Sin and Sacrıfice
Problem and remedy
By Michael Mxolisi Sokupa
Iwas visiting my cousin in the New Cross Roads area in Cape Town. Suddenly I heard what at first sounded like a loud radio at a distance. As I began to pay attention, I noticed that I was not the only one hearing the sound of music and people cheering in the background; others in the room were also hearing it. The singing got louder and louder, and as I listened I recognized the song that is usually sung when young men return from initiation school. A group of boys were coming home after several weeks of initiation in the forest. In a rural setting where these rituals originated there is usually sufficient space. The sacred perimeter of the kraal, the courtyard, and the other buildings for cooking, sleeping, storage or plain living provide ample space.
Yet people in New Cross Roads live in extremely crowded conditions. They do not have space for a kraal, never mind the building code restrictions of the local municipality. These circumstances force people to travel long distances to their native village to undergo these rituals. However, there are those who have lost track of their original homestead. They still continue to perform these rites of passage in the city. Many erect a temporal kraal, especially for the purpose of slaughtering sacrificial victims, and in order to reconstruct the original setting.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, a lamb was slaughtered for them to be clothed.1 God introduced the idea of sacrifice for the first time through this act. He instituted sacrifice as a remedy for sin. Hebrews 9:1-9 describes the earthly tabernacle and how sin was dealt with through the sacrificial system. However, following the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrificial system as a means of dealing with sin had now become defunct. The book of Hebrews was written with the Jews and Jewish Christians in the Diaspora as primary readers. They were scattered and were concerned that they were far from the Temple. They could not participate in the daily Temple rituals. Some could not even afford to travel once a year to observe the Passover feast, which was one of the key Jewish festivals. The author reminds these Christians who had accepted Christ that they could now access the heavenly sanctuary through Christ wherever they were.
Temporal Versus Permanent
One thing I learned when I did a first-aid course to fulfill requirements for a Master Guide class was how to handle a snakebite case. While waiting for the antidote (which is a permanent solution against a snakebite), one should try to prevent the poison from spreading through the whole body. If the snake bites a leg, one should try to keep that leg as still as possible and below the heart, so as to minimize blood returning to the heart and other body organs. The snake must be identified so that an appropriate antidote may be found. Time is critical here, as one cannot wait for hours or days before seeking medical help.
When humanity fell into sin, God initiated a first-aid plan, the sacrificial system. This was not to go on forever because it was not meant to be a permanent solution for the problem of sin. Therefore “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4, 5).2
The Earthly Sanctuary
There are various sin categories that were dealt with in the earthly sanctuary. If a priest, a leader, a person, or the whole community sinned unintentionally, there was a prescribed offering that had to be offered, when they became aware of the sin that had been committed (Lev. 4:1-3, 13, 22, 27). Other categories of sin that were brought to the sanctuary for the purification of the individual or group included sins of omission (Lev. 5:1, 5, 6) and physical ritual impurities (Num. 19:13, 20). Once a year two goats were presented in the sanctuary, and after the casting of lots one would be sacrificed for sin (the goat of the Lord) and the priest would lay hands on the live goat and confess all the wickedness and rebellion of Israel (Lev. 16:7, 9, 21). This cleansed the sanctuary from the defilement of all confessed and unconfessed sins. The purpose of the Day of Atonement was not to offer forgiveness to those who in rebellion ignored the offered remedies. Rather it showed God’s plan of cleansing the sanctuary from all wickedness and rebellion and pointed to a bigger solution. Loyalty to God demonstrated by accepting the remedies that He provided was expected from all those who were in covenant with Him.
The Heavenly Sanctuary
Christ’s sacrifice introduced a new order. Listen to the author of Hebrews making the case: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14). Sacrifice is necessary for forgiveness to take place, a point made further on in the same chapter. “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (verse 22). When a person is brought to a hospital following a snakebite, all the bandages are removed, and the first aid or paramedic team steps aside and makes way for the doctor. It would be suicidal for the victim to demand that the paramedics should continue with what they had been doing. The doctor is now here, and he promises to resolve this problem permanently. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God” (Heb. 10:19-22). God requires loyalty only to Him.
No Place for Divided Loyalties
God’s promise in Hebrews 10:17 is significant: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” When our sins are forgiven, the demand of the law of God is satisfied. We can claim the righteousness of Christ as our own. Therefore, “sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary” (verse 18). Our loyalty to Christ does not accommodate remaining in the old order. I recently participated in the driving out of an evil spirit. As I came into the room where the victim of the evil spirits was held by two strong men from both sides with pastors around her, she reacted with convolutions. We prayed until she was calm. We came to a point where we had to make sure she was conscious, and we asked her to pray and call on the name of Jesus herself. In so doing she was claiming her loyalty to God and denouncing the evil spirits that were taking possession of her life. Paul in Ephesians reminds the believers to “put off” the old self and to “put on the new self” (Eph. 4:22-24). When God has transformed us this way, there is no room for divided loyalties.
God wants us to take Him seriously. He has provided the only permanent solution to the sin problem. Satan also is interested in our loyalty. He does not mind sharing that loyalty with God. But our God is the Lord of all or not Lord at all. He requires complete loyalty to the plan that He has set in motion from the foundation of the world.
1 This is hinted at in Genesis 3:21.
2 All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Michael Mxolisi Sokupa, Ph.D., is a lecturer in New Testament atHelderberg College, South Africa. He is married to Zanele and has three children.