4th Sunday in Lent, March 30, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Genesis 22:1-13; John 10:7-18; Romans 12:1
So, What’s the Story? “Let’s Talk about Sacrifice”
“God of love and faithfulness, help Your people to be loving, especially to those who are least loved, and inspire Your people to be faithful, especially in the most challenging times, that with our lives as well as our voices we will sing Your praise and show Your glory. Amen .”
We are now way past the half-way post for celebrating the Season of Lent. What’s the main way most people remember this season? We “give something up for Lent”, right? The idea is to make a sacrifice that we practice every day for 40 days, and in our “sacrifice” we recount our sins and repent, and maybe we commit to do something for others with the money or time we have saved by our “sacrifice”.
“Sacrifice”! Does that sound barbaric, or old-fashioned, or uncomfortable to you? What is this deal about “sacrifice”? That’s a great question.
In a couple of weeks we will confirm a few new members to our church fellowship, and that’s always exciting. These folks have gone through a “new member class”, and some of them have been in the Church for a long time, a few are much newer to their faith. But, no matter who is “joining” the church, one of the things we talk about in class deals with each person’s faith.
“What do you believe?” If I don’t ask that question quite that pointedly, we do get to it in conversation. And, while not everyone can articulate it perfectly clearly, Christians need to have an understanding of Christ on the cross, and why that is important.
In these weeks leading up to Easter we are taking the time to look at the whole Bible and see how, from Genesis through Revelation, it is knit together as a singular story covering thousands of years, written by dozens of authors, in a few different languages, across hundreds of miles.
On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, He walked with two of His disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus and explained to them, from Moses and the Prophets, how He was the ultimate fulfillment of everything Scripture talks about. So this week, we are looking at the biblical theme of Sacrifice, and seeing how it follows from Moses to the Messiah to you and me.
The lesson that is illustrated, explained, given rules for, demonstrated, and finally accomplished, is that sin requires a sacrifice. We do not have the time to look at every incident of biblical sacrifice this morning, but we will highlight a few and talk in generalities about the whys and the wherefores.
Who knows when the first “sacrifice” happens in the Bible? It is very early on – in Genesis 3. Right after Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – the “forbidden fruit” – they realized they were naked and they became ashamed. Verse 21 says, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
How did God make “garments of skin”? The first physical deaths on earth had to happen. Something had to die to “cover their sin”. “To cover” is the basic meaning of the word “atonement”. Adam and Eve were “covered” as an “atonement” for their sin.
Paul tells us in Romans 3, “The wages of sin is death.” Sin, apparently, requires death as a means of ultimate justice.
Let’s jump down to Genesis 22. The themes we have followed through the Bible so far are, Creation, the Fall, and Love. Today we follow the theme of Sacrifice. Last week, in the theme of Love, we watched as God called Abram out of idolatry and into covenant relationship with Him, and God chose Abram and his descendents, to be a great nation, and He called them to be a blessing, and even to bring about a Savior to the whole world. Ten chapters later, when Abraham’s only true son is probably coming to the age of accountability, we come to Genesis 22:1-13 …. —-
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
• Because God is holy – and holiness and unholiness cannot abide together – sin requires being “covered up”, an atoning sacrifice – sin is a debt that we cannot repay, but that God offers a way out through sacrifice.
• Because we live in a world surrounded by sin, through and through, God has required some kind of meaningful sacrifices to “cover/atone for” sins we may not even be aware we have committed.
• This is God’s way of loving us – holding us accountable and giving us a way out of “death”.
• In this story, the sacrifice required is the very means by which God has promised to bless the whole world! Abraham’s only legitimate offspring – through whom it appears God will build a nation with as many people as there are stars in the sky, and through whom, eventually, there will be a particular offspring whose sacrifice will be an atonement for the whole world – must die!
• But God provides a scapegoat – a substitute ram – for the atoning sacrifice.
The Old Testament is then filled with examples of and rules for these sacrifices. The Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy have chapter upon chapter of “how-to” instructions for making sacrifices. The reason why Jews today do not offer sacrifices on the altar, the only reason why, is because their Temple, and therefore their altar, was destroyed in AD70! The Jews have had no place to legitimately offer their atoning sacrifices for over 1,940 years!
Now, let’s jump 2,000 years. Scholars tell us that Moses lived about 2,000 years BC, and tradition says that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, so for the sake of simplicity, let’s jump the 2,000 years from Moses to Jesus, where we find yet another “story-telling of Sacrifice” in John 10:7-18 …. —-
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
• At the same location that God showed His love to Abraham and Isaac by stopping the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, God showed His love to the world by not stopping the sacrifice of His own Son for the sake of His people!
• While on the cross Christ called out, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?!” Why would that be His cry? Because by dying for our sins, by covering our backs, by atoning our debts, even the Son of God was separated from the Father! My sin put Jesus on the cross … to die … for me! GK Chesterton, a great Roman Catholic theologian from 100 years ago, asked, “What is wrong with this world? I am.”
• Jesus is the substitutionary atonement. He has covered my debt! Because He required it, He paid for it!
• Oh man, our God is an awesome God!
• Presbyterians do not even have an “altar” in our sanctuaries. That was not an oversight, it was totally on purpose! We do not have an altar because, Hebrews tells us, Jesus was the ultimate, the once-for-all, sacrifice! Hebrews 7:27, “Jesus sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Heb. 9:12, “Jesus did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Heb. 9:26, “Jesus has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Heb. 10:10, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Toward the end of his life, the Apostle John wrote a few letters that we have in the back of our New Testaments. Last week we made reference to the verse that says God is love. Let me read to you, again, that verse and a few that follow:
I John 4:8-10, 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed His love for us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
The Apostle Paul followed that up with a little, “so what?” answer. “Thank You Jesus for paying my debt, I appreciate it, and now I guess I can live however I want….” Well, John just said in I John 4:10, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”, so it’s not exactly a free-for-all. Paul said it this way, in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
What have you given up for Lent? Was it truly a sacrifice? Can it be for longer than just the 6 or 7 weeks of Lent? Can you offer up your bodies as a “living sacrifice”?
Jesus said we must take up our cross and follow Him. We have too often interpreted that to mean we just have to live with whatever life burdens are put on us. “Well, I have Type 1 Diabetes, I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” Nope! That’s just a pain in the back-side to have to bear. A cross would be something I volunteer to carry, as a sacrifice, for my Savior! To show that I love Him and am willing to live for Him and even to die for Him. This is the “works” that James is talking about when he says that “faith without works is dead.”
The Good News of Christianity is that on the cross Jesus Christ accomplished salvation! He made [perfect and complete] atonement for [our] sin.
The only question is, did He do this for you? Jesus said that He gave His life as a ransom for many. Are you among the many? Jesus said that He laid His life down for His sheep. Who are His sheep? They are those who listen to His voice and respond to His call. Last week we read John 3:18, which says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.”
One of the most amazing pictures of sacrifice in the Bible is found in Revelation 5. There we learn that Jesus Christ, whose death was planned by God since the foundation of the world, will for all eternity bear the marks of His sacrifice. The Lamb who was slain, the Old Testament image of the sacrificial lamb, the blood on the Passover doorposts, the sin sacrifice in the Temple, is the image to which we are being conformed. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we will be an eternally living sacrifice of praise to the One who alone is worthy of praise, Christ, our Passover, the Lamb who was slain but now lives forevermore.
If you are a Christian – know that you are loved! God has chosen you … and has saved You through His Son’s death on the cross!
If you are not a Christian believer, but you think you might want to be – know that you, too, are loved. God wishes that no one would be outside His love – all you need do is accept it, and then know that God has chosen you … and has saved you through His Son’s death on the cross! Amen.
Lawrence, Michael; Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church; Crossway; Wheaton, IL; 2010; Pp. 153-164.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 363.
Wheeler, Mark; The Ledger newsletter; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; 03/2014.