In the writings of Paul, it is clear that Paul is writing about spiritual life and death. Jesus is the antithesis of Adam, through one man all have sinned and have death, then through one man all have life in Jesus Christ.
The Old and New Testaments are clear, a blood sacrifice is required for the remission of sin. The purpose of the Law in the Old Testament was to show man could not keep it. Jesus died physically as our sacrifice to fulfill the law that we could not do ourselves. I feel this is completely separate from Adam’s physical death.
The Garden created an environment for man under perfect conditions to show that even under perfect conditions, man will revolt against God (again, Adam is the contrast of Jesus where Jesus was tempted under very difficult conditions for 40 days). Some speculate that Adam and Eve were created immortal and they point to the genealogies in Genesis that emphasize over and over again with each person in the genealogy “…and they died” to demonstrate that the death in the line of Adam was brought about by their sin. Some I respect very much have suggested that Adam and Eve had “glorified” bodies, such as described in the “tranfiguration” and this was lost with their sin, which is why they didn’t know they were naked.
This all makes much more sense to me if you take Genesis 1 and 2 as sequential narratives. There was death outside the Garden long before the Garden was created and the Garden creation was a local event (there is no text that indicates otherwise)
Here are a couple:
Mark 10:45 , Matthew 20:28
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” - the lamb without blemish refers to the Passover Sacrifice
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
I tried just to keep with Jesus words (+ 1 by John the Baptist), the epistles and the Old Testament has many, many more references.
In Revelation, Jesus is portrayed as the slain lamb, who is the only one who is “worthy”.
I reject the concept that Jesus was sacrificed for all human sins. He could have accomplished His victory over Death without being executed for teaching God’s Word. But based on how the world had rejected the Word and executed its prophets in the past, this outcome was expected.
Blood sacrifice was so much a part of Jewish life that it tainted the apostles’ writings. They too did not fully understand Jesus’ mission and His victory over Satan. Jesus mission was as a victorious King, not a sacrificial lamb. But Christianly has lost this perspective.
Best Wishes, Shawn
Again, proving Jesus to be a rather inept teacher. Three years with these people and he could not convince them that his mission ought not be understood as a blood sacrifice.
Perhaps this is because his own language (“this is my blood… poured out for the forgiveness of sins”) was also so similarly tainted.
Apparently, it never had that perspective, the very earliest writings of the apostles never even having grasped it, tainted as they were by such corrupt false religion. Again, it is unfortunate Jesus had been such a poor teacher and not taught them better about such a critical and important perspective.
Jesus’s main task wasn’t to teach, He promised to send His Spirit of Truth to continue His teaching. (John 14:17 15:26 16:13) The first appearance of this Spirit of Truth was in Origen of Alexandria, who spent over 50 years explaining the Word. He reconciled the new teachings with both Judaism and Platonism (Contra Celsus and Stromata). He was the most prolific Christian Scholar ever to live. This enlightened version of Christianity was destroyed by Justinian in 543 AD.
So Paul, Peter, James, John … none of them had any purchase on this Spirit of Truth? Origin was the first? Really? I’m trying to be a bystander in this fascinating discussion between you and Daniel; but he’s actually using scriptures and “cleaning your clock”, Shawn! Appealing to post-biblical figures for argument while your interlocutor has successfully produced a laundry list of Scriptures that you mostly ignore is no way to show your case compelling. Which could be very unfortunate if there is an important grain of truth amongst all the detritus. I don’t bandy about the word “apokatastasis” since I don’t know what all you and others have packed into that concept, and it does nothing for us here to know that it may have been Origen’s pet project since we’re a tad more concerned how the early apostles and prophets thought about these things. But this question of sacrifice and how it works (or doesn’t work as the case may be) is indeed an important one - important enough to settle in scriptures as they have been given us.
I think @Daniel_Fisher is doing an excellent job laying out and defending the traditional view, and I thank you for that, Daniel. It’s a privilege for some (like me) to lazily watch and learn from the sidelines since I am ever in the process of learning from scriptures and from the Spirit about all this myself. And I thank Shawn for being the provocateur for it thus far, though I fear, Shawn, that you have already ventured so far afield in your defense, that many here who refuse to follow you off the main paths into the thickets bid you farewell as your figure disappears over radical horizons.
There is grain to be gleaned among all the chaff, I think. But there are dangers to avoid too. I’m still weighing in the balance here what is worth pursuing. [worth pursuing for myself anyway. I will continue to follow, sometimes with morbid fascination, wherever it is you continue to go with it all. So I’m certainly not trying to shut anything down. Just maybe some hopeful redirection. Carry on!]
