Expanding our Understanding of Sacrifice
Too often our view of Jesus’s death is narrow, constrictive. We can focus almost exclusively on the forgiveness of sins as the reason for Jesus’s death. Heading into Good Friday and Easter, can we expand our understanding of Jesus’s death?
When our focus is too narrow, two things inevitably happen. I see this time and again when I teach the theology classes at Northern Seminary.
First, when we see his death exclusively as forgiving our sins, then Jesus’s death becomes disconnected from the rest of our lives. His death forgives sin, but can I really be free from the power of sin? And, how can I find meaning and purpose for my life? Or where can I find a place to belong? Too often these kinds of questions are left unanswered by Jesus’ death.
Second, many just can’t get their mind around the idea that God demands death in order to save us. For some, the idea of sacrifice sounds barbaric. And the idea that sacrifice somehow appeases an angry God seems so far from describing a God of love. Blood and sacrifice aren’t words that are typically associated with loving-kindness.
“Eww! Blood.” *Cue smelling salts*
One evening, during dinner, our five year old son managed to fall out of his chair. This, in itself, wasn’t very unusual. He often got up, slipped off, or fell from his chair. He just couldn’t sit still.
But this time he did something remarkable—and terrifying. With his arm, as he was falling, he managed to knock off a jar of water. The glass jar fell first and exploded on the ground. Our son then came toppled after and landed on the broken shards, gashing one of his arms. There was blood all over the floor.
My wife sprang into action. She wrapped his arm and we sped off to the 24-hour clinic. Several stitches and quite a few tears later, everything was fine. Crisis averted.
After everything calmed down, my wife turned to me and asked, “What would have happened if you had to deal with all that blood by yourself?”
You see, I don’t do so well with blood. I get sick seeing it. I get squeamish hearing people talk about it. I even get uncomfortable just reading about blood.
And my wife was worried I wouldn’t be able to take care of the kids if there was a medical disaster and she wasn’t nearby. And I guess she has good reason (but I would be fine…I think).
Nothing But the Blood
Maybe I’m not the only one with an aversion to blood. But this is why I have trouble singing songs that focus so much on the blood of Jesus.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
(From “Nothing But the Blood”)
Certainly I want my sin washed away, and I want to be made whole again. But, oh, so much blood.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
(I’m getting a little dizzy just typing that one out…I’m not kidding).
Is There More to Jesus’s Death?
I want to affirm that Jesus’s blood, that Jesus’s death is integral to the forgiveness of sin. This is a biblical idea. And I’m grateful for this forgiveness. Very grateful.
But is there more?
I believe there is more to Jesus’s death. In fact, I’m not even sure forgiveness of sins is the most important thing about the death of Jesus (at least not as we often think of forgiveness).
Let me explain the three forgotten reasons Jesus died (for more, see this 4-day mini-course on the death of Jesus). I want to affirm that Jesus’s blood is integral to the forgiveness of sin. This is a biblical idea. And I’m grateful for this forgiveness. But this isn't the whole story or picture. Here's 3 forgotten reasons Jesus died. Click To Tweet
Jesus Died for Freedom
Scripture says—and our experience confirms—that we are slaves to sin, captives of a power that pushes us to do what we do not want to do (Rom. 7). And Jesus died to free us from this power of sin.
It goes back to God delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. God liberated Israel through the Passover sacrifice—a sacrifice of protection and ransom (see Ex. 12:12-13; Deut. 7:7-8).
Jesus understood his own death as a ransom (Mark 10:45). And more importantly, Jesus died during the Passover festival. Jesus linked his death to the liberating sacrifice of the Passover. But now Jesus is rescuing us not merely from slavery in Egypt, but slavery to sin and death.
Jesus died so we could be free.
Jesus Died for Family
After freeing Israel from slavery God enters into a new relationship with Israel. This is often called a covenant—but we could understand it as entering a new family. God often talks about Israel as either his first-born or as his bride. Either way, God and Israel are all family now!
And Jesus, during the Last Supper, says that his death is the new covenant through which the family of God and humanity will be formed (Mark 14:24). It is for this reason that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray to God as their “Father” (Matt. 6:9).
So Jesus died so we could enter a new family.
Jesus Died for Fellowship
Now this one might seem like a stretch, but it is true. We have to look to the Old Testament context of the daily sacrifices. Israel was commanded to offer God one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the evening, every day. This was a witness that God was the God of Israel who had promised to dwell in their midst forever (Ex. 29:42-46).
It was a sacrifice of fellowship offered every day.
And Jesus, during the Last Supper, told his disciples to take the bread and the cup and to do these things in remembrance of Jesus. But not just to remember Jesus (as if he wasn’t there), but actually to participate, to fellowship with Jesus who was in their midst (1 Cor. 10:16).
So Jesus died as a fellowship offering given to build up the community of the family.
Jesus Died for Forgiveness
And of course, Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins. This seems so well understood that you might think further comment would be unnecessary.
However, one last comment is necessary. Forgiveness of sin is not what starts a relationship with God. Forgiveness of sin is what maintains a relationship with God.
This is true of Israel’s relationship with God. And it is true with our relationship with God.
In Jesus, God frees us from sin, draws us into a new family, and offers us regular fellowship. And when we blow it, God also offers us forgiveness. God does the work to keep us in relationship—God bears the burden.
Good Friday and Easter
As we move toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday, can we expand our understanding of Jesus’s death? Can we appreciate the extent he went to, not just to forgive our sins, but to free us from sin, to bring us into a new family, and to have regular fellowship with us?
Truly, this is an act of love. God “demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Pastors and preachers - as we approach Good Friday and Easter let us keep these facets of Jesus's death and resurrection before our people in our teaching and preaching! Click To Tweet