Slaying the Lamb
I was just awakened in the middle of the night by a dream that created such revulsion in me that I couldn't go back to sleep. I have a rather sensitive nature when it comes to violence toward animals and my wife is even far more extreme. In my dream I can't remember what led up to the climax, but whatever it was required the killing of a sheep that someone was holding in front of me.
I assumed that the ritual slaying had to take place, you know, the kind typically carried out in Old Testament days where the throat of the animal was slit and in a few moments it was dead. So I braced myself emotionally for those few moments of excruciating discomfort while I extended a long stick with a knife on the end of it and tried to cut the animal. The problem was that from my position I only managed to cut its shoulder. So while the man holding the animal counted seconds expecting the innocent sheep to die, the sheep only stood there bleeding but with no quick death in sight.
This was very unnerving for me and my feelings quickly turned to horror as I realized I had somehow gotten myself into a real quandary here. I then woke up which at first I thought was going to be my relief so I could put this dream behind me and go back to sleep. But that was not to be – and I now find myself typing out my thoughts that have come flooding in from what I am sure is the instigation of the Spirit of God compelling me to see more clearly the effect of my sins on those outside of me.
I'm not sure why, but in all the years of instruction about the meaning of the sanctuary system, it never seemed to get through to me, at least to my heart, that when I sin it has the same affect as me personally putting a knife to the body of Jesus. Maybe... Well, I just don't know why my heart is so dull for there are likely very many reasons. But suffice it to say I have known for many years that my heart is so jaded and blocked from perceiving reality that it has made it very hard for the Holy Spirit to convict me of many things at that level. My mind has often experienced a lot of guilt and my heart felt condemned for many years; but somehow I found it more reprehensible to experience violence against animals than to face the implications of violations in the spirit against other people.
Almost immediately upon waking up I began to sense that God had a reason for this dream that He wanted to impress on me more deeply. He wouldn't let me shake it off or ignore it in favor of returning to sleep. Rather He only intensified my emotions by bringing more things to my attention in regards to this that I now feel compelled to record so as not to lose any of them. Maybe you might track with me.
When I sin, it is not just a sin against myself or another person. Jesus is the one represented by the innocent lamb, and the more I am coming to know Him personally the more uncomfortable it is to think of pulling a knife on Him in person to wound Him. I suppose that maybe God has finally gotten enough information about the truth of His heart into my very thick and dull senses that finally I am ready to appreciate, at least to a tiny degree, the real implications of the sacrificial system that was lost through the callousness that system produced in the hearts of people immersed in it for centuries.
But that's not the end of it. Paul takes it a step even further when he speaks of crucifying the Son of God afresh when we turn away from the glorious truths of a new-found discovery of His glories at the heart level (Hebrews 6:6). Crucifixion is a far cry from animal sacrifice as carried out in the Old Testament period. Crucifixion was meant to be slow torture in the extreme, invented to prolong a person's agony as long as possible while producing as much humiliation and shame as the Romans could imagine. This is nothing like the quick death of the lamb per God's instructions in the sacrificial system but rather took dying to a whole new extreme. And yet that is similar to what sin causes all of us to do to the dearest, most precious life and closest friend that any of us could ever know. Sin is exactly the same as slowly and personally torturing our best friend to death. For the passionate love that Jesus has for me and the innocence and purity that is inherent in Him as demonstrated in His life lived here on earth makes it more evident that when I spurn His love or mistreat any of His children, including myself, I am in effect wounding the literal body of Christ and my spirit participates in the torture that was part of the crucifixion process He experienced before His death.
But even that is not all of it. Jesus made it explicitly plain that when I hurt anyone else here on earth it is the same as if I do it to Him personally (Matthew 25:45). He feels such intimate identification and emotional connectedness to each individual on planet earth that when that person hurts in any way, Jesus hurts at least as much if not more. We have no clue – especially hardened people like myself to the reality of these things – how closely sympathetic Jesus is to feel all of our sufferings. Yes, I have heard these facts repeated over and over throughout my entire life, but they never made any sense at all to my heart until just now. That may be very sad but it is the truth.
