I was recently listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast “Speaking the Truth in Love” and his episode, Wrath of God. In the episode, he made an off-hand comment that actually struck me as quite profound. He said that the sacrifices in the Old Testament were not sacrifices of wrath, but sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.
It struck me as profound because I had been looking for a way to synthesize the work of Jesus Christ on the cross with the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. We can see in Hebrews that there is a clear relationship between the two, but I’ve never been able to work them together outside of penal substitutionary atonement, an atonement theory I no longer subscribe to.
This is also consistent with the Jewish view of the sacrifices. If you ask any Jewish person, they will outright deny that the sacrifices were to appease God’s wrath for our sin. Rather, they were a reminder to us that sin yields death and the heart of the heart of the one doing the sacrificing was of much greater importance. This is evidenced by Isaiah 1:11 and Hebrews 10:3-4.
So, you might ask, if Christ’s sacrifice was one of praise and thanksgiving, why was it so solemn and full of mourning? I think it’s because healing, as a process, isn’t always easy. It can be full of pain until the wound has been sealed. When a Hebrew would offer a sacrifice, his contrite spirit was recognizing his offense before God and the sacrifice was to show that. The celebration came after when God’s mercy consumed the sacrifice and signified a renewal for the person doing the sacrificing.
Likewise, when Christ was in the garden of Gethsemane, He knew that this process would be so painful that it would literally be hell for Him to go through. When Christ took his last breathe upon the Cross and said “It is finished”, He signaled the end of the painful part of the process and the beginning of His victory over death. The beginning of the time of praise and thanksgiving, for death’s grip no longer choked humanity and sin no longer let it hold it’s strength.
Just as the animal sacrifice was the salvation of a Hebrew, the consummation of the sacrifice was their life. And just as the Cross is our salvation, the Resurrection is our life.
A life eternal and consumed by the fires of God’s love.