Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Several years ago, I read this passage by Martin Luther King to my adult Sunday School class: "What the world of today needs is a return to the sacrificial spirit of the New Testament . . . ." We all nodded wisely in serious agreement.

Then Matt, an intelligent young man who often has questions, asked, "What exactly does that mean?"

Umm, well . . . , we all offered interpretations, none of which seemed very satisfactory. Ever since then, that question will not leave me alone.

Now, I am not a Bible scholar, having been a decidedly lukewarm Christian until 1994 when God scooped me up and gave me the most incredible sense of his love. I have been trying to understand sacrifice so that I will know what Martin Luther King meant--and more important, so that I will know what Jesus meant. It seemed then, and it seems now, to be the key to everything.

At first, I tried limiting my study to the New Testament--but, of course, I found that I needed to be able to grasp the concept in the Old Testament. I saw Abraham taking his son Isaac, who was precious to him, up into the mountains because God told him to go to a place he would show Abraham, build a fire, and sacrifice this boy to him. I asked myself—and God—how in the world did Abraham feel about this? Did he know all along that God would provide a lamb, rather than requiring the death of the boy?

He must have had that kind of faith in God, or he would have refused to do such a thing, or at least hesitated. Abraham’s calm confidence in God must have been communicated to Isaac, or he would have had hysterics, or at least questioned his father. God loved Abraham too much to require the sacrifice of his son. And besides, Isaac was a big part of God's covenant with Abraham.

He is a God of life, not of death and sorrow. I believe God was showing his people—Abraham and those to come—that the ancient practice of child sacrifice was never to be performed again, for one thing. They were to use a perfect animal for the sacrifice. Every day at three o’clock someone blew the shofar at the temple to announce that the lamb had died, and the atonement was complete.

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