Why did Jesus have to die? Part 3
We are creatures with an awareness of time passing. We want to make sure it continues to go well for us, so we sacrifice parts of the present in exchange for profitable returns in the future. In today’s terms, we may refer to this as the practise of delayed gratification; we anticipate accruing benefits, but in order to gain that reward there is a price to be paid in the present – a trade has to be made.
What do we sacrifice for a greater reward in the future? –
The freedom of our youth to get jobs to sustain us in our old age?
Resisting eating junk food to get into shape?
Refraining from multiple, casual relationships to commit to one person in marriage?
Cutting back on long-distance travel to help tackle climate change?
In fact, by making sacrifices, it gives us the motivation to keep trying to achieve what we most want. If you sacrifice half-heartedly to accomplish your goal then, chances are, you don’t have the oomph to succeed. But if you sacrifice precious time with your family, for example, to pursue fame and stardom, then it may inspire you to keep striving towards your goal to make it worth the cost. Imagine one day, inviting your family to sit on the front row when you receive your Oscar – will it then have been worth the sacrifice?
The concept of sacrifice runs throughout the Bible. It was common practise for ancient civilisations to perform animal sacrifice; they hoped to appease the gods with the blood of a living thing. Why blood? Blood could be seen as the most valuable thing on the planet – it represents life itself. Think how highly you value your family and friends lives over the contents of your bank account (hopefully!). King David in the Bible said, “I will not offer the Lord my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing”. In Genesis, God looked on Abel’s animal sacrifice with favour but was displeased with Cain’s sample of crops; one cost a lot more than the other. Abel was committed, Cain was half-hearted. The theory is that you have to sacrifice that which means most to you, to hope to gain an even greater prize.
Often blood was seen as the highest value commodity because of what it represents. This is why many ancient civilisations engaged in child sacrifice (the firstborn son was considered most valuable in those cultures). The God of the Bible frequently states that He detests child sacrifice unlike the many gods worshipped throughout the ancient Middle Eastern region. In fact, God removed the Canaanites from their land (after 400 years of allowing them time to change their ways) because of their insistence to keep sacrificing their children (amongst other sins) and gave it instead to the newly-freed Israelite slaves from Egypt.
When the Israelites resided in the land, God instructed them to offer five shekels of silver to “redeem their firstborn sons". Why? Maybe so they wouldn’t be enticed to follow the evil practises of the Canaanite land they inherited. They desired to offer sacrifices just like the nations before them – they were likely to theorise that if you crave the ultimate prize in life, you have to offer the ultimate sacrifice and what is more ultimate than the life of your kids?! Through redeeming the firstborn sons for five shekels of silver, God was offering the Israelites a way out from this perverted temptation. However, through the Law of Moses, God did instruct the Israelites to perform regular animal sacrifices to Him until Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was to end the practise forever. Does this portray God as petty and bloodthirsty for demanding this?
The process of sacrificing an animal allowed the Israelites to face up to the seriousness of the debt they owed their Creator and the high price that was required for settling the account. It encouraged the realisation that through their actions they had messed up the planet, their families, and themselves and it needed to be put right. It meant asking for forgiveness that was costly not cheap. Sacrificing an animal showed they meant business – by giving the one thing that meant the most to them in an agricultural society. Through this, they paid back their debt to the Universe that they had stolen from, or marred, and caused someone to suffer as a result. It stoked a desire to balance the books. It was a substitute, instead of offering their own life as payment; like saying to God “I could give you myself to settle the debt or hopefully you will accept that which I treasure most instead?”
It was not God’s desire that ancient civilisations offer endless animal sacrifices. God says in Isaiah: "The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me? I have more than enough of burnt offerings; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs and goats.” God would far rather we pursue righteousness and never have to pay the cost for our misdeeds. God says “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”. But this was the cost for creating us. Our sin did not take God by surprise. In His Omniscience, He knew exactly how it was going to pan out. It was risky creating humans and gifting them with freewill to do exactly what they wanted for a limited time. But God committed Himself to the journey and had the rescue mission planned in advance for the collateral damage that would follow. He knew the collective debt that would be accrued by the human race and envisaged a way of paying it – Jesus was “the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world”.
Our Universe demands payment. A physical law of our Universe is that Energy can’t be created or destroyed. Yet human moral actions appear to have the potential to upset and effect the balance that the physical laws are designed to maintain. Maybe the Law of Sacrifice is an undiscovered physical feature of our universe: if you take a life, the universe is owed one in return to balance the books. Isn’t that what justice means, which we all understand and fight for? If you steal, someone is owed it back; even kids understand these ethics. You get one temporary life and through it you accrue quite a debt from the wrong choices you make (like taking energy out of the Universe, which is theoretically impossible – humans have done the impossible/the unnatural and it needs to be put right). The universe really does suffer as a result until someone pays the cost.
