Jesus' death as sacrifice
Sacrifice - Pronunciation: 'sa-kr&-"fIs, also -f&s or -"fIz
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin sacrificium, from sacr-, sacer + facere to make -- more at DO
1 : an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar
2 : something offered in sacrifice
3 a : destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else b : something given up or lost
4 : LOSS
5 : SACRIFICE HIT
This week's Vox Symposium asks the question: How was Jesus' death a sacrifice? While I think that there is a certain vagueness to the question, I think that Jesus death can be seen as a sacrifice on several levels. The first level is the more obvious identification of Jesus' crucifixion as an act of offering to a deity something precious. The second is God's surrender of something valuable on earth. The third relates to the short duration of the "pain" felt by the one making the sacrifice.
Jesus as offering
First, as the definition notes, a sacrifice can be an act of offering to a deity something precious. In the case of the Gospels, Jesus was/is the second person of the Godhead. Certainly, if all life is considered precious, how much more precious is the life of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God?
The Bible supports this concept of Jesus Christ as sacrificial lamb from almost the very beginning. The account of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 where Cain's offering was not seen as good as Abel's offering. (Explaining why Abel's sacrifice was more acceptable is a bit of a longer task than I want to undertake here, but the important thing to note for this post is that one sacrifice can be seen as more acceptable or perfect in the eyes of God). The Old Testament law speaks of offering the spotless lamb as sacrifice because we shouldn't offer anything less than the best to God.
Jesus, as the one perfect man, died on the cross in offering to God for the forgiveness of sins. In that very straightforward sense, Jesus' death was a sacrifice.
Jesus death as God's surrender of something valuable
Jesus' crucifixion was pretty graphically depicted in Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. The Passion account of Jesus shows that Jesus suffered horribly in the final few hours of his life on earth. It concluded with his death by crucifixion -- a horrible way to die by any comparison. But when we focus on the suffering, we miss the main point -- Jesus' didn't have to die at all but for to save our sins. If God didn't want to save our sins, he wouldn't have sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for those sins, and there would be no sacrifice at all.
"The wages of sin is death . . . ." (Romans 6:23) All people die -- or, at least, we have no evidence that anyone is presently living who is even a short two centuries old and no reason to believe that anyone presently living today is going to live this life forever. The reason people die is sin. If not for the Fall (Genesis 3), there would not be any death for humans. Jesus was different. If Jesus was sinless (and the Bible teaches that he was in Hebrews 4:15), then it follows that he did not earn the death that he suffered. Yet, he voluntarily gave up that life when he had no obligation to do so. That is a sacrifice, plain and simple.
The continuing sacrifice
The usual objection to Jesus' suffering and death as sacrifice that I have seen goes something like this: Jesus didn't really sacrifice anything because His suffering only lasted a very short time in relation to eternity, and He knew that heaven awaited Him (where we can never be as certain as Jesus was). These are two separate objections, but both responses miss something important -- timelessness.
Let me first say that I am speculating a bit in the following because the Bible does not make it clear exactly what heaven will be like. It gives us hints and glimpses, but just as God has not made himself perfectly known, heaven -- being the place where we are intimately involved in God's love -- cannot be made clear without God being made clear. Thus, what I am about to say is, in my opinion, reasonably inferable from the Scriptures, but I cannot say with any certainty that it is absolutely right.
Remember that God lives in a place (heaven) which is beyond time and space as we know it. I cannot comprehend how events occur in heaven -- whether they are temporal in some sense -- but it seems apparent that time as we understand it was created with the universe. God lives in some type of eternal everlastingness where he sees all that has happened, all that will happen, and all that might happen as though they are here and now.
In this timelessness, there is something that becomes immediately apparent -- there is really no past in the sense that we think of it. All is present. Did you go to the store yesterday? In God's eyes, you are at the store right now and will be at the store forever. There is no time and so all that happened is happening now and will be happening eternally for God. Obviously, if this viewpoint is accurate, then everything that God has happened or will happened has been happening from God's point of view from eternity past, is happening now, and will be happening everlastingly into the future.
Now, consider the ramifications from this viewpoint for Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus was tortured by the Romans, brutally beaten and hung on a cross to die a slow painful death. From our earth=bound point of view, these events took place over a period of 24 hours. But from God's point of view, Jesus' suffering and crucifixion has been taking place from eternity past, is happening now, and will be happening in the future.
Is that enough of a sacrifice?