“…Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2
Blood of the Old Covenant
Blood is an unpleasant subject to many because it brings to mind suffering and death. Curiously, the Bible is a book literally filled with blood. On 362 occasions the Old Testament speaks of blood, most often referring to sacrifices and death by violence. The New Testament also speaks of blood 92 times, most commonly in reference to violent death. Much of the Bible’s teaching about blood is in relation to the hundreds of appearances of related issues such as the Temple, priesthood, fire, and smoke.
The shedding of blood and animal sacrifice likely began with God, after the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, as God covered their nakedness and shame with the skin of an animal (Genesis 3:21). Other sacrifices were offered by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job (Gen. 4:1-5; 8:20; 22:3, 13; 26:25; 33:20; 35:7; Job 1:5). Perhaps the most insightful sacrifice was done by Abraham in place of Isaac, where it was promised that one day, through Jesus, God would provide the ultimate sacrifice (Gen. 22:14).
Blood was again shed in Exodus at the Passover (Ex. 12:1-30), which was commemorated each year with the Feast of Passover. Later, sacrifices were only conducted by priests at the temple (Deut. 12:5-14) according to strict protocol (Leviticus 1-7).
Israel practiced some eleven public sacrifices that were both animal (cattle, sheep, goats, doves, pigeons) and non-animal (wheat, barley, olive oil, wine, frankincense). In total there were four kinds of sacrifices: burnt, peace, sin, and guilt. In addition to the morning and evening daily sacrifices, there was the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation (Lev. 23:27; 25:9).
The process of animal sacrifice was an incredibly personal confession of sin. First, an unblemished animal was chosen, symbolizing perfection. Second, the worshipper would draw near the animal that was to be substituted in place of the worshipper. Third, the worshipper would lay hands on the animal to identify with it, confessing their sins in repentance over the animal. Fourth, the animal was then killed and its blood shed as the penalty for sin.
Nonetheless, the Old Testament practice of sacrificial atonement was declared by God to be insufficient for the remission of sin (Psalm 40:6; 51:16; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Hebrews 10:4). This is because those sacrifices were only preparatory in anticipation of the death of Jesus (Jeremiah 31:34b; Heb. 8:3-13). Additionally, the Old Covenant practice of sacrifice was often undertaken by people who did not truly love God in their hearts and instead had only an outward faith (Proverbs 7 especially verse 14; Proverbs 15:8; Psalm 51:17; Hosea 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:21-22).
Blood of the New Covenant
Because the bloodshed of animals in the Old Covenant was insufficient, Jesus was sent to shed His blood as our God-man who atones for our sin and bring us into the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 7:22). Therefore, Jesus is our Great High Priest who is in every way superior to all the priests of the Old Covenant (Heb. 2:17; 4:14-15). He laid down his life as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins (John 1:29). He is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), who has saved us from sin and death by His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19) that was shed once to forgive all sin (Heb. 9:26; 10:10).
Today, there is no longer a Temple, priesthood, or sacrificial system since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. But in the New Covenant our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and Christians are a priesthood of believers (1 Pet. 2:9). As Christians, we do not offer animal sacrifices but do celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus in communion (1 Cor. 10:14-22). And we do offer our lives (Romans 12:1-2), good deeds (Heb. 13:16), money (Philippians 4:18), and worshipful singing (Heb. 13:15) as living sacrifices to Jesus.
This week we’re gonna look at a concept called “new covenant sacrifice.” And I’m gonna go ahead and pray, and we’re gonna make you all theologians before this series is done, so good to see you all, and thanks for getting up bright and early.
Father God, thank you for an opportunity to study Scripture together today as Mars Hill Church. Lord Jesus, as we examine your person and your work on the cross, what you did out of love for us, Jesus, may our hearts be moved. May our wills be changed, and may our lives be different because of what we learn from the Scriptures today.
To make the possible, Holy Spirit, we asked that you would come and lead and guide and convict us, that you would work through me in spite of my sin and my humanity, so that the understanding of Jesus and his work could be clear. And so, Holy Spirit, we yield ourselves to you. We invite you to have your way with us this morning so that we might know Jesus, love him, follow him and one day see him face to face. And it’s in his good name that we pray. Amen.
Well, today will be troubling. I’ll start with this question. What’s the most blood you’ve ever seen? Think about it. How many of you love blood? You read the Bible and all the sections on blood jump out, and you just meditate on them day and night, and you hide them in your heart and the slaughter and the bloodshed and the mayhem.
I still remember the first time I shed a lot of blood. I was a little boy. I was climbing up in a tree. It was the middle of the winter, and the branch was frozen, and it snapped. And I fell out of the tree, and my nose caught the broken branch, ripped it right open, all the way up my nose, right up the front. I still got scars from the stitches. And I bled all over my face, and I got a bunch of snow trying to stop the bleeding, packed it up against my face, ran home. By the time I got there, my mom opened the door, and I had bloody snow all over my face. My mother freaked out like she’s rarely freaked out.
The most blood I’ve ever seen was when my wife had given birth to our first child Ashley during a C-section. She since has had C-sections. If you’re queasy, sorry. It’s gonna be a hard day for you. She gave birth to our daughter Ashley through C-section, and they put like a tent up so the mother can’t see what’s going on, and they give her lots of drugs. Well, the father has no tent or drugs, so he’s just there to observe the whole thing.
And so I’m sitting there watching them cut my wife open, put her organs on top of her, take the baby out. Blood everywhere. I’m the guy who could barely watch the Discovery Channel without passing out, and here I am watching my wife lose a ton of blood and my daughter come out all bloody, and there I was.
And I asked my wife, I said, “Sweetheart,” last night we were talking. I said, “What’s the most blood you’ve ever seen?” She said, “When I miscarried one of our children.” And I remembered that when my wife miscarried one of our children – our fifth will be here in January, would’ve had six, except for the miscarriage – she bled so profusely, she literally thought she was going to bleed to death.
And when we think of blood, it is always disturbing, troubling. It brings up images of pain, suffering, death. None of us wants to see blood. None of us wants to touch blood. None of us wants to think about blood. It’s horrifying. It’s troubling. It’s disturbing. It’s uncomfortable.
I know that, and I feel the same way, and I remember the first time I was reading the Bible all the way through. I was just shocked at how bloody a book it truly was. There was blood all over the book. I was studying it this week. There are about 362 occurrences of blood in the Old Testament, most of the time referring to sacrifice or violent death.
Likewise in the New Testament, I found that about 92 times blood is mentioned, again, usually in reference to violent and bloody death, suffering and pain and death. And when we think of blood, it is altogether and profoundly troubling and disturbing because it reminds us of our mortality and our frailty.
And what shocks me most is that the Bible keeps talking about this thing that no one wants to talk about, and it does so because it associates the shedding of blood with sin, and as we’re horrified at the sight of blood, we should be horrified equally, if not more so, at the thought of sin.
And so this is all bound up in a teaching in the Bible called “the atonement.” Big word but it literally means is “at one ment,” that God wants to be one with us but that sin has separated us from God. God, being holy and just, must punish sin, and so the penalty for sin is death. And when we think of bloodshed, we think of death, and this is exactly what the Bible wants us to think about when we think of death, and sin is the shedding of blood.
It says in Leviticus 17:11, one of the great verses in the Old Testament on bloodshed and on death and on Atonement. It says in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar, to deal with sin.” Bloodshed is how we deal with sin. Death and suffering is the result of sin. It is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
The Old Testament, also known as the Old Covenant, repeatedly speaks of blood. I think the first sacrifice that was given and the first shedding of blood was done by God. We know in Genesis that God made Adam and Eve, our first parents. They sinned. When they sinned, Genesis 3 says that God covered them with animal skins. I’m assuming that to get those skins, God would’ve had to sacrifice. He would have had to kill the animals to provide the covering to cover their sin, nakedness and shame, and that’s exactly what a sacrifice does. It covers shame, and it covers sin.
From that point forward, the godly Abel in Genesis 4, he sacrifices. We see that Noah in Genesis 8 – I think it’s around verse 20 – after God floods the earth. We looked at a few months ago how Noah gets off the boat, and the first thing he does is looks around and realizes that God has killed everyone who was a sinner, except God has spared him and his family by grace. And so the first thing Noah does when he gets off the boat is he offers a sacrifice, and he slaughters an animal, and blood is shed in the earth.
From that point forward, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob all slaughter animals. Blood is shed. Sacrifice is made. Same thing with Job. In Job 1:5, his children throw a party, and Job thinks perhaps they’ve sinned against God in their hearts, so he offers a sacrifice shedding blood to cover or atone for their sin.
And perhaps the two most famous and important occurrences of sacrifice in the Old Testament were with Abraham and Moses. With Abraham, it was in Genesis 22. You remember the story. He had waited many years to have a son because God had promised him he would have a son. His wife was barren, and by a miracle of God, she became pregnant in her old age. The boy was born, and Abraham finally had his son Isaac. He raised him to be a godly young man, maybe teens or 20s, and God told him to go sacrifice his son, something that was forbidden.
And it says in faith Abraham took him up to a mountain. And it’s interesting because there this son carried the wood on his own back. There’s a lot of parallels here between Isaac and Jesus. Beloved son, Jesus is the Son of God. Isaac was the son of Abraham. Promised and eagerly anticipated for many years, born of a miracle to an unlikely woman, Isaac to an elderly woman, Jesus to a virgin. Both carried the wood on their own back. For Isaac is was for the sacrifice. For Jesus it was his cross. They both go to the place where they are going to lay themselves down willingly and die at the hand of their father.
And just as Abraham has the knife above his beloved son, God cries out and says, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. I will provide another sacrifice, but it’s gonna look a lot like this. It’ll be a beloved son born in a miraculous way, eagerly anticipated for many years, who will carry his own wood and willingly also lay down his life to die.” And so the whole story of Abraham and Isaac is foreshadowing God the Father and God the Son.
The next that I think is the most important and insightful shedding of blood in the Old Testament is the book of Exodus, beginning in chapter 12, where God’s people were in slavery and bondage for 400 years in Egypt to a tyrant named Pharaoh. And God told the people, he said, “If you slaughter an animal if blood is shed and if you go outside of your home and you cover the entryway of your home with blood, then as I pass through I will see that you trust me. I will see that you acknowledge your sin. I will see that you are dealing with your sin, and I will pass over you. Everyone who doesn’t have faith in me, who doesn’t shed blood, who doesn’t deal with their sin, I won’t pass over them. I will enter into that house, and I will kill the firstborn male in every home.” And that is literally the Passover, that God passed over because of the blood.
That night those who sacrificed an animal and covered their doors with it, they were spared. Those who didn’t saw God bring death to their home. And it was the shedding of blood that allowed there to be a passing over of the wrath and the justice of God upon sinful people.
The Old Testament repeatedly – again, some 362 times – speaks of bloodshed and of death, and it does so with the temple and the priesthood and smoke and fire. Many other verses, hundreds more related to the issue of bloodshed. This all leads us up to the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the temple. All this really begins in Deuteronomy but especially in the book of Leviticus. That’s where it really is codified.
And there God appoints priests, and he has a temple to be built. And one of the main duties of the priests is to be at the temple to slaughter animals for the forgiveness of sin. It’s the essence of what we know now as the Old Covenant, and the priests were involved in bloodshed, and blood often and continually ran out the back of the temple.
There were strict regulations given for sacrifice and for bloodshed. Leviticus 1 through 7 gives us a lot of those rules. It was very meticulous and specific on how God wanted this to be done. Eleven different public sacrifices were performed in Israel. There were four basic kinds: the burnt offerings, the peace offerings, the sin offerings, the guilt offerings. Some of them were animal sacrifices. Some of them were non-animal sacrifices. They were done every day. There were morning and evening sacrifices. They day began and concluded with bloodshed. The priests were men who spent much of their day covered in blood.
The great day of bloodshed was the Day of Atonement. What the Jews will tell you is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And there the great High Priest would go into the Most Holy place in the middle of the temple, and he would offer a sacrifice once for the sins of all the people in the nation, and blood would be shed for sin. The Jews celebrated this every year. They celebrated Passover every year.
And the process of offering a sacrifice is fairly shocking really. There were many steps. I’ll just give you the highlights. The first was that let’s say you and I were Old Testament Jews. The first thing we would need to do is we would need to find an animal that we could slaughter. This would often be an animal that we raised and loved, kind of like a pet. Some of you have animals that you love. These animals would have grown up on the farm, oftentimes with the family. The kids would’ve went out and fed it in the morning and played with it and maybe given it a nickname, and this was part of the household. It was like a family pet.
These animals – goats or lambs or such – would be raised and reared. They would be worth a lot of money. In a bartering society, in an agrarian society, they didn’t deal with cash like we do. Much of their commerce was conducted through bartering and exchange, particularly animals, which indicated great wealth.
And what we would do is we would pick our best animal. Had to be unblemished, typifying sinless perfection. It would cost us a great deal of money to raise and to own that animal. It was a valuable commodity. And we would take it for the purpose of slaughtering it.
It would be no different than to make probably an unequal but equivalent analogy, it’d be like today if you took the most prized possession that you had. Maybe you have a new car. Maybe you have a possession that is worth a great deal, and you would bring it to church, and we would just destroy it and throw it in the dump, and we would do that all the time. You would take the only things that you had that were really worth anything, your most valued possessions, and the things, the animals and such that you loved the most, and we would slaughter your pets, and we would crush your cars, and we would throw away your money, and we would just destroy it, and we would do that all the time.
That was the equivalent of what happened all the time in the Old Testament sacrificial system.
So the first thing is you would pick an unblemished animal that was worth a great deal typifying sinless perfection. The second thing you would do then, you would bring it to the temple. You would bring it to the priest, and you and I, what we would do is we would lean into the animal, and we would literally lay hands on the animal because this animal was going to be for us a substitute. It was going to shortly die for our sin. And so what we would do, maybe we’d even get down on one knee, and we would grab that animal. We’d put our hands on it. We would close our eyes, and we would spend as long as it took to name our sin. And I want you to think about your sin.
You committed adultery, you would say that. You would say, “God, I have committed adultery by having sex with So-and-So that I’m not married to.” If you fornicated, you would say, “God, I’ve had sex with my boyfriend or girlfriend. We’re living together. Here’s their name. Here’s how often we have sex. Here’s how depraved we are. Here’s exactly what we’ve done. God, I’ve lusted in my heart, and I am attracted to people I’m not married to, and I have lustful thoughts of this person and that person. God, I’m greedy, and I think about money all the time, and I’ve robbed from people, and I’ve shortcutted my employees, and I’ve taken advantage of people. God, I’ve been harsh with my friends and my family. I’ve been foul-tempered. I’ve been cursing. I’ve been mean. I have been stealing. I have been lying. I have been cheating. God, I’ve taken your name in vain.”
They would spend hours sometimes naming their sin on this animal, transferring their sins to this animal that would be a substitute. During this time, the worshipper would be weeping. You can imagine having to name out loud all your sins, frequently doing this before God, naming them.
And then what would happen, that animal after you were done perhaps with hours of confession, that animal would be taken, and you would watch that animal struggle and fight, that unblemished animal, the one you had raised, maybe nicknamed and raised like a pet, that very valuable commodity that was worth a great deal of money to you. You would see this innocent animal that had not done anything. You would see then the knife just slit the throat of the animal and blood gush out, and you would see the animal twitch and wail and cry and kick as it was held down to bleed out.
And you would cry. You and would weep bitterly, knowing that our sin caused death and bloodshed and suffering and pain. And we would walk away feeling the weight of our sin. We’d walk away, knowing that that is exactly what we deserved. We deserved to have our blood shed. We deserve to die for our own sin. We deserve to pay the righteousness of God through our own suffering. And this happened, friends, for many, many years. And people did this all the time. This was just a common part of worship in the Old Covenant in the Old Testament. This was normal spiritual life.
I know some of you are thinking that’s animal cruelty. That’s injustice. That’s pain. That’s suffering. That’s evil. That’s wrong, and I’ll tell you what. Yes. See, it’s supposed to shock us and horrify us because our sin, quite frankly, doesn’t shock us and doesn’t horrify us. And so God makes it visible so it’s shocking and horrifying so we realize how shocking and horrifying sin is to him.
And so the Holy and Righteous God says, “This is what it looks like to me. It’s shocking and grotesque and horrifying and disturbing and troubling, and it’s death, and it’s evil, and you need to see it like I see it.” This happened over and over and over, and there was a river of blood that flowed out of the temple.
But there were problems with this old covenant, this old system. There are three in particular that I will highlight. The first is that it does not forgive sin. That’s the first problem. It says this in Psalm 51:16. “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it. You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” God’s not happy with this. You say well, didn’t God institute it? Yeah, he did, but in and of itself it’s insufficient.
He says in Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” God, what if I kill my own child? Is that enough blood? Is that sufficient to atone for my sin? It’s amazing how lightly we take sin and how highly we regard ourselves? “He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, to walk humbly with God.”
Hebrews 10:4 says it very clearly. It says that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Now, you would think that this kind of anguish, this kind of suffering, this kind of death, this kind of horror and great expense and great labor. You’ve taken a whole day to walk to the temple. You’ve taken years to raise the animal. You confess all your sins out loud. It cost you the equivalent of thousands of dollars. You hold the animal, and you watch it die, and you shed your tears, and you are heartbroken and repentant. You would think that that would be enough, but sin is so deep and so real and so altogether awful that that in and of itself, Hebrews says, cannot take away sin. Sin is deeper and more vile and more troublesome than even this kind of sacrificial system can deal with.
The second problem with the sacrificial system of the old covenant is that it was oftentimes accompanied with great hypocrisy, meaning people would do outward expressions of worship but not really love God in their heart just like many of you. People go to church, don’t really love Jesus. People give ten bucks, don’t really love Jesus. People sing the songs, don’t really love Jesus. People buy a Bible, don’t really love Jesus. People even go to a Bible study and don’t really love Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but they really aren’t profitable unless in your heart you love Jesus.
And that was the problem in the old covenant as well, lots of outward expressions of love for God for no inward devotion to God. One of the examples that Proverbs gives is Proverbs 7 where there’s a woman whose husband is away from home. She gets dressed up like a tramp and goes out looking for some guy to bring home to have sex with. And she boasts to him in Proverbs 7:14, “I offer sacrifices, and I’ve got a little over at home. We can eat it. I sacrifice to God, and there’s a little bit left. We can eat that right after we have sex. Don’t tell my husband.” It’s a perfect example of some of you. You will come here to worship God and then go somewhere else and have sex with someone you’re not married to. Happens all the time.
It says as well in Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and an acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” That’s what God says. There’s people who do outward expressions of worship and inwardly don’t really acknowledge God at all. 1 Samuel 15:22 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
What God says is this. You’re slaughtering animals, but you still don’t listen to me. You confess your sins every year, but you don’t stop sinning. You tell me you’re sorry, cry. You give me a lot of money, shed the blood, walk away and do it again. You just don’t heed my word. Happens all the time. Happens all the time.
And lastly Proverbs 15:8, “The Lord detests the sacrifices of the wicked, but the prayers of the upright pleases him.” What he says is this. A lot of people are sinful offering sacrifices, no intention of ever changing. They don’t really love God in their heart. They’re not really serious about it. They just have this outward religiosity that is an offense to God. He says it’s marked by a life that doesn’t have prayer. What God really wants, this tells us, is an acknowledgement of God, obedience to the Word of God and prayer to God. What God wants is a relationship with us where we listen to him through his Word, where we talk to him through prayer and where we obey him instead of always fighting me and rebelling and just adding sin upon sin and rebellion upon rebellion.
And I know all of this is very unpopular because you all have told that you’re just wonderful, good people, that there’s nothing wrong with you whatsoever, that if you just loved yourself more, you would be better. I want you to see bloodshed and horror and shock as insufficient to deal with our condition because the problem is external – how we live our lives – but it’s also internal down to the very core of our identity. And just by doing external things like going to church, writing a check, singing a song, praying a prayer, buying a Bible, all of which is good, but it’s all external and insufficient without a genuine love for God in your heart that says “God I wanna listen to you through Scripture. I wanna talk to you through prayer, and I wanna obey you by faith knowing that you are a good God, and if I don’t, I’m in sin, and that is altogether horrifying for me as it is for you.”
The third problem with the Old Testament sacrificial system is this. It was only preparatory for the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, there was bloodshed, but the Old Covenant was preparatory and anticipatory of the New Covenant. That’s the one with Jesus. I’ll give you an example in Hebrews 8, and I’ll say this. If you really wanna study this, look at the book of Hebrews. Almost the entire book of Hebrews is about this. Old Covenant all preparing people for Jesus, and New Covenant – Hebrews is written to answer all these questions and to connect all these points, but I’ll give you a few.
Hebrews 8:5-7, 13 says this. “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle. ‘See to it that you make everything according to the plan shown you on the mountain.’ But the ministry that Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is the mediator is superior to the old one and is founded on a better promise. For if there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” He says then in verse 13 of chapter 8 of Hebrews, “By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”
Let me explain what he’s saying. He’s saying that the Old Testament was good, but it was preparatory and anticipatory. It was getting people ready for the New Covenant. Now when God uses the word covenant, it is in large part the word for relationship, communion, God giving himself to us, us giving ourselves to God, living in harmony and oneness and relationship with God. That’s what God wants. That’s what God wants. It demonstrates itself in outward actions, but ultimately, you need to love God from your heart for those actions to really be meaningful.
In the same way I’m in a covenant relationship with my wife. Old Testament says this twice, that marriage is a covenant, and I could take her out to dinner, and I could buy her a house, and I could send her e-mails when I’m at work saying “I’m thinking about you”, all of which is good. But if in my heart I don’t love her, and I’m not devoted to her, and I’m not faithful to her, and I don’t have a relationship with her that is exclusive and different than every other woman in my life, then I’m just a hypocrite. I’m a guy who looks like he is in covenant but in his heart is really in sin.
What he’s saying is this. In the Old Covenant we had a relationship with God through sacrifices, priesthood, temple, all of which was fine but insufficient because our hearts were still hard. Our sin was still real, and so the Old Covenant relationship with God was preparatory and anticipatory. It was getting people ready for the coming of Jesus if you want the bottom line.
And right in the middle between these verses of 7 and 13 in Hebrews 8, it quotes Jeremiah 31, which is all about the New Covenant. The New Covenant says in Jeremiah 31 that God will take out our old heart. He’ll give us a new heart. Then we can love him. Then we can obey him. Then we can follow him. Then we can pray to him, that there’s a problem in our heart. That’s the center of who we are. That’s the identity of who we are and that God needs to remake us from the inside out. It’s not that changing things externally will change our heart. It’s through changing our heart God changes the way we think and live our live, and it’s all preparatory.
