Contrary to the conventional wisdom of Christianity and the teaching of the Church for almost two thousand years, the primary object of the coming of the Son, in as much as it applies to man, was not the salvation of man, but his restoration to that condition in which he was created. Adam was created innocent with the intention that he would do the will of the Father. Instead, he was deceived by Satan and fell into sin, and the corruption of his flesh by sin meant that neither he, nor any of his seed, would ever, of himself, be able to obey God. In his flesh, man became more consistent with the nature and character of Satan than of God. Thus, Adam’s sin rendered obedience to God impossible for every generation.
Sacrifice is the very core of our faith; it first appears in the Garden after the Fall. After Adam and Eve had rebelled against God, doing what had been forbidden them, they had clothed themselves with leaves to cover their exposure. Before casting them out of the Garden, however, God clothed them with garments of animal skins (Genesis 3:21), signifying what was later to be written in the letter to the Hebrews, that there can be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).
Sacrifice then, in its most basic meaning, is the shedding of blood as an offering to God to propitiate His anger at sin; this is the context in which the regular sacrifices under the Old Covenant were carried out. But there is more to it than that. Sacrifice is also understood to be the surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something considered of greater value. It is in this sense that sacrifice has special meaning for the followers of Christ Jesus.
To believers, both of these understandings of the word “sacrifice” are fundamental to their faith; they were both set forth plainly in the life of Jesus and, properly understood, they should figure prominently in the life of every born again believer, being plainly seen in the exercise of their faith.
The Sacrifice of Jesus
God chose Israel as His people to be an example and demonstration of the fact that fallen man was inevitably and irretrievably degenerate, incapable of living as God intended. Despite repeated warnings over many generations by God through His prophets, Israel repeatedly hardened their hearts to God so that eventually, God Himself hardened their hearts until the time of the gentiles should be fulfilled (Romans 11:25). By the time of the coming of the Messiah, the condition of Israel was such that Jesus could say to their leaders, “You are of your father, the devil” (John 8:44)!
Into this apostate environment came the Son, with one principal brief – to fulfill the Father’s desire. “I was determined, O God, to do Thy wish” (Hebrews 10:7, Psalm 40:7-8). A proper understanding from the Greek text is that the Son applied His will (boulomai) to do His Father’s wish (thelema). This, remember, was the mission stated in the prayer that He taught to His disciples – “thy wish be done” (Matthew 6:10). Not will, but wish, or desire. Where God’s will exists, it must inevitably be done; His wish though, is another matter altogether and will depend on whether a man will surrender his independent will to the obedience of God’s wish or desire. This is what Jesus came to do and what He did.
We are told that “He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Now the sacrifice of Christ was two-fold. Firstly, there is the most widely understood aspect of His sacrifice – that of His death, in which He fulfilled the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament whereby pure and innocent blood had to be shed as atonement for the sins of the people to propitiate the wrath of God (1Peter 1:19). This He accomplished by His death upon the Cross and in this aspect of His sacrifice, His Blood can be said to be the Blood of the atonement (Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 1:7). It is a once for all sacrifice to enable genuine repentance for sins to be met by God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:7-9).
The second aspect of His sacrifice is little understood by believers, whose faith is limited by their knowledge and whose experience is limited by their faith. We speak of the sacrificial work of His life, rather than His death.
Now sin, fundamentally, is a rejection of God’s way in favour of pleasing oneself; in believers, it is obviously not a rejection of God Himself, but rather it means giving preference to the desires of self and human nature before the desires of God. This was the very essence of Adam’s sin and it became part of the nature of man. But Jesus kept sin away from Himself by sacrificially living His life in obedience to the Father, rather than following His own will. In this respect, the sacrifice was made by His living, not His dying.
The sacrifice of Jesus was foretold in the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament, particularly in Zechariah, who describes in some detail what was to become of the Messiah. Chapter 11 of Zechariah deals with the coming of the true Shepherd of Israel, who is pictured feeding the flock whose sheep are being slaughtered and whose false shepherds “…have no pity on them” (verse 5). The apostasy of Israel is foretold as well as God’s abandonment of them to judgement; He too “..shall no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the Land” (verse 6); Israel is left to its own devices and their future is consigned to the one they embrace as king, who, by their own admission, is Caesar (John 19:15).
Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the breaking of the staffs Union and Favour is symbolic of the rejection of apostate Israel by God; we see it fulfilled when Jesus said; “Behold your house is being left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).
The true Shepherd demands His wages; “…and they assigned for My wages thirty pieces of silver” (verse12); but Jehovah told Him to give to the potter the price that had been paid; “So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter in the House of the Lord”, (verse 13). Thence Israel was handed over to the care of the worthless shepherd, a prophetic reference to the False Messiah Simon bar Kochba who was anointed by Rabbi Akiva in 132 A.D., and to all those false prophets and teachers who have followed him.
This prophetic drama was replayed in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas who asked the Jewish leaders; “what will you give to me for delivering Him up to you? And they assigned to him thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:15). The source of this money that the priests paid to Judas was the temple treasury in which the money for the purchase of temple sacrifices was kept. Little did they know it, but when they used the money for sacrifices to pay Judas, the priests paid for the very last sacrifice for sin that could be made, for Christ died for sins once for all (1 Peter 3:18).
Thus, all the animal sacrifices for sins offered since the death of Christ avail for nought and deny the validity of the only sacrifice for sin that is acceptable to God.
“….but now once for all, at the completion of the ages, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
Jesus accomplished this through the ongoing hourly, daily sacrifice of Himself to the Father’s wishes. He suffered the same temptations as all men; He chose to turn aside from the pleasures of this life and the attractive distractions offered by the world; He chose to follow the Father’s wish in every detail of His life; He chose to reject the ways of men in favour of the ways of God. It wasn’t natural for Him to act in such a manner; He was a human person in the same way as Adam, born in innocence; but unlike Adam, He obeyed God in all His ways and thus, unlike Adam, was perfected in obedience.
“And becoming perfect, He became to all those obeying Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).
The scriptures reveal two types of sacrifices, those under Law and those under Grace.
The Sacrifices under the Law
Sacrifices under the Law are those set forth in the volumes of the Law and were undertaken as a duty under that Law. All of these sacrifices are both typical and prophetic in the sense that they typify future events not known or understood by those carrying them out. Their relevance to the people in the services of the temple was that they were doing what God had commanded them to do.
While the sacrifices complied with God’s demands and propitiated His wrath, they were essentially religious; that is, they were all external to the individual and did not necessarily impact upon the inner man, who might remain completely untouched by them. For example, sin offerings were offered as external acts of repentance, rather than being repentance itself.
This focus on external activity and appearances, while allowing the individual to remain essentially unchanged, is a characteristic of all religions and one that, unfortunately, persists today in Christianity; it is one of which Jesus was harshly critical;
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
The other aspect of the Sacrifices of Law was that they were performed by men belonging to the priestly caste. God did not desire them; “God did not have pleasure in sacrifices offered by the Law“ (Hebrews 10:8), but they served His purpose, firstly of pointing to Christ and secondly, of demonstrating to men that that “the Law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19); it was “our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
As God says to Israel in a prophecy referring to the last days;
“I will not reprove you on account of your sacrifices, but your whole burnt offerings are before Me continually. I will not receive from your house a calf nor a he-goat from your flock; for every wild beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle and the oxen. I know all the birds of the heavens and the ripeness of the field is mine. If I should hunger, I would not speak to you, for the world is mine and the fullness thereof. I will not eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise and return prayers to the Most High” (Psalm 50:8-14).
The Sacrifices of Law are no longer carried out since the destruction of the second temple; for Israel, this means the bitter truth of Hosea’s prophecy has been fulfilled;
“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice” (Hosea 3:4).
Sacrifices of Grace
The Sacrifices under Grace are voluntary offerings by those who seek to follow the path of Jesus; in that sense, they are the only offerings that God ever wanted.
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire…..Lo in the volume of the Book it is written of Me; ‘I delight to do your wish O My God” (Psalm 40:6-8).
God’s desire has always been that His people would do that which is pleasing to Him, not themselves; man was created for His good pleasure and it is His good pleasure to foreordain us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5) and it is His good pleasure to give His flock the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
Sacrifices of Grace are not for sin because Jesus paid the price for sin once for all (1 Peter 3:18); there is no more sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26); rather, they are offered because the Father wishes to receive them; it is His desire.
The Sacrifices of Grace are free will offerings that are the outcome of a heart surrendered utterly to the Lordship of Christ; to that extent they emulate the sacrifice of Christ in one aspect at least, that of giving up His life hourly, daily and continually to the wishes of the Father. That was the sacrifice of His life, to forego the pleasures of this life and the distractions of this world in favour of following the Father’s desires.
Offering sacrifices is a function of priesthood; under the Old Covenant it was the priests who attended the altar and offered the animal sacrifices for the propitiation of God’s wrath; Jesus was the High Priest according to the Order of Melchisedec and by the sacrifice of Himself ushered in the priesthood of all believers which is “A holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5).
The Way of Sacrifice
“Have this attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the nature of God, did not consider to be equal in God a thing to be held on to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a servant, becoming in likeness of men and being proved to be a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, and death of a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
We are to have the same attitude as Jesus, Paul writes; emptying ourselves, becoming obedient to the point of death, and death itself. These things point to another sacrifice, that of ourselves. It is the best-kept secret in modern Christianity that, if we are to truly take up the offered covenant, then we, too, must sacrifice our lives to the obedience of Christ, laying aside our fleshly desires and the distractions of the fallen world about us. “Come out from the midst of them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17). When the divine separation by the Great Shepherd of the sheep takes place (Matthew 25:32), those who have sacrificed themselves to the obedience of Christ and truly separated themselves from the world will be counted amongst the sheep, not the goats.
By doing only those things that were pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), Jesus “put away sin”, not just for Himself, but for all those who would follow His example. As Jesus did, so we are meant to do – sacrifice our lives to the obedience of Christ – but since man does not have the power within himself to obey, provision has been made in the sacrifice of Christ for access to power that enables man to be obedient. The Spirit is given that we might be sanctified unto obedience (1 Peter 1:2, Hebrews 12:24, Hebrews 10:22) and, in this respect, the “sprinkling” of the Blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:2) is enabling.
Many Christians tend to focus on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus at the expense of taking hold of the truth of the enabling power that is in the sprinkled Blood. Thus, they are able to live compromised and slothful lives, doomed to failure in overcoming sin, living in hope that their slender experience of God is sufficient to get them through. They serve their Churches, hopefully imagining that this amounts to serving God, but by failing to press into and “agonise” over the Word they rob themselves of the riches of the blessings of dwelling in His Presence.
When we assume that our studies have left us with a complete knowledge of what the Bible says, we limit the Holy Spirit’s power to reveal to us the hidden depths and riches of His Word.
Christ came that man might be what he was meant to be – obedient to the wish of the Father. The sacrifice of His death brings us to the starting point of being made righteous in God’s eyes, and the sacrifice of His life offers us the example of putting sin away by obedience, which is the path of sanctification leading to salvation and glorification.
But whereas Jesus was perfected in obedience, we are not, nor are we capable, in ourselves, of being perfected in obedience. For that reason, we must “put off” (Ephesians 4:22) the old man of the flesh and reckon him as dead; it is the old man who will stand in the way of Christ being manifest in us; it is the old man of the flesh who resists our abiding in Christ; but that resistance cannot endure if the old man is put off and put down.
As we take hold of the truth that we can have the power to overcome sin, that we can have His law written upon our hearts, we enter in to an entirely new condition and experience. It is called “abiding in Christ” (John 15:4).
This is the “new and living way” that Jesus inaugurated (Hebrews 10:20); a giving up of the nature and the self; a complete separation from the world and its spirit and an absolute acceptance of God’s desire to rule in the life of the believer in every way. Its consequence is to enter in to that Holiest Place wherein dwells the Father and our Great High Priest the Lord Jesus Christ. In that place, no sin is present. In that place are joy unspeakable and blessings unimaginable.
The two-fold aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice, His sacrifice of living and His sacrifice of dying, speak to us today as examples of how we should live our lives if we are to become one of those “among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
Firstly, He sacrificed His life each day and every hour to the obedience of the Father; this speaks to us of sanctification, which, alone, is the fruit of yielding ourselves up to the Lordship of Christ under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, He sacrificed His life as an offering to God to propitiate God’s wrath at man’s sin. This speaks to us of the necessity of putting to death the “self” nature through self- crucifixion of the old man.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us and was seen by men, we are told (John 1:14). It must become incarnate in us too, and be seen by those amongst whom we live. Doctrine held for doctrine’s sake is irrelevant; it must be fleshed out in the lives of the faithful and be seen by men.
Morning and Evening Sacrifices
Under the Old Covenant, there was a morning sacrifice and an evening sacrifice; these were inaugurated under the Law given by God to His people. Although we no longer have to offer up blood sacrifices to God for sin, the morning and evening sacrifices offer an example of what God expects of His people. They speak to us today of intentionally and expressly offering our own Sacrifices of Grace in the mornings and evenings.
Jesus discovered His life and priesthood in the Word; each believer must do the same and work out with the Holy Spirit those sacrifices that God requires of him. As for myself, these are examples of my morning and evening sacrifices that I offer to God:-
Firstly, I tell God that I choose Him (Joshua 24:15); that is, I choose to disregard the ways of the world, the flesh and the devil and instead, determine to do His wish, as Christ did the wish of the Father. I engage the Holy Spirit in that choice becoming life in me for that day.
Then I “Offer the sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). There is nothing more fundamental than this; it means trusting in God rather than myself in every particular of my life; it is the basic step to get on the way of God. In fact, it is a definition of faith, which is nothing less that trust in the Lord; not for what we want, but for what He wants. It is the opening of the gates that lead towards salvation. This means that I will be anxious for nothing (Matthew 6:31-34) and have no fears, knowing that I am in the hands of Christ the Lord.
Then I embrace the words of Jesus;
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
This is the beginning of the path towards sanctification, which means becoming Christlike. I must take up my cross, not His cross; my cross is to deny myself in all things, doing only that which is acceptable in His eyes. It amounts to laying down my life for Him, as He did for us. I tell the Lord that “I know this, that my old man was crucified with Him, in order that my body of sin should be abolished, no longer to serve sin” (Romans 6:6). I enter in to that experience spiritually, visualising my crucifixion and the death of my natural self. I determine to follow Jesus in all that I do, say and think this day. I determine to do His wish as He did the wish of the Father.
That leads me to put off the old man with all his deeds (Colossians 3:9); “….you are to put off, concerning the former manner of life, the old man, the one being destroyed through strong, deceitful desires; and you are to be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and to put on the new man, the one being created according to God, through righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
This is an ongoing sacrifice that must take place whenever the old man seeks to reassert himself and occupy my mind, my heart or my soul.
If you have ever wondered how it is possible to be a Christian and yet still sin, then the answer inevitably is that the old man has not been put off. Only I can put off the old man. It is not something that God or anyone else can do, but only I. It is in the old man that Satan dwells and sin, wickedness and every evil thing. He is born in sin and in sin he remains. As long as we still retain the old man, we are still subject to the bondage of sin. This is something that man has to do that Jesus didn’t have to do, for He was born innocent and never fell into sin, being perfected in obedience (Hebrews 5:9, 7:28).
This then, is how I approach each day; my evening sacrifice includes an honest appraisal and review of my day and this leads me to repentance for my failures and an earnest seeking after the power of God to live the resurrection life to which I am called. I take Paul’s words and make them my own;
“…that I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ; the righteousness from God on the basis of trust; to know Him, and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if somehow I may arrive into the resurrection, that from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11). From this foundation, I can press on towards that precious goal, the “…prize of the heavenly calling of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:14).
It has been written that;
“Although being a son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Those sufferings weren’t only at the hands of the Romans; they were the sufferings of resisting the temptations that all men are subject to, for it is written that “He Himself was tempted“ (Hebrews 2:18); if He hadn’t been subject to temptation, He wouldn’t have been human, but “He was made like His brethren in all things” (Hebrews 2:17).
“….He has been manifested to set aside sin through the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
He set sin aside for mankind through the ongoing hourly, daily sacrifice of Himself to the Father’s wishes and finally, giving up His life in this world upon the cross; we may keep it set aside through the ongoing hourly, daily sacrifice of ourselves to His commandments and guidance and giving up our lives in this world by the crucifixion of our wants desires and lusts upon our own cross, which we take up to follow Him.
Only thus can we walk in such a way that honours the word of God;
‘…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called..” (Ephesians 4:1).
“….conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
“…walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
“…that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
“…..God may count you worthy of your calling…” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that we should “run the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1); a better, and more correct translation is; “we should progress with steadfast endurance the struggle being set before us”. The word translated as “race” is the Greek agona and is the word from which the English “agonize” derives. The struggle, or the race, is not against others; it is against the self-nature; it is a struggle between the carnal nature and the redeemed nature; between the old man and the new man, “the one being created according to God in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24). In that struggle, we are often overcome, but can always pick ourselves up and try again.
