There is no pretty way to look at the sanctuary services without understanding the sacrificial system it supported. Even though meat-eating is high on most everyone’s menus these days, we little understand the process and sacrifice it takes for the animals to be slaughtered and end up on our plates.
Therefore, killing innocent animals is repugnant to our modern minds. We recoil at the idea of sacrificing anything, but that emotion is the whole point of the ritual. It prefigured our Savior, who took our place on the altar. And we must never lose sight of the purpose of the ritual.
And that is the study we take up this week. The sacrificial system looks different today, but the basic premise of sacrifice must be understood if we are to fully grasp what our memory text is telling us.
Memory Text: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1 NASB
Our knowledge of the Bible informs us that animal sacrifices were in effect long before the ones spoken of by Moses in the operation of the wilderness tabernacle. Abraham built an altar wherever he pitched his tent, and Noah offered sacrifices of thanksgiving after the flood (undoubtedly from the clean animals, which were brought in by sevens to the ark). The patriarchs seemed to have knowledge of the practice, long before the establishment of the Jewish nation.
Sunday: The First Sacrifice
Indeed, the first animal sacrifice may have been right after the Fall. In Genesis 3:9-21, we read what God told the Eden pair after their sin. He not only cursed the snake, but verse 15 gives a promise that someday the Seed of the woman would battle with the seed of the serpent and the serpent would lose, figuratively with a bruise to his head. That Child of Promise was looked for throughout the generations, right down to the time of Mary and Joseph.
But often overlooked is the first thing God did for the pair that showed His unchanging love for them. In Genesis 3:21, we find that the Lord God made “coats of skins, and clothed them.” In order for those skins to be worn, animals would have to die. It was the first time Adam and Eve had seen death. How meaningful the illustration must have been to their guilty hearts. I’m sure God instructed them about the innocence of these animals and how they were a substitute, just as God’s Son would die as their substitute someday.
We have some clues that Adam and Eve passed down this lesson to their sons and daughters. The story of Cain and Abel reveal that sacrifices were offered to God even back then. Is God particular about how He is worshiped? He clearly accepted Abel’s offering with fire, because it was the offering of obedience, what God had ordered. Cain’s offering of his own fruits and crops obviously sprang from a proud heart and God did not accept them. In the same vein, our own righteousness will never win points with God. In fact, in this case, it led to the murder of a brother by a brother.
Discussion Question: Some Christians say that God did not actually create the sacrificial system, but simply used a pagan practice to reach His people where they were. How does Bible evidence counter that assumption? [Could not the pagans have adopted the practice as a means of “counterfeit worship”? Where else have we seen Satan operate this way?]
Monday: Types of Offerings
The outer court of the tabernacle included the altar of sacrifice and the laver. It constituted the first steps in our salvation, justification, forgiveness, and cleansing. It is important to understand that many types of offerings were acceptable to God. He lovingly gave His followers a “gift list”. Some of the gifts were voluntary, and others were obligatory. But they all were for the purpose of growing their relationship with God.
Animals weren’t the only thing offered; various grain and drink offerings were also given. The voluntary ones consisted of offerings of dedication and peace or well-being. As one felt blessed, they were encouraged to indicate their thankfulness to God by giving for the support of the ministry. The sacrifices that were necessary, however, were those that involved sin or trespasses, sometimes called the purification offering. And these usually involved an animal of some kind. Read about them all in Leviticus 1-5.
Discussion Question: Why were some offerings voluntary and others obligatory?
Tuesday: Sacrifice at Moriah
The story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac (Genesis 22) is a profound lesson about sacrifice and faith that many people never fully understand. While some would ask how Abraham could even think of doing such a horrific act, others focus on the God who would ask him to. We must look deeper than the facts of the story and uncover the lessons it taught.
What we have to remember about this story is the close relationship between Abraham and God at this point. Abraham had known the voice of God for years. Even from the time he was called out of the land of Ur, God had continuously spoken to him directly. So Abraham knew the voice was God’s, and his faith in His leading was strong enough for him to consider whatever God asked of him.
Obviously, there must have been much anguish in carrying out the task, but Abraham trusted that God would provide a substitute at some point, and that is exactly what happened, when the ram was caught in the thicket for them to offer. This lesson of faith not only helped Abraham understand the principle of sacrifice, but it has ennobled thousands of believers in following generations to reach out in utter faith and grasp God’s hand to pull them through rough times.
Imagine for a moment the anguish of our God, as His only Son suffers on a cruel cross. Thank God, victory over sin was won on that cross, but it was a high price to pay for our Creator God and Jesus. The story of Abraham’s faith prefigured that great event and points us today to the one who died for our sins and the sacrifice that was made for us even today.
Discussion Question: How much faith did Isaac have? Was it faith in God or in Abraham? Or both?
Wednesday: Life for a Life
This is the whole point of the sacrificial system. A life for a life. Jesus’ life for ours. And it was the lesson that got lost in the sacrificial rituals of the temple.
I Samuel 15:22 warned us that to obey is better than sacrifice, and Micah 6:6-8 tells us that beyond sacrifice, the Lord wants for us is to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. David also pleaded for a broken and contrite heart as a better sacrifice before the burnt ones can be accepted. Some of the Old Testament prophets and king’s “got it”, but countless others forgot what the rituals were established for, and started copying their pagan neighbors.
Discussion Question: How can we avoid forgetting what our church service stands for? Are certain elements of the worship service seen as nothing but ritual, or has the meaning of them just been forgotten? What practices should be kept and what could be thrown out?
Thursday: Sacrifices Today/Living Sacrifice
The temple veil being torn from top to bottom indicated that the temple services that prefigured Christ were no longer effective after His death. But there are many ways we can still present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice:
- taking care of our bodies (Romans 12:1, 2, the memory text, a total surrender to the will of God)
- support the ministry (Philippians 4:18–“…things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” KJV)
- praise Him (Hebrews 13:15–“…let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God…” KJV)
- do good to others (Hebrews 13:16–“…do good…for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” KJV)
A “living sacrifice” means that the entire person is given to God.
Summary: From Thursday–“True worship is never only inward and spiritual, it must encompass outward acts of selfless service. After all, think about what our Lord has done for us.”
Next week we’ll see more lessons learned from the sanctuary!