Saturday, September 17, 2011

Human Sacrifices and THE Human Sacrifice

No matter how many times I come across examples in the Old Testament, I am continually shocked at the accounts of people sacrificing their children to deities, often by burning them as offerings to the Ammonite god Molech (see Lev. 18:21; 20:2ff.; 2 Kings 16:3; Jer. 32:35; Ezek. 16:21). In our age of Western "enlightenment," we all see human sacrifice--whether voluntary or not--as an ignorant, if not brutal, act. So when I read that this is still being practiced in many sites around the world, particularly among African tribal peoples, it shocks me.

But should it?

Human sacrifice has been practiced for thousands of years, from the earliest of human times. Though we modern folk deride and decry it--and Christians rightly hate it for the evil, life-desecrating work of Satan that it is--there are innate truths in human sacrifice that perhaps many of us today have forgotten.

Some people sacrifice themselves or another member of their community as an offering of devotion to please their god(s). They rightly see that the greater powers deserve nothing less than all that we can offer to them, and that a life given in their honor is the supreme gift. Do we even think about the fact that we owe our lives to a higher being?

Other cultures sacrifice those who are thought to bear curses. (Here is a sad story of Ethiopians who kill off children who are mingi, or "cursed," and who thereby endanger their communities--and of how Christians' hope in Jesus and love for their neighbors is redeeming this situation.) Only by removing the accursed person can prosperity be restored to the community. In some situations the sacrifice himself isn't considered cursed, but the community as a whole is, and amends can only be made by placating the deity's anger with sacrifices. Do we today feel any sense of guilt before the Divine for our wrongdoing?

Strangely enough, these motives for sacrifice point us to the Gospel, the message about the one true and final human sacrifice: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. He lived an unblemished life and "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21) and willingly "gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2 NIV). He held back none of himself in perfect submission and devotion to God.

But of this same man it is written, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us [i.e., in our place as a substitute]--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'--so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13-14). Jesus' untarnished dedication to God both motivated him and enabled him to become a worthy, once-for-all-time sacrifice who took upon himself our guilt and accursedness as his very own so that we might be absolved and welcomed into the family of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

So while human sacrifices can point people toward the gospel, by themselves they only lead to despair. Such offerings must continually be repeated because they inevitably fall short of the wholehearted consecration God desires and the extent of sacrifice he justly requires--because these can only be fulfilled in the God-man Jesus. But the wonderful truth is that they have been fulfilled! And everywhere this good news spreads--as it did to the Celts--people will begin to joyfully offer up sacrifices of a different kind: praise and thanks to God in Jesus' name and charity and generosity toward mankind (Heb. 13:15-16).

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