Matthew 12:17, The Sacrifice for our Sins

But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’

//Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

It was to save us from our sins, right? He was God’s substitutionary atonement, the sacrificial lamb, who gave his life for us so we could live. After his execution, his followers increasingly taught that Jesus became a human sacrifice. In fact, they began to associate Jesus with both the sacrificed Passover lamb and the “scapegoat” of Yom Kipper, who was driven out into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people.

But what would Jesus say if we asked him the same question? I don’t know. I speculate in my book about John’s Gospel how Jesus felt, but the interesting thing to note is that Jesus himself was seriously opposed to the sacrificial system. We see him protesting Temple activities and we see him proclaiming that sins are forgiven without the necessary sacrifice. Yet to claim that Jesus died “for our sins” means interpreting his death according to the very priestly logic which Jesus rejected.

What are we to make then of the ritual Jesus left us with: eating his sacrificial flesh, drinking his blood? How can we make sense of this ritual if we side with Jesus against substitutionary atonement?

More tomorrow.

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