If I were to ask you the first thing that came to mind when I said the word “sacrifice” – what would you say?
Time? Money? Something someone does when they set aside something they really wanted to do? or maybe something more sinister based on a variety of shows out nowadays?
It can be all of these things, and more. For those of you who have some church background or experience, Jesus might be on this list too.
I have been studying the book of Colossians with some friends recently, and part of how Paul describes what Jesus has accomplished in his death and resurrection popped out on the page for me today, so I thought I’d share… but I have to take you BACK a bit before I do that.
In case you haven’t studied the Hebrew Scriptures much, let’s just say that ancient Israel had a pretty regulated sacrificial system in place. Lest you think they were the only ones participating in this, I will just point out that in the Ancient Near East, sacrifice to the gods was a common thing. Some cultures even believed that the gods feasted on the sacrifices offered – yet the Hebrew Scriptures reject this idea pretty clearly (Wenham, p86)
The type of sacrifices offered varied in the ANE world, and they could be a variety of types of animals or birds, yet what could and could not be offered by the Israelites was clearly outlined many places in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. goats, bulls, sheep, doves, grain and oil are all are ok. Your kids? Definite NO… and when the Israelites started to sacrifice their children to the god Marduk every now and like the cultures around them… God got pretty mad. Wouldn’t you??)
One of the things that stands out with regards to the sacrice offered according to the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus, Leviticus) is that the animals had to be “without blemish” – in other words – the top pick of the flock, the one that would win the award at the local livestock show. Why, you ask? Gordon J. Wenham, in his book Exploring the Old Testament, a Guide to the Pentateuch, suggests it is like “serving an excellent meal to an important guest, namely God himself” — even though they knew God didn’t “eat” the meal. Of course there are other reasons theologically for this, but I’ll spare you the details.
I know this sounds odd to our western ears. It’s a foreign culture and we can easily brush it off as ancient and irrelevant.
Yet it wasn’t for Paul when he wrote the book of Colossians. The sacrificial system was alive and well in his day, and he was no doubt well-versed in the rules of the temple system. Granted, corruption abounded even then, but he was a good Jew and would have religiously observed the sacrifices prescribed according to Torah. He knew a sacrifice had to be “without blemish”.
Paul is so confident in the fullness of all that Jesus did in reconciling humanity to God that he writes this: “..now (God) has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ, to present you holy and blameless in his sight” – Colossians 1:22 NIV
But here’s what got me. In looking at those words “holy” and “blameless” in Greek, its really saying we are now, in Christ “a holy thing, a saint” and “blameless, or a sacrifice without blemish” and “beyond reproach, unaccused”
Those are some packed words, my friends, and I think Paul used those specific words intentionally. Think about this for a minute. Paul knew sacrifices had to be without blemish – and here he is saying that is what WE are now, because of what Jesus has done. It’s ancient imagery I know, but thinking about it this way helps me because this is where I think we can get stuck, thinking “Sure God loves me ..but…”
There is no ‘but’ here. Paul speaks confidently about faith and anyone that clings to the work of Jesus, NOW.
—Not what you will be one day when your character is finally “formed like his”
— Not what you will be when you are finally free of the addictions you have that catch you up
— Not when you find a partner or your marriage is fixed or you have more time
— Not when you are no longer dealing with depression and anxiety or any other neuro-diversity that make life harder than it could be
— Not when your orientation changes and you are cis-gender (straight) like the rest of your family and many in your church that don’t understand
— Not when you are finally less angry, less judgey, more justice oriented, more forgiving, more merciful. NOW
I don’t know about you, but for someone who tends to be a perfectionist and am my own worst critic, those are some good words that let me breathe a bit and give me faith to trust a bit more fully.
So my question to you, my friends, is this: How do you think God sees you? With the whole of your life, all your scars and bumps and bruises and neuro-diversity and health issues and insecurities or whatever-else-you-just don’t-like-about-yourself or whatever makes you wonder if you are doing enough for God or living rightly enough.
It’s time to rest and trust that not just what Jesus did is enough… but somehow, cosmically in the great economy of God… you now ARE, in God’s eyes, free of the blemishes that this entire world soaks us in. Let that truth sink in.
Blessings my friends!
Wenham, Gordon J. Exploring the Old Testament, a Guide to the Pentateuch, Vol. 1. InterVarsity Press, 2003