by Femi Aribisala
When we listen to Jesus, we discover he would never offer any sacrifice for sins because he insists sacrifices are useless.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father counsels that, henceforth, we should only listen to Jesus. He puts this to dramatic effect by having Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, appear to speak to Jesus. A bright cloud overshadows them and when it clears, only Jesus remains. Then a voice comes from heaven, saying: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:7).
Let me take the liberty to paraphrase what God declares in this live parable. He says: “Jesus is my Son: Moses and Elijah are not. Listen to my Son. Don’t bother to listen to Moses and Elijah anymore.” In short, Jesus the Son is God’s only true and faithful witness. (Revelation 1:5). Listen only to him.
Jesus himself cautions that, as the Son of God, he is the only one who truly knows the Father. (Matthew 11:27). He maintains servants are fundamentally ignorant about the master’s affairs. (John 15:15). Moses, Elijah and others like them are only servants of God. Nevertheless, Christians have this tendency to listen to everybody but Jesus.
House of prayer
When we listen to Jesus, we discover he would never offer any sacrifice for sins because he insists sacrifices are useless. Jesus starts and ends his ministry by scattering the sacrificial implements in the Temple. He overturns the tables of the money-changers and drives out those selling doves for the sacrifices. Then he declares: “It is written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:13).
By quoting Jeremiah 7:11, Jesus validates the prophet’s position that the sacrificial system is not of God. Jeremiah writes: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.’” (Jeremiah 7:21-22).
Like Jeremiah before him, Jesus maintains the Temple is “a house of prayer;” as opposed to “a house of sacrifices.” Indeed, the Temple was the only place where sacrifices could be offered. However, even at its dedication, Solomon says nothing about sacrifices. Instead, he emphasises the need for repentance prayers. He maintains that in order to receive forgiveness, all that is needed is to repent and pray towards the Temple to God. (1 Kings 8:33-52).
He repeats this principle in Proverbs: “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for.” (Proverbs 16:6). “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3). This position is repeated time-and-again in the prophets: “Take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hosea 14:2). The psalmist concurs: “The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).
Accordingly, Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), maintains sacrifices are not the means to salvation. He says: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:12-13). In order to be saved, Jesus insists we have to repent of sin. Therefore, his ministry is devoted to calling sinners to repentance.
David has long declared this in the psalms. He says to God in repenting for his adultery with Bathsheba: “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17).
However, God despises sacrifices. He says: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” (Psalm 50:9-13).
Micah is equally scathing about the sacrificial system: “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:7-8).
Repent or perish
While some Galileans were offering sacrifices, Herod killed them all. Many found this confusing. They wondered why God did not protect them, seeing that they were offering the sacrifices to God. The presumptive answer was that their sins must have been particularly great. So they brought the matter to Jesus. But Jesus insisted their sins were no greater than those of others. Their mistake was in offering useless sacrifices instead of repenting of their sins. When we ignore the will of God and insist on our own counsels, we cannot expect protection from God.
Jesus then enunciates a great salvation principle: “Repent or perish.” He says to them: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3). If we sacrifice, we will perish. If we repent, we will not.
Therefore, it is ludicrous to maintain Jesus is a sacrifice for sins. Jesus will not offer to God the sacrifices he insists will not prevent people from perishing. This position is affirmed in David’s messianic psalm: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come- it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8).
The same mistake these Galileans made is that which Christians are making today. Quoting Isaiah 29:13-14; Jesus says of the Jews: “In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9). Similarly, Christians today are still relying on sacrifices in order to obtain salvation, when we should focus on repentance. But now our fallacy is even more heinous: we are relying on the sacrifice of a human-being.
Jesus sent his disciples to go and preach everywhere. When they preached, they said absolutely nothing about the need for sacrifices. Instead, “They went out and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12). When Jesus rose from the dead, this did not change. He gave the same mandate to his disciples: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47).
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