You’ve really talked a lot of Origen–and I think it would be worth digging in to more. Maybe it needs another thread. “Onscript” just published the first in a two part series with an interview with an Orthodox priest about Origen. I didn’t know that a lot of what he wrote was corrupted by opponents. It looks like I may learn something. I appreciate, too, what both @Daniel_Fisher and @Shawn_Murphy have posted. (Onscript tends to be mainstream and evangelical, though tolerant, so maybe it will be a good starting point for further discussion and responses)
(I just realized that the interviewee’s name is Father Behr–reminds me of “Little Men”!)
To hastily add to my own post above, I don’t mean to overly discount the important work of early church leaders like Origen (Thanks, Randy, for a link in that regard too.) The drum I’m pounding on, though, is that such early church leaders are valued precisely for the ways they may help us to see into Scriptures more clearly. And that is, indeed, a valuable service - especially if they inspire us to be not just hearers of the word only, but doers.
Thanks for the podcast from John Behr. I think you can gather from this short talk that the works of Origen are very deep and thoughtful, not for the faint of heart. I will have to read John’s translation of First Principles (De Principiis), because I am unaware that an original Greek copy survived the Anathematisms. I really appreciate the color that John adds about Jerome and Rufinus. This helps others understand the difficulty of determining what are truly the works of Origen and what are the dogma adjusted transcriptions of his work.
Best Wishes, Shawn
I would also observe that Shawn’s perspective seems to be a “no true Scotsman” fallacy on steroids…
—“No apostle of Christ believes he was a blood sacrifice.”
—“What about Matthew, Mark, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, John, the author of Hebrews…?”
—“Well, no apostle taught by the Spirit of Truth believes it.”
Not to mention there seems some significant special pleading involved…
—“How do we know Origen to be the first person in Christian history that received this Spirit of Truth, and other previous apostles and church fathers didn’t?”
—“Because he’s the first one that agrees with me?”
—“Which parts of the OT were corrupted by pagan influence?”
—“All those parts I disagree with?”
As for the Pentateuch having been rewritten with novel, pagan atonement theology during/after the exile, corrupted by Babylonian influence, I have a hard time conceiving of what the original book of Leviticus would have looked like absent anything about blood sacrifice. Kind of like claiming the original book of Job had nothing to do with suffering or the original form of Joshua had nothing to do with warfare.
To @Shawn_Murphy’s credit, I appreciate him acknowledging that blood sacrifice / atonement for sin is a theme that is in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, but that Scripture is simply in error. There is something about this argument that I can appreciate far more than those who claim that evangelicals like me only find blood sacrifice in the Scripture by forcing it into the text, and a fair reading of the Scripture would never find anything that could be remotely construed as Christ being a blood sacrifice to atone for sin. If anyone “discovers” such a concept in Scripture, it is surely because of some Freudian need to believe in a God of vengeance demanding blood; there is certainly no justification for such an idea from the text itself!
So to Shawn’s credit, I appreciate at least that he recognizes that this theme is in fact actually found in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, even if he thinks its presence there erroneous.
Thank you for the note. I would lake to make a few clarifications. First, I was very deliberate to say that Jesus was not sacrificed for all human sin - it takes God’s Grace, Jesus’ act of redemption and our acts to achieve eternal life. We have to love our enemies and become perfect, in addition to God’s Grace. Before Jesus’ act of Redemption, no amount of acts led to eternal life.
Secondly, Origen was not the first coming of the Spirit of Truth, but the first who fulfilled the task of explaining the Word in every detail, which he did in his “sweet wisdom”. The sheer volume of his work was miraculous.
Best Wishes, Shawn
I think that you were addressing @Daniel_Fisher. I did not write the note above.
I think that it’s appropriate to learn more about Origen. @Daniel_Fisher, did you listen to the podcast by Onscript? I got bogged down in the details in the end–somewhat to do with the interpretation, I think. I enjoyed the humorous analogy of how Fr Behr would place the Church Fathers on a football team (Irenaeus on defense, etc). It’s a bit disturbing to me that even then, they had so much disagreement.
