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As we move off our focus on Christ’s birth and start a new year, it might be a good time to reflect on why our God requires us to sacrifice in order to remove sin. Why did Jesus come as the incarnate sacrifice to end all sacrifices? It is a concept as old as the Bible is itself. There are two parts to look at here. First, what exactly is a sin and second, why it took a sacrifice to remove them from us? 

Look no farther than Genesis Chapter 3:1-4, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 1 At first glance, this is both a deception and a temptation. Until both Eve and Adam acted on the serpent’s trickery, it was not sin yet. Since this is the very first sin of our newly created world, it is worth spending time to look at it closely. Here are a few items to ponder:

  • The serpent, Satan to us, was called crafty, more than any other animals that Adam and Eve were to encounter in their Garden. Deceit is a frequent companion of sin. 
  • God had given Adam and Eve a specific directive, an instruction, that involved their behavior. There was no interpretation necessary here, “Don’t eat from that specific tree!” It was a rather straight forward, easy to understand instruction directly from God.
  • God told them the truth because until such time as they both sinned, they would have lived forever. Once the disobedience occurred, Adam and Eve would succumb to what all humans today must face, death. The consequences of disobedience were serious.

It is worth noting here, that God could have interceded. God could have kept bad things from happening to good people, Adam and Eve, but He did not. The consequences of Adam’s and Eve’s choices were always clear to them. God reiterated  those consequences after their disobedient act and also let the damage done by their choice stand. While the damage would not stand for eternity, God lets humans be free, free to make their choices. It is this inherent freedom that everyone of us would stand up and ask for in our lives that also opens the door to the consequences of poor choices. That is the price of freedom.

  • Satan lied. He misrepresented the risk of disobedience to God’s directive.  Furthermore, the enticement was to “be like God.” One then can conclude that such an attempt to “be like God” is a sin, carrying eternal consequences. The Apostle Paul summarizes it this way in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” This simply means being alienated from the life of God because of our ignorance on account of the hardness of one’s heart. Separation from God is a dangerous state to exist in.
  • Lastly, because mankind was created with free-will, Adam and Eve always had the ability to make a choice. We can choose to eat good food or unhealthy food, do dangerous things and take risks, grab a pot on the stove when our mother tells us it is HOT!  Yes, I still have a scar from that one as a child. Freedom, therefore, is an inherent part of the human race.

We often think of sin as wrongdoing or a transgression of God’s law. Sin usually includes a failure to do what is right, a bad decision. But sin also can be an offense against people. It can include violence and loveless acts toward other people, and ultimately, any rebellious act against God. Sin then involves direct disobedience against our God, in one way or another. Either disobedience to His direct instructions or a heart darkened to the needs of those around us in our world. The Apostle Paul calls out the consequences of failing to glorify God further in  Romans 1:26-32. These are Paul’s words, not my words but it lays out the nature of sin in our world in rather graphic ways, and it defines what happens in our world when God lets us have our own way. We humans, since the beginning of time, have done a terrible job of deciding what is right and wrong. Society tries but history shows we rarely get it right, right enough to please our Creator. Therefore, how can we ever stand before God as imperfect sinners? We alone cannot!

Where did the idea of a sacrifice atoning for sin come from? In fact, just a few verses after Eve and Adam taste the apple, we have the very first sacrifice in our world. Genesis 3:8-9, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” and in verse 21, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Adam and Eve had made a strategic error, they had hidden themselves, they were separated from God because they were now sinful and recognized their own inadequacy.  God’s response is swift, He lays out the consequences of their sinful act to them and then kills two animals, animals that God had created and loved, and covered Adam and Eve with skins so they might be able to join in fellowship with God again. God covered Adam and Eve’s inadequacies and fears.  In these verses, not only was the first sin committed by mankind but the first sacrificial act made expressly for the benefits of mankind. Remember, God still loved them too. This first sacrifice, therefore, was intended to bring Adam and Eve back into fellowship with God, something they could not do alone. It works the same way for us today.

God’s history is filled with love for His creation. He has always tried to keep it simple for us. The text of the Ten Commandments appears twice in the Hebrew Bible: at Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–17. Later, Moses would add to this other laws in our Bible. The Mosaic Law was given specifically to the nation of Israel (Exodus 19; Leviticus 26:46; Romans 9:4). It was made up of three parts: the Ten Commandments, the ordinances, and the worship system, which included the priesthood, the tabernacle, the offerings, and the festivals (Exodus 20—40; Leviticus 1—7; 23). The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to accomplish the following:

  • Reveal the holy character of the eternal God to the nation of Israel (Leviticus 19:2; 20:7–8).
  • Set apart the nation of Israel as distinct from all the other nations (Exodus 19:5).
  • Reveal the sinfulness of man (Galatians 3:19). Although the Law was good and holy (Romans 7:12), it did not provide salvation for the nation of Israel. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20; Acts 13:38–39).
  • Provide forgiveness through the sacrifice/offerings (Leviticus 1—7) for the people who had faith in the Lord in the nation of Israel.
  • Provide a way of worship for the community of faith through the yearly feasts (Leviticus 23).
  • Provide God’s direction for the physical and spiritual health of the nation (Exodus 21—23; Deuteronomy 6:4–19; Psalm 119:97–104).
  • Lastly, to reveal to humanity that no one can keep the Law but everyone falls short of God’s standard of holiness. 

Jewish history would struggle with the idea of acceptable sacrifices to the one and only God, Jehovah. There would always be a struggle to supply sacrifices that were pleasing to God, having nothing to do with His divine need. When Israel would seek to submit to God’s will, however,  that alone seemed to become a source of God’s pleasure. God sought a repentant people but thousands of years of history showed this didn’t work too well and brought us to the realization we must rely on God’s mercy and grace. When Christ came, He fulfilled the Law and with His death paid the penalty for our breaking it (Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4). By faith in Him, the believer has the very righteousness of Christ imputed to Him. Beware, however, that Jesus did not cancel our need for repentance. Unless we grasp His offer of forgiveness and place our faith in the hands of Christ, there is no atonement.

The final test for any sacrificial act was summarized by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” When joy is present, Paul means we achieved the goal of sacrificial stewardship (4 T’s Time, Talent, Treasure, Testimony), and we have moved back into fellowship with our God.

Contemplations

  • Where have you seen, in your lifetime, things that would have been classified as “sinful” become part of mainstream behavior?
    • Ideas to explore: Both within people, governments, our church organizations.
  • Where have you seen mankind’s rules on sin seem to be baseless?
    • Ideas to explore: Friday fish requirements, death without being baptized, denominational differences and demands.
  • What conclusions can you draw about humanity’s ability to fully define what is sinful and what is not sinful?
    • Ideas to explore: Where do we learn what God considers sinful? Is is possible to know all that is wrong to do? Why should we try to know what is wrong in God’s eyes? Didn’t Jesus remove our sins?
  • Why is it not possible for mankind, for people to atone for their own sins?
    • Ideas to explore: We are imperfect, we find it easier to see sin in others than ourselves, consequences are sometimes not clear at first. Are accountable relationships a necessary part of life?
  • Why is it important to understand and believe that Jesus was God, He came and lived without sin?
    • Ideas to explore: Is there a better sacrifice than to live as a human when you are really God and fully understand our temptations in human life? What must we do to be part of the atonement of Christ? If we cannot achieve perfection before God, how do we live lives pleasing to God?
  • Would you relinquish your freedom if there were no consequences, or if all choices were made for you?
    • Ideas to explore: The deception of the utopian world such as socialism, or communism. The impact of freedom on creativity and discovery. Whether any human political system could be fair.

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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