Have you ever stumbled across a new piece of knowledge that just blew your mind? One that makes you turn to the guy sitting next to you and say, “Did you know that?! Geez…how did I miss that?!” My most recent light bulb moment came when looking into the book of Hebrews for the first time. This New Testament book was written to a group of Hebrews brought up under the Torah, also known as the Law of Moses. The Law was not only about how they practiced their faith but was at the center of their homelife and their culture. It governed how they ate, slept, dressed and worshiped God. It dictated how they atoned for their sins by sacrificing animals in the Temple. The Law was everything. It had been their salvation for centuries. And now this group of Hebrews was following Christ. When I first read these words from Hebrews, I realized that I had somehow misunderstood what sacrificing in the Old Testament was about.
“The law is only an unclear picture ( or “shadow”) of the good things coming in the future; it is not the real thing. The people under the law offer the same sacrifices every year, but these sacrifices can never make perfect those who come near to worship God.” Hebrews 10:1-2 (NCV)
Wait a minute! I had thought God had given them this sacrament, in part, so that they could atone for sin and be made “perfect” before God! However, Hebrews 10 goes on to say that all the sacrifices at the temple —the lambs, bulls and goats meant to pay for the sins they had upon them — were not meant to save them but to remind them that they needed saving! If the sacrifices they gave were the cure for sin, the people would have been washed clean and felt no more guilt over the wrongs they had done. They would have been set free with no need to come back and sacrifice again. They would not be in need of a Savior. But we are in need of a Savior. Christ is the better sacrifice, the “real thing,” and the only way we are saved. Anything we offer is only a “shadow.” I realize that killing animals on stone altars seems foreign to our modern sensibilities. To make it more relevant to our lives today, I’ll give you an example from my life. Over the span of my many years, God has given me much to do. Here are a few of them:
I have served on about twenty mission trips.
I’ve given to ministries and charities.
I have counseled teenagers on the brink of suicide.
I’ve taken midnight drives to comfort the grieving.
And I have reached out to neighbors and senior citizens in need of help.
You could say that these have been my sacrifices. I have laid these on the altar as a gift for God. Now, I didn’t start out thinking these efforts would “save” me. However, I have caught myself looking back with this hope:
Maybe now I am acceptable in God’s eyes.
Maybe now I have made up for all those mean words and selfish acts.
Maybe now God and I are at peace.
Is this attitude so different from the sacrifices of the ancient Hebrews who believed they were saved through their sacrifice? Don’t get me wrong — doing good in the world as a gift to honor God is a good thing! I believe God smiles when He sees His children give of themselves as a way of worshipping Him. But, to think my “sacrifices” or good deeds can pay the price for my sins is believing that the “shadow” could possibly serve as the “real thing.” I think of a line from the Christian spoken-word artist, Propaganda…
“The cost of your soul, you ain’t gotta big enough piggy bank… ‘Cause even your good acts are an extension of your selfishness.” ( “Gospel In Four Minutes”)
That’s the problem right there…. When we see our good works as what saves us, we are doing them out of selfish motivation. Not only that, but we are forgetting that it is our faith in Christ and our dependence on Him and His sacrifice, that saves us. It is what Christ gave that changes everything… not what we give. Here is the mind-blowing truth in Hebrews that sums it all up:
“With one sacrifice He made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
Friends, we no longer need to strive and hope that what we do is enough. There is a freedom in knowing it never will be. Because of this loving gift and sacrifice that Jesus gave, we are made perfect in God’s eyes when we stand in front of Him. All we have to do is come to the altar and give ourselves to Him. Hallelujah and Amen! Shalom,
Namra PS, enjoy this fresh song/video from People and Songs…it seems perfect for our conversation today. Or click here to go directly to it: