A friend of mine told me of a trip he took to Jerusalem. As part of his sightseeing package, he observed an orthodox Jewish group taking part in an animal sacrifice. Those in the ceremony arrived at the home of the Jewish high priest, where he was sharpening a large knife, with a lamb tied up nearby, ready to be THE SACRIFICE.
The grisly event was however, just a rehearsal, for the day when sacrifices will once again be part of Israel’s national worship (read chapters 39-48 of Ezekiel). The tour guide tried to explain this bloody “practice” ritual to those who believed that the sacrifice of animals represented religion at one of its worst moments.
The Levitical sacrifices for sin that took place first in the Tabernacle and second in the Jewish Temple were always done in the daylight, not in the dark. They were performed only at the Temple altar, not in the shadows of a dark, meeting place. The goal was to express responsibility and repentance in light of personal and corporate wrongdoing (read Leviticus 6:1-7). Every part of the sacrificial system was designed with purpose.
Ultimately, the system was a picture of God’s redemptive love. Generations of Jewish sacrifices led a first century messenger to say and write, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. “ (John 1:29)
Jesus’ death was the ultimate and once-for-all atonement for sin. He did what no animal sacrifice could ever do. With his crucifixion, Jesus paid the penalty for the sinful words, thoughts, actions, and attitudes of every man and woman. He made forgiveness and freedom from sin available and accessible to all who believe in Him (John 3:16). Up to that time in history, every animal sacrifice was a pre-emptive type of ceremony that anticipated Christ’s death. His death then, was a once-for-all substitution for sin.
Ezekiel’s prediction that God will someday sanction the use of animal sacrifices may indeed be baffling then. Did or didn’t Jesus die for sins once for all? Yes.
For centuries, followers of Jesus use the symbols of His broken body and blood to remember and proclaim, “his death until He comes.” It is a regular opportunity for believers to reflect on (and honor) the Lord who died for them. But Ezekiel prophesied that God will also use the temple sacrificial system in the last days to help the Jews realize and remember how and when their Messiah suffered on their behalf.
I am sure not everyone can handle seeing animals put down. My friend said the “lamb rehearsal” in Jerusalem even made some people feel nauseas and a few even physically sick. That was part of the role of the sin offerings described in Leviticus. Christ’s suffering on our behalf was immeasurable and incomprehensible. He stood in our place. There is no way to know the depth of the agony he felt and experienced when he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Are you troubled by your casual attitude at times toward sin? Are you a bit numb to the suffering Jesus endured on your behalf? Think theologically. Jesus’ death was THE ATONEMENT for sin…once for all – to bring you and me to God (1 Peter 3:18).
Love is a verb,