For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:1-10 ESV
The law, the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices – they were all just a shadow, a feint outline of something far greater to come. They were a facade, not the real thing. They were intended to be a temporary representation and a daily reminder of man’s need for something better and more lasting. The sacrifices were ongoing and necessarily repetitive, because they could never fully bring forgiveness of sin. They could not remove the guilt of sin. They could not make someone permanently and completely right with God. In his commentary on Romans, W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Some one has well said: ‘The blood of animals cannot cleanse from sin because it is non-moral. The blood of sinning man cannot cleanse because it is immoral. The blood of Christ alone can cleanse because it is moral’” (W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary). The blood of animals was insufficient. The blood of men was contaminated by sin. Something better was needed.
The author, quoting from Psalm 40, attributes these words, penned by King David, to Jesus. “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Psalm 40:6-8 ESV). Jesus came to do the will of His Father in heaven. As Paul states, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). Jesus died, not as some kind of a martyr, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus was the sinless, unblemished Lamb, whose sacrifice fully satisfied God’s judgment against the sins of mankind. And unlike the animal sacrifices that had to be offered year after year, the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all. It never had to be repeated. No other deaths were going to be required to satisfy the just demands of God. But to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice, each individual must place their faith in Him as their sin substitute. Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). We must acknowledge our unrighteousness, our lack of a right standing with God due to our sin. We must also accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for our sin penalty. There is nothing we can do to satisfy or appease God through our self-effort or attempts at self-righteousness. Paul would have us remember that God “has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). The sad reality is that there are those who believe their right standing with God is dependent upon their own human effort. They spend their days trying to earn favor with God by keeping some set of rules or engaging in some ritualistic behavior in order to keep God happy. They struggle with the idea that someone else could pay for their sins. They wrestle with the idea of Jesus being the Son of God and sacrificing His life on their behalf. They mistakenly view Jesus as nothing more than a model to be followed, a good man who somehow managed to live a sinless life. And they wrongly assume that if Jesus could do it, so can we. That is not the message of the gospel. Paul makes this clear when he writes, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). He doesn’t say, “but God shows his love for us when we figure out how to live without sin.” No, God loved us in the midst of our sinfulness, and He proved it by sending His Son to die for us. The whole sacrificial system makes no sense if this is not the case. The law, the sacrifices, the priesthood – none of it makes sense if Jesus was not the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus came to do the will of His Father, and that will included His death on the cross. But as the author of Hebrews writes, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV). Under the old covenant, it was the will of God that men offer up sacrifices, the blood of bulls and goats, in order to atone for their sins. But ultimately, those sacrifices were not enough to satisfy the righteous, holy, and just demands of God. He had given His law in order to show men that they were incapable of living righteous lives and obeying His commands. They lived in a constant state of sin. He gave the sacrificial system in order to provide temporary relief from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Without the sacrificial system, men could not enjoy restored fellowship with God. Their sins had to be atoned for. But again, those things were simply a shadow, a glimpse of something far greater to come. Jesus was not just another man who figured out how to live a sinless life. He was the Son of God, who came in human flesh and lived without sin because He was divine. Because He was born of the Spirit, He had no sin nature. He alone could be the sacrifice for which God was looking. He alone could be the payment that would satisfy and propitiate God. Nothing else would do. No other sacrifice would work. No amount of human effort, rule keeping, good works, and righteous deeds will appease the wrath of God. Only the sinless sacrifice of the Son of God. Which is why Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Notice that He did not say, “No one comes to the Father unless they live like me.” He didn’t say, “No one comes to the Father unless they model their lives after me.” No, He said we must go through Him by placing our faith in His work on the cross, not our works on this earth.