Summary: The sacrificial system points to God’s desire to save his people, the seriousness of our sin and God’s willingness to forgive. Tying the OT sacrificial system to the sacrifice of Christ.
Many people begin to read about the Old Testament sacrificial system and think something like: “Why all the blood? Why all this slaughtering of animals? It seems so gruesome and disgusting. Why did God require all of that? What was the purpose?”
Confusing as it is, the Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing to some very important truths. The first is that: The sacrificial system was pointing to God’s plan to save his people. To understand this we have to go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect paradise. Their relationship with God was intimate and real. God would walk and talk with them. There was no barrier between them. But something happened to spoil that relationship. God had said to them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). God was not keeping something good from them, he simply did not want them to know what evil was like through personal experience. He was sparing them from evil, for he knew it would bring suffering and death into the world. As a consequence of disobeying this important command, God told them they would die if they disobeyed. But every day that passed made the fruit of the tree look better and better. Add to that the satanic suggestion that God did not really love them because he was keeping something from them. Satan promised that if they ate from the tree that they would have special knowledge and power, and better still, they would become like God. So they ate from the tree and their world did become drastically different, but not for the better. The world around them changed. Their bodies looked different. They felt shame. They were afraid of God — something that had never occurred to them before.
But one thing did not happen — they did not die. Yes, the process of death had begun in them, but they did not die immediately as God had told them they would. Why was that? Did God make a mistake or lie to them? The secret to answering that question can be found in what God did next. Because they felt intense shame, Adam and Eve had covered themselves with leaves. But God gave them another kind of covering. The Bible says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Was God just wanting to give them better clothing, or was something else happening here? The point to the story is that God told them they would die when they sinned against him and they did not. If they did not die, something had to die in their place. There was a substitute. God took the life of two animals in their place, and then he covered them with the skins of those animals. They deserved to die, but another life had taken their place.
The sacrificial system is based on this spiritual principle, that the people of that day deserved to die for their sins, but God in his mercy accepted a substitute to die in their stead. Max Lucado, in his book Six Hours One Friday, tells the story of Franciszek Gajowniczek: “It’s difficult to find beauty in death. It’s even more difficult to find beauty in a death camp. Especially Auschwitz. Four million Jews died there in World War II. A half-ton of human hair is still preserved. The showers that sprayed poison gas still stand. But for all the ugly memories of Auschwitz there is one of beauty. It’s the memory Gajowniczek has of Maximilian Kolbe. In February 1941, Kolbe was incarcerated at Auschwitz. He was a Franciscan priest. In the harshness of the slaughterhouse he maintained the gentleness of Christ. He shared his food. He gave up his bunk. He prayed for his captors. He was soon given the nickname ‘Saint of Auschwitz.’ In July of that same year there was an escape from the prison. It was the custom at Auschwitz to kill ten prisoners for every one who escaped. All the prisoners would be gathered in the courtyard, and the commandant would randomly select ten names from the roll book. These victims would be immediately taken to a cell where they would receive no food or water until they died. The commandant begins calling the names. At each selection another prisoner steps forward to fill the sinister quota. The tenth name he calls is Gajowniczek. As the SS officers check the numbers of the condemned, this last one begins to sob. ‘My wife and my children,’ he weeps. The officers turn as they hear movement among the prisoners. The guards raise their rifles. The dogs tense, anticipating a command to attack. A prisoner has left his row and is pushing his way to the front. It is Kolbe. No fear on his face. No hesitancy in his step. The capo shouts at him to stop or be shot. ‘I want to talk to the commander,’ he says calmly. For some reason the officer doesn’t club him or kill him. Kolbe stops a few paces from the commandant, removes his hat, and looks the German officer in the eye. ‘Herr Kommandant, I wish to make a request, please.’ That no one is shot is a miracle. ‘I want to die in the place of this prisoner.’ He points at the sobbing Gajonwniczek. The audacious request is presented without stammer. ‘I have no wife or children. Besides, I am old and not good for anything. He’s in better condition.’ Kolbe knew well the Nazi mentality. ‘Who are you?’ the officer asks. ‘A Catholic priest.’ The block is stunned, the commandant uncharacteristically speechless. After a moment, he barks, ‘Request granted.’ Prisoners were never allowed to speak. Gajowniczek says, ‘I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me — a stranger. Is this some dream?’ The Saint of Auschwitz outlived the other nine. In fact, he didn’t die of thirst or starvation. He died only after the camp doctor injected phenol into his heart on August 14, 1941. Gajowniczek survived the Holocaust. He made his way back to his hometown, but every year he goes back to Auschwitz. Every August 14 he goes back to say thank you to the man who died in his place.”