How much does one's sin cost? One bull? Ten bulls? A thousand of the best bulls available on this earth? One's firstborn son? This is the question that Micah asks of us in our Haftarah portion this week.
The question is phrased to make it sound absurd. In verses 6-7, Micah goes through a list of increasingly valuable sacrifices, finally ending in the most valuable thing he can think of: one's own firstborn son (which is clearly off limits in the Levitical system). The problem is that Judah was steeped in sin. Injustice, unkindness, and haughtiness filled the land. The people thought they could just continue offering sacrifices, just continue doing their religious duty to appease their God. But our God is not like other gods. He doesn't seek to be "appeased." He will accept nothing less than absolute total devotion (c.f. Deut. 10:12). As Micah goes through his list of ever more expensive sacrifices, the point is clear. Guilt can't be paid off.
What are we to make of Yeshua's sacrifice then? Was it not the ultimate price paid for sin? Was His life not a ransom to pay off our debt? Indeed, it was. Romans 6:23 uses the term "wages" for sin. 1 Cor. 6:20 tells us, "You were bought with a price." 1 Peter 1:18-19 uses the ransom metaphor, emphasizing the high price Yeshua paid to redeem us (even His own blood).
However, take a closer look and you'll notice that all of these passages have something else in common. The focus is not on paying off a penalty. It's not like someone paying your speeding ticket. No, you yourself are bought by God. Acceptance of His free gift means that He owns you. Furthermore, you're ransomed not just from hell or death but from sin itself. It's not a get out of jail free card; it's a total rehabilitation program. Bought by God, freed from sin, unto good works. You're in the service of the King.
When God introduces the idea of sacrifice in Leviticus, it was not as sin payment (though that comes later). It was as a method of drawing near to God. That's the whole idea—to draw near to our Father and King. The sacrifice was merely a tool. This was what Micah's audience failed to get. The sacrificial system was meant to be a method of worship. They were using it to pay off their wickedness.
We find a parallel to Micah's message in Mark 12:28-34. Yeshua and a Pharisee are in a conversation about the greatest commandments in which it is remarked that to love God and love one's neighbor is greater than all the burnt offerings. To love God and love one's neighbor will bring you near to God regardless of the status of the Temple. A sacrifice is useless if your heart is far from Him.
What Yeshua did on the cross is so much more than just a payment for sin, so much more than a simple sacrifice. He is the Temple, the bridge between heaven and earth, the intermediary between God and man. In Him, in His death and resurrection, we find our old man put to death. We are made new. New with a purpose. To love God and love man. To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our King.
Guilt can't be paid off, but hearts can be made new. We need only look to the one in whose blood is a new and better way. This is where the sacrifice of appeasement stops and the offering of worship and total devotion begins.