Sacrafice in the New Covenant

Like Marriage (which is a human covenant modeled after God’s covenant with his church, Eph. 5:22-33), God’s covenant with us has a definitive form and content. Furthermore, there is a distinctive way of renewing covenantal relations in the Bible, and that is by way of sacrifice (Gen. 8:20-9:17; Exod. 24:4-11; Lev. 24:1-8; Ps. 50:5).The way of sacrifice has not been abrogated: animal sacrifices have. Much of the language used to describe the Church and the Christian life in the New Testament is derived from the tabernacle, temple, and sacrificial system. This means that the reality of life in the new age was pre-figured in the sacrificial rituals of the old age. Hebrews 10:1 identifies the ritual/sacrificial system as the “shadow of the good things to come.” Jesus’ sacrifice not only did away with the old animal offerings, it also illumined for the Church the true meaning of the sacrificial rituals for life and liturgy.

Part of the reason why so many Christian worship services have no logic, no order, no movement, is because those who superintended those services of worship have not paid attention to the Bible’s main instruction in the formation of a worship service because that instruction is found in the old testament.

It is this disregard for the importance of what is done in the worship of God and the order, or logic, with which it is done that had led to the common pejorative use of the words “liturgy” and ‘liturgical” in many evangelical and even Reformed circles. This is a mistake in more ways than one. Every church service is a liturgy, if it has various elements in some arrangement. That is what liturgy is. Liturgical churches are churches that have thought about those elements and their proper order. Non-liturgical churches are those that have not. It is no compliment to say that a church is a non-liturgical church. It is the same things as saying it is a church that gives little thought to how it worships God.

In the Old Testament, the sacrifices assigned by God had a particular order and placement–for an important reason. There are three main sacrifices that were part of the Temple liturgy, that were commonly found together, and when they were found together, they always followed a particular order (Lev. 9; 2 Chron. 29:20-36). These three offerings most inform our covenant renewal liturgy. First was the guilt offering (Lev. 17). Following this was the ascension offering, often misleadingly translated as burnt offering (Lev. 16:24-25). And the third was the peace offering upon which, the worshipper ascended to God in the smoke of an offering that was entirely consumed on the alter. And the peace offering was a tangible demonstration that God had received the worshipper, and was willing to share fellowship with him in common meal.

We know of course that in the New Testament, the sacrifices of animals are done away with in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Heb. 9:12). But the language of these Old Testament sacrifices does not disappear. Rather, sacrificial patterns under gird all new covenant worship. This is why we can understand the Bible as giving us a pattern of approach.

What happens to the sacrificial animal symbolizes what happens “spiritually” to the worshiper himself as God draws him near. Only this connection makes sense of Yahweh’s own polemic through His prophets against mere animal sacrifice. The people of Israel were not making the connection. They were to offer themselves as living sacrifices through the offering of the covenant memorial animal sacrifice. Quoting Psalm 40:6, the author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, when he (Jesus) came into the world, he said “sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me’” (10:5). Jesus embodied God’s requirements as outlined in the sacrificial system. He was the true faithful Israelite who offered Himself as was required. His acts of obedience, prayer, and self-denial fulfilled the true intention of animal sacrifice.

This is a paraphrase and modified arguments of Ken Meyer’s The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.



Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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