The Altar Sacrifices
November 15th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE ALTAR SACRIFICES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-15-59 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Sacrifices of the Altar. In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, and beginning reading at the eleventh verse:
But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh;
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
All of which brings us back to the giving of the law of the tabernacle and of the sacrifices here in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant.
In the last chapter of the Book of Exodus, the tabernacle is reared [Exodus 40:1-33]. In the first chapter and the first verse of the Book of Leviticus, God speaks unto Moses out of the tabernacle [Leviticus 1:1]. God gave to Moses the Law from Mt. Sinai [Deuteronomy 4:10-14], the very volcano representative, invective, of the holy and righteous God, the mount that shook, the mount that flamed in its thunder, in its lightning, in the smoke and fire and fury [Exodus 19:16-18]. God gave the Commandments, the moral law [Exodus 20:1-17], and the people were terrified [Exodus 20:18-21]. They were affrighted. They drew afar off. Even Moses said: “I do exceedingly fear and quake” [Hebrews 12:21].
But the law of the sacrifice was spoken out of the tabernacle and given to Moses in the tabernacle [Leviticus 1:1]. That is, the holy and righteous God, who could not dwell among sinful men, had surrounded Himself with the tokens and the symbols of redemption [Hebrews 9:6-14]. And out of the tabernacle of grace and glory, of forgiveness and salvation, God spake unto Moses the law of the sacrifice [Leviticus 1:1]. The tabernacle was, in all things and in all parts, most meaningful. It was a shadow . It was a pattern [Exodus 25:9, 40], called such in the Holy Scriptures.
A shadow reaches toward a substance. And a pattern reaches toward a reality. So the tabernacle was a shadow; it was a substance, it was a type, it was a symbol of a great reality. Therein lies one of the unique, distinctive features of the religion of the Old Testament. Practically all—maybe all religions of the earth have commemorated instances where they bring to mind great historical events and keep them alive in the memory of their children and the succeeding generations. But Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament, had this unique feature: it was an anticipatory system. That is, it looked to the future. And one can read the destiny of the children of God from now and forever in the Mosaic institutions and in the writings of the prophets of the people of God.
So the tabernacle was a picture. It was a story. It was a prophecy. It was a type. It was a shadow. It was a pattern reaching out toward a great and ultimate reality [Hebrews 9:23]. That reality is Christ [Colossians 2:16-17]. The tabernacle is Christ: His grace, His glory. The bread from heaven, the light from above, expiation, atonement, all of it in grace and forgiveness is the tabernacle. The tabernacle is Christ. “And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacle”— you have it translated “dwelt”—“And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God)” [John 1:14].
The tabernacle is Christ. All its parts and pieces are Christ. The sacrifices of the tabernacle are the work of Christ [Colossians 2:16-17]. It is His atonement; it is His expiation. It is the pouring out of His blood and of His life [Hebrews 9:22-23]. The sacrifices represent the work of Christ. The sacrifices have a great and twofold purpose. One, they serve to impress upon the worshiper the fact, the tragic and awful fact of sin. A man is a sinner. He is a lost, undone, hopeless sinner [Ephesians 2:12], and sin separates from God [Isaiah 59:2]. And the sacrifices emphasize that the man is a sinner. He cannot walk into the presence of God. He cannot fellowship with God. He cannot be or live with God until, first, this matter of sin be dealt with. That is the first great meaning and lesson of the sacrifices: sin must be expiated before there can be fellowship with God [Isaiah 59:2].
The second great purpose of the Levitical sacrificial system was to typify, to portray the ministry of atonement, the reconciliation effected in the sufferings and death of our Lord. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author says:
These things back there in the tabernacle are a shadow of the good things to come. They are not the very image of the things themselves, and they could never, with these sacrifices offered year by year continually make the worshipers thereunto perfect. For, had they made the worshipers perfect, they would have ceased to be offered, because of that the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
These sacrifices in themselves had no power to purge the stain out of a man’s soul. But they were pictures and types of the great sacrifice in the Son of God that should wash us clean from our sins [Hebrews 10:1-4].
The Book of Leviticus, the law of the sacrifices, all five of them here [Leviticus 1:1-7:7]—the Book Leviticus is the most meaningless, tedious, dry, uninteresting book in the world without Christ. But the Book of Hebrews says that all of these syllables, and these words, and these sacrifices, and these offerings, the pouring out of the blood—all of this was a picture of and a type of the great offering of the Son of God [Colossians 2:16-17]. And when we read Leviticus in the light of the Book of Hebrews, in the light of the sacrifice of the Son of God [Hebrews 8:1-9:28], Leviticus immediately becomes one of the most absorbing books in the Bible.
The atonement of Christ, the death of our Lord was not advantageous. It was not an afterthought. It was not an expediency. It was not an historical incident. But it lay, in the beginning, in the purpose and mind of God [Revelation 13:8]. And all of the Levitical sacrificial system was to teach us a language of heaven, that we might understand how it is that a sinful man could approach and live in the presence of a righteous God [Hebrews 10:10-18]. There is an altar [Exodus 27:1-5]. There is a sacrifice [Leviticus 1:1-17]. There is a sanctuary [Exodus 26:1-37]. And there is a great High Priest in heaven! [Hebrews 4:14]. And the pattern of that sanctuary, that altar, that sacrifice, that priest, the shadow and type of those heavenly things is to be found in the Levitical system of the Old Testament [Hebrews 10:1-2].
Now, there are three great things that lie at the heart of the sacrifice. The first is this: God requires the whole life. God requires a full devotion and when the sacrificer, the worshiper, brought of the firstlings of his herd or of his flock [Leviticus 4:27-30], it represented himself. And when he offered the sacrifice, he offered it in lieu of himself [Leviticus 1:4]. It represented the full life and the full devotion to God.
That’s the reason that the Passover lamb was chosen out of the flock on the tenth day of Nisan, and kept with the family until the fourteenth day of Nisan, and then sacrificed unto the Lord [Exodus 12:2-6]. That is, the little lamb became identified with the family. It became a part of the family. It was associated with the family. And when it was offered, it represented the life of the family. God required a full devotion, a full life, and in the bringing of the sacrificial victim the offerer brought himself [Leviticus 1:4].
The second thing that lay at the heart of the sacrificial system: God requires that which is perfect, that which is stainless and blameless and without blemish and without fault [Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 9:2-3]. But what man could come into the presence of God and offer himself before the Lord without stain, and without sin, and without blemish, and without fault? For the man is conscious, when he comes into the presence of the great God, that there is shortcoming in his life; there is stain and sin and mistake on every page of the story of his life. And the bringing of a sacrifice was the helpless acknowledgment of the man that he was not able to offer a perfect life. So, he chose, out of the flock or out of the herd—he chose a perfect lamb or a perfect specimen, without spot and without blemish [Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 9:2-3]. And he offered unto God his perfect sacrifice, saying in effect: “O God, look not upon me, for I am a sinful and an undone man. But look, Lord, upon the sacrifice that I bring. May it, in symbol, represent what I ought to be and what I am not.”
The third and the final thing that is represented by the sacrifice was God requires expiation and atonement. That lies in the heart of God. That’s the kind of a God God is: “who will by no means clear the guilty, but visit sin unto the third and the fourth generations; for the Lord, thy God, is a jealous God” [Exodus 20:5]. There is in the nature of God an everlasting link, an everlasting iron cable chain, and it is this: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die [Genesis 2:17]. The wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23]. The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. That is in the nature of God Himself: to sin means to die. Sin and death, those two, are eternally and forever bound together in the very nature of God. To sin is to die. Sin means death. God requires expiation, life for death [Hebrews 9:22].
I could think, I could imagine very clearly, in the garden of Eden when God said: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]—I can easily imagine our first parents, maybe in the quiet of the evening, as they spake to one another and said, “Death. What is death? To die; what does God to mean ‘to die?’ In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. We’ve never seen anything die. We’ve never seen death. What is death? What does God mean when He says, if we transgress we shall die?”
After their disobedience [Genesis 3:1-6], before their eyes, in the garden of Eden, God took an innocent animal, and slew it before their eyes, and took the skin and made clothing to cover the nakedness and the shame of the man and his wife [Genesis 3:21]. And when Adam and Eve looked upon the blood poured out into the ground, for the first time they understood what it was to die [Genesis 3:21]. And when Adam and Eve stood above the fallen and prostrate form of their younger son Abel, lying in a pool of his own blood, they understood what it was to die [Genesis 4:8]. And when they dug the first grave and laid in its terrible, horrible clutches their second son, and heaped above that mound of earth, they knew what it was to die [Genesis 4:10]. And when God cursed their eldest son and sent him away a vagabond and a refugee in the earth [Genesis 4:11-14], they knew what God meant: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. Sin is death [Ezekiel 18:4, 20] and “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And from that Edenic day, throughout the succeeding centuries and generations, the wail and the lament of our first parents can be heard echoing through the earth.
In Ramah, there was a voice heard—lamentations and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted because they are not [Jeremiah 31:15]. Or the cry of David, as he went to his chamber above the gate and wept as he cried: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son” [2 Samuel 18:33]. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. “The sword shall never leave thy house” [2 Samuel 12:10]. “O Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom” [2 Samuel 18:33].
The sacrifice was a picture of and a type of the expiation demanded by God in heaven for sin [Hebrews 9:22]. And the offerer, the worshiper, comes into the court of the Lord, bringing his lamb or the firstling of his herd, or, if he was poor, a turtledove or a pigeon [Leviticus 1:2-17]. And the offerer kneels by the side of the altar, and he clasps his hands over the head of the sacrifice and confesses there his sin, all of the remembrance of the faults, and failure, and transgressions, and disobedience, and iniquity, and stain of his life—with his hands clasped on the head of the victim, confessing his sins [Leviticus 1:4, 16:21]. He shall put his hand upon the head of the offering, and it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him [Leviticus 1:4]. That is, the man pleads and he cries and he begs, “O God, the sins of my life, the stain and the wrong of my life, O God, is there not some way whereby I yet and I still can live? O God, is there not some merciful way, some day of grace? Dear God, somehow, though I have sinned, is there not some way I still can live and be saved?”
And God says: “Take the animal, place your hands over its head, and confess all of your sins over the head of the animal” [Leviticus 1:4, 16:21]. And the great “substitution”—mark that word: it’s not popular in modern and liberal theology, but it’s the preaching of that Book through the centuries and the millennium; substitution. God says: “Over the head of that innocent animal, confess the sins of your life, and I will accept the substitution for your death, and your penalty, and your judgment” [Leviticus 1:4, 16:21]. And the animal is slain, and its blood spilled out as a substitute for the death of the man who has sinned [Leviticus 5:5,13]. That is the great teaching at the heart of the law of the sacrifice; the substitution of the innocent animal whose blood is poured out for the expiation of the sins of the worshiper [Leviticus 1:4].
And that is the ultimate and final heart of the meaning of the death of Christ; the great substitute for the sins of this world [1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2]. I have often thought that the man who had the best idea of any man who ever lived of the doctrine of vicarious atonement, substitution, was Barabbas as he stood there that day and looked on the hill of a skull. There to the left, one of his companions nailed to the cross; there to the right, another one of his companions nailed to the tree; and the center cross was for him, but there was a substitute. And the Man on the center cross died in the stead of and in the place of the sinner Barabbas [Matthew 27:15-50]. Did I say in the stead of and the place of the sinner Barabbas? I should have said in the stead of and in the place of the sinner man, and me.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there?
Sometimes it makes me to tremble, tremble, tremble,
For I was there when they crucified my Lord
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Sometimes it makes me to tremble, tremble, tremble,
For I was there when they nailed Him to the tree.
[from “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” traditional]
Our sins pressed upon His brow the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]. Our sins nailed Him to the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. The great doctrine of substitution: the wrath and the fury and the judgment of God that should have fallen upon me fell upon Him. “And with His stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5].
May I close with a reading of a Christian hymn that comes out of the dim and unknown and distant past? In the early 1600s, it was translated into German. In the early 1700s, it was set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. In the early 1800s, it was translated into English with these words:
O sacred head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
Which once was bright as morn!
What Thou my Lord has suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain;
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this I die in sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.
[adapted from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”; Johann Sebastian Bach]
The great doctrine of the sacrifice, the substitution—death for me, in my place, that I might have life [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14]. Oh, that a man had the tongue of an angel, that he might somehow even begin to speak of the lofty meaning of the cross of Jesus in this earth.
While we sing our hymn this morning, somebody you give his heart in faith to Jesus, would you come? A family you to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, would you come? At our early morning service, there were five who came by baptism, by letter. In the great throng of people this morning, are there many, many of you who ought to come? “Today, pastor, I take Jesus as my Savior.” Would you make it now? Or “Pastor, today we’re putting our lives with you in the fellowship of the church.” Would you come? One somebody you, or a family you, would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairwells and here to the front, or into the aisle and here by the side of the pastor: “Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I’ll make it now.” Would you? While we stand and while we sing.