A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 2

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

Last post asked the question, “Why does Jesus have to die?”
“Why can’t Jesus just stand in the temple and say, ‘New deal – confess you are a sinner, put your trust in me, I’ll forgive you, enjoy the abundant life right now and for all eternity?'” No blood, no cross, no need for a resurrection, So why the drama, why the violence?

What escaped me was the doctrine of sin and holiness. Being raised in church, I of course knew what sin was – it was pretty much everything ;) I understood sin as any a moral failure of some sort or the fancier definitions were any thought, word, deed contrary to the will of God, etc. Then there was the because we were sinners, Jesus needed to die. Which if you walk into the story for the first time, you are not really sure why anyone really has to die. Again, why not a Messianic announcement of a “new deal”?

To understand this, I needed to understand that sin was more than simply a moral failure (or the fancier definition). I really needed to see that sin was a separation from God and death was the greatest type of separation. So sin/death was separation. How can the separation be eliminated? For years, we evangelicals drew this “chasm” between God and humankind, and used Jesus as the bridge that we could cross over. This was all well and good but for deconstructionists and newbies to the story, we all knew by now that there were so many different types of bridges, why only Jesus? The answer came back pretty fast – Because He was sinless, the perfect sacrifice and so on.

God gave me an imagination that I refused to hand over upon entering adulthood – Why couldn’t the all-powerful Jesus pick us up and jump over the chasm with us? Or just toss over to some soft-mattress or have the angels catch us. Why this persistent need for death?

What Do You Give the God Who Creates Everything?
The answer came in a question, “What does God want from me?” Unless I am willing to treat the question superficially, the answers get pretty intense quickly. The other question is “How do you demonstrate to God that you are sorry?” When I offend a family member or a friend, I express that I am sorry. When I get a speeding ticket and “offend the law”, I pay a fine. When I offend creation, I don’t do anything really except perhaps make a mental note to consume less, recycle more, be a better steward. Why is God not satisfied with words, money, future conscious effort? God is a God of life. This was His currency. I needed to give up life as a sacrifice.

God in His mercy knew this was not practical for humankind. The sacrificial system was created (you can read Leviticus if you want the details) and obedient Jews abided.

But to God, this was always a temporary system until He descended in the form of a man, Jesus, and became our substitute. He was the perfect sacrifice for humanity, paying the price for humankind’s sin/separation/death. In the words of theologian John Lightfoot, “Our redemption must answer the fall. Christ must fullfill the law as we had broken it.”

It wasn’t until college that I understood it wasn’t God’s high-maintenance that was the problem. I was the problem. Sin/death/separation needed to be solved and while the chasm metaphor was helpful, I needed another way of understanding it. What helped me was understanding that I was infected, I was being quarantined, I needed a cure.

But He did more than die, He defeated death. How does one actually defeat death? Money, negotiation, even not dying will not defeat death. You defeat death by actually dying and then resurrecting to life again. This is the victory, the answer, the cure. And this is why Jesus needed to sacrifice Himself on the cross – so that we could live the way we were intended, in peace with our God in this life and in the life following this one.

This is what makes the Easter story so powerful, one worth sharing. Each year, I hope to see the Resurrection story with new eyes and may the same be true for you – thanks for reading.


  1. Love where this is going. It’s interesting and ironic to see how many people have a worldly grasp of what sin does. They think it’s basically a moral failure. What they don’t see is the severity of sin.

    I was talking with Jim last night and it actually was when I was overseas where I started to really grapple with this in more detail. The reason why is the severity of sin was something I tried to communicate to the Mslms in North Africa.

    If I spoke with a married man, I would ask him if he cares for his wife, if he loves his wife, how much he loves his wife, what he had to give up for his wife to be with him (because of the dowry system), etc. I then asked him, even though you love her, what would happen if she ever committed adultery? The man would almost always give the same response. Most men would say, “I would divorce her immediately.” If I pushed the issue by asking the Sharia Law says, the response changed to, “She should be stoned to death.”
    Once I hit that point in a conversation, I would communicate that whenever we do ANY sin, any ‘moral’ failure, any act against Him, we are in essence committing an act of infidelity. The proper judgment for that act of adultery is death. This is obviously highly contextual to the society I was in.

    It was interesting because it was only when I started looking at metaphors and language to communicate these points that I started grasping how severe sin is even in my own heart.

  2. Hi Tim, I just ran across your blog. You seem like a pretty interesting guy. Looks like a beautiful family as well. Glad to hear you’re happily married. That’s very helpful in being able to understand God’s eternal purpose. You mention the word “sin” and it’s meaning to you. No word I know of (besides maybe “love”) is so often used and so little understood. Realizing it’s meaning changes the way we preach the gospel entirely. Making others feel guilty for how “bad” they’ve been and a subsequent date with hell is no longer the point we must hammer home. It appeals to a much nobler yearning “between” both God and man. At the same time it challenges man as never before. It addresses the root of man’s problem and not just the branches. It also defines why Jesus was not a sinner and also how He became sin for us. Understanding the meaning of sin also helps define the word death. How did Adam “die” when he ate from the tree? How are men “dead” in their sins and trespasses? If the answers to these questions are not enough, consider this: It directly addresses God’s real need for man. In reading your blog, I see there is an understanding in your heart, your mind has not fully grasped. If you are truly willing to follow what I believe God has put in your own heart you will be able to hear me.

  3. @Jim, that’s interesting in such a terrible way. But it does speak to the importance of context and the need to share space and life with others. Curious as to what the metaphors for “redemption” or “grace” would be in that context.

  4. @Azion, Thanks for reading/commenting. Also appreciate the compliment to my family. Curious if Azion is your given name or a moniker you have taken.

    Anyway, I’m confused by a couple things you said so if you are up for conversation, here we go:

    1. “Glad to hear you’re happily married. That’s very helpful in being able to understand God’s eternal purpose”.
    What if I was single? or divorced? or unhappily married, would I still be able to understand God’s eternal purpose?

    2. Agreed that how we understand sin and love changes our telling of the proclamation of the Gospel. I submit that it was never appropriate/helpful/godly to ” …Making others feel guilty for how “bad” they’ve been and a subsequent date with hell is no longer the point we must hammer home”.
    Are you saying that it that this actually was a point to hammer home at some time or are you reacting to what others done in the past? Because that would strike me as a poor telling of the Gospel. Agreed?

    3. Indeed Jesus becomes sin for us, He became separation for us, He dies for us – I think I said as much in my posts. However, He does not do this because He “needs” man, He does because He loves humanity. He desires communion/relationship with humankind but by definition God does not “need” us. A God who needs anything is not divine at all but a flawed projection of our imagination or worse, evil disguised as good. Thoughts?

    4. You asked how did Adam die and how are men dead in sin/trespass. We are dead in every way (spiritually, physically, etc). As I know you know Eph. 2, we are dead and bc of Jesus’s work, we are/will be alive in every way.

    5. Lastly, “In reading your blog, I see there is an understanding in your heart, your mind has not fully grasped. If you are truly willing to follow what I believe God has put in your own heart you will be able to hear me.”
    – I caution you from using a tone that sounds condescending. If you are up for brotherly dialogue, welcome, I look forward to getting to know you. If you are out trying to copy and paste your way of understanding God to me, move along friend, that’s not what I am trying to do here. Truly, I hope it’s the former and not the latter. Grace and peace to you Azion.

  5. Tim, thanx so much for your response and ?s. I’m so grateful. I love your energy and curiosity. First of all,let me say this: a man’s state does not prevent him from knowing God’s eternal purpose. However, no matter what state a man is in, it must be revealed to him by the Spirit of God. It cannot as you say be “copied and pasted” from one man to another. Not through writings or by speech. I believe the advantage for the “happily” married man is this: He realizes and embraces the fact that he is not the same person he was when he was single. The difference is he now knows himself more as a “twofold” being. Though he retains his own identity, he is no longer simply an individual. His definition of love becomes “a willingness to allow another to have a share in whom he is becoming.” That is far different than just a warm feeling inside of you. Marriage, is therefore a wonderful metaphor concerning the union between God and man. This brings me to the definition of the word “sin”. The word “hamartia” in the scriptures, has it’s derivation from the word “hamartein” in classical greek. That word means “without a share”, from “a” and “meros”. Jesus was the perfect example of the shared life between God and man, thus “sinless”. When He invites us to drink His blood He is essentially offering us the dna of that shared Life for: “the life is in the blood.” Everything from Genesis through Revelation addresses the problem of separation between God and man as well as man and man. The goal of reconciliation is not to simply bring two individuals together. It is to make out of the two 1 new creation. I so look forward to hearing from you again.

  6. The Slothful One says:

    I’m so close to what you’re saying, but…

    “For Thou desirest not sacrifice;
    else would I give it:
    Thou delightest not in burnt offering.

    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
    a broken and a contrite heart, O God,
    Thou wilt not despise.”

    Psalm 51:16-17 KJV (Psalm 50 LXX)

    If we follow the view of atonement you stated, then to “Whom” was the sacrifice made?

    You can shoot me an email if you’d like. I’ve got a couple of questions on this but am afraid to clog up your blog.