Not convinced? Animal sacrifice in particular seems such a primitive idea nowadays, yet many of us are meat-eaters -- is that such a dissimilar idea? We take the life of another animal so we can grow stronger and survive. The animal pays the cost for our life. Maybe ancient civilisations would think we are the primitive ones as we don’t even slaughter the animals ourselves. We don’t get up close and see what the bloody cost of our lives is to another life-form. We are happy to just reap the benefits in a clean, clinical transaction.
If you don’t fix the problem areas in your life, chances are they will inevitably get worse (subject as everything is to the Law of Decay). Who is currently paying the 'cost' for your mistakes?
Our children, going through messy parental divorces?
Communities in Bangladesh, that are flooded more frequently due to our bad environmental choices in the West?
Our colleagues, when we pull sickies?
Acquaintances, when we gossip about them and tarnish their reputations?
Us, when we neglect our roles and responsibilities?
Our friends, when we tell white lies to protect them but end up making things worse?
It is hard to live in such a way that a sacrifice for your behaviour isn’t needed at some point down the line or that your life doesn't exact a cost from another. How many people have died in wars so we could live freely today; how many sew our clothes in sweatshop conditions so we can save money on essentials to spend on frivolities; how many grow/pick our crops under slave conditions so we can live comfortably?
The concept of Sacrifice has always been with us. The way to absolve debts once seemed primitive (via animal sacrifice) but the same principle is still required of us today. We don’t live in a Universe of unlimited resources and potential. It operates along the laws of Cause and Effect. We’ve all heard the phrase "you don’t get something for nothing". This is the simplest version of the physical Law of Sacrifice – if you want 'x’, you have to offer 'y' in return. There is a process of cost-benefit analysis built into the fabric of the Universe. It applies if you want something for the future, or you want to correct mistakes from your past; a payment from the present is needed – a sacrifice. Why has it been designed this way?
Maybe it is to give us the opportunity to experience God’s Grace and realise that it is unlike anything else in our Universe – it operates along a completely different set of principles. His Grace is a free gift with no-strings attached. We don’t have to sacrifice anything because Jesus has offered the sacrifice on our behalf. The Law of Moses was revealed to show people their sin. There is a standard of moral behaviour to abide by and none of us keeps it perfectly. When we break it, the Universe suffers -- the Bible teaches that Creation is under a curse because of us. The responsibility entrusted to us is overwhelming. This isn’t a dress rehearsal or a simulation to mitigate the effects, like virtual killings in video games. Our actions can really harm or really heal each other. God leaves us to our own devices for a time to see what is in our hearts.
The Law of Sacrifice allows us time to try and fix our problems by ourselves. Hopefully through this experience we gain insight that we lack the capabilities to do this effectively. We continue to mess up (because we are not perfect) and keep sacrificing something of value to try to right the wrong, until we realise that we aren’t the infinite, unlimited God and we will never have enough resources to settle the score. The Bible speaks of a new future dimension available to those whose debts to the current universe have been written-off. The Law of Sacrifice enables us to fully understand the high cost that God paid so that we could go free and enter this New Creation. Jesus’ death on the Cross holds the answer…
References & Footnotes  2 Samuel 24:24  Hebrews 11:4-6, Genesis 4:4  Lev 18:21, Deut 12:31, 18:10, 2 Kings 21:6, Jer 7:31  Genesis 15:13-16 (Amorites being synonymous with Canaanites) Lev 18:25 (whole chapter 18) 2 Kings 16:3  Lev 27:6  There were different forms of animal sacrifice (such as whole burnt offerings) but the most common involved eating the meat from the sacrificed animal afterwards. It wasn’t a wasteful practise. Some might say it is very similar to meat-eating today (killing an animal to consume it so you can live), the only difference is one is done to worship God, while without this, it is worship of self?!  Isaiah 1:11  Hosea 6:6  Rev 13:8  Romans 7:7-13  Romans 8:20-22  Proverbs 17:3, Jer 17:10, 1 Sam 16:7, 1 Cor 4:5  Romans 3:23  Romans 6:23, Matt 25:46, John 5:24, John 3:36, Luke 21:35  1 Peter 1:18-19, 2:24, 2 Cor 5:21, Romans 5:8, Isaiah 53:5, 1 Cor 6:20,