A Bloody Religion
In the early days of western expansion, there was a small town which had been settled by the amish. The town was soon taken over by cattle rustlers, cutthroats and lowlives who took advantage of the amish' nonviolent ways. A call went out for help. That call was answered by the heroic Justin Cayse, a stallion with a fast draw and a mean kick. Using both his firearms and his fighting skills, he cleared all of the criminals out of the town in a matter of hours. Instead of thanking their liberator, the amish threw him out because he had used violence to complete his mission.
Incidently, I have nothing against the amish. Many of my relatives are amish.
Not long ago, we talked about two future world wars- Armageddon and Ragnarok. In the latter, the world is completely destroyed. In the former, it's much worse. The wrath of God ends the last two eras with unspeakable violence. To much of the world, this is quite unpalattable. Shinto, for example, is a steady-state religion. That is to say that in their world view, things have pretty much always been as they are now, and will continue to be this way. They have no concept of Ragnarok. Thus, Christianity is viewed as a violent religion. In China, the government attempts to weaken the position of the church by telling everyone that Christians desire to actively bring about the end of the world. (Yes, I know I split an infinitive. I did it on purpose.) Poppycock, of course. Yet they are right on one point. We do have a bloody religion.
The bloodiness of our religion goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. Why was abel's sacrifice more acceptable than Cain's? Because blood was spilled. In Exodus, when God fought against Egypt, the Hebrews were required to paint their door jambs with the blood of a lamb. If they did not, the angel of death would strike their firstborn sons. Centuries afterward, the Jews continue to offer sacrifice for sin. In Judeo-Christianity, there is no remission of sin without the blood of the innocent being spilled. To the casual observer, this just isn't right.
Speaking as though I were a citizen of the world, if I commit a sin, it is my responsibility to pay for it, right? It's not Jesus' responsibility, and it sure as heck doesn't fall to some poor sheep who never hurt anyone in his life.
Why does God like blood so much? Is he some kind of crazy sadist? Of course not. Both Malachi and Jesus quote God as saying "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Our good behavior is far more important to Him than the blood of animals. So why does He demand sacrifice?
God demands sacrifice because He is holy. He cannot associate with sin. Sin must be punished. We can't take the punishment ourselves because we simply are not capable of enduring it. The only way we can be saved is if someone else bears the punishment. Now suppose there were some creature locked away somewhere who was punished for our sins. Every time one of us sinned, he got zapped with a painful 40 million volts, and none of us ever knew about it. Technically, there is punishment here, but what would be the point? We'd go out and do whatever we want because we would never know the creature being punished in our stead.
When a jew made a sacrifice at the temple, it was to be HIS OWN. A bull from his herd or a sheep from his flock, or a turtledove which he bought and paid for. The passover lamb went a step further. It was supposed to be kept at home until it was slaughtered. The person making the sacrifice was meant to get to know this creature personally. The sacrifice of that lamb was meant to impress on the owner that sin equals death. Because he sinned, this lamb, whom he knew and perhaps even loved, would die.
Now some jews look at this and they believe that they are atoning for their own sins. It was his lamb, it was his loss, therefore, he is paying for it. These people miss the point entirely. If the point is merely to take a loss, why kill the lamb? Why not sell it and donate the money? Or better yet, sell something of equal value? It has to be an animal and it has to die, because the sacrifice has a very important meaning.
We in the Christian church know that the blood of bulls and sheep has no power to save. What does have the power to save is the blood of Jesus. The sacrifice of animals points to the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. It is only His blood that can save. And here is why.
God is absolutely holy. To be reconciled to Him after sin takes an act of atonement and repentance so complete and absolute that not one of us sinners is capable of doing it. Our finite and sinful minds simply do not have the capability. Only one who is completely innocent and holy Himself could ever accomplish such a task. That was why Jesus had to die in our place. And like a father who takes a child's hand in his own to teach him how to write, so Jesus takes our hearts in His and takes us through the motions of atonement. He does the work, we get the credit, and by doing it this way, we learn what that act of complete repentence entails and eventually, as we are transformed by living in His example and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we slowly are transformed into people for whom that repentence is real. It probably won't happen this side of the grave, but it will happen.
Is our religion bloody? Yes. But the blood is not our own, nor is it the blood of our enemies. The blood which powers our faith is blood that was shed for our salvation by one who loves us. It is given freely, and all one has to do to receive the redemption that this sacrifice affords us is accept it.
Today's reading: Hebrews 10:1-10
10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.