The Law. It is a difficult subject for Christians. On one side, we are set free from the law through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Our acceptance into heaven is now 100% reliant on the perfection of Christ rather than our fulfilling of the Jewish law. On the other side, the first five books of the Old Testament and known as ‘the Books of the Law’. They make up part of the Word of God and as such cannot be ignored. Though they contain difficult passages, frustrating ideas and can seem outdated, they are there for the Church to learn from.
Even in the 21st Century, the Church can learn from Old Testament Law.
The Levitical sacrificial system employed by Judaism up until the fall of the Second Temple in 70 AD is one example often used to show how outdated Old Testament Law can be. Even when Christianity was considered nothing but a small Jewish sect, sacrifices were not used as part of their worship. It was removed from the very beginning as Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, had become the perfect and eternal sacrifice for sin. Therefore, sacrifices were not required. Instead, the Early Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of their worship and fellowship.
However, throughout many of the letters written to the churches (so basically most of the New Testament) the sacrificial lamb is regularly used as a comparison for Christ. So what was it in the law that made this comparison so popular and relevant that we still call Christ the Lamb of God. And what on earth does it have to do with how we worship God today?
“The first commandment is this…”
…The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
In Mark 12, Jesus quotes a passage from Deuteronomy 6. This passage refers to the most important commandment within Jewish law, to love God with everything you own. (FUN FACT: The passage from Deuteronomy actually refers to YAWH, denoted by The Lord in most bible translations.) To love The Lord with everything we have! Not only does this seem unattainable but also totally theoretical. What on earth does loving God look like when He is not a physical being we cannot hug or kiss or talk to?
Love, Worship and Sacrifice
To love God is to worship Him. Even the dictionary defines worship as showing reverent love towards a deity. So if we have chosen to love God with all we have, we have chosen to worship Him with all we have.
So we go along to church on a Sunday. We sing along to Christian albums in the car. We buy the homeless man a sandwich because W.W.J.D.
What does this have to do with sacrifice?
Sacrifice was the cornerstone of Jewish worship. Leviticus includes several rules on how to offer sacrifices, what can be offered and why it is offered. Leviticus 22 v17-30 is one such section, where God outlines certain sacrifices as a part of Jewish worship. Though we don’t offer animal sacrifices today, this part of the law still has plenty to teach us.
Foreshadowing Christ’s Perfect Sacrifice
Jews were ordered to use only unblemished animals in their sacrifices. In other words, the best and most perfect livestock that they owned. It was the same for sacrifices that used grain, oil or birds. It was supposed to be their best. They were asked to sacrifice the equivalent of donating your prized possession to church for God’s purposes.
So the Jews were expected to give up their best as part of their worship. For centuries, this sacrifice was required of them. Yet each sacrifice they made, no matter how unblemished the animal, still came from an imperfect world. Then Jesus came. The perfect man who was fully divine and never sinned. Because of this, His sacrifice on the cross was perfect. Never ending.
God gave the most precious thing that He had. John 3 v16 tell us He gave His only Son to save us! And He set this all up through the Jewish sacrificial system so that we could understand it.
Sacrifice Should Cost Something
The unblemished animal serves a second purpose, alongside foreshadowing Christ. Sacrificing their most expensive animal gave them the chance to show God the place that He had in their life. That He took priority over everything else in their life.
This prioritising of a person over all else is the cornerstone of love. We can see it in Christ’s sacrifice, where God prioritised the human race over His own Son. And it did not end with the cross.
You can still choose to prioritise God and give Him your best each and everyday. No, I’m not asking you to sacrifice a perfect goat at church next week. I am asking you to think about what you prioritise.
Prioritise your money? Commit to regular tithing to your church.
Prioritise your family? Commit to sponsoring a child in a third world country.
Prioritise your food? Commit to giving to the food bank or using food as a way to grow with friends in fellowship.
But do not forget that any sacrifice you make is hollow unless done for love. You can give away everything you own but unless you do it in love, it will mean nothing (1 Corinthians 13 v1-3). For a sacrifice to be worship, your ultimate focus must be God. Psalm 40 tells us how God doesn’t not desire sacrifice. He desires our hearts.
A while back I wrote a post about being spontaneous in your worship. Leviticus 22 encourages spontaneity. Yes, God desires us to engage in worship whenever we have the desire or need.
There was one sacrifice that enabled this spontaneity. The free will sacrifice could be an animal that was too long or too short. In other words, imperfect.
God desires our love and worship. But He also encourages us to be spontaneous. To worship Him even when life isn’t perfect. To engage in that moment. Just like the Jews couldn’t be guaranteed that they would have an unblemished animal, we cannot guarantee that we will be in the perfect place. But lack of perfection is never a reason to not worship.
Worship for Everyone
The amazing thing is that this was not restricted to the Jews. We are told that even the foreigners who were living with or visiting Israel could offer up burnt offerings (sacrifices) to the Lord.
Living in a society that is being split further and further into groups and sub-groups, this all encompassing aspect to Old Testament law should bring us together. God does not differentiate amongst those who worship Him.
Whether it is Old Testament times or it is the 21st Century, God desires for us to worship Him. It doesn’t matter where we are, who we are or how we do it. He desires for us to bring our hearts before Him, offering up the costliest thing in our life.
To love God as He loved us
Here are a few of the sources I used in this article:
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