Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 3]

Continuing an examination of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, starting with what they were not, and moving to what they were.

In my last post I tried to establish that the sacrifices neither fed God nor gave him pleasure, and that they were useless without the right attitude and accompanying actions.

Let’s carry on with what the sacrifices WERE NOT:

4. The Sacrifices WERE NOT Effective in Removing Sin

Addressing the Sin Question

Nobody in the history of mankind ever escaped the righteous judgment of God by way of offering a sacrifice, or even by offering multiple sacrifices.

It is not that the sacrifices failed to accomplish their purpose. Rather, the sacrifices under the Old Testament Law were never designed to address the sin question with finality in the first place.

That is not a revolutionary teaching to modern evangelicals, who have never seen a sacrifice offered. The vast majority of us have never even seen an animal slaughtered for food, let alone out of religious devotion. We get meat from grocery stores in handy packages and try not to think too hard about where it comes from. So of course we don’t imagine for a moment that when we sin, we might need to offer a sacrifice. It is a non-issue for us.

The danger for modern religious folk is of thinking that other kinds of sacrifices (money, church attendance, service, penance, etc.) can be utilized to curry favor with God, when these are just as useless for that purpose as the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament.

It is Impossible ...

But this teaching is fundamental Christian doctrine going back a couple of thousand years. It is actually critically important, and needed to be well understood in order for a believing Jew to become a follower of Christ.

And when the writer to the Hebrews declared that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” it is evident that he did so because he didn’t expect the concept to be intuitive to all of his audience. It needed to be said.

Bear in mind that the vast majority of those to whom he wrote were educated in the Law and more than passingly familiar with the details of the sacrifices. Their parents and grandparents had offered these sacrifices over and over again, and they, too, had done so in their own lifetimes. Now they were being told that all the effort, all the cost, all the bloodshed and all the (frequently) good intentions of thousands of years of Israelite worshipers never actually dealt with the question of the sins of their ancestors in the eyes of God at all.

The Same Sacrifices

Hebrews goes on to add, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins,” declaring that the whole priesthood and sacrificial regimen of the Jewish economy was, in effect, a waste of time, at least from the point of view of dealing with God’s judgment of sin.

That would have been an intimidating concept to get one’s head around and it explains why so much orthodox Jewish hostility and persecution was directed at followers of Christ. It would be like telling a Catholic parent that infant baptism did not save his or her dead child.

Of course, God had provided a way in which believing worshipers of the Old Testament could be, and were, saved from judgment. And those who genuinely believed in Old Testament times understood this on some level, even if they were not privy to all the details.

It just didn’t happen to be by way of the sacrifices, that’s all.

5. The Sacrifices DID NOT Ease a Guilty Conscience

Never Perfect

Furthermore, though perhaps less important than whether one’s sins were forgiven in the eyes of God, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that the sacrifices were ineffective in easing the conscience of the worshipers. He says:
[The Law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?”
How often did an Israelite believer bring an animal for sacrifice because of a troubled conscience, seeking to make things right with his God, turn away from the altar, head back to his tent or home … and do the same thing all over again the next day? Or even the same day? How frequently do you and I sin, and how often is it the same old thing? You see the problem.

While the Jews of the Lord’s and the apostles’ time often denied it, there was a pressing need for something more effective than the Old Testament sacrifices.

A Short List of Shortcomings

Well, if the Old Testament sacrifices:
  • were not God’s ideal,
  • did not feed God or bring him pleasure,
  • were of no value in themselves,
  • didn’t take away sin in the eyes of God, and
  • didn’t free the worshiper from consciousness of sin,
what exactly DID they do?

Next: The purpose of the sacrifices

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