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Sacrifice (1)

By Rev. James Gracie

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 22, April-June 2001.

THERE CAN be no doubt that 'Sacrifice' is central to the biblical message. A look through the Old Testament with its multifarious offerings, given at almost every conceivable juncture in the experience of the Lord's People - both personally and corporately - will convince the unbiased scholar of this fact.

The New Testament serves to confirm this conviction. The teaching of the Lord some six months prior to his death reveals to us the purpose for which He came into this world.

"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." (Matthew 16:21)

Three things follow:

(a) The Certainty of his death - there was no doubt in the mind of the Lord as to the outcome of his going to Jerusalem. He would, "make his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death." The sign of the prophet Jonah, who was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, would be fulfilled in the Son of Man being "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt. 12:40) This was not simply a possible outcome resulting from opposition. This was a certain fact which the Lord now sought to teach the disciples. Even the details of where his death would take place and at whose hands it would arise were clear.

(b) The Necessity of his death - it was not that he would go to Jerusalem. It was that he must go. There was an imperative lying in the very nature of the case. There was first and foremost his obedience to the Father. At every step of the way he declared with the Psalmist, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:8) In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42) His prayer was answered. Judas came with a great multitude with swords and staves to arrest him - this was the will of the Father. Presented with the cup which his Father had given him, would he not drink it? (John 18:11)

There was, secondly, the necessity in reference to what was required to attain the end for which Divine wisdom and love had sent Christ into the world i.e. the salvation of the elect. To redeem his Church, an atonement was indispensable. Everything the Father is, demanded not only a sacrifice but demanded this sacrifice. Law and justice, holiness and goodness, righteousness and truth, wisdom and power, even covenant love and mercy all converged together to demand the satisfaction that only this sacrifice could provide. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" was the testimony just given by Peter (Matt. 16:16). Only the sacrifice of such an unfathomable Person - God manifest in the flesh - could give sufficient dignity and worth to the offering as to answer all questions and to pay all debt. In other words, in order to redeem His people, His atoning sacrifice was essential.

(c) The Lord's Acceptance of Death - here was a most willing sacrifice. Voluntary surrender was at the heart of Calvary. Why did the Father love him? Because he laid down his own life; no man took it from him. (John 10:17-18) When Peter began to rebuke him saying, "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee," he turned, and said unto Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me...." (Matt. 16:22- 23) Die he must, because just as Abraham had bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood, so Christ was bound by the bands of love to his own people. He loved them unto the end. He must die because he must redeem. And in order to redeem he must pour himself out unto death - one drop of his blood would not suffice.

Yet while the Lord begins to unfold to his disciples the certainty and necessity of his death, and his own willingness to face such suffering, the fact that 'without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin' had hitherto been disclosed in the Old Testament prophecies concerning what Christ was destined finally to undergo: his sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension. Indeed, it may be asserted that the disciples were fools and slow of heart in not believing all that the prophets had spoken: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?"

Types of Sacrifice

There are two distinct types of sacrifice normally identified in scripture. The first is the offering of clean animals or blood sacrifices. The second is the offering of the fruit of the earth or bloodless sacrifice. However, there is a third type of sacrifice which is neither bloody nor inanimate. The Apostle Paul represents personal dedication as a living sacrifice, when he says: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

Thus, the very first sacrifice we are confronted with in Scripture is the bloodless offerings of Adam in the Garden of Eden where he offered up himself as a living sacrifice. Adam was not only a prophet and King - naming the animals and having dominion over the creation - but was a priest offering up the sacrifices of his heart and lips. His devotion to God was entire. His sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving needed no blood component - no sin came between him and his maker. God would meet with Adam. Was the voice of the LORD God not heard walking in the garden in the cool of the day? (Genesis 3:8) And was Adam's prayer not set forth before Him as incense, and the lifting up of his hands as the evening sacrifice?

A true sacrifice requires three things: knowledge of the one to whom the sacrifice is offered; a meticulous approach to the particulars of the sacrifice itself; and dedication on the part of the offerer. Adam possessed all three:

(i) He had an intimate knowledge of God. His sacrifice was not as the Athenians - to the unknown God. He was able to distinguish between the creature and the Creator, so as to worship the latter and not the former. This knowledge was spiritual. Part of Adam's condemnation when he fell is that he had spiritual knowledge of God. He was not ignorant of the one against whom he sinned. Indeed, while fallen man today has no spiritual knowledge of God, even he is condemned - not because he is ignorant of truth - but rather in knowing the truth he holds such truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18)

(ii) He was meticulous in his approach to God. Adam walked in righteousness. This is unquestionably the case when one considers the meticulous arrangements given regarding the erection of the tabernacle, and the unambiguous details given regarding the various offerings of the Old Testament. The case of Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu, illustrates the point. While they offered fire before the Lord, it was fire 'which he commanded them not'. They were both consumed.

(iii) He was dedicated to God. He was a living sacrifice, fully dedicated to the service God. He presented and devoted all the powers and faculties of his soul, and members of his body, with all readiness and willingness, to the service of God for his honour and glory. In other words, Adam was holy, and he offered up a holy sacrifice as he offered up himself.