There’s a holy hush over the earth. Christians and non-Christians, alike, are darkening church doors to pay reverence for the most famous death in history, a death that split time and created a new religious movement. Every year, thousands travel a pilgrimage to a Holy City, just to experience that sacred moment in their hearts. Sure, only days following there will be a celebration of a resurrected life, but there’s something about the death of divinity for the sake of mortals that brings a wave of hushed awe.
I think most of us feel guilty about the death of Jesus, as if, after thousands of years dealing with screwed up humanity, God decided he’d had enough, and in some passive-aggressive sense of obligation, he came to earth to clean up our debauchery and filth.
Then, to his bad kids, said, “There, are you happy now? I made a way for you to grace my presence. Now get it right.” Sigh. Eye roll.
Except there’s more to this love story. There’s a foundation of love in this story that’s as strong as death. A love that burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame, and this passionate love is established in ancient times with a bloody pagan ritual and a man named Abram.
We all understand promises. We’ve all made one or two in our lifetime. I’m sure we’ve even signed a contract that states that if either party betrays their part of the contract, legal action will take place, like a repossessed car or a lawsuit, but there’s a greater commitment between two parties, one that’s more than a promise and a handshake. It’s an ancient and bloody pagan ritual called a covenant. Now, when two men decided to go into covenant with one another, they committed the rest of their lives to the other person, as in, they were united as one, serving one another — death being the only release from the covenant. The best way to think of a covenant is our modern day Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. Except, if I’m going to trust you to have my back for the rest of my life, then I’m gonna need more than a, “I promise, dude.” Ancient people understood something, “the life of all flesh is its blood.” So, to prove your commitment for life, you were gonna have to put some skin in the game — like blood.
There are ancient documents that tell accounts of when two men who decided to go into covenant with one another, to make the covenant binding, they would each cut their forearm, take a quill, drink the other’s blood from the incision, and then write his name in blood on a document. Once both had drank and signed, they would each wear an identical copy of the covenant in an amulet around his neck for the rest of his life. They would live the rest of their lives in service of one another, and committing to shed his own blood if he broke his covenant.
Many times animal sacrifices would be used. They would slit the throats of animals until their blood flowed together, and each party would walk through the blood, calling on pagan gods for blessings. Curses would be declared on the one who ever betrayed the covenant — the curse declaring, just like the animals shed their blood for this covenant, so the same would be required of the one who broke his end of the deal.
Today’s Italian Mafia be like, Fo’get about it.
When the Sovereign God called a pagan man to represent all humanity, and promised this childless man children that were too numerous to count, and He would call them His people, Abram said, “prove it.” So, when God asked for the blood of animals, Abram knew exactly what was about to go down. Abram was familiar with the custom of a blood covenant. This covenant pretty much established God as the original Godfather (Hahaha. Yeah, I cracked myself up on that one).
Abram laid the animals across from each other, the blood from their sliced throats flooded into one stream. Abram was ready, 100% committed to walk the bloody path. He waited, shooing away the vultures. As night came, Abram felt a dread come over him. I can’t prove it, but as he slipped off into a troubled sleep, I’m sure Abram’s heart thought God wasn’t not going to show up. God wasn’t going to keep his end of the bargain, and put some skin in the game (Genesis 15:8-21).
Only, this Sovereign God’s pause in the darkness of the night was a pause of compassion, because “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14). God knows our weaknesses more than we do. He formed our humanity, and understands our limited capabilities. He understands.
As Abram slept his troubled sleep, God walked that bloody path alone. God sealed the commitment of the covenant with himself. Alone. God declared that night standing alone in the sticky heifer blood, Whether I break this covenant, or whether you — humanity, break this covenant, it doesn’t matter, I take full responsibility for both of us. I accept the curse. I will pay for the broken covenant with my own blood.
Thus, he placed the required payment of blood for betrayal on himself, establishing that we have never been responsible. There’s no letting us off the hook, because we were never on the hook to start.
This Easter season, listen to the Sovereign God whisper to your heart:
“Do not be afraid, Abram (humanity).
I am your shield,
your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
So, as you stand in your quiet reverence, as your heart ponders the death of the Son of God, let your heart ignite with the same burning passion He has for you, let yourself feel the beat of his heart pound incessantly for you. Let Love be your shield, your great reward, because Jesus’s death was never your responsibility. You were never the one who was supposed to walk that bloody path.
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