Friday, October 18, 2013

Commentary: Sacrifice


A seminary professor tells the experience of when she reluctantly accompanied her husband through the conflict-torn region of the Holy Land to the top of Mount Gerazim at Passover time. Here, the few surviving Samaritans on earth still sacrifice Passover lambs. As the lambs were led to the slaughter, she averted her eyes. But at the last minute, she looked. How utterly awful their deaths were. As she beheld the innocent creatures struggling against the knife, her soul revolted against the callousness of the priest, who was offering the sacrifice. But even more, she found revolting the whole idea of the sacrificial system. Why did innocent animals have to die to point forward to the death of Jesus? On the way back that night, in the light of the full Passover moon, she poured out her bitterness against God for the awfulness of the animal sacrifices until suddenly light from heaven penetrated her darkened mind. She finally began to understand the point: sin is so awful that it cost the life of the innocent Lamb of God. This Sacrifice was the only way that God could get people with their hardened human hearts to see how terrible sin was, how costly our salvation is. 

The sacrifices also teach us by which means God has removed what has estranged us from Him: our distrust of Him due to Sin.  It reveals to what extent God is willing to go, to bring us back into an intimate relationship with Him.  Christ was that Lamb slain from the foundation of the world to take away the Sin of the world (John 1: 29; Revelation 13: 8).  The cross was the instrument to slay the Lamb. 

However, it is unfortunate that "With most of the people in the days of Christ, the observance of this feast had degenerated into formalism. {DA 77.2}  Too often through human history God gives teaching tools to teach a greater reality and people mistakenly think the teaching tool is the reality.  Thus, the sacrifices, which were only to teach the way back into close relationship with God, became misunderstood as the means to a close relationship with God. And people have taken the teaching tool and extrapolated false ideas about God and the heavenly sanctuary.  Christ is the means, the way, the truth and the life.  It is through Christ that we enter into close relationship with God.

But what was its significance to the Son of God? Ellen White tells us Gives us a glimpse,

For the first time the child Jesus looked upon the temple. He saw the white-robed priests performing their solemn ministry. He beheld the bleeding victim upon the altar of sacrifice. With the worshipers He bowed in prayer, while the cloud of incense ascended before God. He witnessed the impressive rites of the paschal service. Day by day He saw their meaning more clearly. Every act seemed to be bound up with His own life. New impulses were awakening within Him. Silent and absorbed, He seemed to be studying out a great problem. The mystery of His mission was opening to the Saviour.    Rapt in the contemplation of these scenes, He did not remain beside His parents. He sought to be alone. When the paschal services were ended, He still lingered in the temple courts; and when the worshipers departed from Jerusalem, He was left behind.  {DA 78.2}"

Abraham had a similar experience in Mount Moriah.  We know the story.  God asked Abraham to go to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved child of promise.  There was something different about God's approach to Abraham.  The patriarch's life with God had always been accompanied by divine promises: the promise of land, of descendants, and of blessings; the promise of a son; and the promise that God would take care of Ishmael.  Abraham sacrificed, but it was always as a response and in the light of some promise. However, in the situation described in Genesis 22, Abraham did not get any divine promise; instead, he was told to sacrifice the living promise, his son.  Abraham was posed with a dilemma.  He had to choose between God and Isaac.  Following through on God's command, Abraham showed that God was more important to him than anything else.  That animal, which God provided, prefigures the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on whom "the Lord has laid . . . the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6, 7; Acts 8:32, NKJV).

What was God's purpose in this incredible challenge to Abraham's faith?  Ellen White tells us what God wanted to accomplish. 

"It was to impress Abraham's mind with the reality of the gospel, as well as to test his faith, that God commanded him to slay his son. The agony which he endured during the dark days of that fearful trial was permitted that he might understand from his own experience something of the greatness of the sacrifice made by the infinite God for man's redemption. No other test could have caused Abraham such torture of soul as did the offering of his son. God gave His Son to a death of agony and shame."—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 154.

Concerning the sacrifice, Abraham understood that no one but God Himself can bring the true sacrifice and the means of salvation. It is the Lord who will, who must, provide. Abraham eternalizes this principle by naming the place "YHWH Jireh," which means "The-Lord-Will-Provide." 

As mentioned before, the narrative of Genesis 22 describes the divine test of Abraham in which God asks him to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. This test may be the very apex of Old Testament gospel prefigurations, revealing in advance how both the Father and Son were to be involved in the anguish of the atoning sacrifice. Jesus remarked that " 'Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad' " (John 8:56, NKJV).

When did Abraham see Jesus' day? The apostle Paul quotes from Genesis 22 (vs. 18) and specifically points out that Scripture "announced the gospel in advance to Abraham" (Gal. 3:8, NIV). In the Hebrew of Genesis 22:17, 18, as in Genesis 3:15, the word for "seed" (zera') first is used in a collective sense to refer to numerous descendants and then narrows to a singular meaning (marked by singular pronouns, although some modern translations do not show this) to focus on the one Messianic Seed in whom " 'all the nations of the earth shall be blessed' " (Gen. 22:18, NKJV). The experience of Isaac on Mount Moriah is thus explicitly linked to the sacrifice of the coming Messiah. Paul also points to the sacrificial spirit of the Father, who "did not spare [withhold] His own Son" (Rom. 8:32, NKJV), using the same language as God had twice used of Abraham on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:12, 16). 

Abraham understood in Mount Moriah the meaning of the cross.  The sacrifice of Jesus for the eradication of sin, salvation of humanity, securing of the universe, is not The good news, it is the expression, outworking, effective action of the Good News of who God is! In other words, the good news is about God and His character which is fully expressed in the actions of Christ sacrificing Himself for our salvation. But the good news about God was true before He sacrificed Himself, it was just obscured by Satan's lies. Thus the good news is always about God!  The Good news is God is love - agape (1 John 4: 16).  And, the cross is the most complete and utter demonstration of agape that have ever been revealed to mankind.

Raul Diaz