Text: Genesis 4:1-16, Romans 3:21-26, Ephesians 2:13
The imagery of sacrifice is all around us.
With the passing of a new season, we watch as death makes way for new life. In winter, the earth dries up and lies dormant in order for spring to birth vibrant greens and all the colors of life in bloom. Even the daily bread we eat is from wheat that has been plucked from the ground, crushed, and made into flour for our life’s sustenance. Out my window in downtown Nashville I see an old office building, vacated long ago, being torn down to create space for something newer and shinier—something people can occupy once again.
The first image of sacrifice in Scripture shows up in Genesis 4, the tragic story of the brothers Cain and Abel. Both make offerings to God. Cain brought Him produce, and Abel brought Him the firstborn of his flock. God is pleased with Abel but not with Cain, not because Abel’s gift was better, but because Cain’s heart was not pure.
God’s favor lies with Abel, and Cain’s response is “furious” and “despondent” (Genesis 4:5). This leads him to murder his brother in the field, Abel’s blood crying out from the ground to God in condemnation of Cain’s act (Genesis 4:10).
An innocent man dies as a consequence of his brother’s sin.
In Romans, Paul writes about someone else’s sin: yours and mine. “There is no one righteous,” he says, “not even one… All have turned away” (Romans 3:10,12). Then in verse 21, just when it seems all is lost for humanity, Paul writes two incredibly beautiful words:
The “but now” is hope. The “but now” is the beginning of our new story, as winter is to spring and as grain is to bread. We were sinners who turned away and were called unrighteous, but now we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
In Romans 3, we learn what Jesus’ sacrifice meant for us and means for us still. It can be summed up in three simple yet rich words: justification, redemption and propitiation.
Justification means we have been made righteous under the covering of Christ: “They are justified freely by His grace…” (v. 24).
Redemption means we have been purchased by Christ and, therefore, are now free. “…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24).
Propitiation means God’s wrath toward sin has been satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ. “God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood to demonstrate His righteousness” (v. 25).
Abel’s death did not accomplish these things. He was innocent, but he was not without sin. He died, but he did not lay down his life for another. His blood cried out injustice and condemnation for his brother, Cain.
Jesus is the true and better Abel. He was not merely innocent; He was sinless. His life was not taken from Him; He gave it willingly. His blood cries out in satisfaction of justice and for our justification. Christ’s pure sacrifice accomplished what no other could—the full and forever forgiveness of our sin.
The hard earth of winter, the grinding of wheat, the rubble of an old building strewn on the ground—these symbols of sacrifice in our everyday lives are there for a reason. They are a constant living and dying reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, of His blood that bought and brought us new life. They remind us of our freedom. They tell us we are forgiven.
The sacrifice is done. The price? It’s been paid. And it’s all—and always will be—because of Jesus.