so they won’t have to die. (Genesis 22)
1500 B.C. God sets the Jews free from slavery in Egypt. In order to convince the Egyptians to release the slaves, God would send a plague during the night that would kill all the firstborn of people and animals. The only protection from this plague was to sacrifice the “Passover” lamb (a young sheep or goat) and put its blood on the sides and above the door to one’s house. The plague will “Passover” the house marked with blood. (Exodus 12)
1500 B.C. God institutes for the Jews to keep the holy day “Yom Kippur” or the “Day of Atonement”. On this day each year, the high priest comes into the most holy part of God’s temple to sprinkle the blood of an animal sacrifice before the symbolic presence of God. Most people could never enter this special room behind a veil or curtain. This symbolized human separation from God due to sin. Also, on this day the sins of the people are symbolically placed on the “scapegoat” which is released into the wilderness to carry away the people’s sins. People need a “sin bearer” or one to take away their sins by taking their sins upon him. (Leviticus 16)
1500 B.C. God institutes the law for the religious cleansing of a healed leper. As part of the ceremony, two live birds are used. One bird is killed. The living bird is dipped in the blood of the dead bird. Some blood is also sprinkled on the healed leper. The leper is pronounced “clean”. The living bird is released. Leprosy represents the spiritual “disease” of evil. In early stages, leprosy makes a person numb and less able to feel. Later, leprosy will cause body parts to rot and fall off. Finally, leprosy kills its victim. Leprosy represents the spiritual evil that makes us unfeeling toward God and gradually destroys what we are supposed to be and do and finally will result in our utter death. As part of the being clean from this spiritual evil, one life is given and another life becomes free. (Leviticus 14)
1000 B.C. God makes it clear that animal sacrifice is not really what pleases Him, but that there is a Person who is coming to do God’s will. (Psalm 40)
700 B.C. The prophet Isaiah predicted a servant of God who will suffer greatly, but “sprinkle many nations”. This is like the sprinkling of the blood of an animal sacrifice in the holiest place to cleanse from sin, but this is done by a man for the cleansing of nations. Isaiah further said that “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. This is like the scapegoat that symbolically had the sins of the Jews laid upon it, but this is done upon a man to bear the sins of all. (Isaiah 52-53)
500 B.C. The prophets Daniel and Zechariah speak about the King/Messiah to come, but in ways that point to His death and suffering on behalf of others. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he … because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” (Zechariah 9:9b, 11b) Daniel spoke of a time “to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” but also of an “anointed one” [Messiah] who would be “cut off” (killed). (see Daniel 9:24-26)
30 A.D. Jesus said … “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many … this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. (Matthew 20:28b, 26:28b) “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. … Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44b-47) When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain (veil) in the temple ripped apart from top to bottom. God was showing that Jesus’ sacrifice had opened the way to be with God.
60 A.D. After Jesus, biblical writers said things like … “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 10:12, 1 Peter 3:18))
Quotes from ESV (English Standard Version)
Footnote 1: There are many questions and considerable conflict about how to get proper dates for writings and persons in the Bible. The estimated dates I’ve provided are in very round figures and may be especially uncertain in some cases (especially the oldest dates), but these dates should give a good idea of the flow of time involved. Skeptics of the Bible seem generally committed to dating Bible writings as late as possible to avoid the idea that it contains real prophecy from God. It suffices to say here that it is accepted by believers and skeptics in general that the Jews had writings before the life of Jesus of Nazareth which contained prophecies about a coming Messiah (King/Priest). Likewise, the central importance of sacrifice both in the stories and rituals of Judaism before Christ is hard to deny. Jewish religious culture was known to exist before Jesus came. Jewish scriptures were even translated into Greek before the life of Jesus. Also, Christian writings claimed to be the fulfillment of the older Jewish writings and often quoted these older writings. Christian writings would have been very easy to disprove in that time, if the older Jewish writings had not existed long before Christ. Christians, like myself, find startling evidence in these “pre-Jesus” writings that they predicted the coming of someone just like Jesus. The sacrificial teaching of ancient Judaism fits with fulfillment in Jesus like a glove fits a hand. Even to say that Jesus is legendary (in whole or part) would not explain the prophecies that expected someone like Him to come. The example of the theme of sacrifice that runs through the “pre-Jesus” writings is just one example. So, the Bible is known for certain to be composed by many writers living in different times before and after Jesus. But, the Bible also has unfolding, unified themes as if it were the work of one author. This is strong evidence that the Bible is just what Christians understand it to be; God inspiring people in different times to write His story of salvation from evil through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.