Making Sacrifices for God
A sermon based on Hebrews 10:5-10
Sunday, December 20, 2015 – Advent 4C
Have you had to make any sacrifices this season? Maybe you've sacrificed a few days of vacation to visit relatives? Perhaps you've sacrificed a few hard earned dollars to buy presents for friends and family. Maybe you've sacrificed hours of your time to try and find that perfect gift. Maybe you will sacrifice more free time to God to attend extra worship services this weekend.
But I'm pretty sure that no one in this room has sacrificed a bull to God as a part of their Christmas worship.
There's a striking scene in the movie, The Nativity Story, where King Herod takes a bull by the horns, and places his head on the bull's head eye to eye as a symbolic way of showing that his sins were placed on that bull. Then the camera tastefully cuts away right before the bull's throat is slit as it's sacrificed to God. It was a vivid (and accurate) portrayal of the Old Testament sacrifices that Herod and the other Jews did so often because God commanded them to.
But today we don't sacrifice any animals to God in our worship because we don't have to. In fact we don't have to make any sacrifices to God. Any sacrifice we could make would be just like those Old Testament animals–they cannot take away sin. But there is a sacrifice that can: Jesus' perfect once-for-all-time sacrifice. That sacrifice has made us holy and perfect in God's sight. So that now, we long to sacrifice our very lives to Jesus in thanksgiving to him for making that sacrifice to God. The author to the Hebrews discusses all of these sacrifices for God in Hebrews 10:5-10…
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.'" a 8 First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
I. Our Sacrifices Cannot Save
Check out the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy sometime. Just flip through them and read the headers to see the countless animal sacrifices the people were told to make. Thousands of animals were slaughtered They were sacrificed every day. But does it seem odd that the law—God's law—required them to be made when God didn't desire them? When he wasn't pleased with them?
At first, it does seem senseless to slaughter all those animals. Why would God command something that he didn't even want? Well, that's not the point of the verse. God did want the sacrifices made. Otherwise he wouldn't have commanded them. But that's not all he wanted. After all, what use did God, who created all things, have for an animal carcass? You see, these sacrifices were not given for God's benefit, but for the peoples' benefit. God didn't just want a slaughtered animal. He wanted obedience to him. Herod's sacrifice portrayed in the movie was not pleasing to God. He only went through the motions while he relentlessly pursued the death of the Christ child. And no amount of sacrifice could ever replace obedience.
That's why David wrote in Psalm 40, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire… I desire to do your will." (v.6 & 8) Their sacrifices weren't sincere. But there was another problem with the Old Testament sacrifices. They could never do what the people were trying to accomplish. Hebrews 10:4, the verse right before our text, says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin." So what good were they? Back up one more verse. Hebrews 10:3 says, "Those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sin." And not just of sin, but of the consequences of sin: Sin had to be paid for with blood; with a death. But if these sacrifices couldn't do that, there must be something more.
And indeed there was. These sacrifices pointed ahead to Christ. They were a shadow of how God would pay for sin—not with the blood of animals, but, as Peter put it, "with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:19)
And friends, though we don't slaughter animals on an altar in a temple, the same principle applies to us. We may sacrifice our hard-earned dollars to church or a charity around Christmastime or even throughout the year. We may sacrifice our time to help at a charity or do a good deed for a stranger. We may sacrifice our comfort and convenience to be friendly toward someone who really gets on our nerves. But as great as these things might are, God is not pleased with our sacrifices. Not when such sacrifices are made to earn God's favor; to make him love us in spite of our sin.
You see these sacrifices are just like the blood of those Old Testament animals: they can never take away our sin. No matter how much I sacrifice for God, no matter how much time or money, these cannot make me right with God because what God really wants is obedience—perfect obedience all of the time. And yet, none of us are perfect—not even some of the time. And the consequences? Devastating!
"The soul who sins is the one who will die," God says in Ezekiel 18:20. In Romans 6:23 he says, "The wages of sin is death." (And he means eternal death in hell.) In Galatians 3:10 he warns, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law." And God in his grace reminds us of our sin, our disobedience to him, and the consequences of our thoughts and words and actions. He reminds us that no sacrifice we make, no matter how great, can ever take away sin. He reminds us of these things in order to show us our need for Christ's perfect obedience; to show us our need for Christ's perfect sacrifice…
II. Christ's Sacrifice was Once for All
The author to the Hebrews describes that sacrifice of Jesus with these words…
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… 7 Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.'" …10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
If what God really wants is obedient hearts, then only Christ is pleasing to God. "Here I am," he said, "I have come to do your will, O God." And how well Jesus kept God's will! He never broke a single commandment! He never had a single thought of greed or lust! He never spoke a single word that was not perfectly in line with what God the Father wanted said! He said, "I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me." (John 8:28) He never did a single act that God didn't want him to do. He said, "I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)
He followed his Father's will so perfectly, that he was even willing to take on the guilt of the world's sins, die on a cross, and endure hell there being forsaken by his Father there! Before his crucifixion he prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
And he could only make that sacrifice if he had a body. "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…" That's what makes Christmas so special. Jesus was born a human. God became man. He took on flesh—the body God prepared for him. He took on that human body so he could be under the law to keep it perfectly in our place. He took on that human body so he could be killed on the cross—sacrificed—to take away sin. Christmas is really all about the cross and the perfect sacrifice Christ came to make.
So what did that sacrifice mean for the Hebrews? It meant that their animal sacrifices were no longer needed. If the main purpose of those sacrifices was to remind the people of the promise of the Messiah and to teach them how he would pay for their sins, then once "Christ came into the world," those sacrifices were no longer needed.
And what does that sacrifice mean for us? It means everything! It means, "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." We've been made holy—that is sinless and set apart for God, perfect in his sight! Now note the tense: "we have been made holy…" This describes the finished work of Christ. There's nothing left to do. We are in a permanent, continuous state of perfection in God's sight, having "been made holy." It's done—"once for all"—with nothing left to do!
No more animals need to be killed for us, since they pointed ahead to Jesus and he already came. No more sacrifices need to be made on our behalf. No good works need to be done by us. No more efforts need to be made on our part. Jesus did it all. His sacrifice is perfect and complete with nothing left to do and nothing left undone. Believe it dear friends, and rejoice in your Savior who became man to sacrifice his body for you. Rejoice that even though your sacrifices can never save you, no matter how great they might be, no more sacrifice needs to be made than the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
And finally, friends, let his sacrifice for you move you to make sacrifices for him with thankful and grateful hearts! Gladly sacrifice your hard earned dollars to help others who don't have as many material blessings as you do. Gladly sacrifice your money to share the news of Jesus' sacrifice with others who don't know how spiritually blessed they are. Gladly sacrifice your time to serve your Savior and your neighbor as you tell them of his grace! As Paul wrote in Romans 12(:1), "Therefore, I urge you… in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." Sacrifice, dear friends, your all to thank that baby in the manger, that God-man on the cross, that Savior who has made you holy once and for all! In his name, dear friends, amen.
a cf. the Septuagint version (i.e. the Greek translation) of Psalm 40:6-8, which the author to the Hebrews quotes, rather than the Hebrew itself.