Over the last couple of months, we have been investigating the Old Testament priesthood. And along with the priesthood, we have looked closely at the portable Tabernacle that the Jews used for 40-years following the Exodus. Actually, they used this Tabernacle for more than the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They continued to use it for some time after they entered the Promised Land. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was the focus of Jewish worship. And the Old Testament priesthood - all descendants of Aaron, the first high priest, carried out the procedures of worship according to specific dictates of God. And central to the Old Testament worship was the presenting of sacrifices to God.
Animal sacrifices as offerings to God are seen by modern man as a cruel and primitive practice. And yet, some of the most lofty souls who ever lived offered animal sacrifices. People like: Job, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, and David and Solomon and Samuel. The Jews stopped offering animal sacrifices to God in 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed. They do not have a proper place to offer sacrifices today.
The Jews believe that God told Moses and the people that to offer sacrifices in any place other than the Temple is a sin. You can read that in Deuteronomy 12:13-14. And since the Temple was destroyed and now there is the Moslem Dome of the Rock in its place, the Jews cannot offer sacrifices, even though they are back in their homeland.
During the time of Moses, there was a whole litany of sacrifices, each prescribed for a specific purpose.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY SOME OF THE SACRIFICES OBSERVED BY THE JEWS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
1. Fire Offering Leviticus 1:1-9
2. Burnt Offering Leviticus 1:10-17
3. Grain Offering Leviticus 2:1-11
4. First Fruit Offering Leviticus 2:12-16 (Type of Grain Offering)
5. Peace Offering Leviticus 3:1-17
6. Thank Offering A peace offering plus unleavened bread.
7. Sin Offering Leviticus 4:1-34
8. Guilt Offering Leviticus 5:6-6:7 Another name for the Trespass Offering. This offering requires a sacrifice plus restitution.
9. Wave Offering Exodus 29:24-27; Leviticus 7:30-34
10. Heave Offering Exodus 29:27-28; Leviticus 7:32-34
11. Drink Offering Leviticus 7:18-24
12. Freewill Offering Exodus 35:29-36:3; Leviticus 22:21-23
As you can see by the above references, these sacrifices were instituted during the time of Moses. At least the regulation of them occurs at that time. They were an important part of the covenant between God and Israel. Some of these offerings, however, are seen before the time of Moses. For instance, when Abraham saw the ram caught in the thicket, we are told he "offered it up for a burnt offering." (Genesis 22:13)
The earliest offering of a sacrifice recorded as formally commanded by God was earlier in the life of Abraham, In Genesis 15, we find the covenant God made with him. It included the promise of land for his descendants.
Genesis 15:7-9 NKJV
7 Then He said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it."
8 And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?"
9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
The five animals in this sacrifice are the same which were allowed in the time of Moses - the ox, sheep, goat, dove, and pigeon. There were, however, other sacrifices in the Mosaic Covenant which did not involve an animal sacrifice. In fact, of the 12 sacrifices we have listed, only 5 involved the blood of an animal sacrifice. There is one more passage I need to mention with regard to sacrifices which were offered prior to the Mosaic Covenant. It does, however, involve the Jews and Moses. It appears that sacrifices to God were known to Israel while they were still in Egypt.
In Exodus 3, we find God calling Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. He instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh with this message:
Exodus 3:18 NKJV
You shall say to him, 'The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.'
That last phrase - "that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God," certainly indicates there was some familiarity with offering sacrifices to Jehovah. Earlier, I mentioned that the Jews have not offered sacrifices since A.D. 70, when their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. That seems to be applied only to most of the sacrifices we listed earlier. It appears that some sacrifices were allowed only until a permanent Temple was built.
CAN YOU THINK OF ANY OTHER SACRIFICES MENTIONED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
The Red Heifer
The ceremony of the Red Heifer is found in Numbers 19. All 22 verses of this chapter speaks to the required cleansing of the ashes of the red heifer. Let's read the first 6 verses.
Numbers 19:1-6 NIV
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
2 "This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.
3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.
4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.
5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned--its hide, flesh, blood and offal.
6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.
The ashes of the red heifer are the integral part of the purification process for the Jewish priests. It is through the ashes of the red heifer that an unclean priest is made clean.
THE RED HEIFER IS A TYPE OF CHRIST
Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV
13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
1. The heifer is a rare find. Jesus Christ is unlike any other person who walked on this earth. No one is like our Lord. For several days prior to His death, our Lord had been inspected by the priest and rulers, only to have one of them say, "I find no fault in Him."
2. The red heifer must be without blemish throughout their entire life. Christ was without blemish, in that He never sinned during his life.
3. The red heifer was taken outside the camp to be slaughtered. Christ was, according to Hebrews 13:12, slain "outside the gate."
4. The red heifer was a means of cleansing for all people. Jesus gave his life and blood for all people. Any that submit to His cleansing will be made white as snow.
5. The ashes of the red heifer were taken by a clean person to a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. It was Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus who delivered the Lord's body to it resting place, which was an undefiled tomb in which no man had ever been laid.
One thing that strike me about the acts of Joseph and Nicodemus, is that they were willing to become unclean themselves, so that others could become clean through Christ.
The Common Altars
In Exodus 20, the same chapter where we find the first listing of the Ten Commandments, we find the regulations or laws concerning ALTARS.
Exodus 20:22-25 NKJV
22 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
23 You shall not make anything to be with Me - gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.
24 An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.
25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.
Here we find other altars than those found in the Tabernacle or the Temples later. I see three types of altars mentioned here. Burnt offerings and peace offerings are among those we listed earlier. But, in verse 24, the phrase "In every place where I record My name" may be indicating altars which are a memorial to commemorate what God has done.
Just before Moses climbs Mount Nebo, where he dies, he instructs Joshua, the new leader, to construct an altar after they cross the Jordan River.
Deuteronomy 27:5-7 NKJV
5 And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them.
6 You shall build with whole stones the altar of the LORD your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God.
7 You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God.
We know that in addition to Joshua, Gideon, Jephthah, Samuel, Saul, David, Elijah and others, constructed stone altars to sacrifice and offering before the Lord. There were altars at Shechem (Joshua 24:1, 26), Mizpah in Gilead (Judges 11:11) and Gilgal (1 Sam. 13:9).
All such altars were perfectly legitimate and in fact necessary, at least until there was a central capital and sanctuary in Jerusalem. One thing these common sacrifices show us is they didn't require a priest or a Levite to offer it. Before we go to the New Testament to look at the sacrifices mentioned there, I need to mention one more thought, because it has some bearing on us. Let me begin by asking a question.
WHY DO YOU THINK WILD ANIMALS WERE NOT ALLOWED BY GOD TO BE SACRIFICES?
To fulfill the legal requirements of offering sacrifices, three conditions had to be met.
1. The sacrifice had to be clean and without blemish.
2. The sacrifice was to be something that was used for food.
3. The sacrifice must be part of the property of the one offering the sacrifice. Wild animals do not belong to anyone.
In 2 Samuel 24:24, we find David saying to Araunah that he would not offer a burnt offering to God that cost him nothing. The sacrifice must either be from the flock of the sacrificer, or he was to buy such a sacrifice. In either case, the sacrifice was to cost something of the one bringing the sacrifice. We probably need to keep this in mind when it comes to our sacrifices.
When we come to the New Testament, we find God telling us that much of the Old Testament ritual and ceremonies were a shadow of things to come. In 1 Corinthians 10, we find the apostle Paul telling us about the Jews and their wanderings.
He says 1 Corinthians 10:11 NKJV
11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Again, the apostle Paul tells the church at Colossae that the Old Testament religious festivals, ceremonies, and Sabbaths were "a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Colossians 2:17). Multiple times we are told that Christ is the fulfillment of all that is pictured in the Old Testament. Aaron was the High Priest, but when Aaron died, his oldest son, Eleazar became high Priest, and thus it continued for the next 1,500 years.
In Hebrews 7:23 (NIV), we read: Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;
Death prohibited all Old Testament high priests from continuing in their office. But Christ has become our High Priest, a better high priest that Aaron, because He will never die again, thus He will remain forever as our High Priest. And when it comes to all those sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ again fulfilled what they pictured. The high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins as well as those of the nation. But Christ, being without sin, did not need to offer a sacrifice for himself. He became the "Passover lamb" that was slain for our sins. And because He is the perfect sacrifice, no more bloody sacrifices needed to be offered. Animal sacrifices ceased to have meaning after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
That, however, does not mean that we have no sacrifices. This begs at least two questions:
1. Why do we need to offer sacrifices?
2. What kinds of sacrifices do we offer to God today?
1 Peter 2:4-5, 9 (NIV) will help us get started in our understanding.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him,
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Why do we need to offer sacrifices to God today? Twice in the verses we just read, those who make up the church are priests. In Verse 5 we are called a "holy priesthood." In Verse 9 we are called a "royal priesthood." We offer sacrifices to God because that is what priests do. Each person who has accepted Christ as their Savior is a priest today.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NKJV) will help solidify this thought.
1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
These verses tell us to imitate God. How can mortal man ever imitate an infinite and eternal God? We do so by patterning our life after God's Son, Jesus Christ. And verse two gives us two ways to imitate Christ.
1. Walk in love.
2. Offer sacrifices to God.
So, why do we offer sacrifices? We offer sacrifices because that is one of the functions of a priest. And every person who in the family of God are a part of a royal priesthood. That brings us then to our second question - "What kinds of sacrifices do we offer to God today?" We have to return to the verses we read a moment ago. 1 Peter 2:5 states we are a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Even though animal sacrifices are no longer necessary, other sacrifices of a higher nature took their place and are still needed.
The verse we just read says we are to offer "Spiritual Sacrifices" to God. And, indeed, all the sacrifices mentioned in the book of Leviticus point to these higher forms of sacrifices. And failure to offer these "spiritual sacrifices" is a serious shortcoming.
As we now begin to search out what the New Testament says about these sacrifices, we will see that sacrificial terminology is applied not only to the world of Jesus on the Cross but also to the life and worship of the Church. We will see that, like the Old Covenant, worship under the New Covenant is sacrificial.
In a moment I am going to ask you to help me put together a list of the kinds of sacrifices we offer to God today. Before doing so, I need to add yet another preface. We may have a tendency to look at the sacrifices of the Old Testament as being literal and real, because real, literal animals were offered and killed upon the altar.
The truth of the matter is that the New Testament sacrifices are the REAL sacrifices. I say that because the Old Testament sacrifices were merely symbolic sacrifices. They pointed to the REAL sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The worshiper in the Old Testament never "drew near" to God. They, rather, had to rely on an animal substitute. Because of the death of Christ, we now have access into the very throne room of God.
Hebrews 4:16 NKJV
16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Whereas the Old Testament worshiper could not draw near to God - we today can. Additionally, in the Old Testament, the worshiper never was able to sacrifice HIMSELF. But we are, in fact, told to do so. We will say more about that in a moment. Now, let's try to address the question I raised earlier.
WHAT KIND OF SACRIFICES DO WE MAKE TO GOD TODAY?
1. Presentation of our Bodies
2. Sacrifice of Praise
3. Sacrifice of Doing Good to Others
4. Sacrifice of Sharing with Others
5. A Broken and a Contrite Heart
6. Sacrifice of Death (Martydom)
7. Sacrifice of our Ministries
8. Sacrifice of Taking the Gospel
9. Sacrifice of Prayer