The Mystery & Power of Sacrifice - October 13, 2013
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Pastor Dale Lloyd
LK. 22: 14 – 20
From Luke’s record of this event I draw your attention to the following statements: “This is my body which is given for you...” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Note: my body given for you; my blood poured outfor you.”
I want to consider this theme: The Mystery and Power of Sacrifice.
My body given for you; my blood poured out for you – and with those two simple phrases we understand that redemption, restoration, reconciliation and justification are all rooted in and can never be divorced from sacrifice. We are saved by, in and through sacrifice; no sacrifice – no salvation.
This reaches back at least as far as Genesis 3. There we have the narrative of the fall of man. Sin enters the human experience. God confronts it immediately and deals with all the players – the woman, the man and the serpent. But God also deals with the immediate consequence of disobedience. That consequence was the consciousness of the shame of personal nakedness – the state of being uncovered.
In addressing that shame and the guilt of their disobedience we arrive at what almost appears to be a casual one line statement in Gen.3:21 – The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
This was the first act of atonement in human history. The word ‘atonement’ carries the idea of covering, to cover over, to place over the top of – separating what is below the covering from what is above the covering. That was exactly what happened in Genesis 3. The nakedness of man was covered.
What often gets lost in this story is a detail that should be very obvious. How do you get ‘garments of skin’ without the involvement of an animal? How do you remove an animal’s skin without the shedding of blood? And so from Genesis 3 forward to the cross of Christ, blood flowed. All of that blood speaks of and carries in it the mystery (the sacrament) of sacrifice: Every lamb, every goat, every bull, every pigeon and every dove for several thousand years; blood, blood, blood – sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.
But what about that first animal back in the garden? Had it committed sin? Was it involved in any of the drama that was being played out? Absolutely not! And that brings us to a vital word – a vital reality in this mystery of sacrifice: innocence.
The word itself has a wide range of meaning but at core it means to be without guilt in relation to a particular issue. The only one who could claim absolute innocence – perfect freedom from guilt on all fronts and in relation to all things – was the Lord Jesus. It was His perfect innocence that made His sacrifice perfectly effective in dealing with our guilt.
None of us can claim perfection of innocence. However, I do believe it is true that there are measures of innocence we have experienced relative to our age and seasons of life. Also – and this is important to where I want to go in finishing out this message – there is nothing that enrages the human soul and enflames our sense of justice more than the abuse of innocence. There is nothing as impacting on our hearts as the sacrifice of innocence.
Here is a familiar quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" Allow me to change that quote in the following way: "Be not afraid of sacrifice: some are born unto sacrifice, some achieve sacrifice and some have sacrifice thrust upon them"
Do we have any idea how many believers have been martyred for their faith? Do we have any idea how many believers are still being martyred for their faith – believers of our very generation and time? What we can say concerning most of these martyrs is that they have had sacrifice thrust upon them. We can ignore all this or we can pause to ponder the meaning of that sacrifice. Is it all for naught? Is it a loss for God’s side and a win for Satan’s side? Is that how we should view it?
Let me suggest that none of this sacrifice is about loss. In some mysterious but very real and sacred way these people have entered into the deep reality of those words of Christ – “my body given for you; my blood poured out for you.”
Secondly their sacrifice means this, as stated by the 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,"
Against this background let me tell you the story of the image in the slide on the overhead. It is the story of the mystery and power of sacrifice – especially sacrifice thrust upon the innocent.
It was 1963. It was September. It was Sunday morning. Five young black girls between the ages of 11 and 15 were in the basement washroom of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. It was known as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. There they were primping, tee-heeing and sharing dreams.
Within the structure of that setting this was the Sunday of their being graduated to the next level. This meant they could now join the choir. In fact part of the reason they were in the basement was that they would change into their choir robes for the first time.
Suddenly there was a massive explosion and there was no longer a basement washroom, just a gaping crater. And just as suddenly four innocent black girls were as dead as the lifeless ruins around them, and one – the image on the slide – was lying in a heap mangled and twisted.
It would be a “multitude of years” before one person – a psychopathic killer who used the KK Clan to work his evil through – would be brought to trial and given a life sentence. Two more would eventually face the court and incarcerated. One would pass away before being charged. Of the three incarcerated two have perished in prison and the third is about to follow.
With that blast the boast of the Clan was that this would bring an immediate end to the whole interrogation movement and that the black people would gladly run back toward segregation. This is always the conclusion of mindless, blind obsession. And it is always wrong; absolutely and forever wrong. It is always wrong because it refuses to understand – or it is simply too stupid to understand – the mystery and the power of sacrifice – especially sacrifice thrust upon the innocent.
I have watched several times the Spike Lee, HBO documentary – 4 Little Girls. Needless to say it is profoundly moving. But beyond the emotion it evokes it makes crystal clear that age-old reality that sacrifice is never the end of a thing; it is actually the power – the life impulse that pushes everything forward.
The documentary concludes with comments from many people – from Walter Cronkite to Bill Cosby to Jessie Jackson etc. Cronkite aptly described this event as “the great awakening.” Until this time the whole issue of integration was viewed by white America outside the south as a less than significant cultural squabble limited to a particular region and should be settled within the boundaries of that region. But with that bomb blast it was no longer some far removed local issue, it was now a matter of national consciousness and national conscience.
The conclusion of most – and I think history pretty much validates it – was and is that all advancements in the fight for civil/equal rights from 1963 forward are pretty much tied to 4 Little Girls upon whom the ultimate sacrifice was thrust, and a fifth little girl who survived the blast but whose life essentially ended with the blast.
I am sure that some have stumbled over Jessie Jackson’s comment on that event. All I stumble over is that anyone should stumble over his comment. Here is the essence of what he said: ‘This was the “crucifixion” that no one wanted and yet it gave resurrection impetus to a cause that had to be won for the sake of all Americans.’ He did not mean by this that this event was equal to the crucifixion of Christ. I believe that what he saw was the very thing I am trying to present this morning. There is a mystery and a power in sacrifice that pushes all things forward toward completion and fullness that apart from sacrifice will never happen.
Please do not hear this next statement as being political in nature. To do so would be to cheapen it and corrupt it. The fact that today there is a black man in the oval office can never be divorced from a 1963, September 15th., Sunday morning and a sacrifice that rippled out to the ends of the earth.
“My body given for you; My blood poured out for you.” In our economic reality it is far too easy to throw money at a need while protecting our body and blood against sacrifice.
I am reminded of what one of my great mentors said to me when I was in Bible School. He, the senior pastor of the church, president of the school and superintendent of the district, was shovelling snow. I was awkward with the fact that he was shovelling snow. He discerned what I was trying to say and responded before I could say it: “Dale, if my hands ever become too big to hold this shovel, they have become too small to hold ministry.”
In our culture of materialistic consumerism we have no appreciation for that kind of thinking and attitude. Even in the church sacrifice is seen as a lack of faith, a lack of blessing and a lack of God’s goodness and favour.
I urge you this morning do not diminish the wonder of sacrifice. Do not underestimate the power of sacrifice. Do not draw back from the mystery of sacrifice. Do not treat as common or less than common the sacramental nature of sacrifice; respect it as something sacred.
Remember our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the blood of the martyrs. Remember 4 little girls in a church Sunday school. And remember all those who have and who continue to pour their life into your life.