So when there’s shedding animals, that’s to get ready for Jesus’ temple, get ready for Jesus’ priesthood, get ready for Jesus’ confessing sin, getting ready for Jesus celebrating Passover, getting ready for Jesus’ Day of Atonement, getting ready for Jesus. Says the same thing in Hebrews 7:22. “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Better, okay.
So now I gotta tell you about Jesus. The whole Old Testament – if you’ve ever read the Old Testament, gotten confused and thought priesthood, temple, bloodshed, sacrifices, lambs? What has that got to do with anything? Jesus. Everything is about Jesus. In John 5, they come to Jesus. They wanna argue theology with him. Jesus says you think you know your Bible? You don’t because it’s all about me, and you don’t like me. The key to being biblical is loving Jesus. Just because you can outargue someone and outverse them, if you don’t love Jesus, you’re not a good theologian. It’s good to have verses. It’s good to defend the faith, but deep down the most important thing is to be biblical. You love Jesus with a new heart. That’s the essence of the New Covenant.
And so when it gets into this issue of the New Covenant, how does our relationship today become a fulfillment of the way we would’ve had a relationship with Jesus in the Old Testament? Well, the first is this. Jesus Christ is God, Eternal God who became a man. Okay, this is so important. People don’t become God. People don’t find God. People don’t go looking for and discover God. God becomes a man. God comes to us. God comes looking for us. See, we’ve sinned and wandered from God. God hasn’t sinned and wandered from us. We don’t need to go looking for God. He’s not the one who’s lost. We are. God in love, Jesus Christ, comes down, becomes a man, and he lives a life. Hebrews 4 says “tempted just like we are.” But he never sinned. See, he remained sinless, unblemished, unstained. He’s that perfect sacrifice.
And what the Bible then says is that Jesus Christ shed his blood for the remission of our sins in the New Covenant, which was foreshadowed with the shedding of blood of animals in the Old Covenant. I’ll explain it to you. In Luke 22:19-20 at the Last Supper, which was what celebration? The Passover. Jesus Christ with his disciples is celebrating the Passover where God in the Old Testament had blood shed to cover his people so that death and judgment would pass them by and that they might be given grace and light.
Jesus is celebrating that. The Passover had been celebrated for many, many, many years, and there were certain order of words to be spoken just as God intended, and Jesus changed, he changed years of history. And he took the cup filled with wine, and he raised it up, and he said, “This is my blood, the blood of the New Covenant, that will be shed for your sins.” That had never been said before. That had never been said before. Jesus was saying that all of the blood shed throughout the whole Old Testament up to that day was just preparatory and anticipatory for his blood shed and his death for our sin.
And it was shortly thereafter, in fact within hours, that Jesus Christ started shedding his blood, wasn’t it? After that meal, Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane. Do you remember what he did there? He was praying so fervently that the Bible says that he was literally sweating what? Blood. See, the river of blood just runs right through the Old Testament and the New Testament all the way to Jesus.
They then come and arrest Jesus, run him through false charges, and they beat him, right? Guys are punching in the middle of the night. They’re punching Jesus Christ in the mouth, in the nose, in the face. At this point, Jesus is bleeding out of his nose. Jesus Christ is bleeding out of his mouth. You know, if they opened any cuts around his eye, he’s bleeding around his eyes. At this point, Jesus Christ begins to shed his blood.
We know that then they take him to have him scourged, right, which I’ve told you is a whip with leather straps that come off it with hooks of metal or bone at the end called a cat o’ nine tails. They would’ve chained him arms above his head, and they would’ve whipped him repeatedly across the back with the hooks digging into his flesh, ripping all of the flesh off his back. Sometimes when people were being whipped, it would even take ribs out of their body. I mean, this was severe. This exposed the back. All the flesh was removed. The muscles and tendons and ligaments were torn, and this would happen down a man’s shoulders, back and also down the back of his legs.
So at this point, Jesus is just covered in blood. He is a bloody mess. Isaiah the prophet said hundreds of years before this that his appearance would be so disfigured that he wouldn’t even look like a man. Couldn’t even determine who he was because he was just so marred and so beaten and so bloody that you couldn’t even recognize it was Jesus.
To mock him further, they put a crown of three- to four-inch thorns in his head, and the blood flowed down Jesus’ face. You know the rest of the story. They went to crucify him with seven-inch spikes through his wrists, which included the hand, and his feet, and blood flowed out of those wounds. And you know that on the cross, Jesus Christ bled profusely. At the bottom of Jesus’ cross was a pile of his own blood. And then Jesus died, and he gave up his last. Said “Father, forgive them.” Jesus was dying to forgive sinners. Jesus said “It is finished.” He completed the work he was sent to do.
And then what did they do? They took a sword. A Roman soldier did, the Bible records, ran it up underneath his ribcage right into his side, and what flowed out the side of Jesus Christ? Blood and water. More blood. Blood everywhere. Bloody mess.
We look at that. We say that is shocking. That is horrifying. That is painful. That is literally excruciating, which means “from the cross.” That just is profoundly disturbing. It makes us feel sick. And God the Father would say to us all, “That’s how I see sin, as that horrifying.” You need to see it like that.
Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, in 1 Peter 1:18-19 says it this way, and I’d like you just to look at the picture, and I know it’s horrifying, but I need you to be horrified. And I just want you to listen to Peter’s words, right? This is the leader of Jesus’ disciples. This is the man who is discipled by Jesus for three years. This is the man who denied Jesus and later repented and was restored by Jesus, and this is the man who loved Jesus. Here’s what he says.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers but with the precious blood of Christ.” Say I’d to be saved. I’d like my sins forgiven. I’d like to be in covenant relationship with God. I’d like God to give himself to me. I’d like to give myself to God. Well, that is only made possible through the precious blood of Christ, a lamb. He uses the language, “a lamb without blemish or defect, the sinless Jesus, suffering, dying, bleeding in your place as a substitute for your sin and mine.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever would believe in him need not perish but receive that great gift of eternal life.”
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this. While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” When you look at the bloody death of Jesus, you need to see two things: the horror of our sin and the love of our God. And we should be broken over our condition, and we should be delighted at his affection.
So what does that mean for us here today? Today we do things differently, don’t we?
How many of you have read the Old Testament and thought how come we don’t have a temple? How come we don’t have a priest? How come we don’t sacrifice animals? What changed? Nothing changed. It was fulfilled. Jesus said that in Matthew 5:17. “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it,” and now like Jesus said, it’s finished.
I’ll tell you why we don’t have a priest today. I’m not a priest, just a pastor. Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. Hebrews says that repeatedly. See, today we don’t need a sinful man to be our high priest and our leader. We have Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. That’s the great news.
We also today, we don’t need to go to a temple, which was the holiest place on earth where the presence of God dwelt, and different ones of us, depending upon if we were Jew or Gentile or male or female, we could get only so close to the presence of the holy and good God. Our sin would keep us back. There would’ve been a thick curtain around the holiest place on earth where the presence of God dwelt, and none of us would ever get to go to that place. We would never get to be that close to God because our sin was so great, and his holiness was so real.
But today we don’t go to the temple. When Jesus died, that curtain in the temple that separated us from the presence of God was torn from top to bottom from God to us, and today we don’t go to the temple. We don’t need to get on an airplane, make a pilgrimage to the Middle East, go to some special sacred building because, friends, where is the temple? It is us that the holy, righteous, good, loving, eternal God has decided that he would live in us through the power of his Holy Spirit. That’s why Paul tells the Corinthians that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
See, that’s why we shouldn’t be sinning in this body. That’s why we shouldn’t be dishonoring God in this body. That’s why we shouldn’t be hypocrites in this body. If you love Jesus and he died for your sins, and your faith is in him, the Holy Spirit God lives in you. And the Bible says that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us so we could live a new life and say no to sin and say yes to God.
And I know some of you say sometimes I feel like God is so far away, and he’s abandoned me, and I’m all alone. I’m telling you he will never leave you, never forsaken you, that God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of the believer. That is unbelievable. We don’t need to go somewhere to be near God. All the religions will tell you that there’s sacred places where God is, and if you wanna get near to him, you need to go there.
Our God’s not like that. He’s the real God. He comes to us because he loves us, and he wants to be with us, not just occasionally when we make a trip. He wants to be with us all day, every day because of covenant love, covenant affection, covenant adoration. I want you to see the love of God for you, Mars Hill, that God has taken away your sin, and he wants to be with you all the time.
Some say, well, this blood and sacrifice, where’s the love? It’s all about the love. It’s about getting the sin out of the way so that the relationship can be intimate. And today as well, we will not offer sacrifices. None of you brought a lamb to church. None of you brought a goat. None of you brought a pigeon or a dove. None of you brought a knife. None of you brought a change of clothes because you’re gonna be shed with blood. None of you is gonna come up and lay hands on the animal in front of us all and tell us all the evil things you did this week. Why?
Jesus Christ. John 1:29. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world.” See, today we don’t need a priest. We got Jesus. We don’t need to go to a temple. We can deal with it right here in our own body, and we don’t need to slaughter an animal. Jesus has died once for all. His blood has been shed. Our sins can be forgiven.
And we’re not gonna leave here to celebrate Passover this year because Jesus Christ our Passover Lamb has been slain. It’s all fulfilled in Jesus. If you wanna know how to fulfill the Old Testament, love Jesus. That’s what Jesus said. They came to him. They said, “Jesus, there are hundreds of laws in the Old Testament. What should we do?” He said, “Love God. Love me. Love people.” That’s the Bible. That’s it.
God has made it simple because he loves us. God has made it simple because we couldn’t save ourselves. God has made it all about Jesus so that there isn’t complexity. There isn’t difficulty in us understanding what really matters. Jesus Christ. That’s what everything’s about. You want your sin forgiven? Jesus. You need a priest to intercede? Jesus. You wanna talk to God? His name’s Jesus. You wanna be with God? He’ll dwell in you and walk with you. You wanna have your sins forgiven? Give them to Jesus. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” Paul says.
Give your sins to Jesus. He’ll die. He already did die once for all, and is death will be applied to you. The shedding of his blood will cover your sins. I’ll tell you what, friends. I can’t say it enough, but the problem is sin, and the answer is Jesus. And our world will tell you there’s many problems. There’s really only on problem, lots of implications. The real problem is sin. And they’ll tell you there’s lots of answers. There’s not a lot of answers. There’s one answer. Jesus.
Hebrews 9:22 says it this way, “In fact the Law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” I can’t state that clearly enough. You come here today. I come here today as sinners, as sinner. Friends, we are all sinners. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. There are all things that we have done that we should not have done. There are things that we should have done that we did not do, sins of omission and commission.
In our heart, in our motives, in our imagination, in our desires we are filled with sin. Some of you are wrestling. How do I deal with my sin? And so many of you have tried other things. Well, I’ll deny my sin. I’ll say it wasn’t sin. I’ll justify myself. I’ll excuse myself. I’ll learn to just accept myself. I’ll love myself as I am. I’ll assume that there is no change. Oh, I’ll go try to seek change. I’ll white knuckle myself into obedience for a season, and then I run out of fortitude.
People have all kinds of answers. I was reading one of my favorite preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.. About 100 years ago, he was preaching, and what he said was there’s really only two kinds of religions on the earth. One says do this, do this, do this, do this, do this, and Jesus, which says done. And that’s the truth. So many of you are trying to do this, do this, do this, do this, do this to deal with sin. I tell you it’s done. Jesus Christ said it’s finished. We all need Jesus. Non-Christians, you need Jesus. Christians, you need Jesus because we’re all sinners. We will continue to sin. Now, by God’s empowering grace, we will learn to put to death the misdeeds of the body. We’ll learn to make no provision for the flesh. We will grow in what the Bible calls sanctification and holiness. We will be continually made to be more like Jesus until one day we die, and then one day we resurrect as he rose, and we are free from the flesh and the world and the Devil, and we have total new life, and we are back to the place that God intended it for us to be before we destroyed our own selves. And all of that is in our future, and it’s an ongoing continual process through this life.
