“He did not do this to offer himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, he would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the classic definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Under the old covenant, worshipers offered an endless stream of sacrifices, one after the next, each time expecting them to take away their sins. Yet while those sacrifices did indeed provide the covering they needed in the moment, they never dealt with the root problem. It was crazy to think they could. In the new covenant, Jesus changed all of that. Let’s talk this morning about how.
The sacrificial system put in place under the Law of Moses was awful. Now, perhaps you are wondering how I could call a system put in place by God for the removal of sin in pursuit of a relationship awful. That’s fair. God’s gift in the Law wasn’t awful. It was a good thing. In fact, it was a very good thing. It allowed a people separated from Him by sin to have access to Him in a way no other people had ever had before. And, for all the exclusivity of the Jews, the Law and the old covenant it represented, really was for everyone. Yes, you had to be a member of the people of Israel to gain the full benefits of it, but anyone could come by that distinction if they received circumcision (for the guys) and signed on to keep the Law.
But the sacrificial system itself was awful. For starters, it would have been incredibly graphic. Most people can’t imagine the ickiness of slaughtering an animal. However the animal happened to be positioned, there was going to be a lot of blood spilling out all over the place. Surely they had some measures to try to control that part of the mess, especially considering they used some of the blood in the sacrificial rituals. But even once you dealt with that, there was all the innards to deal with. Once you sliced the animal open, all of that stuff was going to come tumbling out. Most of it got thrown on the big fire and burned. But moving it from where it landed to the barbeque had to be done by somebody. Then there was the process of breaking down the rest of the animal. And all of that was the process for just one animal.
I once had a friend loan me his trailer…and truck to pull it…and time to drive it (he’s a good friend) to go pick up a new used fridge for our garage. He was glad to do it, but on the way, he needed to stop by a game meat processing place to take care of something. It was just a quick stop, but I still remember the smell in the air when he opened the door to get out of the car. It was awful. I mean, just an overpowering stench of death and rotting flesh. Maybe you get used to that after a while, but as a first exposure, it was not really a glowing invitation to take up the sport of hunting. Now, imagine that times a thousand. Imagine all of that happening on a day when you had hundreds of people lined up to bring their offerings to the Lord. And it was hot. Like I said: awful.
Then there’s this: All of those sacrifices were happening all the time. The author of Hebrews here talks about a single day, but when you read through Exodus and Leviticus with some care, you get the sense that there were sacrifices being made every day. The priests were to offer a morning and an evening sacrifice each day. Now, many of the people brought in grain offerings or drink offerings or things like birds, but any time you did something wrong and needed to atone for it before the Lord, off to the tabernacle you went to make things right. If you offended another person and you needed to reconcile the matter, off to the tabernacle you went to make things right. The sacrificial system lay at the heart of the daily life of Israel in a way that’s hard to fathom.
But here’s the thing: these sacrifices were happening all the time. This is an idea that author will open chapter 10 by examining even a bit more directly than he does here, but the point is hanging out there waiting to be taken up where we are. Let’s say you went and offered a sacrifice to the Lord to atone for some sin you committed. By God’s grace, once that sacrifice had been made, the priest pronounced you cleansed from that sin. If, however, on the way out of the tabernacle, you committed another sin, that sacrifice you just made wasn’t going to help you. It was offered to deal with the last sin you committed. Now you needed to offer another sacrifice to deal with this new sin. Sure, by God’s grace the sacrifices all did their individual job, but they never managed to solve the greater issue of our separation from God. We were close for a minute, but not much longer. He didn’t wipe us out for our sinfulness, but we also didn’t have anything like a close, personal relationship with Him. And so, thousands upon thousands of animals were slaughtered…for what? A temporary covering for sin that never really got to the heart of the issue. Awful. It worked. And it was good. But it was awful.
Then came Jesus and a new covenant.
In this new covenant, the sacrificial system would be abolished. It would be abolished not simply because it was awful, but because its purpose was being fulfilled. Instead of an endless parade of animals that never really did what we needed them to do, Jesus offered Himself. He offered Himself once for all time. And because He was fully human, He could actually pay the price for human sin. This meant that instead of God sitting on His throne thinking, “I don’t love it, but it’ll work for now because I love you more,” He declared with gladness, “That’s what I needed. Now we’re ready to roll.” By Jesus’ sacrifice, sins were actually forgiven. That one sacrifice accomplished what all the tens of thousands of other sacrifices had never even touched.
Now, instead of having to worry about constantly making ourselves right with God by the offering of endless sacrifices, we can stand in righteousness before Him when we are clothed in Christ. By our faith in Him, we can be entirely cleansed and able to stand before the throne of God and worship Him in His glory. You can be made right with God in Christ. That’s something the old covenant never could provide, but the new covenant makes available in spades. In light of this, the only response from us that makes any sense is gratitude; gratitude and a giving of our lives to Him in obedient submission. Give it some thought. You’ll be glad you did.