  7. Hey Azion, Thanks for replying. Yes, completely agree, God’s revelation cannot be copied and pasted, I was cautioning you from doing that.

    Not really sure of that definition of love you suggest. Seems to lack the sacrificial nature that love ought to have and how Christ demonstrated that love. So what you are offering is a part of it but also incomplete.

    I appreciate the sentiment of the “shared life” you suggest. But again when you insert Jesus into the discussion, again, it seems to lack a bit.

    Even with both of our presentations of “sin”, we would have to admit that we have not captured the entire Biblical concept of it. Since you mention the Greek, there are at least 10 variations of the concept in Greek and about 5 or so in Hebrew. But I think we have made a legitimate attempt of creating a broad stroke.

    Agreed that Christ’s work does even more than reconciling us to God. The idea of new creation (2 Cor. 5) is quite compelling. NT Wright always makes the point that with the resurrection of Jesus, He is restoring/renewing all of Creation.

    Come on now Azion, I think you ignored answering a few of my points … :)

  8. Hey Mark,

    I love that Psalm.
    I also love the Hosea 6:6 – “For I desire mercy (love), not sacrifice…” I should look it up, but I believe some translations have used the term “charity” instead of “mercy” but I digress.

    The sacrifice is made to God – Jesus’ perfect sacrifice satisfies the Hebrew concept of “propitiation”.

    I believe the original ransom theory of the atonement was rejected and built on because it gave too much regard to the devil. Same with the Satisfaction Theory until Anselm “built upon it”.

    I just finished re-reading a book by Scot McKnight called “The Community of Atonement”. It’s a short read but absolutely fantastic. In it he suggests that the various metaphors/theories for the atonement are like a having various golf clubs. We use what works for the situation but you cannot use a putter or a driver for all 18 holes.

    That said, the two that I find myself thinking about and teaching from the most are penal Substitution and Christus Victor (the preferred Eastern Orthodox position if I am not mistaken).

    Feel free to reply or email, whichever you prefer.

  9. Hey Tim, thanx for answering. I read your comments on Jersey Shore. Got a kick out of them. It’s amazing what some people find entertaining isn’t it?

    Glad you brought up the idea of sacrifice. That’s really the essence of what I’m saying about love. To actually allow another to have a share in whom you are becoming means you’re no longer “holding onto” your own life. You are willing to give it up for the sake of a shared life. It’s a life that doesn’t exist without you, but doesn’t simply belong to you. That can be scary. You can no longer say “this is who I am and you just have to accept it.” You must often sacrifice habits and personal preferences to make space for another (as you so wisely stated in your response to Jim.) Your insistence on things going the way you planned and the frustration or even anger when they don’t, must end. This can happen at work, at home, or on a simple drive to pick up a loaf of bread.

    Allowing others to have a share in whom you are becoming is not easy or simple. People who bug you, get in your way, or even oppose you, such as an enemy, must be loved. It means you have more value in their essential humanity than anything else they may know or even do. You realize sometimes, even in the most unexpected ways, they can help you to become more than you imagined. I shudder to think of the man I might be today, without my son.

    Real life isn’t simple. Neither is marriage. If you are truly happily married, you have worked out some complex and difficult issues. This is one of the things I think we see lacking with the kids from Jersey Shore.

    A real marriage makes you a different being from most single people. You are now a “twofold being”. Even when you’re alone, you’re not truly acting by and for yourself. A single person has a difficult time understanding this. That’s why many married people have a hard time keeping single friends.

    This is at the heart of “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Me.” You cannot separate love from the cross. Neither His cross or our cross.
    I truly believe at the heart of mankinds ills, is his unwillingness to “share a life” with the Father. The sacrifice of one’s own secure life is too much for most to handle. On the other hand, if I am truly willing to share a life with my Father what more could He ask of me?

    One question: What do you mean when you say there are more than ten variations of the concept of sin in greek? Were you speaking of biblical words or general hellenistic concepts? I know there are about 5-6 words that are sometimes considered synonyms but there is really only 1 word for sin. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  10. Thanks for the reply Azion, pardon the delay in my reply and the brevity of it today.

    Our unpackaging of earlier comments has been helpful. I hear what you are saying about the “shared life” and while initially it seemed that it didn’t go far enough, I think I get what you are saying.

    Regarding your last question here, in my undergrad Greek, we learned the multiple terms for sin, transgression, lawlessness, iniquity and so on (similar in Hebrew too though I don’t know Hebrew). They are more than synonyms but if that works for you, that’s cool. Similar to the greek forms of the concept of “love” which carries not only 4 different words but 4 concepts too.

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