Christ Our Sacrifice

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 40:6-10

The writer to the Hebrews was especially interested in the Old Testament ordinances regulating the priesthood. He saw in the 40th Psalm an important clue to the priestly work that Jesus would come to accomplish.

Several years ago while traveling in India I witnessed a very interesting event. I happened to visit a Hindu temple just as a priest was offering a sacrifice on behalf of a family of worshipers. I stood a little ways off and watched as a small goat was laid on its side on a concrete slab. Its legs tied together, the animal, though bleating plaintively, seemed resigned to its fate. The priest’s movements were swift and professional as he sure-handedly slit the goat’s throat and then dabbed some of its blood on the foreheads of the worshipers. I remember thinking three things at that moment. The first was that this wasn’t how we do church. The second was that such a scene must have been much more like the worship of the Old Testament than our typical services are. But my strongest thought was, “You know, I’m really glad such sacrifices are no longer necessary for worshiping God.”

“Without the Shedding of Blood . . .”

Yet once upon a time they were. When God instituted the elaborate series of animal sacrifices which were the basis of Israel’s worship, he was teaching his people a significant lesson. The lesson was that death is required in order for sin to be forgiven. From the very beginning the religion of Israel was a religion based on blood. Every morning and evening, first at the tabernacle and later at Solomon’s temple, the people approached God by offering up animals in sacrifice. In fact, that temple in Jerusalem was more like a slaughterhouse than a quiet cathedral. Its very stones ran red with the blood of sacrifices. And throughout the centuries every last one of those offerings, every application of blood to the altar and to the great Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies – every single sacrificial victim, in fact, shouted out the truth most clearly stated in the letter to the Hebrews: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

What that verse declares is that the solution to the problem of human sin requires a payment. Sin has to be dealt with in a specific way. It can’t be ignored or excused or simply covered up. You know as well as I do that if you have a debt the only thing that can really satisfy it is paying it. If you’re late with the rent, you don’t really need a phone call from your landlord nor do you need advice or sympathy from a friend. What you need is money! It’s the same with sin. We don’t really have to be told how to feel about sin. What we need is someone to pay for it! And the payment demanded for sin is nothing less than death: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” says the Bible.

What Kind of Sacrifice?

Now this fact lay behind the whole Old Testament system of religion. The great lesson of Old Testament worship is not simply that the payment for sin must be death, but that God has provided a substitute to die that death instead of us. For centuries this substitute was an animal, a sheep or a goat or a bull. But those sacrifices were really only object lessons, substitutes for the real Substitute, because no mere animal’s life could ever have enough merit to atone for human wrong-doing. “For,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

So what kind of sacrifice does God really require? The answer to that question is revealed in a remarkable way in Psalm 40, as read through the lense of the book of Hebrews. Despite numerous commands of God’s Law requiring animal sacrifices in worship and the detailed regulations governing their use, the Old Testament also has another perspective on these offerings. When Psalm 40 talks about sacrifices, it seems to dismiss their importance. The psalmist writes,

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.” (vv. 6-8)

The 40th psalm is called a Psalm of David, and his words here in these verses echo another passage from one of the greatest of his psalms, the 51st.

You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (vv. 16-17)

In both these Psalms David is making the point that outward sacrifices alone are not enough to please the Lord. What God wants even more than our gifts is the inward sacrifice of repentance and humility. In other words, our attitude counts as much as the quality of our offerings – or more so. And so does our conduct. David goes on to say this in Psalm 40: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (v. 8). What God wants, in addition to our contrite worship, is our obedience. As the prophet Micah famously put it, we could offer herds of animals and rivers of oil in sacrifice, but what the Lord requires of us is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). Without sincerity our sacrifices are meaningless to God; without obedience, they are downright abhorrent to him.

But this does not make them unnecessary. This is an important point. Just because the hypocrisy of a worshiper could render his sacrifices null and void, that didn’t mean they could be dispensed with. When David says that the Lord does not delight in sacrifice or require burnt offerings or sin offerings, he is using hyperbole. He’s exaggerating in order to stress the importance of both right attitude and right living on the part of every true worshiper of God. Make no mistake: these things are crucial. But the truth revealed in God’s Law remains valid: without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. A sacrifice for sin must still be offered.

It’s only when we come to the New Testament that we can understand what all of this is really about and what God really had in mind in instituting all those animal sacrifices. In the tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews the writer quotes these exact verses from Psalm 40 that we have been considering. But with this remarkable difference: He puts these words into the mouth of Christ. “Consequently,” he writes, “when Christ came into the world, he said,”

‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”

(Hebrews 10:5-7)

You see what this is saying? The book of God really testifies to Christ. It is of him that psalmists and prophets and sages wrote “in the scroll of the book.” He is the One, truly, who has “come to do your will, O God.” And because of his perfect obedience, he – the only person who doesn’t need a sacrifice for sin – becomes the only person able to make that sacrifice. The body that will be offered as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world will not be that of a goat or a sheep or a bull. It will be the body that God prepared for Christ, for himself, when he took upon himself our nature in order to pay our debt. What a marvel that is!

You see, in the sacrifices of the Old Testament God was pointing to the ultimate sacrifice that would be offered finally by Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All of that temple ritual was only a sort of shadow or copy of the actual drama of redemption that took place when Jesus offered his own body on the cross, once and for all.

So, adds the writer to the Hebrews, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all . . . because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10-14, NIV).

What Then?

What can we say in response to this? Let me suggest two reasonable conclusions. If Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice for sins, why would you pin your hope for forgiveness on something else – on your own morality, on your own religion, on your own good works, on your own whatever? The work of salvation is finished. It’s all been done for us, and done perfectly. Why in the world would anybody want to add anything to Christ’s sacrifice, other than simple trust in him and heartfelt gratitude to him?

Here’s the second thing: how important it is for us to tell the world this good news about Jesus! David was committed to bearing witness to what God had done for him. He proclaims

I have told the glad news of deliverance . . .
behold, I have not restrained my lips . . . .
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love . . .
Psalm 40:9-10

If you know Jesus Christ, if you understand the message of the cross, if you have experienced for yourself the blessings of his forgiveness, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t just hide the good news in your heart. Tell someone else the “glad news of deliverance” today!