Lessons from the Law: The Sacrificial System

old testament pt2

Can you imagine having to kill an animal every time you sinned? Each angry word, impatient attitude, selfish action. Every time you worried. Every time a lustful thought, a jealous thought, a prideful thought entered your mind. Every time you put something else before God in your heart.

One of the most prominent features of the Old Testament law is the sacrificial system, taking up a good portion of the beginning of Leviticus as well as some scattered passages elsewhere. It can be difficult to read through all the specific requirements for offerings, when to sacrifice a goat and when to sacrifice a dove, and which parts of the animal to burn, and on and on.

But this is meant to make us realize how much more difficult it would have been to actually carry out these instructions, and to point forward to the One who released us from this burden once and for all.

The Sacrificial System

In Israel, overseeing offerings was one of the most important duties of the priests. Offerings were given for many occasions, such as festivals and the Sabbath (Numbers 28-29), but especially to atone for sin.

What did this offering look like?

It always required the shedding of blood, unless the guilty person could not afford an animal (Leviticus 5:11-13).

It had to be done in a particular way, with the help of a priest.

It was temporary, a way to atone for one particular sin. Therefore, it had to be repeated over and over, and could never fully remove the reality of sin from the life of the Israelites.

(If you want to read more about it, look at Leviticus 4-6.)

The Depth of Our Need

So why did God give us all of this incredibly detailed information about the Israelites’ sacrifices if he doesn’t expect us to sacrifice in this way ourselves?

To show us how desperately we needed Christ.

Here’s the thing: all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament had to be without blemish, that is, as perfect as possible, the best of what the guilty person had.

“When any one of the house of Israel…presents a burnt offering as his offering…if it is to be accepted for you it shall be a male without blemish, of the bulls or the sheep or the goats. You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you.” (Leviticus 22:18-20)

Lame animals? Not acceptable. Sick animals? Not acceptable. Injured animals? Not acceptable. God would only accept the best of the best.

That’s bad news for us. Because the sacrificial system was not meant to be permanent; it was meant to point forward to a time when our debt could be settled for good, when our sin could be paid for permanently. And the only kind of permanent sacrifice God would accept was going to have be the best of the best, perfect.

Who was there in the world who could meet those standards? None of us could. The Bible is very clear that every single human being is sinful. There was no way for us to save ourselves.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The Glory of Easter

Once we see the complex demands of the Old Testament sacrificial system, we see our great need, and we see the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the only thing that could permanently pay for our sin.

None of us could meet God’s sacrificial standards, so Christ came and met those standards. All of us are sinful, but Christ lived a life without sin. We couldn’t save ourselves, so Christ came and saved us, because he loved us too much to leave us where we were. 

See, that Romans passage goes on. It doesn’t leave it at that horrible truth.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25)

The writer of Hebrews explores the idea of Christ as the final sacrifice:

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come…it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

(excerpted from Hebrews 9-10; I highly recommend reading both those chapters in their complete form, as they pull this idea together very well)

This is why God gave us all the details of the sacrificial system for sin. He wanted us to see the absolute necessity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and how glorious those truths are.

Because it is glorious. Christ, in one final sacrifice, did what centuries of animal sacrifices could not do.  He came, died, and rose, and in doing that he paid it all. 

That’s what we celebrate tomorrow, Easter Sunday.

love, grace

What do you think? Have you looked at the sacrificial system this way before? Are there other passages in the Bible you can think of that complement the ones I shared? Tell me in the comments! 

Read more:

Advent Reflections, part 4: Love

A Day of Rest, Joy, and Worship

Why Be Good if Jesus Died?

Advent Reflections, part 3: Perspective, Hope

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Part 1 Part 2

Christmas comes closer, and the world waits, still and silent, for the Advent of its Savior.

As we go about the final preparations, everything takes on a sort of sacredness, as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Christ.

This is the most important thing: that Christ was born God and man in one to live a perfect life and die a perfect death. That in His life and death we are saved. That is what we celebrate on December twenty-fifth.

