We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post we continue within Chapter 6, ‘The Blood Sacrifice’. This is a big chapter and I am only focusing on a couple of discussions.
Perhaps you have done something ‘sacrificial’ for someone recently?
What makes something a sacrifice?
Rutledge says at least two ideas are present:
- Something of value is relinquished
- The purpose is to gain a greater good
This can be a verb denoting an action – you sacrificed something for that person.
Or it can be noun – where the thing itself being relinquished is itself the sacrifice. Like a pawn in a chess match perhaps (239)
In Jesus both the verb and noun come together.
He acts sacrificially. He chooses to go to Jerusalem. (Rutledge does not mention this, but Philippians 2:7 and Jesus’ ‘self-emptying’ and making himself a servant comes to mind here).
He himself is the sacrifice. He willingly allows himself to be sacrificed.
And in combining these two ideas in one person
‘the claim made by the apostolic preaching stands alone in the history of the world, let alone the history of religion, in this one regard: it proclaims this one sacrifice as efficacious for the whole human race and the entire cosmos for all time. (240 emphasis original)
The cost of atonement
There follows a long discussion of sacrifice in the OT, particularly Leviticus. Rutledge’s conclusion is
Basic to the ritual is the idea that atonement for sin costs something. Something valuable has to be offered in restitution. The life of the sacrificed animal, together with the sense of awe associated with the shedding of blood, represents this payment … The use of the phrase “the blood of Christ” in the New Testament carries with it this sacrificial, atoning significance in a primordial sense … (245)
One of the simplest ways of understanding the death of Jesus is to say that when we look at the cross, we see what it cost God to secure our release from sin (245-46)
And the fundamental message of the book of Hebrews is that in Christ a superior, perfect and complete sacrifice has been offered in Christ.
This is NOT to say that God somehow tried the OT sacrificial system as ‘Plan A’ and, when it did not work, abandoned it for ‘Plan B’ – the sending of his Son. Rutledge rightly resists this Marcionite type of reading of the Bible that radically devalues the OT.
The inadequacies in the system were not a flaw in the design, but part of God’s purpose from the beginning (Heb. 7:11) (246)
In other words, the concept of sacrifice as atonement for sin
was part of God’s preparation of his people for the sacrifice that would not fail, namely, the self-offering of the Son. This is a crucial theological point, namely, that the sacrifice of Christ was not God’s reaction to human sin, but an inherent, original movement within God’s very being. It is the nature of God to offer God’s self sacrificially. (247, my emphasis)
Have a think about that last sentence. If it does not lift our hearts in awe and thanksgiving then perhaps we have yet to understand and experience the ‘wonder of the cross’ for ourselves.
In the next post we continue within this theme of the cross as a blood sacrifice.