Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When is a sacrifice really a sacrifice?

The Hard Questions

As a Christian, I am called to give an answer to every man for the hope that lies within me. That hope, is the saving capability of a Messiah who paid the penalty for my sin. A savior who died on the cross and was subsequently raised from the dead to conquer death for eternity.
Of course, that doesn't mean that I can totally grasp all that there is to know about God or even the salvation he offers. God is incomprehensible. How can that which is finite (the human mind with it's limitations) completely grasp the infinite? I cannot conceive of something that has always existed, yet logically something must have been here to "start" everything else. It would take a leap of faith at least as big as the leap the leads me to God to deny the existence of a Creator. I've always heard that we are granted a measure of faith by God. I'm not sure how true that is, but one thing I do know is that we seem, as humans, to put our faith in something. If not God, then something else.

Still, it can throw me off to be confronted with a question that I haven't really had to answer before. Sometimes it isn't even that I don't know the answer, but that the answer simply hasn't been put together in my mind in a way that it can be explained to someone else. It's one thing to know something for yourself, and another entirely to communicate it adequately to a third party. Even so, I still love the fact that the questions of that nature challenge me to think, to know what I believe and why, and to help me learn to give "every man an answer."

A few weeks back (or was that more than a month ago?), I was asked one of those difficult questions. An online friend asked what the sacrifice was if Christ knew he would be raised from the dead when he was crucified. What did he sacrifice? It was a legitimate question; and one that started me thinking. At first I wasn't sure what to say. I know that Christ did sacrifice on our behalf, but I really didn't know how to convey the depth of that sacrifice in a meaningful way to someone else.

After careful consideration, the first thing that came to my mind was to answer the question with a question. It is something Jesus did often, and the Apostle Paul was pretty adept at asking rhetorical questions in his letters. So my question is this, "What sort of sacrifice would it be if you were to be put to death on the cross knowing that you would be resurrected? If your life is forfeited only to be regained later, is it still not a sacrifice? Wouldn't it be suffering enough? What if you were innocent of any wrongdoing? Would that matter?" O.K. So that is more than one question.

Perhaps it would help to define exactly what it is that "sacrifice" means, so I looked it up on http://www.dictionary.com/. Several of the definitions given do, in fact, fit the definition of sacrifice in the sense of Christ's sacrifice via the crucifixion.
Sacrifice (n) 1. the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage2. the person, animal or thing so offered3. the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.4. the thing so surrendered or devoted(Defs. 5 and 6 didn't apply at all.)
I've read what it's like to be hung on a cross. It's hardly a pleasant experience. http://www.answers.com/topic/crucifixion?hl=jesus&hl=cross
To be beaten, mocked, rejected by those closest to you, and left naked, publicly humiliated and tortured in one of the most cruel and painful deaths imagineable to me would be sacrifice no matter how one puts it whether that death later results in resurrection, it still qualifies as a sacrifice in my mind. But from what I have read, it goes deeper.

I just finished reading Story: Recapture the Mystery by Steven James. This is how he puts it:
"In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew he would be experiencing the worst punishment hell had to offer. That's why his agony was so real and his grief was so deep. Jesus had begged God for another way to rescue his bride, but the all-knowing God could think of no Plan B. If there had been any other way, he wouldn't have let his Son die. God isn't sadistic or vindictive. He is love itself.
So, in the tragic and glorious logic of love, God knew of no other way than this to both punish sins and to forgive them, Justice and mercy met on the cross.
I don't think the deepest scars, the greatest pains Jesus felt that day were from the barbed whips flaying his back, or the nails biting through his skin, or the thorns slicing into his scalp, or the thirst clutching at his throat. I think the greatest wound of all was this: he felt the pain of a soul abandoned by God. What deeper pain is there than that! Jesus felt the flames of hell lick at his spirit.
For you.
That was the final thorn.
The serpent coiled and struck, and the venom of our choices run deeply through the soul of Jesus. Our vanity and selfishness and pride and misplaced priorities sent Jesus to die and to suffer the very essence of hell while his body hung pinned to the wooden beams."

And that is a sacrifice that I don't think we mere mortals can even begin to comprehend -- at least not in the here and now in these fleshly bodies, so steeped in corruption and bound by time, space and all things finite. We have only one chance to be free and that is to accept the sacrifice made and freely given on our behalf.

1 Corinthians 1:18 states that, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."
The message of the cross is difficult to totally grasp, because it isn't the way we normally think. We want to dig our own way out. We want to build another tower to the heavens and pretend that there is no God, or at the least imagine that we can somehow do better on our own. If we could just be good enough.... So far our efforts have fallen short, as they always do. That's why there was indeed a sacrifice to pay a debt that we could never have paid for on our own. The debt was great, the sacrifice was great and Christ paid it on my behalf. How can I not be grateful?


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