Not that kind of sacrifice
In church a few weeks ago, the pastor told about some traditional beliefs from his tribe and village.
When a baby is born, the witchdoctor is consulted. Through various incantations, spells, and animal sacrifices, the witchdoctor contacts the Ancestors and asks them about the spirit that has recently come to the earth in the newborn child.
This tells the family something of what to expect from the child as he or she grows up, and it also tells them what to name the child – a particular Ancestor might want the child to be named for them in order to protect it (or at least, not be angry with it).
In certain rare instances, the witchdoctor is able to discern that this particular child is very special. There will be a prophesy about the child. He or she might grow up to be a chief or a witchdoctor, or perhaps a teacher, president, or other important person. In these cases, a special kind of sacrifice is needed.
If the baby is marked as special, the witchdoctor and other important elders take it out into the bush. Using the promise of food or some other gift, another child from the village is lured out to the place where the gathering is. When that second child reaches the group, it is caught, bound, and killed as a sacrifice. Now the new baby’s future is secure; the good future prophesied for it will come true.
When Jesus Christ was born, his birth was also marked as special. His birth in Bethlehem, of the royal line of David, was foretold by prophesy. Many prophesies were made also about his life; even his mother received a prophesy about his future directly from an aged seer. His birth and his identity was announced by messengers from heaven, and many people came to pay homage.
His future destiny was certain, and it even contained a sacrifice.
But it was not the anonymous, unwilling sacrifice of some other child that guaranteed the Christ Child’s future. Rather, it was the willing sacrifice of the Christ Child that was God’s guarantee that all of his children – past and present, Jew and Gentile, black and white – would someday inherit the best future possible as brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Son of God.
As the writer to the Hebrews said, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers… he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:11-15).
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on sacrifice and suffering in the traditional religious beliefs of Zambia. There is slavery to the fear of death. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus, by his own suffering and sacrifice, frees all humanity from that fear of death by becoming one of us, by going through death for us, and by destroying Satan with the power of his victorious resurrection.
God shares this good news with us in the pages of Scripture. Thank you for your prayers for us as we work to bring that same good news to the Nsenga people in their own language – the language of their old traditional beliefs, and by God’s grace the language of their newfound freedom in the Gospel.