Jesus’ sacrifice, setting sin aside by giving up His life both in this world and upon the Cross, glorified the Father; we may keep sin set aside through the ongoing hourly, daily sacrifice of ourselves to His commandments and direction and giving up our lives in this world by the crucifixion of our wants desires and lusts upon our own cross, which we are to “take up and follow Him”. As we do, we glorify Christ. That is the New Covenant, in a nutshell.
It is God’s wish, or desire, that all men be saved, but the only path to salvation is to take up the covenant offered by God through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God.
In that great prophetic Psalm speaking of the second coming of the Lord of Glory and the judgement to follow; the Psalmist speaks to three distinct peoples;
Firstly, He speaks to “My saints, those who have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice” (Psalm 50:5).
They are those individuals who have engaged with His covenant on the basis of their own sacrifice. The basis of their saintliness is the sacrifice of self, resulting in their living a crucified life before Him, not man, and which He sees because “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).
None other can claim to be one of His holy ones, for just as He sacrificed His life for us so we must sacrifice our life for Him; there is no other way; life will only follow death. True resurrection life will only follow the death of self and only those whose old man, the carnal, selfish, natural man, is truly dead can be said to have taken up His covenant through sacrifice.
Then He speaks to Israel, the nation (Psalm 50:7-15), with whom He will deal as a nation.
Finally, He speaks to the wicked (Psalm 50:16), who are described as those who talk about His statutes but only take up the covenant in their mouth; they talk about Him, but have abandoned their priesthood to hirelings and made the dreadful mistake of thinking that God was just like them.
Jesus said of Himself; “And he that sent me is with me: the Father has not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
Here is the one true sacrifice of the broken man; to always do the things that please the Father; if we do that, we are following after Christ; if we do that, we can be said to be His brethren; if we do that, we have found the true purpose of God for our lives. But we cannot do the things that please the Father through our own efforts; it must be the work of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be the work of the old man; strive as he might, he cannot please the Father, for the old man must die and be replaced by the new man; the “one being created according to God in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
The old man is Adam; and Adam did not do the one thing that was pleasing to the Father at all; instead he pleased himself. The old man will always do that which pleases himself; that is the human condition, the Adamic nature with which we are contaminated at birth.
This old man may become born again; he may have a fervent desire to serve Christ; he may become a missionary; he may preach great sermons; He may say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matthew 7:22). Yet will the Lord say to him, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you who bring about lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
For it is the old man doing these things; they are works of the fleshly nature and, as such, are repulsive to God.
The only things that can please the Father are those that are done in the Son, through His Spirit. Jesus glorified the Father by doing the things that pleased Him; we glorify the Son by doing the things that please the Father. These things, though, we do not do; rather they are done by us without any consciousness or intention on our part; they can only be done as we fix in our hearts, our minds and our souls the one object; to please the Father. All else follows automatically; we become empty vessels for the Spirit to occupy and direct as He desires.
Generally, we Christians spend our lives pleasing ourselves essentially; we read the Word and strive to carry out what we find there; we have our “quiet times” that are allocated to God, making room for Him in our lives, rather than giving our lives up altogether; we accommodate Him, fitting Him in to our busy lives, instead of giving up everything else but the one thing He wants; to please Him.
But this is to cling to our life rather than letting it go and it must always lead to frustration and disappointment, for the old man cannot please God; he cannot do the things that God desires. God has no truck with the old man except to “redeem him from the authority of darkness and transfer him into the kingdom of His Beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
When we do the things that are pleasing to Him, all our prayers are answered (1 John 3:22). Indeed, our prayers are only answered if what we are asking pleases Him; this is what it means to ask in the name of Christ; it is to ask what is consistent with His nature and character; to ask what He would ask.
The only worthwhile fruit is that which comes from a walk pleasing to Him (Colossians 1:10).
We are entrusted with the gospel to be pleasing to God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
Doing the things that are pleasing to God is the path to true peace; we no longer have to strive to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. Similarly, “walking in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” requires no effort on our part; following all the commandments of Christ falls into place automatically; for they are the fruit of the one thing that we alone must do; that which is pleasing to God. Doing the things that are pleasing to Him is the outcome of allowing the Spirit of God to work out what He has already worked in.
“Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psalm 50:5). Doing the things that are pleasing to the Father is the true sacrifice with which the saints of the Most High take up the covenant.
When this thought becomes lodged in the forefront of our hearts, minds and souls, we have finally taken up our cross to follow Him, and we find indeed, that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30).