Day 13: Perspective

“Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective. You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see…

“From Hollywood to Pinterest, the media of this world aggressively schools your soul to see the exact opposite of the way God sees…

“…if it’s mostly the surfaces that absorb us, then we’re mostly superficial. When my priorities aren’t the things seen- when my priorities are rather all things unseen- it’s only then that my life begins to have substance and weight.” (pp 125-127)

Our life can be transformed if we look beyond everything the world sees. If we look past the shallowness of life and into the depth of the life God has given us.

If we don’t have time to read our Bibles, if we don’t have time to do something kind for someone else, if we don’t have time to seek out God’s will for our lives, our priorities are in the wrong place.

Rather, say that you don’t have time to check Pinterest, to watch YouTube, to go to the movies, because you are too busy reading your Bible, being kind to people, seeking God’s will.

Sometimes you may have time for both, but always give priority to the unseen. Never let worldly shallowness outweigh the things of God.

Day 14: Hope

“Christmas can only be found.

“Christmas cannot be bought. Christmas cannot be created. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found…

“That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.

“The message of Christmas is that this world’s a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.

“For unto us a Child is born…

“And once the light of Christ shatters your dark, shadows forever flee your shadowlands. There’s no going back and living in the dark; you live in the impenetrable, safe Light of light, and Christmas never ends for you. A Christian never stops living Christmas…

“When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone. When you get Christmas, people get hope from you- they don’t lose it.

“Unless you keep passing on the miracle of hope, you live like Christmas is a myth.

“So light the Advent candles. Light them, light them.

“And you can see it, with every lit candle, sparks of the dawning.

“Hope catching on everything.” (pp 138-140)

The world has made Christmas into a feel-good, do-good time of year, all about peace and love and joy. It looks good on the outside, but the Christian cannot fall for that message. It gets everything wrong, stemming from a belief that humans are good and that we have the capability for perfection all on our own.

No, the real message of Christmas is that sin is dark, humans are wicked, and we cannot save ourselves. The real message of Christmas is that of glorious light breaking through an awful darkness. A miracle.

And if we believe that the light does not come from us, but from God, that gives us so much more hope than the good-feelings spirit of secular Christmas. Because God can do anything, and so there really is hope for anyone. 

Literally anyone. God can break into any life, heal any soul, and restore any spirit. He can bring light into the darkest of dark places, not just hypothetically, but for real.

The true meaning of Christmas is hope and healing for anyone, not through themselves, but through the all-powerful God who can pierce blackness with glorious light.

 

Which of these readings encouraged you the most today? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Advent Reflections, Part 2: Peace, Grace, Light

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If you missed it: Part 1 (Wonder, Rest, Laughter)

The season marches on. More and more gifts appear under the tree, goodies appear in the kitchen, lights twinkle on the bushes. Anticipation grows. But are we anticipating the right thing?

Here are three more selections from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp to help you stay saturated in truth this season:

Day 7: Peace

“You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Perform.

“You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Produce.

“Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace: The Lord Will Provide…

“Worry is belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right.

“Peace is belief that exhales.

“Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere- like air.” (pp 59-60)

For a perfectionist worrier like me, trying to remember that God cares and provides can be like trying to walk against the wind. It’s an uphill battle every single day. But it is so important.

As soon as we reduce the Christian life to performance, we miss the whole point of the baby in the manger. He came and lived a perfect life, so we wouldn’t have to. And it is only when we fully embrace God’s provision in our lives that we will fully have His peace.

Day 11: Grace

“Nobody and no situation- no sin, no mess, no decision- meets the diagnosis of despair. Because there’s God’s cure of amazing grace.” (p103)

The glory of Christmas is that no matter how far gone we are, it is never too far for God.

Through His grace, He sent Christ. And Christ’s work can rescue the most broken, the most messed-up, the most imperfect people in the world, and make them beautiful.

There is never such a thing as too far gone.  The voice that tries to whisper in your head that there is no way God could love you now? That is not the voice of truth. That is the voice of Satan. Reject it.

And rest in God’s amazing grace.