I do come back to the commonality that we all rely on God for ultimate grace and forgiveness. That’s a failure I find when I look at atheism–we just can’t find the same resolution–though perhaps there is more to be said from their point of view. In Sunday School right now, we’re using Eric Metaxas’ video on “Mere Christianity” and the moral law–very interesting. We just had Alister McGrath’s portion, and then are going on to Jerry Root and, I think, Philip Yancey. It would be a good thread. I see that there are problems with our understanding of the moral law as a proof for God, but as McGrath said, it’s more of a clue of how things would work if we God exists.
One certainly can’t deny the strong presence of that [blood sacrifice] theme as you’ve shown well with a long array of references. There is also a new theme prominently featured in scriptures - even from the old testament prophets already - that critiques the old theme. It is this “self-critique” from scriptures itself that catches my attention even more, since this is what Christ himself inaugurates as God’s new creation, now doing what the old systems could not and did not do.
I hesitate to push on this much more as it is not my desire (much less my place) to try to shake up settled and traditional convictions that people feel are at the core of their faith. I only bring it up so that any whose faith is already tottering (possibly because of atonement misunderstandings that they cannot in good conscience square with a just, loving God) may know that there are other scripturally-inspired views that faithful Christians have also embraced all through history.
I can’t speak of Zahnd or Jersak - have never read them. But yes, I’m definitely following scriptures here along the lines that Macdonald writes about. Alongside the undeniable theme of blood sacrifice there is also a superseding theme throughout much of the prophets and then especially in the New Testament of God being more pleased with obedience than with sacrifice. So we see scriptures themselves dealing the death blow (so-to-speak) to the old sacrificial practices that represent the old (and now revealed to be deficient) system of dealing with gods. There is no equity or balance to be had between these systems. One supersedes the other as its infinite superior. And while the authors of the New Testament (especially Hebrews, but elsewhere too) take great pains too help the Jewish peoples see in Jesus the penultimate conclusion to (indeed abolishment of) the old sacrificial system, they also take pains to help us see God in Christ himself. It just occurred to me this morning that the entire discourse of John 6 where Jesus speaks of his own flesh and blood as food and drink might be seen in a new (for me) light. The crowds and even Jesus’ own disciples were disgusted and repulsed, and yet Jesus persists. The thought of human sacrifice was already bad enough to them - to heap cannibalism on that yet too seems like the ultimate Jewish desecration. Not exactly apostolic material for wooing Jewish audiences toward recognizing, much less worshiping their newly arrived Messiah. I can’t help but think that Jesus was letting them all know in no uncertain terms just what bloody sacrifice looks like to God. Human sacrifice is a sacrilege. And yet he was willing to endure that very evil heaped upon him - not by God - but by evil humanity, rather than continuing to stoop down into our evil business as usual ways of dealing with neighbors and enemies. And that is the full and honorable sense in which Jesus allowed himself to be a sacrifice. Even though passages can be found that make it sound like his own Father was nailing him to the cross, we must understand those in light of early Hebrew understandings in which God does all things including all evil calamity we experience. They were still desperate to plug this crucifixion event back into that old understanding - and did so to build that bridge - a bridge to something new. Hebrews 9:22 shows this – tying it back into the old ways, but then the next verses [indeed the whole next chapter] deliver the consuming answer that renders the prior verse answered and now dismissed. Had the crucifixion been choreographed from the beginning then Jesus would not have been sweating drops of blood in the garden, pleading with God to not let it come to that. He would have known already that bloody sacrifice is what it’s all about, and he would just have his job to do. And indeed sacrifice is what is called of all of us (not just Jesus) - but it isn’t human sacrifice, except to the extent that we willingly give up our own lives. Never somebody else’s which wouldn’t be sacrifice. We have another word for that: it’s called murder.
So it isn’t about how much we can secure scriptural sanction - even seeming endorsement of old themes. It’s about what we continue to learn in regard to those old themes as we keep reading scripture! Scriptures themselves, and then finally the Spirit of Christ himself, deals with the old ways of thinking and mortally reveals it for what it is. And then finally Christ even conquers death itself - not by making it unnecessary, but by making it into a harmless- even an essential doorway for us. Sin is not merely forgotten (though in some sense it is - or must be). Far more importantly for us, we are cleansed of it and it is truly destroyed in our minds and hearts as we are actually taught to loath it as God does (quintessential Macdonald right there). Only then are we truly cleansed of our sins, and that is indeed the very thing Christ died for. 1 John 1:7-9
Let me register my strong disagreements with half of what you wrote, then I’ll post my strongest agreement with the other half…
Fist, a minor point, I’d object to simply dismissing the idea that this sacrifice was God’s eternal or choreographed plan… If our names have been written in the book of life of the lamb who was slain from the foundation of the earth, it sounds like this plan was in effect for some time. If the apostles say he was delivered over “according to the definite (ὡρισμένῃ - determined, planned, set, resolved, decreed, appointed) plan (βουλῇ - counsel, purpose, decree, design, determination) and foreknowledge of God… then I’d need some further strong evidence that this was not, in fact, choreographed from the beginning.
