Crossed-Up: Sacrifice Mark 15:25 39
How many of you remember the 1984 commercial with “Fred the Baker” as he got up day after day after day to make the donuts? You would watch him get up, barely awake, and drag himself out the door on the way to make the donuts, then return home from making the donuts…over and over again until he finally meets himself, saying, “It’s time to make the donuts,” and responding to himself, “I made the donuts.” While we all laughed, you could see the weariness on his face as he got up to repeat the same task he has done the previous day.
Despite the humor intended, many of us could sympathize with Fred. Most of us can think of times in our lives where we found ourselves having to repeat the same task or the same job or make the same efforts over and over again. We may not have had to rise before dawn, but the weariness of repetition would set in, especially if the actions we were repeated were because the results of what we had done the first time were only temporary and would not hold. I’ve kind of felt that way with my Toyota lately, taking it to get it worked on because the check engine light was on and it wasn’t running well and I was weeks away from it needing to be inspected. Having the first problem fixed, driving it again only to have the check engine light come immediately back on and having to have it fixed again. Driving it a few days and taking it to be inspected only to be told I needed to drive it some more, and doing so having the light come on again. It began to feel like an endless cycle of a problem occurring, fixing it, only to have a new problem appear. Even now it sits at one of our local repair shops as they try to sort out what exactly we need to do. The weariness has begun to set in—to the point of trying to figure out the equivalent of taking it out behind a barn and borrowing a shotgun.
The author of Hebrews almost offers us a similar picture of the work of the Jewish priests who every year on the Day of Atonement, “And the priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.”[i] We get this image of the work of the priests almost being futile as they would offer sacrifice for the cleansing of God’s people. He would have to do it over and over again, because the work he did one year did nothing for the sins that the people would continue to commit, for they had not been freed from sin, and were still bound to it.
We find ourselves in the midst of our “Crossed-up” series, reflecting on what Mark Driscol calls a “multi-faceted jewel”[ii] and Adam Hamilton suggests is a “masterpiece of art”[iii], a deeper understanding of what Jesus accomplishes on the cross. This is usually referred to as “Atonement” -- the means at which the work of Christ makes us “at-one” with God, freeing us from our sin. Two weeks ago, we considered that what Jesus does on the cross is not something to change God, but rather to confront us with the ugliness of our sin and set before us an example of living out faithfulness to God—calling for a change in us—that was the Subjective or Moral Influence Theory of Atonement. The first week of our series, we recognized that death is the true penalty for sin and that because of our sin, we all deserve death. However, Christ voluntarily went to the cross, taking our punishment upon Himself, and died our death, that we might live. This is the Substitutionary Theory of Atonement—in which Christ takes our place and on the cross, God looks upon Jesus and sees our sin, and looking at us, God sees righteousness, not our own, but the righteousness of Christ.
Today we come to, like the Substitutionary Theory, one of the most widely understood views of the cross, and that is an understanding of the crucifixion, not necessarily as Jesus being a substitute for us (while all the theories of the atonement compliment and are part of one another), but of Jesus being the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sin—the Sacrificial Theory of Atonement.
Since the Fall of humanity in the Garden, animals have been sacrificed as a means of covering sin—just as God slew the creatures whose hides would clothe Adam and Eve. As time moved on and God’s community was established, the sacrifice of sheep, bulls, and goats became a sign by which the community would express their remorse and repentance and seek God’s forgiveness. While sin and guilt sacrifices were brought regularly to the priests, once a year, as we mentioned when we talked about the Substitutionary theory, God’s people would celebrate the Day of Atonement. We briefly mentioned the two goats, focusing on the “scapegoat,” the goat which the priest would lay his hands on, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto that goat, and then the goat was driving from the community, symbolically taking on the sins of the people and removing them. However, before the “scapegoat” was driven from the community, there was the matter of the first goat…the first goat, as a means of expressing the remorse of the people over their sin, and seeking God’s forgiveness, would be sacrificed, and its blood sprinkled upon the altar.
Day after day with regular animal sacrifices as guilt and sin offerings and year after year with the Day of Atonement goat sacrifices, these priests would preside, first in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, in a repetitive ritual of sacrifice for sin. The animal being sacrificed was to be without blemish, symbolizing its innocence and perfection, however it was still an animal and not human…it could not truly be a perfect sacrifice to remove the sins of fallen humanity. Only a perfect human could be the ultimate and perfect sacrifice, and since all of humanity was fallen, there was no sacrifice that could truly cover our sin…that is until Christ, who being both fully human and fully divine offered His own life as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, sacrificed himself that we might be clothed not in animal skins that temporarily cover our sin, but clothed in His righteousness, His blood offered on the cross completely washes away our sin, so that God sees the loving Sacrifice of His Son rather than our sin-filled lives. Just as in the Substitutionary theory of the atonement, once again we see that Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, voluntarily laying down His life for our forgiveness.
And with the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrificial system for sins, was complete. As the author of Hebrews tells us “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And as the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds,’ he also adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”[iv] It is over, it is done, it is finished!
If, in Christ, the final and ultimate sacrifice has been made, and in that sacrifice, our sin has been completely removed, does that mean that we can no longer sin? NO! With our free will, there is constantly the temptation to turn from God, and place ourselves back in the center of the universe thinking everything revolves around us and our desires, and in doing so, we sin again.
However, consider the effects of a sacrifice?
If we were to find out that our parents gave up security in retirement, or even more gave up rest or even meals, that they might be able to send us to college, how would we view our classes and grades? We might not ever miss a class again and strive to find ourselves on the President’s list every semester, that we might honor their sacrifice.
If we watched our spouse give up her career that we might pursue ours, how might we treat our career? We might strive to achieve all that we can so that we can honor her sacrifice?
If we were on our deathbed, needing a kidney transplant in order to live, how might we treat and care for our bodies when our family member, friend, or even a stranger, puts their life on hold and at risk, because they are the only match, and sacrifices one of their kidneys for us? We might make sure that we never do anything that would risk damaging that kidneys, and might be driven to adopt a healthier lifestyle than we had been living.
Their sacrifices don’t force us to work better in school or harder at our careers or take better care of our lives, but to honor what their sacrifices enabled us to do, we can choose to do so.
How much more, then, should we consider the sacrifice of Christ when considering our sin? Should we go on sinning (as Paul was asked) knowing that death of Christ has covered that sin? Should we insult the sacrifice of Christ by saying, “I know that gossip is wrong, I know that stealing is wrong, I know that gambling is wrong, I know that I shouldn’t tell this joke, I know I shouldn’t skip church, I know I shouldn’t, I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to go ahead and do it. I’ll ask God to forgive me later, and He will?
Or should we fall on our knees in remorse, humbly thanking God for the forgiveness that He has offered, and strive toward Christlike perfection in our own lives—maybe never achieving it—but never intentionally mocking the sacrifice of Christ by desiring to sin again.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.