McQuien’s Musings: The Greatest Irony

During Easter week, which came rather early this year, people all over the world who adhere to the Christian faith commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus, followed by his resurrection and ascension.
Concerning the Lord’s willing self-sacrifice, the book of Hebrews contains a relevant passage which reads, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4 NIV). Here the anonymous author of Hebrews was referring to the inadequacy of animal sacrifices to atone for sin, in contrast to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
On the other hand, animal sacrifice in connection with sin had been commanded under the Mosaic law, especially on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16), and was still being practiced during the lifetime of Jesus. Imagine the amount of blood that must have flowed from the unfortunate bulls, goats, and lambs during these times of sacrifice!
In some cases during the Old Testament era, animal sacrifice was not considered sufficient to convince devotees that the divine powers had been adequately appeased. For example, the pagan worshipers of Molech and other false gods had degenerated to the detestable practice of sacrificing their own children to these ferocious deities.
Unfortunately, the people of Judah followed this pagan example and began to sacrifice their sons and daughters to idols, “though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and make Judah sin” (Jer. 33:35). This cruel depravity was one of the major reasons why God allowed Judah to be carried away into Babylonian captivity.
But even more recently there have been instances of human sacrifice. Even as civilized a nation as the Athenian Greeks, whom Paul would later visit, occasionally stooped to this practice. In his classic work, “The Golden Bough”, Sir James Frazer recorded the Athenian practice of sacrificing two “outcast scapegoats,” one male and one female, whenever a scourge such as famine or plague occurred.
Much later, in what became Mexico, Central, and South America, the Aztecs and Mayas participated in ritual human sacrifice. Documents written by Spanish explorers in the years of conquest attest to this practice, especially among the Aztecs of Mexico, and recent archaeological digs have confirmed these documents.
In fact, written accounts and modern archaeology have shown that human sacrifice has been practiced all over the world at one time or another. Human nature seems to have an innate need to offer adequate sacrifices that can assuage guilt and/or appease mysterious forces.
Which leads us to the greatest irony of all. The one divine God, who created all things, including humanity, never required or accepted human sacrifice (think of Abraham and Isaac). Yet He allowed His own divine Son, a member of the Godhead, who participated in the creation, to die on the cross for our sins. This divine act of love was so counter-intuitive (to use a trendy word), so ironic (seemingly contradictory), and so gracious, that it couldn’t have had a human origin.
Perhaps the beautiful hymn “And Can It Be?” expresses this unfathomable concept best: “Amazing love! How can it be / That You, my God, would die for me?”

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