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In Psalm 50 the very same God who established a sacrificial system seems to speak against it. Based on this, Israel should find themselves asking, “What’s the deal?” There are intricate directives in Scripture, particularly in Leviticus, discussing the kind of sacrifices which are to be made, when and how to do them, and, most importantly, what to expect as the result of an offering. There are sin offerings for intentional sins, unintentional sins, offferings for fellowship, for special occasions, for ceremonial cleansing after illness, all manner of offerings. But here God says that the offerings are not necessary, that they are inferior to “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (v. 14, ESV). So do we make offerings or not?
At the heart and center of all our difficulty with the sacrificial system is a misunderstanding of the nature of God and of sacrifices. If we try to read the New Testament through the lens of the Old Testament, we run the risk of missing the point of Jesus and his sacrifice for his people. However, if, as the apostles did, we read the Old Testament through the lens of what Jesus said and did, it makes perfect sense. Sacrifices are a sign of God’s work for us. There is a laying down of something precious, which brings us forgiveness and restoration with God. In the Old Testament, all the acts of dedication that God’s people do are actually signs of how God acts toward His people. Who owns the sacrificial animals? God does. He just lets us borrow them. As with the near sacrifice of Isaac, God provides a substitute, who dies for the one guilty of sin before God. In the Old Testament it is normally an animal. The grain offerings are not for sin, they are signs of eating and drinking together before God.
What does God desire in the sacrifices? It is not that he needs the food. It is not that we are actually the rightful and permanent owners of the animals. God’s desire is that we look to him in hope and in faith, recognizing that he is the one who provides restoration and forgiveness. The people are to make sacrifice, but they are to do it looking to God. As they trust in God and call upon him in the times of trouble, he shows himself as their rescuer.
Christians find that the sacrifices have come to an end because Jesus, God the Son, the true lamb of God, has been put to death on their behalf. This means that no further sacrifice is needed. The Christian simply looks to God in thanksgiving for Christ’s finished work to atone for sin. God remains the same. His work of forgiveness is done. The sign now is not the body and blood of a sacrificial animal that God provided to the worshiper, but it is the body and blood of Christ, God the Son, given and shed for the worshiper. This we receive with thanksgiving at the altar, given to us along with Jesus’ words of assurance that he is certainly there for us.
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