At times people will talk of Jesus’ life in terms of sacrifice. Jesus’ life was sacrificial, Jesus sacrificed a lot to come into this world, and he sacrificed his time for people. And then we are told to emulate Jesus and be sacrificial as he was.
There is of course no question that Jesus sacrificed a lot, in fact everything, even his life. He humbled himself and became obedient, even obedient to the point of death on a cross.
However, if our Jesus is not more than one who lived sacrificially, we may be missing the most important aspect about him, namely this: Not only did Jesus make sacrifices for us – he became a sacrifice. Not only did Jesus sacrifice everything for us, he made himself to be a sacrifice. Another way to express this distinction is that Jesus offered up everything for us, and in the end he made himself to be an offering to God, to make atonement for our sins.
Just as the High Priest in the Old Testament made offerings on behalf of the people, so Jesus, the High Priest of the New Covenant made an offering, only in his case, he himself was that offering.
If we view the cross as an altar, Jesus laid himself upon it to be the sacrifice for our sins. He offered up himself as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. This is an offering, a sacrifice that none of us can make. Yes, we can give up our lives for Jesus, even unto death, but there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that this would have an atoning quality to it, either for ourselves, or others. Our sacrifice would not take away anyone’s sins. But Jesus is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world. For all who place their faith in him.
So, the next time you hear someone speaking about the sacrificial life of Jesus, ask yourself, or better yet the one speaking, whether he would agree that Jesus himself became a sacrifice. If the answer is “no”, then the Jesus who is being spoken about is not the Jesus of the Bible.
(For Bible passages in support of this distinction, please refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 9, verses 11-14, and 25-28.)