“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”—Psalm 51:16-17
“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers 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.”—Hebrews 10:1-4
People were saved before Christ through faith in the animal sacrifices, which for a time provided the way of salvation until the Christ would come. Jesus offered a more effective sacrifice, one that would not merely cover sin, but a sacrifice which had the power to take away sin and radically transform lives.
After Adam’s rebellion, God killed a lamb to make coats of skin to clothe Adam and Eve. These coats symbolically covered their sin, thus demonstrating the need of the shedding of blood to provide the way of salvation. From his father, Adam, Abel must have learned the need of a blood sacrifice, so he offered the firstborn of his flock of sheep as a sacrifice to the Lord. Abel set the stage for the system of animal sacrifices until the promised Savior of Genesis 3:15 would appear. Jesus provided a better sacrifice than that of Abel.—Hebrews 12:24.
Abraham demonstrated his faith in something better to come than the animal sacrifices, when he said to Isaac, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”—Genesis 22:8. Even though Abraham did not have the light or understanding of the saints under the New Covenant, still he looked beyond his son, Isaac, towards the promise of the coming Messiah. Indeed, God did provide Abraham a burnt offering, which was the ram caught in the thicket. The ram in turn pointed Abraham to a superior sacrifice, which was yet to come. Isaac was also a type of Christ, who being as good as dead, rises from altar of sacrifice, thus pointing to our Savior’s resurrection. The animal sacrifices dealt with salvation from sin. But Isaac represents victory over death, which is also a necessary part of salvation.
King David understood that the sacrifices initiated under the Old Testament were of limited value and a temporary expedient. He said in Psalm 51:16, “Thou delightest not in burnt offering.” David also knew the animal sacrifices were tutorial pointing to the future Messiah, who would turn men’s hearts toward God by his own “broken spirit and contrite heart.”
There is more to salvation than the forgiveness of sin of which the animal sacrifices were an expedient. Our Heavenly Father needed a means to free men from the power and dominion of sin, a way to transform men by making them perfect in love and giving them a clear conscience. He wanted a race of men who would not simply fear the consequences of sin but he wanted the kind of men who would walk before him in love.
The blood of a dumb animal is of less value than the blood of a man. How could it possibly take away sin? The animal sacrifices could not take away sin because these were but brute beasts going to the slaughter unaware of their fate. The animal blood did not provide the moral influence to transform stubborn sinners into humble saints. It evidently was effectual enough for men of the likes of Abel, Noah, Joseph, David, Job and the prophets to live a holy life. But your typical stubborn careless sinner needed a much greater demonstration of the wages of sin that only the sufferings of the Son of God could offer.
The blood the God-Man has immeasurable value, especially compared to the very limited worth of animal blood. Thus, John the Baptist could say of his cousin Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29. Jesus’ suffering on the cross was a broken spirit and a contrite heart, not over his owns sins, but on account of the sins of men.
Jesus said to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” The O.T. sacrifices covered sin for a time; however, the suffering and death of our Savior cleanses from sin; his blood makes a man holy by breaking his hard heart (stubborn will), which results in conforming him to God’s character. It was relatively easy for God to make men in his own image with a rational mind, will and emotions. But it was a daunting task, which required the sacrifice of his beloved Son, to make men have a loving character. When men actually see the sacrificial love communicated at Mt. Calvary, it cannot but radically change them into the Christ-like character of their Savior. Alas, few men, who acknowledge the event, truly see this love expressed in the crucifixion as the Roman Centurion did. He declared at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”