Hebrews 10:5-8 “Therefore, when Christ came into the world he said: ‘Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am– it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God.’ First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’ (although the law required them to be made).”
Perhaps it seems strange that God wouldn’t want the very sacrifices he had commanded. Sacrifices occupied such a large part of Old Testament worship life. The law of Moses required sacrifices to be made in response to all sorts of events in life, like child birth or recovery from disease. Sacrifices were to be offered after committing certain sins. Animal sacrifices were part of each national holiday. On a daily basis the priests offered morning and evening sacrifices at the temple. The blood of animals flowed like a river, all at God’s command. If God had commanded all this killing, how could he not desire it?
Perhaps there is something that seems stranger still. Why did God order all these sacrifices in the first place? They seem so strange and foreign to our clean and sanitary worship. At worship we hear God loves us, sing our thankfulness, ask for his help, grow in our understanding of his will. How about the commotion of sheep and calves and bird cages? Imagine the smell of farm animals and sweaty priests and worshipers butchering them. People like us demand worship that’s relevant, music we like, and a message we can understand. We might wonder what the Lord hoped to accomplish.
It’s not as though he needed the sacrifices. “I have no need for a bull from your stall or goats from your pens…If I were hungry, I would not tell you…. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” (Psalm 50). It’s not as though God found some sort of morbid pleasure in seeing all these dear creatures die. “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”
No, God demanded sacrifices he did not desire, offerings that did not please him. He did it not for himself but for the benefit of his people. The constant killing delivered an unmistakable message. It impressed upon them the utter horror of sin.
Think that sin is no big deal? Each sacrifice repeated the mantra: “The wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is death.” We confess the words each Sunday, “For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.” They had on their hands the blood of the animals that showed what should have happened to them. As the author of Hebrews tells us in the previous chapter, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
But in that same sacrifice, there was also an unmistakable message of God’s love and forgiveness. Every sacrifice was a reminder that I, the real sinner, have been spared. Every sacrifice was an example of God treating me better than I deserve. I can rejoice to be alive. I enjoy another day of God’s goodness and mercy, unlike this animal whose life has just ended at my hands.
Do you detect some relevant warnings for our life and worship? We don’t offer blood sacrifices anymore. I suspect that we are all happy about that. Our sacrifices take on a more spiritual nature. We set aside some of our hard earned dollars to offer God and support his work. We give up some of our time to serve God at church. We use the abilities God gave us to teach, sing, make things, fix things, clean things, and administrate as a part of our personal “offerings” to him.
For himself, God doesn’t need our money any more than he needed the sheep and bulls. There is no service we offer that he can’t perform infinitely better himself. Like the blood sacrifices, our opportunities to serve God are for our benefit, not his. He is looking for tokens of our affection and expressions of sincere love. We need such outlets to express our love and grow beyond small, selfish, stunted lives concerned only with what’s in it for me.