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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 6]

Continuing an examination of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. We started with what the sacrifices WERE NOT and are now examining what they WERE.

In my last post we looked at the sacrifices as a reminder of sins and asked why a constant reminder was necessary for God’s people.

But what other purposes did the sacrifices serve?

3. The sacrifices pointed forward to Christ

This is a subject to which I find the depth of my understanding and my ability to express myself entirely insufficient. Fortunately for me, to try to explain exactly how each sacrifice looks forward to and illustrates the person or work of the Lord Jesus is quite beyond the scope of this series of posts.

I will have to be content with demonstrating that, in fact, they did.

Which doesn’t take much.

The first historical indication that the Jewish sacrificial system was over and done with occurred at the moment the Lord Jesus yielded up his spirit on the cross: Matthew tells us, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom”. It was an act of God, not of nature or man, for it was torn from the top down, not from the bottom up. Christ’s completed work on the cross was the fulfillment of the purpose of the Jewish sacrificial system.

Paul affirms this, saying “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”.

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Whatever temporary righteousness could be obtained through sacrifice and obedience, Christ is the culmination, the realization of it. His obedience was perfect, his sacrifice of himself entirely pure and innocent, utterly satisfying to God, and once for all.

The writer to the Hebrews confirms this, saying of Christ as priest, “nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

Since Christ is the “end of the law”, and since he “put away sin” (which is to say he dealt with both the penalty of sin in the eyes of God AND with the issue of the sin that troubled the conscience of man, forever and utterly), it is clear that continued sacrifice serves no purpose.

This took a while to sink in. The Hebrews to whom the book of the same name is addressed were persecuted by their fellow Jews for following Jesus Christ precisely because these orthodox, traditional followers of the Mosaic law correctly intuited that if Christ was alleged to have “fulfilled” the Old Testament law, then the temple, the sacrifice, the feasts and all the outward, visible things that associated the nation of Israel with the worship of Jehovah in the eyes of the world were no longer necessary. These were things they were unprepared to be without, possibly because it’s always easier to put on a cloak of religiosity than it is to take up a cross.

It was a hard thing for devout Jews to recognize that the practice of thousands of years was over and done for good. Even those who seemed to initially grasp the concept slipped easily back into adopting aspects of the Law along with their Christianity, the necessity for the ritual of circumcision being a major source of disagreement.

There remain those today who incorrectly believe that rituals and sacrifices in themselves can somehow curry favour with God.

The issue troubled even Peter and the apostles, until, confronted by Paul over the subject, the leaders of the church of the day gave this pronouncement with respect to what Gentile believers needed to observe:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
The only mention of “sacrifice” in that brief and gentle suggestion is the advice to abstain from what had been sacrificed to idols. Nothing about the Jewish sacrifices at all. They were well and truly done, and there was full agreement among the Holy Spirit and the people of God about it.

That the sacrifices looked forward to and anticipated the person and work of the Messiah is evident from the fact that they ended when his sacrifice was offered.

For all the other valid purposes they served, pointing to Jesus Christ was by far the most significant.

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