Weirdly enough, animal sacrifice keeps coming up more than ever before. (Though, it's possible the reason animal sacrifice keeps popping up is because of what we are discussing in the P40 Ministries Podcast right now.) In my college and career class, animal sacrifice came up as a topic of discussion last week. Then later on, I was discussing some biblical stuff with my sister-in-law, and animal sacrifice came up again.
The one thing I learned was that Christians really, really don't want to discuss animal sacrifices! Many believe that it's too gruesome, weird, and unnecessary. If we're being honest, it's a part in the Bible that we kind of like to pretend doesn't exist. We think of it as a cruel act. We sometimes even wonder why God would command such a thing to be done! When we do acknowledge animal sacrifice, it's often brushed over as something that is antiquated and unnecessary to discuss, since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
However, I believe that animal sacrifice is something we should discuss today. Though it technically is antiquated because of Jesus's sacrifice, it is important to understand why animal sacrifice was at one time necessary.
Thousands of years ago, when God told the Israelite nation to practice animal sacrifices, He was being merciful... Yes, merciful. You see, people had done a lot of damage to themselves and others as a whole. They were sinful people who were dying in their sins, unable to find forgiveness, because they weren't even sure how to attain forgiveness in the first place! That is when God gave them the Old Testament Law, and with it, came animal sacrifices.
Romans 6:23 states this, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (NLT)
In layman terms, this means that the penalty for sin is death.
In the second chapter of Genesis, God explained the penalty of sin to Adam very well. He said to Adam, "But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." - Genesis 2:17 (NIV, emphasis mine.)
You see, God directly described to Adam that if he ate from the tree, he would have to die, because sin causes death. The reason for this is because sin is evil, and evil causes murders, and sicknesses, and accidents, and violence, as well as spiritual death. Spiritual death is the worst death. Spiritual death is the death that leads to eternal damnation. This is because God Himself is perfect. Anyone with spiritual death is not able to come into the perfect presence of God, because death is something opposite from Him. We chose death, but God is the definition of life.
But that wasn't the end.
After humanity ate the fruit and sin entered into the heart, God did not want to let us just die unforgiven in our sins. He loved us too much to see that. So, He gave humanity the Law. With the Law came animal sacrifices.
The idea was to allow a perfect, unblemished, innocent animal take the sins of the sinner in an act of death.
Think of it this way: a sweet, innocent animal was taking the place of the person. It was paying the wages of the person's sin (much like the way Jesus did.) It was supposed to be a solemn, sad reminder to the person that their sin equals death, and that the animal was unfortunately dying in the sinner's stead. Through animal sacrifice, the person was supposed to solemnly repent before God, not only for their sins, but also for the fact that the animal had to die in their place. The whole purpose of animal sacrifice was to show the sinner both God's love and His mercy for humanity.
The one thing we often forget is that animal sacrifice was not something God needed for Himself. In fact, God didn't want any death at all. (That is why the Garden of Eden was perfect. There was no death in the garden until humanity chose it. Death was never a part of God's plan.) But once death was there, sacrifices were the only way that the sinner could be saved and not have to "pay the wages of their own sin" by dying completely unforgiven.
The problem was that humanity quickly perverted the solemn symbolism of sacrifice that God put into place. People began just killing animals left and right with no remorse. They didn't care about the life of the animal, God's active mercy, or the sacrifice that the animal was making for them. Rather, they were routinely using animal sacrifices as a way to unapologetically "pay" for their sins, (and not in the way God intended.) The people were constantly sinning and sinning with no remorse and just using animal sacrificing as a way to "be okay with God." Thus, animal sacrifice was perverted, and became a sick, disgusting practice that God ended up hating. (We can read all about God's anger toward the people who were sacrificing animals in this way in Isaiah and Jeremiah.) In the end, the people were not only still dying in their sins, but also destroying God's creation and His plan.
After humanity continued to ruin their own lives by not understanding the purpose of animal sacrifice, God did away with the sick twisting of it. Instead, God sent His Son Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. But Jesus didn't have to come to earth to save us - He chose it. He chose to come to earth to sacrifice Himself as the perfect Lamb so that all of sinful humanity might be saved forever. He payed our wages for us. Now, animal sacrifices are no longer needed because we are covered by Jesus's payment.
The sad thing is, we often pervert Jesus's sacrifice, just as those people who perverted animal sacrifice many years ago did. We tend to think we are "okay with God" because of Jesus's payment. We don't think about Jesus's sacrifice solemnly. Instead, we choose to ignore Jesus's death on a day to day basis. We actively place sins onto Jesus with no remorse whatsoever. (I know I do this more often than I want to admit.)
Friends, let's not make the same mistake those people thousands of years ago made. Jesus's sacrifice is not something that should be taken for granted, like how animal sacrifices were. Jesus's death is something that should be remembered solemnly with much repentance. After all, Jesus's life is much, much more valuable than those of animals.
Let's treat it that way.