Not only “was this man handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,” and Jesus came into the world “to give his life as a ransom,” but Jesus had been prophesying his death to his disciples for ages before it happened. But he was going to be tortured and executed, and if I understand rightly, underneath all that, enduring the unmitigated wrath of God in some manner as well, facing the time where the second person of the trinity would cry out, “my God, why have you forsaken me.” It is not odd to me whatsoever that he would be sweating blood and his soul being in torment when he was finally face-to-face with such torment.
Your argument proves too much, I fear… I could just as easily ask, “had Jesus known he would be dying and had prophesied it repeatedly it to his disciples, he would not have been sweating drops of blood in the garden, asking God not to let it come about… he would have known this was his job,” and thus prove that Jesus really didn’t know about his death and that his prophecies about such had never happened.
Have you never been ready to face something you knew it was your duty to do, something you had to do, something you knew there was really no other way, and still dreaded it? Maybe just being in the military, but that is the story of our lives. Facing things that we know we have to face, sometimes dangers, sometimes major inconvenience and major discomforts, sometimes long family separations… and the fact I know exactly when they are coming, and that it is nonetheless my duty to proceed, and knowing there’s no alternative, doesn’t keep these experiences somehow from magically being unpleasant. Or people that face a major surgery, perhaps required amputation, can know it is coming, know there’s no way out, yet on the verge of the event, feel extreme distress and start thinking about, “isn’t there some other way?”
“passages can be found that make it sound like his own Father was nailing him to the cross” are beyond simply the recognition that all things happen by God’s design. Judas’ betrayal was also part of God’s plan (even down to the silver prophecy,) and this was confirmed, but this is still different language than “he who did not spare his own son” (directly referencing Abraham and Isaac, of course. “God presented him as a propitiation” is certainly more than recognition that God is in charge of everything.
I must register my strongest disagreement (if I understood you properly) with the idea that the atonement language of Christ was simply trying to “backwards project” Jesus into that archaic sacrificial system. I know the idea of what you”re speaking of, and while I don’t agree, I can acknowledge that someone could read Matthews prophecies (for instance) and get the idea that Matthew was “backwards projecting” Jesus into Testament prophecies, showing that Jesus action was consistent with OT pattern. But Hebrews goes much further, and does so far more explicitly. If there’s anything we get from Hebrews especially, it is the idea that the sacrifices were a “shadow”, a “prequel” or “foreshadowing”, and needed to be “projected forward” as foreshadowing the real and true sacrifice that has now happened. Essentially saying, The blood of animals could never take away sins like Jesus’ blood can and has., they were merely a shadow to show what he would be accomplishing. The Old Testament sacrifices were discarded because animal’s blood was ineffective at actually forgiving sin…unlike Jesus’ blood which does accomplish such forgiveness:
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. (Heb 8:5 ESVi)
According to this [former] arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper. (Heb 9:9 ESVi)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) (Heb 9:11 ESVi)
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb 9:12 ESVi)
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:13–14 ESVi)
the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Heb 10:1 ESVi)
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:4 ESVi)
…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10 ESVi)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
(Heb 10:11–12, 14 ESVi)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh. (Heb 10:19–20 ESVi)
Your thoughts here I find very insightful, and you highlight a tension I find in Scripture that I have not yet reconciled particularly well. (In many such tensions, i simply embrace both sides, and try to live both sides as situation warrants. But I am a bit fuzzy on how this plays out in practice).
—On the one hand, Jesus takes great gentleness with those whose faith is weak. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden… my yoke is easy/burden light,” “smoldering wick I will not snuff out,” “Lord, we believe, he’ll our unbelief,” etc.
Not to mention, he invited others into the kingdom without worrying much about their full theological orthodoxy or depth of understanding… the faith of the centurion, of the Canaanite woman, the woman at the well, etc.
