By Femi Aribisala
Most Christians remain far from the kingdom of God because we still believe pre-eminently in sacrifices.
Every Christian expects to go to heaven. But surprisingly, Jesus’ kingdom dynamics predicts different. Jesus says: “The last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16). Christians are today’s first who will be tomorrow’s last. Jesus says furthermore: “The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12). Christians are today’s sons of the kingdom.
Believing a lie
The Jews were convinced their place in God’s kingdom was secure as sons of Abraham. But paradoxically, their place was in jeopardy for precisely that very reason. (Matthew 3:8-10). The kingdom of heaven is not prepared for the sons of Abraham. In order to inherit eternal life, the sons of Abraham have to forsake Abraham, their father, and become sons of God. (Matthew 19:29).
Not understanding kingdom dynamics, Paul says: “All Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26). But in truth, no Israelite can be saved. The kingdom of God does not recognise Israel. For an Israelite to be saved, he has to be born again into an entirely new nation; the “little flock” of God. (Luke 12:32). Jesus proclaimed God’s verdict on Israel: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:43).
Alas, Christians face a similar predicament today. We declare we are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. However, this very belief will lead to our condemnation. God despises sacrifices. He says: “Whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations.” (Isaiah 66:3-4).
The temple cult
In biblical Israel, you were deemed righteous if you participated in the sacrificial rituals. However, Jesus was always found among “sinners;” those ostracised for their non-participation in the temple cult. When queried about this anomaly, Jesus’ said he has no interest in anyone who trusts in rituals. He is only interested in those who rely exclusively on God’s mercy. He declared: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13).
Most Christians have refused to learn what Jesus means. Jesus knew some would later maintain his death was a sacrifice for sins. Therefore, he recommended a study of the scriptures in order to controvert such thinking. God says repeatedly through his prophets that he desires mercy and not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6). He says through Jeremiah: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:21-22).
Indeed, speaking through David, Jesus promised God he would not give sacrifices and offerings on his incarnation. He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8).
However, the ears of most Christians remain closed. We fail to recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd in that messianic psalm. We insist on sacrifices; what Jesus plainly says God neither desires nor requires. Therefore, God says: “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations. I also will choose affliction for them.” (Isaiah 66:3-4).
God approved of Jesus’ refusal to participate in the sacrificial rituals in the temple. After over thirty years, God validated Jesus’ positions by proclaiming to the Jews: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus viewed the sacrificial system with disdain. He started his ministry by forcibly clearing out the sacrificial implements from the temple (John 2:14-16); and he ended his ministry by repeating the same action emphatically. (Matthew 21:12-13).
Mercy, not sacrifice
According to Jesus, God’s mercy is readily available to those who repent and forgive those who offend them. (Matthew 6:14-15). But first, we have to stop trusting in vain sacrifices. When a scribe asked him which commandment is the first of all, Jesus said it is the commandment to love the one and only God. The scribe replied: “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33).
Jesus commended this man’s statement, but remarked: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34). The man was not yet in the kingdom because he still did not recognise that his offerings and sacrifices were of absolutely no value to God. But he was not far from the kingdom because he had taken the first steps in diminishing their value. However, most Christians remain far from the kingdom of God because we still believe pre-eminently in sacrifices.
Jesus warns: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). However, the righteousness of today’s Christian is far less than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. While they only believed in the sacrifice of animals, Christians today believe in the sacrifice of a human-being. Moses warned the Israelites against such evil tendencies: “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31).
Repent or perish
When Herod killed some Galileans even while they were offering sacrifices to God, some wondered why God refused to protect them. The conclusion was that their sins must have been great. But Jesus said their sins were no greater than those of others. Their blunder was in offering sacrifices (which God did not require); instead of repenting (which was God’s requirement). Jesus then declared that all those who make the same mistake will suffer the same fate: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-3).
Christians are committing the same blunder today by claiming the sacrifice of Jesus has earned us the forgiveness of sins. As long as we continue in this delusion, we will not do what God requires, which is to repent of sin. As long as we rely on Jesus’ alleged sacrifice, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
Our loss is the gain of others with better understanding: “It shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10).