Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
From the earliest times, God taught His people that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22). Surely Cain and Abel were taught to sacrifice by their parents, from whom God took the fig leaves, replacing them with bloody animal skins (Gen. 3:21). Animal sacrifices could not make the conscience of him that did the service perfect (Heb. 9:9); yet Abel obtained witness that he was righteous through the excellent sacrifice that he brought (Heb. 11:4). The excellence of his sacrifice was not only that it was a firstling of the flock, but an animal offered to God in faith, the faith that looked forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Christ was the excellence of Abel’s sacrifice!
We may assume that, from Abel on, the people of God were a sacrificing people. Noah offered burnt offerings to God (Gen. 8:20); Abraham built altars unto God wherever he went (Gen. 12:7, 8; Gen. 13:18); so did Isaac (Gen. 26:25) and Jacob (Gen. 31:54). With the giving of the law at Sinai,’ and in connection with the temple and Aaronitic priesthood, God instituted six types of sacrifices or offerings: sin offerings; trespass offerings; burnt offerings, peace offerings; meat and drink offerings; and heave and wave offerings. These were brought either every day, on the Sabbath, or on special feast days. The first three kinds were brought to gain covenant fellowship with God by the way of removal of sin, while the latter three were an expression of gratitude for the enjoyment of this fellowship. Some involved animals (always with salt), some crops, and some flour and wine.
When God sent forth His Son in the fullness of time, made of a woman, made under the law (Gal. 4:4), Christ removed the curse of the law for all those given to Him for redemption. When He offered Himself on the altar of the cross through the eternal Spirit, Christ fulfilled every typical sacrifice. He was made a priest with an oath; the Old Testament priests were not (Heb. 7:21). He has an everlasting, unchangeable priesthood, while Old Testament priests died (Heb. 7:23, 24). He entered into the holy place made without hands with His own blood (Heb. 9:24), and He did this once, while Old Testament priests had to do this often, i.e., every year. “But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). How terrible to teach that Christ must be offered repeatedly for sin (the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass), or that men must atone for some of their sins themselves (the notion of purgatory). The willing sacrifice of Christ was full payment for the sins of the elect; it was full satisfaction of the justice of God; it reconciled God’s people to God in the way of atonement. Thus, the bloody, Old Testament ceremonies of circumcision and the Passover are replaced with Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We have the circumcision made without hands; Christ is our Passover and our Red Sea. Since Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, we look for Him to appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation (Heb. 9:28).
Are we to sacrifice no more? Our reasonable service is that we present our bodies living sacrifices to God, antithetically, by not being conformed to this world, but by being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1, 2). Specifically, the sacrifices that please God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17), mercy and the knowledge of God (Hosea 6:6), careful listening and obedience (I Sam. 15:22), thanksgiving with singing (Ps. 107:22), of righteousness and trust in the Lord (Ps. 45; Mal. 3:3), of doing good and giving to the poor (Heb. 13:16). Because Christ’s sacrifice removed the curse of the law from us, and because He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes, our sacrifice of self is the fruit of His sacrifice, and consists in thanksgiving and praise for so great and so free a salvation.
As Christ is a priest forever, ever living to make intercession for us, so will we forever be priests under him unto God (Rev. 5:10). As pillars in His temple, we will serve God endlessly and sinlessly, never to go out from His presence (Rev. 3:12).