Ash Thursday The First Sacrifice
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge against God’s Word. Because of this someone had to die. That was the Law: “Eat of this tree and you will surely die.” So Adam and Eve died in the garden. Immediately, upon their rebellious wills, they suffered spiritual death. Their souls were out of communion with God. They had been created alive. But then, by their sin, by their own fault, they were dead, lost, helpless in the midst of paradise. When God walked in the cool of the day they were afraid. They had made themselves His enemies. Drunk with lust, intoxicated by greed, and blind with passion, in the midst of perfection, they were sure that God was holding out on them. So they tried to steal from Him who freely gives. When they discovered their shame and vulnerability, they made for themselves inadequate, insufficient, feeble coverings from fig leaves. But when God came their fig leaves blew away. They could not face Him. They had left Him. They had a new god: death.
Because of this sin, Adam and Eve would also die physically. Their souls would be separated from their bodies. They would breath their last. They are no longer here on earth. They have returned to the dust from which they came. But there is more to death than that. Besides the living spiritual death, which is unbelief, and besides the physical death that the body suffers, there is also eternal death. And Adam and Eve never knew that.
They knew spiritual death and they knew physical death, but they did not know eternal death. Because they never paid the fair penalty for their sins. They suffered in their lives at the hand of death they were responsible for, at the partial chaos of a good world they made bad. They even lost one child at the hand of another. But they themselves did not really ever die. Instead, Jesus, the Messiah, the Seed of Eve, God made Flesh, kept the Law for them, bore its just sentence. He died, in their place, for them, as their guilt. He paid the cost they could not bear. He fulfilled the Law that would have killed them. He hung upon the cross, the Innocent for the guilty, a ransom worthy of all of humanity’s just eternities in Hell. And thus, in Him to come, in that great, final, and full sacrifice, they found from the good Creator and Provider, also forgiveness and sonship, a Father and a paradise infinitely greater than what was Eden.
And so that Adam and Eve would begin to understand what He would do for them; that they would recognize their new relationship to Him in the Son begotten from eternity but born of a woman, wounded by the serpent whom He crushes; that they might grasp by faith the idea of a substitionary sacrifice; and that He might deliver to them that loving acceptance there in time, right then, God killed an innocent animal in their place, in the garden, and He clothed them with it. What they failed with their fig leaves to cover, He covered. But that covering required death. It was the First Sacrifice, the innocent for the guilty. It provided for them a real, physical benefit. It did what they could not and enabled them to survive in a harsh environment. It also was the deliverance to them of what Jesus would win for them on the cross: the forgiveness of their sins and their adoption into the Father’s household. For even as God would provide for them in His own sacrificial death, to protect them from the powers of Hell, death, and the devil, to cover their sins and enable them to overcome both spiritual and physical death, He sacrificed there in the garden gone bad an innocent animal, a foreshadowing of His Innocent Son given to change rebellious murderers like us into sons. That animal died to keep Adam and Eve warm and protected, forgiven and adopted. It died, though it had not sinned, so that they would not die. It died to proclaim the Lord’s death who was to come. That is the point of the sacrifices up to the One that really counts.
For the blood of that first sacrifice, in itself, was not enough. It was not equal to the debt they had incurred, nor did it give of itself willingly. But by that sacrifice God showed His love and bestowed His grace. That sacrifice delivered to Adam and Eve the benefit of the Sacrifice it foreshadowed, the peace of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world to make evil men just, to cover a multitude of sin with righteousness above reproach.
Thus, Adam and Eve, Moses and Elijah, Joseph and Mary, were all rescued from spiritual death, from their enmity with God. He brought them back into His gracious presence by mercy, sparing them by punishing instead His Son. He overcame their rebellion and made them again alive in Him, a temple for His Holy Spirit. But still, having tasted spiritual death, they grew old and physically they died. But that death, too, was not really death, not lasting death. For through it God brought them to Himself. He relieved them of the burdens of their flesh, sealed them in bliss. They fell into that merciful slumber believing that that also would be remedied, that their bodies would be raised, reunited with their souls, made perfect, healthy, and strong. They are now at peace and in harmony again with the good angels. Two out of three kinds of death, they knew, and were rescued from them both because the third kind, the eternal pains of Hell, was suffered for them.
It is the same for us. The Sacrifice that saved them, foreshadowed by the skins they wore, by the Temple’s bloody smells, saves also us. We also proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. We proclaim it not by a bloody sacrifice, but by receiving in Flesh and Blood Him who died and rose again for us, and them. This Sacrament delivers to us what the sacrifices delivered to them, and in that we are one, for there is but one Body of Christ who lives. Death then, for all its bluster, has no power over us. The snake is dead. Jesus lives! Adam and Eve are at peace, and soon, too, shall we also be.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana