Theology

Dead and Living Sacrifices

When you think about the Old Testament sacrifices, blood, death, and fire should come to mind. Lots of it. Sin is messy business, and the taking away of sin, the giving of holiness, peace, and forgiveness is an equally messy business. It involved not just blood, but in some cases blood and guts. This was Old Testament Worship. The Old Testament saints, the Israelites, could see the price of their sin spilled on the ground, the could feel it as they slit their sacrifices’ throats, they could smell it as the incense and flesh burned, and even taste it as they ate their sacrifices!

Each of these sacrifices and all of them together point forward to Christ’s death for us. The ancient Israelites participated in His death for them through the sacrifices. “I am Yahweh who sanctifies you.” (Lev 20:8) There is no other holiness or sanctification than Christ Himself, who is “wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor 1:30) They participated in the peace that Jesus gives (Lev 7; Jn 14:27) for He is the true King of Righteousness and the the true King of Peace (Heb 7:2ff.). They participated in His cross-won forgiveness through their lamb foreshadowing and even bringing to them in their time and place the true “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29)—their lamb sacrificed the priest would say, “it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.” (Lev 1:13)

Christ says, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me…Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.” (Lk 24:44, 46) In the sacrifices we see played out the death of Jesus, they bear His mark. But we also see His resurrection. Yahweh’s sacrifices confess this too! For this to be seen, there would need to be two animals, one to live and one to die.

So we see on the day of Atonement two goats: one lives, one dies. The high priest

“shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Lev 16:8–10)

The killed goat’s blood made atonement for sins, and the living goat would bear those sins (Lev 16:21–22) to the wilderness, the place of no return. So also Christ shed His blood, and bore our sins in His own body and left them in a place that He would never return—His tomb.

So also the sacrifice for the leper and his cleansing day.

The priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. (Lev 14:4–7)

One bird must die, and the other must live while passing through blood and water. So also Christ after dying upon the cross, blood and water poured from His side, He bounded forth from His tomb alive again. Cleansing you and me from the leprosy of our sin. (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration II.6)

The Old Testament sacrifices point forward to Christ, to His death. But there are a few sacrifices that point also to His resurrection. In these actions the Israelites saw that life came from death for cleansing and for sin. They participated in God’s gracious action in Christ for them. So also we see in these sacrifices that Christ’s death and resurrection not only make their mark on our lives as Christ delivers them in His way to us: Water, Word, Body and Blood. His Calvary and Easter also made their mark on all that took place in the tabernacle sacrifices as He was delivered to them in His way. One goat, one bird dead; one goat, one bird alive. So Christ, true God and man, the Lamb of God says to all:

“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”

(Revelation 1:18)

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