There is good reason to be afraid. Sin has marred our frame and carried us far away from the Creator. Adam’s curse is an ancient poison that has seeped its way into the very fabric of our DNA, informing our race of death’s inevitability and our culpability is the mess spread out before us.
Sin: Defiance. Mocking God to His face. We are the bent ones who have been created for so much more.
For a thousand years the path to reconciliation with God was necessarily strewn with the bloodied carcasses of goats and lambs. A priest stood shaking before the presence of God, clinging to a promise,
…he [the high priest] shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and…[sprinkle] it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanliness of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sin….” (Leviticus 16:15-16).
Written within the Levitical code is a powerful picture of what our sin cost. Namely, blood. There will be blood. Something (or someone) must die to pay the penalty of our rebellion, our unwillingness to live in the image of the One who breathed into our lungs and gave us life.
Year after year this went on. People began to count on the fact that no matter what they had done, no matter how far they strayed from the commandments of God, He was somehow obligated to forgive them. But we’re dealing with a God who is interested in our hearts, not our religion. Amidst tears [I imagine], God speaks through the prophet Amos,
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. (5:22).
After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacrifices stopped…for the most part.
A month or two ago, I wrote about the small community of peculiar people who are found throughout Scripture (and at that time were a much larger group), the Samaritans (click here to read about them). Tucked atop Mount Gerizim (Joshua 8:30-35) is a community of about 350 Samartians (half of the worldwide population), and since they believe Solomon’s Temple was actually stood (before it was destroyed by the Babylonians) on Mount Gerizim, they continue to carry the Leviticus 16 commandment, annually.
Yesterday was a bad day for the sheep of Mount Gerizim.
I arrived with very little expectation of how I would react. The place was packed with curious folks from all regions of the globe representing a multitude of religious affiliations. Since only Samaritans were allowed in (and people like my friend Tim who managed to jump a massive fence [aka trespass]), I was forced to scale the side of a building in hopes of catching the “action” atop an adjacent rooftop. My camera began snapping.
The Samaritan men (in anticipation for what they seek God to do in regards to their souls as a response to their offering) wear all white, and filled the fading daylight with a sense of anticipation and celebration. Hugs were exchanged and children (who were in no way protected from the bloodshed that was about to take place) were scooped into the arms of loved ones.
The Samaritans are a close knit community who have struggled resist assimilation into the Jewish and Arab populations that surround them. They speak Arabic in everyday conversation (Nablus [biblical Shechem], the closet city, is in fact one of the largest Palestinian cities), however, their liturgy is conducted an ancient dialect of Hebrew. Samaritans always intermarry, which due to their small numbers unfortunately result in devastating birth defects. They are resolute, firm in their convictions (which was made explicitly clear last night), and pride themselves on being extremely hospitable.
As the sun set, I spotted a procession moving into the sacrificial area directly below me. The head of the high priest was covered by a talit (prayer shawl), and he was surrounded by several lesser priests (as well as several Israeli police officers). A hush took hold of the crowd. Prayers were led over a loud speaker. Devout Samaritans began to respond with a bowed heads and memorized responses.
Night fell. Prayers stopped. Suddenly, gleaming knives emerged from the right pant legs of the men. Sheep were pressed down to the ground by entire families, and as the angry roar of men pierced the night everyone wondered, “what’s happening?”
And Aaron [the priest] shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins (Leviticus 16:21).
Everyone was shouting there sins at the sheep. Then there was blood…everywhere.
The final seconds of a young sheep’s life found it both berated and butchered.
My heart broke…because I’m not a Samaritan. Two thousand years ago, however, I stood in the same place: knife in hand, curses pouring off my lips, mocking a broken man who would be pierced through.
We arrived back in Jerusalem around 10pm and during the half hour walk back to campus from the bus stop, Tim and I spoke of what we’d seen. “What do you think God thinks about all this?” he asked. I thought for a moment, “I think it breaks His heart.”
The writer of Hebrews tells us,
[Jesus] 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 blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh. How much more with 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 (9:12-14).
God on the cross, Jesus as the bloody lamb on the floor of the sacrificial place in Samaria, is not simply about purification from sin. He isn’t my “get out of Hell free” card. I think what grieves the heart of God the most about what happens annually atop Mount Gerizim is that this tiny community (and everyone who does not cling to the cross) is missing the heart of the Father–the One who in response to the massive rift we’ve created between His holiness and our depravity would choose to bridge the gap with His own broken body. A lesser god would hand us a to-do list, would burden our backs with blistering requirements in order that we might pay penance. Instead, the one who bled on our behalf whispered,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
We need a burden bearer, because we’re buried under the weight of our sin. We need a rest-giver, because offering a bloody sacrifice year after year wears us out, and if we’re honest, there are questions in our mind regarding weather a bleating lamb is enough to make right all I’ve turned wrong.
We have Christ. We have hope. It is finished.