Pascal Lamb by Josefa Cordeiro, circa 1660-1670
I was in church tonight, and something the preacher said struck a nerve. He said the animal sacrifices offered in Temple Judaism were not what brought about the forgiveness of sins, but rather an outward, physical reminder of repentance. That got me thinking.
I don’t want to get into the theology of remission of sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “according to the law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” but that was within a Christians framework. Ultimately, the writer was pointing his readers toward the blood of God Himself, in the form of Jesus crucified.
What I want to look at is the second part, the reminder. I think sometimes we find it easy to justify our sins, to make things easy on ourselves. Sometimes we can’t see the consequences of our actions. Other times we’re able to turn a blind eye to them. I know I do.
But those consequences are real, even if we don’t see them. Every cold-hearted word, every missed opportunity to do good or turn the other cheek affects somebody. Cruelty, moral cowardice, apathy, self-righteousness and callousness corrode our souls, sear our consciences, and make us like salt that has lost its savor.
The ancient Jews didn’t have that luxury. Their sin offerings came from their own flocks, so they felt a financial impact. But more than that, their sin offerings bleated and cooed and struggled with their bonds as they were lifted onto the altar. Their sin offerings were often animals they’d fed, and raised, and sheltered. Some of their sin offerings may even have had names.
And then the knife fell, and the blood poured from the wound. When they watched the animal die, they knew their own actions, their own misdeeds, had brought about its pain and death. They knew, long before gospels or epistles were written, that “The wages of sin is death.” [Romans 6:23].
No, I’m certainly not advocating a return to animal sacrifice. Jesus was our sacrifice, once for all time. But I do think it would do us good to think back, to put ourselves in their sandals. I think it would be good to remember what it cost our spiritual ancestors, and what it cost our Lord, Jesus. It would be good to remember that actions have consequences, even if we don’t yet see them.