So, I’m the one hand, I completely resonate with your thoughts that if someone has issues with atonement, part of me would not feel the need to demand their adherence otherwise they must leave the faith… how many things and doubts have I myself struggled with, and representing Jesus, I need to similarly show his same approachability, and willingness to embrace anyone and invite them into the kingdom no matter how weak or immature their faith and/or understanding. So yes, absolutely, if someone is struggling with atonement theology, I feel I ought not make that a point of contention, rather, I feel like I should invite them to come and see Jesus in their terms, where they are, and allow them to struggle.
—On the other hand, you have Jesus making it very difficult for people to follow Him. There is the “eat my flesh” passage you noted, and the observation that many of his disciples left him at this point (and the implication that even those who remained stayed out of some level of desperation… “where else am I going to go”?) He speaks in parables “so they won’t understand.” He tells us we must hate Father, children, etc. to follow him, love him more than anything else in the world, he must be our only treasure. Someone asked him how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus says, “sell everything you have and give to the poor. Otherwise, get lost.” Don’t even start on this road with me if you can’t commit to it. Consider the cost of building this tower, let the dead bury their dead, and follow me, casting all else aside.
So thus, on that hand, i feel like honoring Christ would entail warning people that we need to come to him on his terms, and if there are things we don’t like about him, or don’t understand, or things that are difficult, we submit those to him in repentance and follow him no matter the cost… coming tomJesus on His terms, coming to where He is.
Working out these two things, I think this is where i find myself. And I compare it with the tension between the numerous invitations (I’ve written of elsewhere) where God tenderly invites his people to come with all manner of ugliness to wrestle with him… and simultaneously he smacked the Israelites because of their grumbling. I think there is a place of honest wrestling and doubt that is still presented from a bowed knee, and doubts that come with our hands crossed.
So in getting the “right theology” for someone wrestling… I think, following Christ, I ought to give infinite room and space for people to wrestle with these questions while they are coming to him in humility and submission. An attitude of, “I don’t see how that could ever be just… however, If, despite every bit of study and wrestling I do, I realize that this doctrine is true and biblical and this is what God has done, then I will bow my knee to him and submit to him, and recognize that his wisdom surpasses mine.” This is the attitude I find in Abraham when he argued with God about the almighty’s justice.
I’ve probably quoted this before, but I find the wisdom herein inescapable…
Secondly, this scrupulous care to preserve the Christian message as something distinct from one’s own ideas, has one very good effect upon the apologist himself. It forces him, again and again, to face up to those elements in original Christianity which he personally finds obscure or repulsive. He is saved from the temptation to skip or slur or ignore what he finds disagreeable. And the man who yields to that temptation will, of course, never progress in Christian knowledge. For obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew. The new truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrines trines you least like and least understand. It is just the same here as in science. The phenomenon which is troublesome, which doesn’t fit in with the current scientific theories, is the phenomenon which compels reconsideration and thus leads to new knowledge. Science progresses because scientists, instead of running away from such troublesome phenomena or hushing them up, are constantly seeking them out. In the same way, there will be progress in Christian knowledge only as long as we accept the challenge of the difficult or repellent doctrines. A `liberal’ Christianity which considers itself free to alter the Faith whenever the Faith looks perplexing or repellent must be completely stagnant.
In short, I think we are most certainly invited to wrestle with our king… but it seems we are also required to wrestle with our king.
Being a recalcitrant believer in freewill (and the attendant personal and communal responsibilities thereof) I will never accept that God authors our evil. We do. So I hear in words like “decreed” or “foreordained” the point of view of somebody who knew the future even while not forcing it. So … old testament proclivities aside, I do not share completely in their willingness to see God’s hand behind everything - or at least not in those times when God grieves what we do. To accept otherwise is to make nonsense of even old testament exhortations such as Moses’ “Choose life…”, not to mention all the N.T. passages that would be made nonsense. So yes, the plan for the cross was foreseen even while that makes it not one whit less our evil choices (and not God) that puts him there.
I’m being summoned away … more to come later. Thanks for your extended and thoughtful response! Even among what you labeled your “disagreement section” I’m not so convinced that we’re so far apart as may have appeared to you.
Responding cautiously as I don’t want to get off on a predestination rabbit trail, but I would simply observe that even in this very passage, Peter’s “proclivity to see God’s hand behind everything” and attribute the crucifixion to the “definite plan” of God does not keep him from simultaneously, in the same breath, acknowledging the complete freedom and personal responsibility and free will of the individuals involved…
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Sounds to me like Peter’s perspective is that “the plan for the cross was foreseen even while that makes it not one whit less our evil choices (and not God) that puts him there.”
