Summary: Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice, because: 1. He was one of us. 2. He was sinless. 3. He was deathless.
I have just returned from a trip to England where a friend and I walked part of the Pilgrim Way. The Pilgrim Way is one of the many footpaths throughout England, but it is unique in that it was the path that Christians, for hundreds of years, took as a pilgrimage. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time which they used to concentrate on their relationship with God and deepen their spiritual walk. It was a great experience to walk where so many before us had walked. The trail ends at Canterbury at the Canterbury Cathedral where Christians completed their pilgrimage by kneeling at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. As we walked into the town of Canterbury and entered the great Cathedral there, we, like so many before us, went to the place which marks Becket’s martyrdom. We knelt there to ask God that we would, like Becket, live courageously for him in spite of the powers and pressures of the world.
The story behind the death of Becket is that he was a close friend of Henry II who appointed him to his court. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury came open, Henry placed Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and style of life. And to his peril, he began to oppose the king when it came to differences between the church and the government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But Becket’s willingness to be a martyr for the faith did not earn him a place in heaven. Neither did the pilgrimage to this site, great sacrifice though it was for many of those Christians, earn them merit points with God and celestial favors. The whole point of the Christian faith is that we could never earn our salvation no matter how hard we worked, or how great a sacrifice we could make. Even if we gave our bodies to be burned for the love of Christ, it would not make us one bit more worthy. If we could crawl to Jerusalem on broken glass it would not make us one bit more worthy of heaven. There is only one way that our sins can be taken away — only one sacrifice that is sufficient to atone for our sins. It is the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and this sacrifice makes all other sacrifices unnecessary.
Jesus’ sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice, first of all, because: He was one of us. In Old Testament times God told the people to sacrifice animals as a temporary covering for their sins. It was a temporary plan for the perfect sacrifice that was coming. As they confessed their sins and laid their hands on the head of the animal which was to be sacrificed, they understood that something was dying in their place. They deserved to die, but God was providing a substitute. This sacrificial lamb was to be a picture of the perfect Lamb of God who would come. After the lamb was sacrificed on the altar, the person who offered the lamb would take it home and the whole family would eat the lamb in a sacrificial feast. The sacrifice would actually become a part of them. The sins of the people in Old Testament times were covered as they looked forward to the perfect sacrifice that was coming. Our sins are taken away as we look backward to the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
We are here today to confess our sins and have them placed on the head of the one who was our substitute and sacrifice. Because he died in our place and was offered as a sacrifice for our sins, we partake of his body and blood as we receive the wine and bread of communion. It becomes a part of us as we ingest it. And now, when God sees us, he sees the sacrifice of Christ. We do not come depending on our own ability to make a worthy sacrifice — we know that is impossible — we come depending only on the sacrifice of Christ.
The sacrifice of animals could never take away our sins, except as they were representations of the true and perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God. An animal could not take away human sins. The perfect sacrifice had to be one of us. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this: “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” (Hebrews 10:1-4).