This year, we’ve been using the Advent Candles to help us prepare for Christmas.
A couple weeks ago we lit the Prophecy Candle and talked about some of the Old Testament prophesies. These revealed details about the Messiah hundreds and even thousands of years before His actual birth.
Last week we lit the Bethlehem Candle and talked about how God imprinted previews of the great “Messianic Rescue” right into the events of history.
Today, we light the Shepherd’s candle and meditate on yet another way God got sinners ready to recognize their Savior: Through the many sacrifices made in the Old Testament.
We all know the story of Jesus’ birth. We remember how God sent angels to announce His birth to a group of shepherds. Many a pastor has pointed out that God’s angels came to these common herdsmen as a way of emphasizing that this Little Savior came to save all sinners; from the king on his throne to the poor shepherd in his field.
But perhaps there was another reason that God directs our attention to these shepherds. With their flocks feeding just six miles from the great Temple in Jerusalem, no doubt some of these lambs were destined for sacrifice.
Day after day animals died in the Temple. They died for things they didn’t do. Their life blood was poured out because of the sins of the people.
With each sacrifice offered, God was saying: This is how your forgiveness will be effected: the innocent will be sacrificed for the sinner. The wrath of God would not touch the guilty, because it will be diverted to another.
In our sermon meditation today we’re going to take a walk through the Old Testament and examine some of the many sacrifices which foreshadow the sacrifice God’s own Son.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’re probably pretty familiar with the idea of substitution. The boss says, Sure you can have this day off work, if you find someone to work for you.
It was just this concept that God needed to get into people’s heads before the Savior arrived. You sinners will escape Hell, because someone else will take your place. Trust in Him.
God started imprinting this concept of “one for another” into the consciousness of mankind very early. Turn to Genesis 3, verse 21.
When Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the forbidden tree, the first thing they noticed was that they were naked. For the first time, they were embarrassed, and quickly tried to cover up. Genesis says that they sewed up fig leaves together for clothes.
Now, you can imagine how effective those clothes were. So, after telling them about the Savior from Sin that would one day be born to cover their sin with His righteous life, God then helped Adam and Eve to cover their current shame. Genesis 3, verse 21.
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 NIV)Here we see the first sacrifice made to cover man’s sin. It was a simple, but ingenious foreshadowing of what Christ would do for us. Our shame, covered through His death.
Turn to Genesis 22, verse 13.
“13Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided’” (Genesis 22:13 NIV).God had promised Abraham that he would have uncountable descendants through his son Isaac. One of these descendants would be the Savior of the world. But, then God tested Abraham’s faith. He told Abraham to take Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him as a sacrifice.
Abraham didn’t understand, but he obeyed. God stopped Abraham just moments before the blade fell. And instead of Isaac, a ram died on that altar. One for another.
Turn to Exodus 12, verse 12.
“12“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13 NIV).At this time, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh asking that they be set free, Pharaoh refused. So God sent disaster after horrible disaster on the land of Egypt until Pharaoh changed his mind.
In the final plague, God sent the Angel of Death to kill every firstborn in Egypt in one night. But God also arranged a way to escape this horrible tragedy. If the blood of a lamb was painted over the door of a house, the Angel of Death would pass over that house and the firstborn there would live.
Every firstborn that survived that night in Egypt survived because a lamb died in their place.
Turn to Leviticus 16, verse 20.
“20When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert” (Leviticus 16:20-22 NIV).The “Scapegoat” is probably the most unusual sacrifice in the Old Testament. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, this sacrifice was offered for all the sins of the community of Israel.
Even people who have never opened a Bible know what a scapegoat is. It’s someone who gets the blame, even though it’s obvious they didn’t do the crime. The real criminals go free and the scapegoat takes the fall. Is there a better picture of what Jesus did on the cross for sinners like us?
To make this image even more clear, God added a special element to the Day of Atonement. Look at Leviticus 16, verse 29.
“29This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you— 30because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29-30 NIV).On the Day of Atonement the people were not allowed to work. Atonement was to be made FOR them, not BY then.
Turn to Leviticus 4, verse 27.
“27If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty. 28When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. 29He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. 30Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. 31He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:27-31 NIV).This section describes one of the most common offerings made in the Old Testament sacrificial system – the sin offering. For the removal of guilt, God required a sacrifice. But, the sinner wasn’t the one to offer the blood of this sacrifice. God had designated the tribe of Levi to serve as priests to the people. One of God’s chosen had to offer the sacrifice. In this way, God emphasized that the sinner would not cleanse himself, his sin would BE CLEANSED through the act of another.
The Old Testament is full of sacrifices that foreshadow the final Messianic Sacrifice. These are just a FEW examples.
Today, sacrifices like these are no longer being offered. These sacrifices were meant to ingrain the concept of “one for another” into the minds of the people. God wanted them to have this concept firmly in mind so they would understand what the Savior’s death meant when they saw it.
After Christ’s crucifixion, God let the sacrifices go on for a short time in the Temple at Jerusalem. But just a few decades after Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead, the Temple sacrifices came to an abrupt end. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general Titus, the Temple was destroyed and the ritual sacrifices of the Old Testament have never been reinstated.
Correction: God never reinstated them. There is no more need to point FORWARD to the One Sacrifice for sins. It has been offered. The New Testament Word witnesses to this sacrifice in every book.
Turn to Colossians 2, verse 13.
“13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.▬
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:13-17 NIV)
Two thousand years ago, a group of shepherds kept watch over their flocks in fields near the little town of Bethlehem. The sheep in their care, each shaggy goat, each little lamb, was a PRE-MINDER of the way God would restore sinners to Himself.
One for another.
The innocent for the guilty.
A sacrifice to cleanse the sinners.
As the Shepherds looked down into the manger, they were looking at the Sacrificial Lamb that all these other lambs pointed to.
They didn’t understand all that this child would do for them. But they rejoiced that He had come at last. Let us do the same as we wait for Christmas, and the celebration of His birth.
We close our meditation today with the words of John the Baptist.
“29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV).Amen.