Even now I feel like my logical mind is making hash of what God is trying to impress on me at the heart level. I am always in danger of trying to make such logical sense out of everything that I can easily miss the real impact at the heart level of what God is seeking to convey to me. Yet I have also learned that if I don't write down many of the things that come to my attention that my weak recall abilities prevent me from being able to meditate on them for any length of time. So I take the risk of dampening the effectiveness of what is being impress on me in order to capture as much of it as possible by clumsily writing it down in words often inadequate to really get the real meaning anyway.
There is also the ever-present danger of my slipping into intellectualizing things that are meant to be more heart-based than head-oriented in the process of trying to explain and remember them. But laying that aside again, I want to remember and actively listen even while I am writing these words, to what my Savior is wanting me to hear from Him at the heart level.
I remember Ellen White's descriptions of the feelings and overwhelming emotions of revulsion that Adam felt as he was required to kill the very first innocent lamb after he sinned in the garden of Eden. This action was so reprehensible to his keen sensibilities that it appears it may have been more than he was able to carry out alone. By the clues we have it appears that possibly God had to put his hand over Adam's hand to help him carry out this dramatic deed of killing an innocent victim to impress on the hearts of Adam and Eve the effect that their rebellion had on God's own heart of love for them.
I have so long had my perceptions of these things clouded by legal thinking and assumptions that I have largely missed the real impact of the truth of this matter. We so often view the sacrifices substitutionary atonement, by which we really mean appeasement to satisfy the demands of either the Law or of an offended God angry with our violations of His rules. But this blinds our hearts to the real issues and the seriousness of what sin does to the heart of God. When I think of the closeness and intimacy that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God for who knows how long before sin entered the world, it begins to emerge how deep the pain was in God's heart when suddenly they revoked their trust in His heart and believed instead spurious lies about God promoted by the father of lies. God's best friends in essence suddenly turned and begin to slash at Him with an emotional knife in a spirit of violence similar to what could be observed in the attitude of Satan who had come to hate God violently and wanted to spread his hatred to as many as possible.
What my heart struggles to perceive is how God could never change in His passion of intimate desire for His deluded children who now have become infected with so many lies about Him they cannot think a single clear thought about what is really going on. It seems impossible to comprehend, or in my case even have any useful level of effective appreciation, for a kind of love that is totally free of all desire for retaliation when pain is abusively inflicted. And yet understand and appreciate I must if I am ever to be drawn by the real truth about why Jesus died and if I am to begin to grasp what it means to be healed by His stripes (Isaiah 53:5).
I don't want to lose the effect of what is beginning to soak in right now. But I also feel I might be losing it. I don't sense the same intensity of revulsion as I did when I first woke up from this dream, but then I suppose I cannot live at that level of intensity all the time – or can I? Somehow God has to get through to my calloused, diseased brain and perceptions to impress me with the reality of both how He feels about me in love and also how my treatment of others deeply wounds His heart even now.
My mind is drawn to how I treat certain people close to me. I very often feel offended by things they do or say and I too often react with a critical spirit saying things that wound their spirit. But even though with my head I sometimes feel convicted that this is not the right way to live, because I do not sense the depth of the pain I am causing them because I cannot see their heart, I usually dismiss my mistreatment of them or excuse it. Yet if I take the words of Jesus seriously I have to believe that in every way I wound one of those around me even slightly I am also wounding Him.
It helps that I have been slowly moving toward a better understanding of the real truth about what God is like and how He feels about me over the past 25 years. Maybe I am finally getting close enough to an appreciation of His affections for me that He can begin to use these tentative attachments in my heart to begin awakening an awareness of my true condition. I have known many of these things intellectually for much of my life, but the problem has always been getting my heart free enough from the myriads of lies about God to begin to function like it is was originally designed to function. Because my own heart has long suffered from the wounding of others it has been incapacitated to be able to appreciate how much I wound other people's hearts and especially God's heart.
