The God who claims to be love created everything in the universe to be “circular,” in the sense of each one serving another, which is the essence of love. And God wanted love to be the central theme for all eternity.
Even after death entered the world through the sins of Adam and Eve, God turned death into a circle of life. His creation would continue to learn more and more about the depths of love and participate in its recreation. He even gave warnings about what the results of selfishness would be (Genesis 2:17). He told humanity that if they chose to live in disobedience to God, then their lives would be filled with pain and that their end would be eternal death.
Imagine the world that God had created before Adam and Eve sinned. Nothing ever froze in cold weather and died. No animals preyed on the lives of other animals. No pain, no death, no misery. God created a world free from tears, sorrow, hospitals, healthcare, and military defense.
After the fall of Adam and Eve, the world flew into a tailspin. Cycles were broken, and the world suffered under the curse of sin. Adam and Eve had placed it in the hands of Satan (John 12:31). Because God loved His creation, He wanted to save it, but it was going to be costly. It was going to cost Him, personally. It would not cost the life of a plant. It would not cost the life of an animal or even a sinful human being. Not the life of the whole planet, either. Not the lives of all the angels. It would cost Him, God, His own life in the person of Jesus.
In order to demonstrate what His great sacrifice would be, God gave them a command to confess their sins on the head of a lamb and then kill it as an offering. This offering was to represent Him dying in their place (Leviticus 1:1-3). This practice of sacrificing a lamb was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21), and they were to pass on the rite to their children. But within one generation the practice was distorted and lost (Genesis 4:3-7). Only a small number of faithful people continued to sacrifice what God had required.
Is God bloodthirsty? These sacrifices were kind of harsh, after all. Yet that was precisely the point. Sin is costly. God would give His lifeblood to save his children. The sacrifice of a lamb would be a gruesome reminder to angels and humans about just how costly sin was and what it took to solve it.
Long after Adam had died and the flood ended, a man named Abraham was born and remained faithful to God. Abraham was a very old man who had trouble producing offspring with his wife Sarah. Finally, he had a son named Isaac. God told him to take his son up on a mountain and sacrifice him. So, Abraham takes Isaac up on top of the mountain and tells Isaac to lay on the altar that they built together. Abraham has the knife in his hands. He raises the knife into the air to kill the sacrifice and then hears the voice of God telling him to stop. God tells him that, instead of offering Isaac, there is a ram caught in the thicket close by (Genesis 22:13)—which was God’s way of demonstrating how much it would cost him to save the world. God was going to come as the Ram and would offer Himself in the place of human beings. This powerful story reveals what God Himself would suffer in order to save the world from sin.
But how can someone die for someone else? If someone has done something wrong, then they are responsible to suffer the penalty of their own crime, right?
This is a fallacy. Every society is littered with cases where people have substituted the lives of one person for another person or group of people. How many times during war have there been prisoner exchanges? A life for a life, or a life for many lives? Not only that, but there are countless times in history where a group of people were conquered, and their king or leader was killed but the people left alone. These are examples of an individual dying on behalf of a group that they represent. This is no different than our King and Creator giving His life on behalf of humanity.
Ok, but if God is so loving and just, why would He order the sacrificing of millions of innocent animals? Again, God required a death to point to the death of Christ. God required the animal to be spotless and perfect because Jesus was going to live a life of perfect love and obedience to God.
God didn’t have the people just throw these animals out, either. The sacrifices were used as food for the priests (Leviticus 6:26). God prescribed how everything would have a purpose, and nothing would be wasted. Think of it more like how the American Indians would use the entire buffalo and waste nothing, in contrast to the colonists and pioneers, who would just take some of it and leave the rest to rot.
This might be hard to swallow for vegetarians or vegans, but it should be even more compelling. God meant for all those sacrifices to be a weighty reminder on the consciences that selfishness is costly. It cost the life of the Son of God. The point of the sacrifice, if properly understood, was to teach people how bad sin was, and thus prompt them to abandon their sinful and selfish ways and become kind, loving, and caring. He wanted them to learn to do justice and love mercy. He wanted them to defend the orphan and plead for the widow. He wanted them to be advocates for love (Isaiah 1:16-18, Amos 5:24).
This kind of change is impossible for us to do by ourselves. We all define good and evil so differently. We struggle to uphold even our own definitions of right and wrong. We will advocate for good one day, but the next day indulge our selfish desires. We lie to others and we lie to ourselves. We have a confused morality within us because we are confused about the true definitions of good and evil.
But God says that He will come to us. He says that He will forgive us (John 3:16). He says that He will replace our selfish hearts with hearts of love (Ezekiel 36:26). He will make us His dwelling place (1 Corinthians 3:16). He will cleanse us from our sins and wickedness (1 John 8:9). He will put in our hearts the true definition of good and evil (Psalm 119:11). He promises to transform us from the inside out if we stay connected to Him (John 15:9, 10).
Jesus spent His entire life showing the love of God. He healed the sick, gave hope to the poor, and reached out to all people. He told people about the love of God and a kingdom of equality and love. He told everyone He met that they could be a part of this kingdom of love, if they wanted to. He told them that the basis of this kingdom was self-sacrifice and humility.
Then Jesus did two incredible things to demonstrate the truth of His kingdom.
At the last supper, the disciples had been arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. The supper was ready, and the disciples were reclining on pillows around the table (this was a middle eastern style of eating). A wash basin was sitting at one end of the table with water and a towel, but no servant had come to wash them. Each disciple thought themselves better than the next and didn’t move to take the place of the servant. Jesus got up from the table and went to the basin. He poured water in it and then went around and washed the feet of each of the disciples (John 13:1-17).
This was a big deal. Jesus was a rabbi and the master. He was the most important person in the room and, although they didn’t know it, He was the most important person in the universe.
Yet He humbled himself and served all the disciples by washing their dirty feet. People at that time wore sandals and walked through dirty roads. It was a gross job to wash someone’s feet. Then He turned to the disciples and said to them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
This was to be the basis of Christianity. The Kingdom of God is based on this concept of humble self-sacrifice and love. You will know who is truly a Christian when you see this kind of attitude in someone.
What was the second thing Christ did to demonstrate this principle of truth to the world? He died on cross (John 15:13).