In the New Testament lesson for today (Hebrews 10:1-10), the writer of Hebrews is building a case for the superiority of the new covenant, which is established by the sacrifice of Christ, over the old covenant, which is maintained by the cycle of annual sacrifices. He writes:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1)
Of course, for many of us who have been raised in a Christian environment, this seems so obvious that it hardly even needs to be stated. We’ve had it drilled into our heads that the sacrifices of bulls and goats and rams can’t take away sin, because only the sacrifice of Jesus can truly cleanse us. And I believe that’s true. And yet, it seems to me that quite a few of us Christians (in fact, maybe all of us at one point or another) continue to think and act as if “sacrifices” can make us right with God, rather than relying on “The Sacrifice” that has been made once and for all.
What I mean is this. Despite the fact that we ought to know better, we behave as if our “offerings” (our prayers and Bible reading, our church attendance and giving, our resistance of temptation and our obedience to God’s Law) form the foundation for our relationship with God. This, I think, is why we’re tempted to think of ourselves as “better” than those who don’t make such offerings. And it’s also why we get anxious or frustrated when God doesn’t seem to be holding up His part of the “sacrificial bargain” by providing safety, healing, blessing, or whatever other “good” we desired.
But our “life sacrifices” are no more able to secure our relationship with God than the “animal sacrifices” of the old covenant were. As the passage goes on to say: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (verse 10). This is not to say that our sacrifices have no place. They are perfectly appropriate as a response to the grace that we’ve received through The Sacrifice. But made in order to “earn” God’s favor — or to “grow us in godliness” through our own efforts — they are perfectly worthless.
I hope that this day will provide plenty of opportunities for us to offer “sacrifices” — for us to give to God hearts and lives that overflow with praise and thanksgiving at the thought of His goodness and grace. But even more, I pray that this day will provide opportunities to rest in “The Sacrifice” — to know that our relationship with God is made possible by a Gift that we didn’t earn and that we can’t repay. May God’s love revealed in Jesus be our everything today; and may it lead us into deeper trust and greater joy.