Paul reminds me that it is the kindness of God that is the only effective means of leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We have so long tried to rely on fear of God to do that job that our hearts have been darkened by our fears instead of attracted by the real power of the cross. I realize more and more how vital it is for me to begin to grasp the true meaning of why Jesus died to replace the mass of invalid explanations offered by religion. My only hope for being drawn to God's heart by the affectionate love of Jesus as demonstrated in His crucifixion is to get past all the dogma and superstition and misrepresentations piled up around that event and to catch a glimpse of what it really means for me personally.
As I have come to realize that God is not the problem I have to deal with but rather the callousing that sin is doing to my own heart, my perceptions of the true meaning of the cross have slowly been turning around. Peter, one who witnessed and experienced the real power and transformation of the cross, tried to explain it as best he could.
...If you suffer for doing good and you are patient, this pleases God. This is what you were chosen to do. Christ gave you an example to follow. He suffered for you. So you should do the same as he did: "He never sinned, and he never told a lie." People insulted him, but he did not insult them back. He suffered, but he did not threaten anyone. No, he let God take care of him. God is the one who judges rightly. Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross. He did this so that we would stop living for sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:20-24 ERV)
Only as I can appreciate the truth revealed in these words can I begin to respond to the drawing passion of God for me. When it finally begins to soak in – and I hope it is starting to now – that my acts of rebellion against His love for me, either toward Him directly or in my mistreatment and critical fault-finding of those He also loves – are no different than pulling out a knife and attacking Him in person or picking up the whip and lashing out my anger and bitterness on His back with the Roman soldiers. When I can begin to connect the dots at the heart level and really own the truth that I can still crucify Him in the way I wound His heart by my own hardness of heart, then I believe my heart will begin to come to the place where it can begin to heal because of His wounds.
Peter experienced this dramatically when he reacted in fear and confused emotions during the trial and severe abuse of Jesus. Peter, like so many of us, thought that being loyal to God meant keeping up appearances, working hard to defend the truth and watching out for Jesus' back when others might threaten Him. But everything that Peter believed and assumed about living in the truth failed him when the real crisis hit. Only the truth that Jesus loved Him passionately even when he failed most miserably was able to recover him from severe depression and regret. But most importantly, as Peter watched with horror all the abuse and shame heaped on Jesus, he observed with amazement how Jesus always responded with only pure love free from all bitterness, resentment or any hint of desire for revenge. The real truth about God had finally begun to dawn on Peter's consciousness.
I feel all too much like Peter myself. Like all the disciples who were clueless as to what Jesus was really all about until after that traumatic weekend, I sense that I still don't get it very much. Like those disciples I too have been jaded by the traditions of religion and blinded by many false assumptions from the experts of religion who are confident they know the meaning of the Word. But the closer I get to seeing the real truth about God's heart and what Jesus came to reveal about that truth, the more I sense how little I comprehend and how much I need to be converted more fully.
Like Peter, the idea of the real message of the cross being about a God who cannot be offended or turned away by any amount of abuse but will love me beyond the point of death just staggers my abilities to appreciate. And yet it is this very truth – the core truth of the real meaning of the cross, not an appeasement of an angry God – that is the only truth that has real power to draw hearts out in a response of love like what Peter experienced in the end. It is in a growing awareness that my actions and words can wound Jesus just as easily as all those who physically participated in His crucifixion that awakens in me a realization of what kind of desire and passion He has to restore me into harmony with His way of loving and living.
I couldn't help but sense the voice of God to me personally as I read these verses from 1 Peter 2.
1 So then, stop doing anything to hurt others. Don't lie anymore, and stop trying to fool people. Don't be jealous or say bad things about others. (ERV)
2 Be full of desire for the true milk of the word, as babies at their mothers' breasts, so that you may go on to salvation; (BBE)
3 As the scripture says, "You have found out for yourselves how kind the Lord is." (GNB)