For a book that talks a great deal about sacrifices, quietly in the Bible, there are two of the utmost importance: the first sacrifice and the last.
Both are made by God.
The first sacrifice comes in Genesis 3 after man and woman have been deceived by the serpent and eaten from the tree. God pronounces the curse on them all and then, just before He casts them out of the paradise He's created for them, He makes them coverings out of animal skins. It's easy to miss the act of sacrifice here because the Bible does not specifically note it as such, but what animal can you take the skins from without also taking its life?
And for what, you might ask, was such a sacrifice made? A few loincloths? A little modesty?
Oh no. It goes far beyond that, and this is why we have to pay attention to this tiny little sentence here just after the curse. God makes the first sacrifice not for man's modesty, but for his shame.
Genesis 3 tells us that when the man and women's eyes were opened, the first thing they saw was their own nakedness, and they were ashamed. They weren't ashamed, it doesn't say, before each other. After all, they went and hid in the bushes together. So Eve's nakedness did not shame her before Adam, and Adam's nakedness was no shame to him before Eve. No. Man and woman were shamed before God. It was a shame that cut to the very core of their beings, to the very God-breathed spirit that lived inside of them.
Then God sacrifices some animal and makes them coverings of skin. It's a sacrifice because He's taken one life for the sake of another, destroyed one animal in His creation to salvage another. I don't think God ever intended to take life out of the world; He meant only to give it. But He needed skin to cover man's exposed flesh. Hides to hide man's shame.
Thousands of years and hundreds of generations later, God makes His second, and final, sacrifice. This is, of course, His Son.
It's easier for us to comprehend Jesus as a sacrifice. After all, He is the atonement for our sins. But I want to suggest that so often, we think more of Jesus as God's gift than as His sacrifice. We think of Him as an offering, not a sacrifice. We fail to remember what it took for God to give us His Son, what the Cross required of the Father, how hard it must have been for God to turn His back on Jesus in one heart-wrenching moment of sacrifice.
In a world that refused to bleed for Him, that wouldn't do the hard work of faith, God poured out the blood of His Son that we might remember what atonement looks like. In a world that wouldn't die for Him, He died for us that perhaps, just perhaps, we might learn to live for Him. God makes the last sacrifice not for man's shame, but for his salvation. The blood of Christ covers him but does not hide him; it washes over him. By the final sacrifice, man is not made comfortable; he is made clean.
And I think all that is pretty cool. That even as we read about rams, lambs, and one-year-old goats without defect, wine and grain and olive oil, fellowship and sin sacrifices, it is our God Himself who shows us what the sacrifice is. It is God Himself who makes the first sacrifice and the last one.
But I'm also thinking about something else (of course).... More on that tomorrow.