A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 1

Primary Audience – To Those That Want to Understand Basic Christian Theology
Secondary Audience – Skeptics, Agnostics, The “Over-Churched”

The word and idea of “sacrifice” is a tough one to fully grasp. Part of it is that our hearts/minds don’t really want to fully understand it. So when Jesus tells his followers to take up the cross daily, die to self for his sake, seek first the Kingdom and so forth, He’s asking them/us to make the greatest sacrifice they/we can.

Typically, when I think of the idea of sacrifice, I think of the idea of withholding privilege and pleasure for the sake of duty and work. I think of parents who sacrifice for their children and the strong who serve the weak. Next I typically think of the soldier or the officer or the firefighter who sacrifices and risks his/her life.

When I was visiting the Angor Watt Temples in Cambodia, the guide showed us an altar where child-sacrifices where made. Obviously to my modern, western mind, this was barbaric and incomprehensible but to them, it was the greatest sacrifice they could make. It was their utmost religious devotion.

I remember the first time that someone said that God believed in child-sacrifice because He sent Jesus to die on the cross. While there are some differences (doctrine of Trinity, Resurrection, atonement for humankind), the thought has always lingered in my mind.

As a teenager, I could not understand why Jesus really had to die. This was due partially to being turned off by all the blood and guilt that accompanied the cross. IMO, it’s laid on pretty thick in some churches. But I could not understand why Jesus didn’t ever stand up in the Temple or jump down off the cross and say, “Hey listen – new deal, believe in me, repent of your sins, and live the abundant life in obedience to the Father.” Holy Spirit is optional too – Jesus could return to heaven and become one with the Father or sit at His right hand and send the Spirit. To my teen-age mind, it worked either way.

What was missing was an understanding of what sin/death really was and what the doctrine of the incarnation was really about. I simply saw sin as a moral failure, mistakes and I knew that it separated us from a holy God but I did not understand that sin was also separation and that death was the greatest of separations.

It wasn’t until a theology class in college (Dr. Habermas!), when I understood if the greatest good was life and the greatest evil was death, that I really understood what Jesus was up to and how this changed my idea of salvation. It was the first time that I realized that the words in describing it were the same, but they were now suddenly richer.

But even so, why did Jesus have to die? I understood the sacrifice system, I got the Jesus being the ultimate sacrifice thing thereby ending all temple sacrifices but why couldn’t the closure of that be different. Why couldn’t Jesus destroy the altar when He cleared the temple? He could make the aforementioned announcement, a ascend off to heaven. I think it stands to reason that a flying human-God that never dies is just as good as resurrected human-God that flies. Further, Jesus wouldn’t have had to experience so much pain and our Easters would be a lot less bloody. Instead of hanging crosses, we could hang crowns.

Now I’ll grant that the current story is much more dramatic – you just can’t beat a “I’m dead but I came back to life” story. Everyone loves a comeback and that one wins hands down. But why the need for the cross, blood and death?

Part 2 Soon.

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