Church used to be a lot messier than it is today!
Every morning of every day, a lamb was brought into the temple and sacrificed. And every evening of every day, a second lamb was sacrificed.
Once a week, on the Sabbath, another two lambs in addition to the daily sacrifices were killed. And, once a month, in addition to the two daily lambs and the extra two lambs on the Sabbath, 7 lambs and 1 goat and 1 ram and 2 bulls were sacrificed. On top of that, 5 times per year there were special celebrations. And across those different festivals, 175 lambs, 18 goats, 25 rams and 89 bulls were sacrificed. That's a lot of blood!
But it's nothing compared to the celebration that was held when the first temple was completed. On that day, 2 Chronicles 7 v 5 tells us,
King Solomon offered a sacrifice of 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats.
Can you imagine that?! And you thought a couple of biscuits walked into the carpet made our church messy!
Every day in the temple sacrifices were made, blood was being sprinkled on the altar and animals were being slaughtered. And what you killed and when you killed it and what you did with it was all carefully explained and described in the first few books of the OT. Chapter after chapter of the Old Testament is devoted to the sacrificial system. So why don't we do any of that today?
Well, let's pray and ask God to help us understand as we look at his word.
Turn with me to Numbers 28.
In Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers we are told all about the sacrificial system. In those books God spells out all the regular sacrifices that were to be made in the temple, as well as all the special sacrifices that individuals had to make for specific sins.
Now if you read through those books you'll see that the sacrificial system was quite complicated. There were different sacrifices for different occasions. And not all of those sacrifices involved animals. Some sacrifices involved people offering food or drink or incense. And not all of those sacrifices were made in response to sin. Some of them were praise offerings, or thank offerings. But, by and large, the idea behind the sacrificial system was that an animal would die, so that a person didn't have to.
Every morning and every evening the priest made sacrifices as a reminder that every day the people of Israel had said and thought and done things that deserved God's punishment. When an individual committed certain sins, they were required to come to the temple and offer a sacrifice, as a reminder to themselves that what the animal experienced, is what they deserved. That animal was a sacrifice, a substitute, that was taking their place. And the clearest example of that is the Passover.
In Exodus we read the story of how God saved his people out of slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, refused to let the people go, so one night God sent an angel to kill the firstborn child in every home. It was a devastating punishment. But God told his people that, on that night, if they killed a lamb and put some of its blood on the frame of their front door, then when the angel came he would 'Passover' that house.
The lamb would die in place of the firstborn. The lamb was a sacrifice, a substitute that would take the punishment that the people deserved for sinning against God.
And that explains why, when the people brought forward a sacrifice, it couldn't just be any old animal. Look at Number 28 v 3…
Say to them: 'This is the offering made by fire that you are to present to the LORD: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day.
Now look at v9a…
On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect
On the first of every month, present to the LORD a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect.
Present to the LORD an offering made by fire, a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect.
The lamb, or the bull or the goat, was a substitute for the people.So it was no good just bringing any old animal, or the runt of the litter.
They had to bring the best. An animal, without blemish or defect.
Now turn with me to Hebrews chapter 10.
You see the problem with the sacrificial system, the weakness od the whole thing was that...It didn't really work. Or rather, it didn't really deal with sin.
Look at 10 v 11, he's talking about the sacrificial system when he says this, v11…
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
After all those lambs and rams and bulls and goats had been sacrificed…the people's sin was still there, it hadn't gone away.
Look at vv 3-4…
But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Sacrificing animals didn't get rid of the people's sins, "…it's impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." That's not what they were for. Instead those sacrifices were a "reminder of sins".
No matter how many animals you sacrificed, or how perfect and without defect they were, they could never be a suitable substitute for a person. And the proof that all those sacrifices didn't take away the people's sins or make them sinless, was that they had to keep on making sacrifices day after day, year after year. Look at vv 1-4…
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The sacrificial system was never designed to take people's sins away. It was designed to remind them of how sinful they were and how serious their sin was. But that's not all.
Because in v1 it also tells us that those sacrifices were a shadow of the things that were to come. The sacrifices were a reminder of sins. But they were also a picture of how one day God would provide a way for people to be truly saved from sin. They were a shadow of a reality that was yet to come. And they show us what that reality would look like.
A sacrifice or a substitute that really could take away our sins, well first of all, it would have to be perfect. Absolutely spotless.
But it would have to be more than just a lamb or a bull. The only real substitute for a person…would have to be another person. Like for like.
So, they would have to be perfect, and they would have to be human.
But they would also have to be more than that. You see, one person can be a substitute for another. A perfect person could sacrifice their life for a sinful person like me, or you. But one person could never be a sacrifice for me AND you. No, to be a sacrifice or a substitute for your sin and mine, and for the whole world's, that person would have to be much more than just an ordinary man
Look at Hebrews 10 vv 5-10...
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.' " First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Do you see? Jesus is our perfect substitute. Jesus is the reality that the sacrificial system pointed towards.
Do you remember what John the Baptist said, when he first saw Jesus?
John 1 v 29…
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is our perfect sacrifice. First of all, he was…
He was the only man who has, or will, live a perfect life. He loved the Lord our God (his Father) with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and he loved his neighbour as himself. When Jesus was arrested and stood trial before Pilate, it says this…
Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, 'You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.
Jesus lived a perfect life, even his enemies could find no fault in him. As Hebrews 4 v 15 says, Jesus was "…tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin."He was perfect.
And, he was a…
Jesus was a man, just like us. He was born, he grew up, he had brothers and sisters, a mum and a dad. He ate and slept and drank and he got tired, just like us. He was a man, which made him the perfect substitute to take our place. Like for like.
But he is also God. Yes he had a mum and a dad, but his mother had been a virgin when she gave birth to him and he grew up to be no ordinary child. The things he said and the things he did, were things only God can do.
He was a man, but he was also more than just a man, he is also God. And that makes him the perfect sacrifice. Like us, so that he can stand in our place, but much more than us so that his sacrifice could cover the sins of the whole world.
And that's what makes Jesus…
Our Perfect Sacrifice
God came to earth. He chose to be born, as a man called Jesus, so that he could die. He came to save us. He came to be a perfect sacrifice for us. He came to do what the Old Testament sacrifices could never do. To be a perfect sacrifice that can take away our sins.
Why? Because we're sinners. We're not perfect. You and I do sin, and our sin deserves God's punishment. But because he loves us, God came to live and die, to be our perfect sacrifice.
1 Peter 3 v 18 puts it like this…
…Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
That is the heart of the Christian message, the heart of the message of the Bible. Jesus Christ is our perfect sacrifice. And the Anglican Church puts it like this…
Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptised, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Or in other words…
…Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Now, what does that mean for you and me today? What does it mean that Jesus is our perfect sacrifice?
Well, first of all it means that…
Jesus is your only hope
You and I deserve God's punishment. I don't need to convince you of that, you know as well as I do that your life is full of things that are not good or kind or loving. If we're honest we don't even live up to our own standards do we? And we certainly don't live up to God's.
And yet so often we try to convince ourselves, and the people around us, that we are good. That's why, in the Old Testament, God gave his people the sacrificial system. To be a great big, messy, bloody, daily, reminder that we are sinners and our sin is serious.
It's serious. And the only way to be saved from God's punishment, is to turn back to God. To put your trust in the perfect sacrifice that he provided, his son, Jesus Christ.
I read this week that the most popular song that is requested at funerals is Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way." Let me say, if that is how you are living your life, if you're going your own way and trusting that when you die and you stand before God you'll be able to convince him that you're good enough for heaven…Well then you need to stop kidding yourself. You're a sinner who deserves God's punishment, and trusting in Jesus is your only hope.
Jesus is your only need
The sacrifices in the Old Testament could never take away sin. They had to be repeated day after day, year after year as a reminder of our desperate need of a saviour. But Jesus is different.
Hebrews 10 v 10 tells us that if we have put our trust in Jesus then "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Jesus' sacrifice was perfect. He was a man, like us, so he could be our substitute. But he is also God so his one death is enough to cover the sin of all people for all time.
Now, do you see what that means? It means that if you have put your trust in Jesus then you have been completely forgiven. His death has paid the price for all of your sins. So let me say, my dear brother and my dear sister, whatever you've done, or whatever you do, it has already been forgiven.
There is nothing more to do, there is nothing more you can do. Jesus is your only need.
And if you're trusting in him, well then now you are free.
And finally, if Jesus Christ is your perfect sacrifice then…
There is only one thing left for you to do
And that is to live every part of your life, praising him. In 1 Peter 1 it says this…
…you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from our forefathers, but with the precious blood of Jesus, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Therefore, he says…
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'
Jesus is your only hope.
And Jesus is your only need.
By putting your trust in him, God has made you perfect in his sight. Holy. So the one thing left for you and I to do, and that is to live holy lives. Live your life loving him, because he has saved you.
Church isn't as messy as it used to be.
We don't make Old Testament sacrifices anymore, because we don't have to. Jesus Christ is our perfect sacrifice, once for all. So put your trust in him.
And in the peace that comes from knowing God's perfect forgiveness, strive to live every day of your life to please him, until he comes again.