Monday April 6, 2020
5 That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
as is written about me in the Scriptures.” (Psalm 40:6-8)
8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). 9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.Hebrews 10:5-10 (NLT)
The writer of Hebrews wants to make it very clear to us that Jesus was clear about the reason God sent Him to earth. For hundreds of years of Jewish history, making an animal sacrifice was required in order to achieve forgiveness of sins. However, this sacrifice of an animal brought only limited atonement for sin – the sacrifice needed to be done again and again. That kind of forgiveness was inadequate since it did not make the sinner “holy.” Holy, in the Greek, characterized an act that had lasting effect.
This sort of sacrifice had been part of Jewish worship from the very beginning. The book of Leviticus gives instructions how to make this way of worship meaningful to the people and to God. The whole animal was burned in the altar fire. This was the most extravagant sacrifice that could be made because the entire animal was given to God. This burning of a sacrificial animal transformed the offering into smoke or a “pleasing odor” that God could enjoy. After the sacrifice, an offering of incense, seen as communion with God, was offered. This communion with God came after the sacrifice was made as an atonement for sin.
But as often happens with rituals that are conducted over many years, they lost more and more of their meaning. God was aware of this lessening of devotion to this sort of sacrifice.
The prophet Hosea delivered this message from God: “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.” Hosea 6:6.
And King David in one of his psalms reinforces Hosea’s words: “16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.” Psalm 51:16-17
Because of this breakdown in worship and sacrifice, God sent Jesus, His one and only Son to live among us, teach us, and then become the ultimate sacrifice for us. No longer were sacrifices of animals needed. The sacrifice of Jesus was a once and for all time sacrifice. Jesus followed the will of God, coming down from heaven to live among us and to finally offer His own life as a sacrifice for us all.
In this season of Lent, in this week between Palm Sunday and Easter – Holy Week – we are being kept apart by the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot gather together to celebrate this amazing gift God has given us. We cannot together experience communion together or enjoy an Easter breakfast together; we cannot enjoy Easter lilies together or Easter egg hunts or even Easter candy together. This is indeed a different time, a time of sacrifice for all of us, in order to keep as many of us as healthy as possible. This time surely feels like sacrifice.
Although the Bible does not deal with pandemics and how to stay healthy, we can know that God would want us all to do what we are doing now. It may not feel much like God’s will, but it can be seen in this way. We are making a sacrifice so that we can once again worship in our familiar ways. This may a time of feeling that our spirit has been broken. But this brokenness is like what happens when a horse is first ridden. That horse resists the constraints that the rider can put on it. But it does learn; it does the will of the rider. In a similar way, we are broken by God – in order to do the will of God. Doing the will of God also brings us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, the gifts from the Holy Spirit.
During this holy season, know that you are doing the will of God by keeping a safe distance between you and all those around you. Let us be in community, although distant from one another, during this time of sacrifice. May this Holy Week be filled with holy times for you. Amen.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian