1 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. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 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.’”
8 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), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 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, and the sacrificial system associated with Judaism were all just a shadow, a feint outline of something far greater to come. They were a facade and not the real thing. This God-ordained system was 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 bring full forgiveness of sin. They could not remove the guilt associated with sin. No amount of animal sacrifices would make someone permanently and completely right with God.
In his commentary on Romans, W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Someone 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. That means that one man could not offer his life as a sin substitute for another. His own sinfulness prevented him from doing so. So, something better was needed.
Quoting from Psalm 40, the author of Hebrews uses the words of King David to express the attitude of Jesus when it came to His role as the sinless Lamb of God.
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. The apostle Paul emphasized Jesus’ self-sacrificing obedience in his letter to the believers in Philippi.
…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 rebellion of the human race He had created. And unlike the animal sacrifices that had to be offered year after year, the sacrifice of Jesus was one and done. It was a once and for all time kind of sacrifice that never needed to be repeated.
With Jesus’ sacrifice, no other deaths would 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. They must acknowledge their own sin and their need for an all-sufficient Savior. As Peter put it, the unrighteous must recognize their need for a source of righteousness outside of themselves.
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
For sinners to take advantage of the righteousness that Jesus offers, they must first confess that their sin prevents them from having a right standing with God. It is their sinful state that separates them from a holy and righteous God and they must accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for their sin penalty. There is nothing anyone can do to satisfy or appease God through self-effort or attempts at self-righteousness. Paul would have us remember that man’s sin problem has only one solution.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he 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 1:19-22 NLT
The sad reality is that there are still 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 attempting to keep some set of rules or engaging in some ritualistic behavior that they believe will assuage the anger of the Almighty. They struggle with the idea that someone else could pay for their sins. They wrestle with the concept of Jesus being the Son of God and sacrificing His life on their behalf. In their misguided attempt to please God with their own lives, they mistakenly view Jesus as nothing more than a role model, a good man who somehow managed to live a relatively sin-free life. And they wrongly assume that they can do what Jesus did. But that is not the message of the gospel.
The apostle 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 that 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. Each of these elements associated with the old covenant was designed to point to Jesus. They provided a faint glimpse of the better covenant to come.
…if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. – Hebrews 8:7 ESV
Jesus came to do His Father’s will of His Father, and that 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 God’s 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 His chosen people that they were incapable of living righteous lives and obeying His commands. Trapped in a constant state of willful rebellion against God’s covenant commandments, the people of Israel were incapable of changing their sinful behavior. In His mercy and grace, God provided the sacrificial system to provide temporary relief from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Without it, the Israelites could have never enjoyed the experience of a restored fellowship with God. Their sins had to be atoned for so that they could stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God.
But that system was simply a shadow, a glimpse of something far greater to come. Jesus was not simply a man who somehow managed 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 of God, He entered this world without a sin nature. This is what enabled Jesus to live as a human being, suffering all the same temptations we do, yet without ever violating the will of His Heavenly Father.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:15 ESV
He alone was qualified to serve as the sacrifice for which God was looking. He alone could serve as the payment for the sins of mankind that would satisfy and propitiate God. Nothing else would do. No other sacrifice would work. No amount of human effort, rule-keeping, good works, or so-called deeds of righteousness could appease the wrath of God. Only the sinless sacrifice of the Son of God would do. This is why boldly proclaimed, “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 access the Father through Him by placing our faith in His work on the cross, not our works on this earth.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.