The most important day in the history of Israel had finally arrived. It had been 480 years since God had parted the Red Sea and freed His chosen people from slavery. And now, nearly five centuries later, Yahweh had a temple. Of course, King Solomon built this wonder of the ancient world, replete with splendor and majesty, and it was no doubt the pride and joy of every Israelite in the land. The nation gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate its completion and consecrate this holy ground to God.
The day Solomon dedicated the Temple may have been a great day of jubilation for the nation of Israel, but it was a terrible day for sheep and oxen. To break in the new altar, 142,000 sheep and oxen were sacrificed in a single week (1 Kings 8:62-66). That’s better than 23,000 a day! Assuming that they did not sacrifice any animals on the Sabbath, that works out to 986 animals sacrificed every hour, 16 every minute, or 1 every 4 seconds. I cannot imagine the logistics of such a week. It must have been a bloody, bleating, malodorous mess! But it wasn’t without purpose.
Each animal that gave its life the week that Solomon dedicated the Temple—and every other goat, sheep, or bull that was sacrificed on behalf of a person’s sin—speaks. And we must listen because we tend to we miss the message.
They Said, “It Is Coming!”
Day after day, year after year, the descendants of Aaron would perform sacrifices for the people, slaughtering livestock to appease a holy God. Of course, the blood of goats and bulls did nothing to actually atone for sins themselves. They were a message that read: “A greater sacrifice is coming!”
Every slain lamb, or bull, ox, or goat implored the worshiper to look ahead to the Messiah who would one day put an end to the sacrifices. The author of Hebrews helps us understand this:
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have stopped being offered, since the worshipers, purified once and for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in the sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:1-4)
It’s important that we understand this message, though it may seem elementary because we have a tendency to offer sacrifices in the same sort of way.
He Said, “It Is Finished!”
The final words of Jesus Christ before He surrendered His spirit to the Father, were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). With those words, the payment of sin was complete. The death of Christ is the “better sacrifice” that every Old Testament sacrifice foreshadowed. His sacrifice was once for all. The God-man Jesus Christ, having no sin of His own, endured in three hours on the cross the infinite punishment incurred by the sin of all humanity. He truly was the perfect Lamb.
By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time. Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Heb 10:10-12)
It’s over. No more bulls, no more sheep, no more goats. Just the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Glorious though that truth may be, why am I talking about it today? After all, I haven’t told you anything new.
Because if you’re anything like me, you tend to live like you still need more.
We Say, “It’s Not Enough.”
I don’t have an altar in my backyard on which I slaughter innocent lambs when I sin, and I’m guessing you don’t either. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try to offer a multiplicity of sacrifices to try to get into God’s good graces.
Sometimes we say, “I have to keep these rules.” The “rules” are different for everyone. I grew up in a pretty conservative church, so they had to do with how long shorts and skirts were, what kind of music you did or did not listen to, the types of games you did and did not play, and the version of the Bible that you did or did not read.
Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about, but perhaps you read the list above and whispered a prayer of thanks that your background was not so legalistic. But, be careful, rules (or, more accurately, our hearts) are sneaky. Forming rules about not having rules can do the very same thing as keeping a checklist of good deeds. Anytime that people believe that they are better in the eyes of God because of what they do or don’t do—even if that thing is not keeping rules—they’re forgetting the Gospel.
I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t hold convictions regarding personal holiness. We must remain, “unspotted from the world” as James 1:27 says. We must not be “conformed to the world, but transformed” as Paul in Romans 12:2 exhorts us. And those things in their most embryonic state look like setting standards for ourselves regarding what we put onto our bodies and into our minds, eyes, mouths, and ears.
However, the danger comes in allowing a list to be like those Old Testament sheep. When I think that refraining from a sip of this or an episode of that ingratiates me to God and gains me His favor, I essentially revert back to the old covenant of myriad sacrifices, none of which is ever enough.
Let’s Say, “I Remember.”
I said that setting personal standards is an “embryonic” form of being transformed into Christ’s image. That is to say we must start, but not end, there. No one ever became more like Jesus only by never listening to a certain kind of music or only by schooling their kids in a certain way. No one ever grew in holiness only because they deleted an app from their phone or never practiced certain types of exercise. Those things may be good, but they’re not enough.
Only Christ’s sacrifice makes us holy. That’s what’s enough.
Standards, convictions, rules—yes. It will be difficult (impossible?) to grow without them. However, we must recognize that on their own, they’re just a checklist, nothing more. Instead of living like the cross wasn’t quite enough to make us holy, let’s return to the cross daily and remember.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) (Heb 10:19-20 )
For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified. (Heb 10:14 CSB)