God needs a Sacrifice….r u crazy?
Who needs a Sacrifice?
On Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark maintains (Mark 11:11) that after Jesus “cased the joint”, that it “was already late”, so Jesus leaves Jerusalem and regroups for the night in the town of Bethany. When he goes back the next day, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ great act of defiance, turning over the money changers and driving out those selling sacrificial animals. (Mark 11:15-17) Why does he do this? Is it simply commercialization of the Temple that gets him mad as hell? Did he want to start a riot? The answer is simple! In seeking the answer, we get the bonus of a fuller understanding of the Bible!
Since times of old, for thousands of years, various communities offered sacrifices to please the gods. We find that strange. Today who does that? Crazy people.
Animal Sacrifice is clearly commanded by God in the Hebrew Scriptures. We read it in a variety of places. A classic example occurs when God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses. (Ex 20:22-24). God says to Moses:
Exodus 20:22-24 (NRSV)
22 The LORD said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: 23 You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.
Pretty Clear that God wants burnt offerings and sacrifices. I could show you more verses commending the same thing, God wants sacrifices.
The Prophets come along years later and condemn the practice of sacrifices as something God does not like! They should not oppose the word of God!!!!
Hosea on behalf of God says, Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Amos says on behalf of God, “21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21)
Micah says on behalf of God, “6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This tells me two very important things. ONE, the Bible is not a linear progression of thought, instead it is the reflections and thinking of different people, at different times, who understand God differently. The prophets clearly call into question the sacrificial system, even though God commands Moses to instruct the Israelites to sacrifice. TWO, Jesus is in line with the prophets before him. Instead of using words to condemn the sacrificial system, he uses actions! He enters the temple during the festival of Passover and over turns the tables.
Jesus wanted to do away with the crazy practice that God needed a sacrifice in order make ones’ relationship with God whole, right, or pure. The prophets are clear, Jesus is clear, God wants our hearts, God wants acts of Justice, God doesn’t need sacrifices!
WAIT ONE MORE PROPHET TO CONDEMN THIS SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM:
In Isaiah we read, “11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Isaiah 1:11-12
Wow, Isaiah not only condemns the practice of sacrifices, Isaiah says, God asks, “Who asked this from your hand?” Does God really need to know who commanded sacrifices?……..Well the Bible says, you did God! God said it to Moses when he was giving him the 10 Commandments. Did God forget that? (Exodus 20:22-24). I’ll leave that for reflection later.
Most important is why then do we think Jesus was a sacrifice, when God claims to want no more sacrifices! Jesus’ actions in the temple was a vivid demonstration against the religious sacrificial system. Jesus wanted it destroyed. He wanted to end the practice.
Unfortunately, after Jesus’ death, people conditioned to understand the need for sacrifice used their understanding to explain Jesus’ death as a sacrifice God demanded. Some Bible authors of the New Testament got it wrong right out of the gate. Within one or two generations….early Christians used their old thoughts, theologies, and practices to explain Jesus death.
We need to go back, way back, and rethink Jesus death as a sacrifice. Sacrifice is important in life. Some people sacrifice with their lives for a purpose, for a cause, or for someone else. That is a high calling and commitment.
God just never needed a human sacrifice to love humanity. We need to stop this terrible theology and rearticulate the theology of the cross. I heard it best from author and pastor, Brian Zahnd, “The cross is not what God does, the cross is who God is!” Profound. God did not have a plan to kill Jesus to appease his anger against humanity, to forgive our sin, to make us right with God. We are right with God just as God created us to be. Instead, in the cross we see what God does, God does not seek revenge, but forgives, God does not strike the other cheek, but turns away and accepts the evil actions humans inflict upon one another. God absorbs and takes hatred upon God-self. This is the only way to stop violence, evil, and hatred in our world. The cycle will never stop, and the Kingdom will never come if we can’t embrace and sacrifice our need for revenge and retribution.
You don’t need to believe in a God who demands a human sacrifice! You can choose to follow the path of Jesus and sacrifice your pride, hatred, and instead seek love and reconciliation. That is what God does!