Agreed - and I don’t put a lot of weight on my observation there, and can easily be negotiable here as would also apply to your points #3, 4 (where I fully agree that he had repeatedly prophecied his death). For one thing, I don’t think any of this weighs against my main thesis here that God does not orchestrate evil or injustice. He “only” uses it - to mighty effect, you’ll get no argument from me.
God is in charge. Amen to that. That is different than the claim that God is the author of evil. “Not sparing his own son” is appropriate language when God decides to send his messenger (and indeed his own son) knowing what would be done to him. Just as an admiral may send your fleet on a mission that he knows many of you won’t return from, but nevertheless orders it any way. Saying that the admiral did not “spare you” is a different claim than saying the admiral was the one who betrayed you and got most of your fleet sunk. The former action may later later be recognized and respected as a hard but necessary decision that the admiral had to make. The latter action (if discovered) gets the admiral court-martialled and tried as a traitor (and rightly so).
Here the rubber meets the road. I know that nonbelievers eager to see nothing but “backward projection” in virtually all scriptures probably push exactly this kind of language. While I don’t share in their anti-religious motives, I am nonetheless interested in wherever truth leads in all this. There is much precedent for God engaging in long term, less-than-ideal programs simply to meet his people where they are at. How long was it that Moses permitted divorce simply because “your hearts were hard”? So if idol worship and “my god is bigger and badder than your god” is the game in town, then God deigned to let his people play it while he “played along” as the “greatest of all gods”. We need not admit this as later evidence that other gods like Molech or Baal must actually exist then, because scriptures themselves tell us they were all shams anyway. But God lets them operate in that world (the only world they live in after all) and even gives them instructions about propriety and sacrificial practices. When their ancestral heritage is the only one they know, why would God not make use of their existing understandings to help them recognize their Messiah? [I know … the prophets often tell us that God is often in the business of clouding people’s eyes and hearts as much as opening them … I struggle with what to do with that too and strongly suspect it to be a divine “playing hard to get” so as to provoke the desired jealousy.] But taking God at his word that he actually does not wish for any to perish, I see no problem with God making full use of their sacrificial understandings, while at the same time also inviting them to look forward to what he really has wanted all along: for his people to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. It’s like you taking the training wheels off your kid’s bike. You may have put them on at one time, but that doesn’t mean you wanted them there forever or that they were your final word on what you envision for their life-long biking experience. The new covenant is better than the old, and when the new comes, the old disappears. Don’t be trying to mess around with all the old wine skins is all I’m suggesting.
The rest of your references from Hebrews are all excellent ones giving (from my perspective) the very sorts of exhortations I’ve been discussing.
Your parting quip there might have been just a bit harsh. The actual passage (to my recollection, any way) says something more like “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I would phrase it rather that here is a devout (but very rich) young man who wanted to “up his game” so to speak - maybe so he could feel or look more righteous perhaps. Jesus starts with a relatively low bar … keep these few commandments … but when the young man persists, Christ effectively responds: “Oh so you really want to get serious about this do you? … okay, let me just fill you in on what the next level would involve for you!” We see much the same addressed to all of us in the Sermon on the Mount. “So you’re feeling proud that you’ve never murdered or committed adultery, eh?” Feelin’ like you’re packin’ in some righteousness there? Let me show you what real righteousness looks like … you know those lustful or angry or greedy thoughts you’ve had? No matter how many rungs of this ladder you climb, there will always be more rungs above you. Let me just cut to the chase in case you think you’re still in the game: ‘be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’
Amen! And well-stated.
One recent commentary I heard (from a contemporary Jewish Rabbi) about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac intrigued me. While our western Christian sensibilities have so many of us bent out of shape trying to “exonerate” Abraham’s (not to mention God’s) apparent homicidal tendencies, Jews have apparently seen in this a beautiful and ever-applicable lesson about real sacrifice! That is, Jews [and so of course Christians too] ought to be willing to give up their children, spouses, loved ones [our very selves!] to God’s service. Whatever God calls them to do, we have to let them go and remember that God’s claim on them supersedes our own. Yeah - we sigh in relief when we get to the part of the story where Abraham notices the ram in the thicket and lowers his knife. But the lesson is no less real (and the ram is not always in the thicket!) It’s a hard truth, and yet God models it for us with his own son.
I love that turn of words - especially for the way it captures a deep truth in tension! What a fitting conclusion - and thanks for that.