Thoughts of Old Testament altars bring to mind massive stone table-like structures where the blood of sacrificial animals poured out for sins of the people have left indelible stains. The killing of the bullock, the ram, the lamb, the dove, whatever animal was being offered suggests a chaotic scene: the holding of perhaps a struggling or bleating animal, the merciful and swift killing, the offering of its shed blood, and the aroma of the fat portions being burned. All the while the people worshipping God as the priest carried out these duties. When I consider acts of sacrifice, whether it be in this physical way, or in the laying down of oneself for the good of others, this picture plays in my mind. There is something bewildering about it all.
The shedding of blood is not something one typically considers a picture of beauty or one to be dwelt upon. Gruesome scenes of killing, the taking of lives in violence, are usually what come to mind – the horrors of wars and murders played out for viewing whenever a TV screen is turned on. It is a part of our world that I prefer to avoid. Yet it is there nonetheless.
Then enters the Hope of Christ. With His final sacrifice of shed blood for the past, present, and future sins of all mankind, the practice of sacrificial blood and burnt offerings ceased for God’s people. What an amazing thing! No need for more dying! Christ has done it all for us!
How then can I reconcile that in following Christ I should “die to self?” Immediately I think of the blood-stained stone altar, me being the one being sacrificed. It’s interesting how one’s thoughts might jump to nebulous conclusions. But in this case one need not fear. For the stone altar of sacrifice and death has been replaced by Christ’s sacrificial gift, the altar of grace.
An altar of grace is amazingly different than that cold, stone altar of old. Gone are the individual requirements for the sacrificial animal to be without spot or blemish, for the priest to be intermediary to make the offering, for rules and regulations to be followed so one can be deemed forgiven of sins. No, the altar of grace requires nothing from the one approaching, other than the receiving of the gift already given. It is a place of life rather than of death, for Christ, the One who sacrificed Himself there in our place, has fulfilled all the former requirements. He is alive and has defeated death!
When I approach this altar, thinking of “dying to self” as letting go of those parts of me that might be my best, or the worst, I am surprised, and delighted to find I am actually falling into the arms of Jesus. The altar of grace is a wellspring of life, not death. The more I place upon it, this place actually of refining, the more freedom I gain in walking into God’s kingdom, leaving the kingdom of darkness behind, and the scars it has wrecked upon me. It is a wonderful place to be, full of warmth, healing and abundance, life overflowing, hope restored, the place to receive joy in my spirit. It is a place of invitation, a gift already paid for, just waiting to be opened. “Come,” says the Lamb of God. “Come, follow Me. Receive the grace I have poured out for you.”
And so I go. Sometimes tentatively, other times with hastened steps. Each time finding that “dying” truly is not the awful thing I thought it to be, but more the shedding of worn out, unnecessary things; of unconfessed sins needing forgiveness; of forgiveness and grace I need to extend towards others; stuff of reconciliation needing tended. It is not the giving up of the best of me, but of becoming the better me, the one I have been created to be. All redeemed in His arms of grace. “To life!” exclaimed Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. To Life, indeed! And Amazing Grace!