But without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. If you do not confess your sins to Jesus and have his death applied to your sin, you are lost. You are an enemy of God. You will suffer. You will die. You will go to hell, and some of you say how could God do that to me? I’m a good person. If Jesus Christ was willing to shed his own blood, that should indicate to you the severity of sin and how serious God is about dealing with it.
Either Jesus suffers as our substitute or we suffer for ourselves. Either the eternal God dies in our place or we suffer eternal damnation, and that is justice, and that is goodness, and that is righteousness, and that is altogether fair. It is more than fair because none of us have any right to salvation.
I get so frustrated with people when they say why won’t God take everybody to heaven? And my question is always why won’t God send everybody to hell? That seems like the right thing to do. Heaven seems like a break. Our sin is that real. I need you to see it as God sees it.
Every time you see an animal for the rest of your life, I want you to think about placing your hands on that animal, naming all your sins and slitting its throat and covering yourself in its blood and walking away saying that still wasn’t enough. That’s how bad I am. And Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, died to take away the sins of the world. That’s how good he is, without spot, stain, wrinkle, blemish. Sinless God became a man, suffered, died, shed his blood for me. Praise God. I’m loved. I’m forgiven. I’m saved. I’m embraced. I’m in the New Covenant. I get a new heart. I get a new life. I get a new relationship with God that continues forever.
This is made possible through what the Bible calls faith, trusting Jesus. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you’ll be saved. That’s what I’m begging you to do today. Some of you are here, and you’re not Christians, but you have participated in outward forms of sacrifice. You come to church. You bought a Bible. You know a little theology. You got a few verses down, but in your heart you really don’t hate sin and love Jesus.
Outwardly you look Christian. Inwardly you know you’re not. Some of you know you’re sinners, and you’ve tried all kinds of things. You believed silly little doctrines like karma, that you’ll come back and work it off, but when you come back, you’ll sin more, so you’re not making any progress. And Hebrews says it’s appointed once for you to die, then for judgment, so there is no karma. See, everything else will tell you there’s a way to save yourself. Christianity will tell you you need Jesus, and you are here today and God is here today with you, and God has done everything that need be done for your sins to be forgiven. Don’t make light of that. Don’t mock that. Don’t look at Jesus and say thank you for shedding all you’re blood, living a sinless life, becoming a man, resurrecting, but I can handle my own sin.
You can’t. You need to humbly confess your sin to Jesus. Need to accept the shedding of his blood for your sin. For those of you that are Christians, this includes us too because we’ve sinned this week, and we’ll sin next week, and Jesus Christ’s death was for all of our sin, past, present and future.
Once you become a Christian, for those of you who become a Christian today, praise God. For those of you that are Christians today, praise God. Your body will be the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:19 says. You’ll be the temple. 1 Peter 2:9 says that you’ll be part of what the Bible calls the priesthood of believers. All Christians now are priests. Jesus is our great High Priest. We’re all priests. We all get to love Jesus, serve him, go do significant ministry, speak for him, intercede for others through prayer. All the things that a priest would do, we get to do that as the priesthood of believers. All Christians are priests.
In addition today we will celebrate communion, won’t we, Mars Hill. We celebrate communion every week. Some of you have asked why does Mars Hill celebrate communion every week? Because we wanna confess our sins and remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus every week, in fact, every day.
I know some of you are here for the first time. Some of you are here for the last time. We get one shot to tell you about Jesus. We hit it every time, want you to know about Jesus. We’re into Jesus. We love Jesus. We pray to Jesus. We sing to Jesus. We follow Jesus. We read the Bible to get to know Jesus. We confess our sins to Jesus, and we take communion to remember Jesus’ body demonstrated in the bread and his blood demonstrated in the wine or juice, whatever your conscience permits. And we remember Jesus died for me. His body was broken. His blood was shed for me.
My sins are forgiven. I’m in New Covenant relationship with God. Jesus is my great High Priest. Jesus is the lamb that was slain. I am now the temple of the Holy Spirit. I am now part of the priesthood of believers. And my sins, all of my sins – past, present and future – are forgiven in Jesus. See, in a minute we’re gonna give you a chance to take communion. Corinthians says to search your heart, confess your sins before you partake. Otherwise, you’re just bringing judgment on yourself, making a mockery of Jesus.
Here’s what we’re gonna do then. We are gonna make a sacrifice today. Actually, we’re gonna make four of them. Not gonna kill anything. First thing we’re gonna offer as a sacrifice, Romans 12 says to offer your body as a living sacrifice. It’s one thing to kill an animal. It’s a whole other thing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the rest of your life to worship God in your body, taking your hands to serve, taking your mouth to speak the truth, taking your feet to go to those in need, taking your eyes to only focus on that which you’re supposed to be focusing on and not obsessing over lust or such things as coveting and such, worshiping God with your body.
See, there is this terrible thinking that comes from Plato. I won’t get into it. I didn’t intend to, but I’ll do it quickly, called Gnosticism, which teaches that there are two realities, physical and spiritual, and that the spiritual is what counts. The physical doesn’t really matter. So some of you think, well, prayer and worship, that’s spiritual. But what I eat or how I work or who I embrace or how I serve, that doesn’t really count because that’s just fleshly. That’s just body. What you do in the body is spiritual. Jesus died in the body. What you do in the body matters. So we give our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.
Friends, when you go to work tomorrow, you’re gonna go to work and you’re gonna use your hands, use your mouth. You’re gonna use your mind, right? As you go to places, you’re gonna walk, and that is in worship to God, belonging to Jesus. Your whole life and your body is a sacrifice to him.
Second thing we’re gonna give today. We’re gonna give our money. Philippians 4:18 says that the giving of money is an acceptable offering to God. In the Old Testament, they gave animals. Today we do debit cards and we do cash and we write checks. That was their form of currency. That’s our form of currency. And I’ll say this, too, and it’s not just a money pitch. But if you’re a person who comes here all the time and you don’t give, you’re not sacrificing. Some of you once in awhile give a donation. A donation is different than a sacrifice. A donation is something that looks outwardly religious. A sacrifice is something that actually costs you.
Okay, if you wanna give and you’re a Christian, and you’re not a visitor. If you’re a non-Christian or a first-time visitor, don’t give. We love you. We welcome you here. We’re not trying to take your money, but if you’re a Christian and this is home, you should be sacrificing for the forward progress of the church in the least churched city in America. Philippians says that that pleases God. It smells good to him. Looking down saying, “I gave all this money to my people and they didn’t just use it all. They’re sacrificing it for the betterment of others. And I gave them their body. They’re not just sinning it in. They’re using it for the betterment of others.”
Whatever God gives us is as a steward to be sacrificial, generous and giving for others. That’s what Jesus did. His body was given for us. All of his great riches are awaiting us in his Kingdom. He’s a giver.
Third thing we’ll give today is our singing. Hebrews 13:5 calls it “a sacrifice of praise.” A sacrifice of praise. You say well, when I sing, is that a sacrifice? Absolutely. God loves to hear you sing. You know, this is a small illustration, but I was gone all week traveling, and I came home yesterday after a long week of red-eye flights. I came home. You know what I saw? My two-year-old daughter dressed up in a full-blown Dora the Explorer outfit and around her waist she had like some sort of girlified thing. It was fluffy, and she had a crown on her head, and she had high heels on, and at the end of this dress thing, was a bunch of bells that when she would dance, they would all jingle. And she was singing with her high heels, and she was dancing on the hardwood floors. And I came home, and I thought that’s why I came home right there. That makes me happy. I like that. That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s why I come home because I wanna see her in her little tiara dancing, singing.
And when it says that God is a Father and we are his children. When we’re singing, God is pleased with that. Just like I love coming home, I love nothing more than coming home, and sometimes I come home, and my kids will be singing worship songs coloring together. That makes me so happy.
See, God is a Father. We’re his kids, and when we sing – and I have some of you coming and you say I don’t like to sing. I don’t have a good voice. Well, we got a loud system to drown you out, so sing loud, right? Some of you say well, I’d like to raise my hands because I read it in the Bible, but I feel like people will look at me. No, they won’t. They’re thinking about Jesus. You’re thinking about Jesus. Raise your hands. Sing. Celebrate. Why? God loves me. My sins are forgiven. Jesus is my High Priest. He shed his blood for my sin. Today I get to offer a sacrifice. What is that? Worship. I get to sing to God.
And the fourth thing that we will give is we will leave here. Hebrews 13:16 says to “go do good deeds as sacrifices to God,” which mean we’re gonna go live our life. You mothers, you’re gonna go make lunch for your kids. That’s a sacrifice. You fathers, you’re gonna go to work and make money to feed those kids. That’s a sacrifice. You’re gonna go help your neighbors. You’re gonna go do good deeds. You’re gonna help widows, orphans, those in need. You’re gonna make yourself available. You’re gonna be inconvenienced. People say why do you do that? You say you know what? It is a sacrifice, but my life is about sacrifice. Jesus my God as a humble servant has sacrificed much and served me, and now I get to be more like Jesus by his empowering grace, and I get to serve others, and I get to give sacrifices, my time, my money, my physical body, my life.
And then Christians get the wonderful privilege of being the givers who inconvenience themselves to make sacrifices because that’s our Jesus, and that’s his example. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s wonderful. So let’s just do that. You confess your sin to Jesus. We’re gonna sing. Offer your sacrifice of praise. When you’re ready, come forward for communion, remembering his body and blood given for your sin. God’s wrath is now appeased. You’re forgiven. You’re loved.
Sing in worship. Raise your hands and voices as a sacrifice of praise. Give your tithes and offerings as a sacrifice and leave here, Mars Hill, to go live your life as a sacrifice in your body as a living sacrifice every day being given to Jesus. I promise you, it’s the best life. It’s the only life. It’s the eternal life.
Lord Jesus, as we come to our time in prayer, first I ask that your Holy Spirit would convict us of sin. Jesus, may we accept that sin is the problem and that you are the only answer. Lord Jesus, as we repent of our sin, may we have in our mind that troubling image of a worshiper putting their hands on a substitute and transferring all their guilt an sin.
Lord Jesus, as he Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we lean into you today. We name our sins in our seats. We name our sin and we give it to you, and Jesus, as we think of an animal having their throat slit and twitching and bleeding and suffering, we think of your love, dying as a substitute in our place for our sins.
And Jesus, we remember your resurrection. You’re not dead today. You’re alive. You conquered sin and death. You’ll never bleed again. Jesus, today you are our High Priest, so we come to you as our interceder between us and the Father. Lord Jesus, today you are the sacrifice, so we give our sins to you.
Lord Jesus, you are our Passover Lamb. Lord Jesus, you are our our great God. Would you make us into a priesthood of believers? Would you make our bodies into the temple of your Holy Spirit? Would you make our bodies into living sacrifices? Would you take our money and receive it as a fragrant sacrifice? Would you take our song and receive it as a fragrant sacrifice? Would you take the days of our lives and the deeds that we do as an offering of praise and sacrifice to you?
And Lord Jesus, we love you. We thank you. We adore you, and every time that we sin, may we think on these things. May we be as horrified as we should be. May we say no to sin and yes to you. We ask for this in Jesus’ good name. Amen.