Summary: In Hebrews 10 we are reminded of the horror of sin and the need for sacrifice, but also of the beauty of being reconciled to God by the blood of Christ
What do you think of when you hear the word, “Sacrifice?” There are a lot of different ideas that come to mind. With Veteran’s Day this last week, sometimes we think of those who have served in the military. And that is a great definition of sacrifice, people have risked a lot, and been in harm’s way so we can have our great freedoms. With the economy, sometimes we think of sacrifices we have had to make in budgets. Going out to eat might mean pizza or sandwiches instead of steaks. And of course, at some point, our minds go to church. We hear the word, “Sacrifice” a lot while we sit under this roof and between these walls.
But sometimes I think we are a little removed from the impact of what that word means. We are a little disconnected from the history of the sacrificial system, and therefore, we are a little disconnected from how powerful that word really is. I was listening to the radio on my drive home a few months ago, and the DJ was asking people to call in to share family stories. One guy called in laughing because when he was a kid, in the late 70’s, it was really fashionable to have a chinchilla fur coat. And this guy recalled that he was impressed at his little sister’s business savvy, because she went out and bought a bunch of these little animals to raise and then sell for their fur.
The day came when the all got full sized and she asked him, “who do I call to come and shave the chinchilla’s?” And he said, “you don’t shave them for their fur, you have to skin them, to kill them and then skin them?” At which point she burst into tears and ran into her room. In an instant, he money making scheme, turned into a money costing scheme, as all of these little creatures went from being cash cows, to pets. The reality was too horrible for her to stomach. And that’s fine. I don’t like thinking about the realities of where my supermarket pork chops come from, or my leather shoes either.
But as we read the Epistle lesson from Hebrews, God is asking us to consider the reality of what a sacrifice really is. And it’s not pretty. The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians that had recently converted from Judaism, so when the writer speaks about comparing Jesus to the Old Testament sacrifices, the readers instantly, “got” what he was saying. We maybe need to revisit some of these things so we can get a better grasp on it too. My prayer for us is that this journey would be horrible. That in better understanding the horror of the sacrificial system, we would better appreciate the seriousness of our sin, and what atonement actually costs. But also that we would better appreciate what it mean to have Jesus be our ultimate joy and sacrifice, and live out our gratitude for what He has done for us.
So let’s get started with the reading: And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. Let’s start with the first part of this sentence. In the Old Testament times, you would not have wanted to be an Altar Guild Member. You thought the occasional wine stains, and candle wax was bad! In those days there were constant animal sacrifices happening at the Temple. 24 teams of priests stood at the ready, and they were all busy! There were daily sacrifices in the morning and in the evening. In addition to these, there were the weekly Sabbath sacrifices. And of course, there were the yearly sacrifices for all of the annual festivals and commemorations throughout the year. And these are only the group sacrifices, don’t even get me started on the sacrifices that individuals would come to the temple to make. There were Burnt offerings, Fellowship offerings, Guilt Offerings, Sin Offerings, and Grain Offerings. And besides this last one, the one thing they all had in common was BLOOD. And lot’s of it.
The Temple was a gruesome and grizzly place to be, and we don’t think about this often enough. Animals were always being slaughtered, and their blood drained out. Because the blood represented the very life of that animal, and it was the lifeblood that had to be used in the sacrifice. God’s covenant with his people was sealed in blood in Moses day: God promised to their God, and they promised to follow him, and a sacrifice marked the importance of that covenant:
(Moses) rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”