Day 12: Light

“…because, for all its supposed sophistication, cynicism is simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is it to see the cracks? The radicals…they are the ones on the road, in the fields, on the wall, pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and the Advent coming again. Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.” (pp 113-114)

People think it’s somehow intellectual and profound to talk about how dark the world is. As if that wasn’t obvious for everyone to see. The world is dark, and to see that is not deep. That is surface-level. Anyone can see it.

What is deep and profound and wise is to seek out the light, to look for God’s light even within the brokenness. To have a spirit of joy, not cynicism, that sees the complexity of everything that happens in this world and goes beyond the dark to the light breaking through.

Because there is light breaking through, always, if we look closely enough.

 

Did any of these excerpts particularly encourage you? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Advent Reflections, Part 1: Wonder, Rest, Laughter

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As Christmas approaches, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement, the hustle and bustle of preparation, without really thinking about what we are preparing for. We get excited about the season without getting excited about Christ, and that sucks any real meaning out of it.

To combat this, I’ve been reading The Greatest Gift, an advent devotional by Ann Voskamp, and I love it so much! The book captures what the spirit of Christmas should be and presents it in such a beautiful way.

Over this week, I want to share some of my favorite passages with you (not all of them, because I want you to be able to enjoy the book for yourself!) Each post will feature 2-3 quotes and a little elaboration on why I love them. I hope this inspires you and helps you to keep focused on Christ in this season.

And I highly, highly recommend this devotional! These quotes are even more powerful when read in the context of the entire reading, and there is so much more that I won’t be mentioning on here.

Day 2: Wonder

“Ravished with wonder.

“That the earth outside your window is tilted right now at just twenty-three degrees…so the planet’s bulk of six sextillion tons…spins perfectly balanced on an invisible axis…

“So go to the window. Go to the hills, the desert, the corner, the back door, and be ravished and taken and awed, and you who were made by Love, made for love- be still and know and watch love come down.

“The answer to deep anxiety is the deep adoration of God.” (13-14)

If we love God and appreciate His incredible creation, there will be no room for anxiety in our lives.

The truth is that this world is pretty amazing. Things in our everyday life are gorgeous: fall leaves, spring flowers, the snow, the ocean. Every time I start thinking about space, my mind gets blown. I just don’t understand how anyone can look at something like supernovas, or even just the size of the galaxy, and not believe in a God. His hand is everywhere.

And through Jesus, we are given access to this God, the God who created everything far beyond what we could even fathom. This powerful God loves us and cares for us every day. He is on our side, and if He is on our side, what do we have to lose? 

Day 4: Rest

“While other creeds endeavor to get us out of the world and into heaven, in Christianity, heaven comes down and Christ comes into this world to get us.”  (31)

The big difference between Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism…we do not have to do anything. 

Christ’s sacrifice paid everything. There is nothing more we could possibly do to get ourselves into heaven, and nothing more that is necessary. Christ poured out his blood for us, suffering impossible agony. Why would we diminish that by thinking we must add to it?

Christ came to us. We do not have to climb to Him. And so we simply rest. 

Day 6: Laughter

“The gigantic secret gift that He gives and we unwrap…we who were barren now graced with the Child who lets us laugh with relief for all eternity. There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear…So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed. Laughter- it’s all oxygenated grace.

“In the press of a dark world, laughter comes…as the reliever and then the reminder- that ache is not the last word for those who believe God. Jesus is. Jesus is the last word, and we rejoice and rejoice again and re-joy again because grace is our oxygen now.” (50-51)

From the gospel, from the Christmas story, comes infinite joy. God is real. He cares for us. We are saved. He loves us with an everlasting love that will never end.

When you feel sad, when you feel insecure, always remember that your sufferings do not have to be the end and that Jesus came to give you infinitely more. Through Him, we may not live perfect lives, but in the midst of the problems and the suffering, we can find joy anyway. That which most defines our lives, the gospel, can never change. 

 

How do you stay focused on Christ during Advent? Which of these excerpts is your favorite? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace