by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

April, 2007
For Lent this year, I decided to give up being impatient with other people. I wish I could say I’m doing better than I am but truth is that sometimes I don’t do very well. Next year, I think I’ll give up something easier. Like breathing.

In the Roman Catholic Church, “. . . Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. . . . Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.” (Julie Zimmerman, In the Anglican Church, “. . . the purpose is to identify, in any small way, with the sacrifice of our Lord and His love for the whole world.” (Father Eric Dudley, Rector, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee, FL). In a recent sermon, our pastor, Jeff, said that it reminds us of everything Christ gave up for us.

When Moses first presented the idea of temple sacrifices for the people of Israel, he told them that his brother, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, who had been chosen to be Priests, should sacrifice “. . . one young bull and two rams without blemish,” (Exod. 29:1b ESV). He told them the blood of the animals would purify the altar and the priests, and take away their sins.

They couldn’t use just any animal. A bull or a ram that was old or sick or lame, one nobody wanted, wouldn’t do. Every animal had to be “without blemish,” one no one wanted to give up. In other words, it was to be a “sacrifice,” even before the first drop of blood was shed. Only their very best was good enough for God. The blood becomes a symbol for the actual sacrifice and a reminder that a living thing has died. Plants do not bleed. They have no blood. Animals do and so do we. An animal was necessary so that the blood could symbolize sacrifice. The blood itself was not as important as what the blood represented. Animals like sheep, goats, and cattle were vital to the early people of Israel, providing food, clothing, and essentially life itself. The loss of a “perfect” animal, even if it wasn’t devastating, was still a sacrifice.

The author of Hebrews wrote that “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22 ESV). But it might be more accurate to say, “without sacrifice there is no forgiveness of sins.” But we selfish, sinful, imperfect humans aren’t capable of the kind of sacrifice “forgiveness of sins” requires. Personally, I’m finding it difficult to get through the season of Lent while making a relatively minor sacrifice.

Since we can never sacrifice enough, Christ sacrificed himself for us (Heb. 9:26b). When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him, he said, “‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29b ESV). The author of Hebrews wrote that Christ “offered himself without blemish to God,” (Heb. 9:14b ESV). Christ became a perfect sacrifice in our place so that we might be sanctified (Heb. 10:14).

When others see what we are willing to sacrifice—and what we are not—they will know what we believe. They will know what we hold dear. They will know what we believe, about sin and sacrifice. When they see us giving God our very best—the best of our resources, abilities, and time—they will know our profession of faith is real. I pray that they will see the sacrifice of Christ when they look at you—and at me.

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:11-14 ESV.)

Copyright © 2007 by David Phelps