The Purpose of Sacrifice

 "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins"(Heb 10:4)

The Old Testament tells the story of the Israelite nation-its forefathers, failings, and fickle faithfulness. As the people of God, Israel was bound by the covenant they made with God: "'All the words which the Lord has said we will do'"(Exodus 24:3). Yet one cannot help but wonder as to the barbaric nature of the covenant the Lord made with His people. Why would God proscribe the blood of sacrifices, the deaths of innocent animals, and such meticulous rituals? Let us examine some of the purposes of sacrifice as they will help us better understand the majestic God we serve.

God required sacrifice for the Israelites in order to show the penalty of sin. Under the Old Covenant, a guilty Israelite could offer up an animal sacrifice through the proper channels to be relieved of the guilt of that sin. Although this was not a full remission of sin (Heb 10:1-3), it is the primary purpose of God's requirement of sacrifice. God commanded through Moses, "If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord…then let him offer to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering"(Lev 4:2-3). However, it was not as simple as bringing an animal and letting the priest handle the rest. The guilty man "shall bring the bull to the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, lay his hand on the bull's head, and kill the bull before the Lord"(Lev 4:4). Imagine, then, leading your bull-one of your own herd-to the priest. You lay your hand on the head of that bull, or sheep, or goat. You take the knife and slit its throat. You watch it suffer and die. Think about all the blood-on the ground, on your clothes, on the air. Now consider that your sins are done away with-for a short time-because of the sacrifice you have made to God. Is there any doubt that God instituted sacrifice to show His people just how awful sin is? Wouldn't you think twice before sinning again when you thought back to what it took to cleanse you from just one sin?

As we think more deeply about sacrifice, we see that its true value lies in obedience. Are we willing to do what God says to be free from sins, or will we not? God chastised His people through Jeremiah by saying, "I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.' Yet they did not obey…"(Jer 7:23-24). We know that our God does not need our sacrifice and service to Him-He will be fine without them. Nor was He on a power trip, commanding the Israelites to do these strange sacrifices to prove His own sufficiency. As He states here, the Lord's interest in commanding sacrifice was to make sure the people would obey Him! And the true test of obedience is when the command is not easy or pleasurable. A child will easily obey when the command is "Watch more TV," but obedience is tested when the command is "Mow the yard." Thus God could know the hearts of His people by seeing whether they obeyed His command to sacrifice. Samuel said to Saul, "Has the Lord as great delight in burn offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams"(1 Sam 15:22, emphasis mine). God wanted His people to obey then, and He wants us to obey now-even when the command is difficult.

Sacrifice also points the way to Jesus. The Hebrew writer said in reference to the Old Covenant, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission"(Heb 9:22). Just as those sinful Hebrews stood condemned before God and needed the shedding of sacrificial blood, so those outside Christ do today. However, today, instead of the blood of ignorant animals, we have the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world"(John 1:29). Now consider the great contrast: "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"(Heb 9:13-14). In other words, if sacrifices worked in the Old Testament, how much more will the sacrifice work? If their blood sanctified, how much more will Jesus' blood? As we look at the sacrifices of the Old Law, we cannot help but look forward to the perfect sacrifice.

So what of it? We must remember the incredible, horrible penalty of sin. It killed innocent animals, and it killed our innocent Lord. Let us not crucify Him again (Heb 6:6) or trample Him underfoot (Heb 10:29) by revisiting our old sin. We must obey our Lord, no matter how strange His commands seem-perhaps He is testing us. And we must bow our knee to the God of heaven in thanks for the wonderful sacrifice of His beloved Son. Praise the Lord!___Jacob Hudgins