If you visit the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey in Norfolk you will see a large cross that has been placed on the altar.
I’ve never been, but a friend of mine showed us this picture in church this morning as she talked about Harriers (a Scripture Union sailing holiday) that she led during the Summer. Her feedback about all that had happened was really encouraging. It is always great to hear about how God has been at work. Whilst I was encouraged generally, I was really struck by the picture of the cross. As I looked at it, I was reminded that Jesus’ death on the cross has replaced the need for sacrifices to make us right with God.
Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. (Hebrews 10.11-12).
In Old Testament times, the altar was used to sacrifice animals to take a worshippers sins away. The only trouble with this approach is that only your past sins were forgiven which meant you were only in the right place with God until you next sinned. Jesus offered his life as the perfect and permanent sacrifice. His sacrifice is good for all time and it does not need to be repeated endlessly. As Jesus died, he dealt with the sin that separates us from God. The imagery of the cross upon the altar is striking, Jesus has set us free and he has done it with a guarantee that it is effective for all time.
Imagine a terrible disease that resulted in death for anyone infected. Imagine the rejoicing when a treatment was found that could remove the disease. A single injection could remove the illness which meant you would be cured until the next time you were infected. People could then take the injections and then try to alter their lives to avoid contamination but the disease is just too contagious to be free from. One day a person was found who was immune to the disease and a permanent cure was developed using his blood. The saviour provided a cure that was good for life if people were willing to take it.
Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus saves us from the sickness that is sin.
Jesus sacrifice saves us, but only if we receive it as a gift. The Bible says we do this by repenting (means to turn around or to change our minds). We turn away from our sinful lifestyle and turn towards God asking him to forgive us and to lead us in his will. This then results in us being cleansed from sin and receiving a new start in life (the Bible calls this being born again).
As I looked at the picture of the cross and the group of people sat on the altar I also thought about Romans 12.1 which says,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Because Jesus’ sacrifice offers us mercy and cleansing we are urged to offer our bodies as sacrifices. The people sat on an altar reminded me that we have the opportunity to give our lives as a living sacrifice to God. Jesus gave his all for us and we can choose to give our all for him. We are urged to do this, but we can be saved from our sins even if we don’t. We have a choice of how much we give back to God, a choice of how faithfully and passionately we serve him.
If we were God, we might have insisted on a fairer contract of faith requiring a perfect level of commitment in exchange for salvation. God does require us to have a repentant attitude where our desire should be to turn away from sin and follow him but he doesn’t require perfect living. God offers us what we don’t deserve and this should motivate us to offer God the whole of our lives even though we don’t have to. This is true and proper worship.