Iyi bayramlar! Today is Kurban Bayram (if you are in Turkey), Tabaski (if you are in Senegal), Eid al-Adha (if you are in an Arabic speaking country). Today is the day commemorating the Koranic story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Ishmael and how Allah provided a ram at the last minute. You can read more about my experience with the holiday here.
For the last week or so, makeshift animal vendors have been setting up shop at various places around the city, usually in or near car shops or car washes. I must say that I cannot walk by a pen full of sheep and not think about my most favorite true story in the world.
I am walking home from the mall, up the long hill as it is getting darker and colder, carrying bags and chatting with my husband. We come up around the small curve past the merging street, and there is a pen full of hundreds of sheep. You can smell it before you see it, and immediately a feeling of deep sorrow and extreme joy flood my heart.
Sacrifice is not a foreign concept to me. I’ve read about it time and time again. The Jews in the Old Testament were forced to sacrifice in order to keep a good relationship with their God. Sacrifice was the way they paid for the wrongs that they committed. It was a tiresome and overbearing system that weighed heavily on them as they tried to live holy and atone for their sins whenever they failed.
This wooden structure on my trudge up the hill was a pen holding sheep which would be sacrificed in the coming days. This sacrifice would not be so much for atonement or retribution, but rather as a commemoration, and a chance to give to the poor. But still, there is an aspect of earning God’s favor, or working to please him.
The extreme joy fills my heart because as I look at these sheep, these symbols that I know are offered in hopes of appeasing a God that requires something from man, I cannot help but think of my sacrifice. My sacrifice came 2000 years ago in the form of a man who had never, ever sinned. A man who never needed to offer a sacrifice to a God who demanded perfection. My sacrifice was Jesus Christ.
Since wrong became a part of this world, man has not had a healthy relationship with God. God is perfect, man is not. God cannot tolerate imperfection because it is completely contrary to his nature. This is why he required the blood sacrifice. By sacrifice, a payment for sin was made. This worked to give God what he wanted in return for our stealing from him by sinning. But, it was a never-ending cycle of work. Man will never be able to work sin out of his system. Once it is there, it forever stains the heart. The only hope man has of reuniting in a relationship with God is by becoming perfect. Since this is impossible, the only other way of doing this is by having someone who is perfect vouch for me and cover my sins with his perfection.
That is what Jesus Christ did for me. Because God requires a sacrifice of something perfect to cover the imperfection of man, Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a completely sinless life, and died – offering himself as my own sacrifice. Because he died, he now has the right to buy me back and cover my sins with his perfection. God has been pleased. A right relationship can be had! My only responsibility is not to continue to sacrifice lambs, not to work hard or pay money to earn God’s favor, it is to accept the sacrifice that he offered on my behalf, and realize that my only hope is dependence on him and trust that he really will vouch for me and cover me with his perfection. He offered the only sacrifice that could completely cover all of my sin. He give up a life to gain my life.
I look at these sheep, and I am just overwhelmed with the fact that someone could love me so much that he would die for me so that I could be his own. How incredibly awesome is that?!
And so the extreme joy . . .
The deep sorrow enters because although I know that I have this right relationship with God because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I also know that there are others who don’t. There are some who don’t know about the sacrifice that was made on their behalf, and I desperately want them to know.
I am in a relationship with God because Jesus came as my lamb, my sacrifice. All I can do is praise him.