“Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required; Then I said, ‘Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Ps 40:6-8, emphasis added; cf Ps 51:16). Mediating God’s dispute with his people, the prophets repeat the psalmist’s refrain against those who dare to bring their sacrifices while violating his covenant (Hos 6:6; Am 4:4; Mal 1:8). Jesus takes up the theme as well (Mt 9:13). Obedience is better than sacrifice, because thanksgiving is even greater than forgiveness.
Far from downplaying the importance of the sacrifices, the psalmist is pointing to Christ, the one who is not only a guilt offering, but actually renders at last the thank-offering: the covenantal faithfulness that humanity in Adam has failed to yield. That is how the writer to the Hebrews interprets it. No New Testament writer is more eager to highlight the significance of Christ’s sacrifice of atonement—the guilt offering. Yet his point (consistent with the psalmist’s), is that something greater is needed. Not only is a greater guilt-offering required, since the old covenant sacrifices could never take away sins but only cover them over in typological anticipation of Christ; something more than a guilt-offering itself is envisioned. The writer points out that the burnt offering always reminded worshippers, as well as God, of their guilt. Although it made temporary provision, it always highlighted the negative breach that required satisfaction. In other words, we might say, it never transcended the debt-economy. If these sacrifices would have actually remitted all of their guilt for the course of their entire lives, the worshiper would not have to return home after the Day of Atonement still burdened by “any consciousness of sin” (Heb 10:2). “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (v 4).
This, I maintain, is what the psalmist had in mind when he recognized the weakness of the old covenant sacrificial system. Forgiveness is good, but obedience is better. God delights in forgiving debts, but his deepest joy—in fact, his requirement—is the faithful love and obedience of the covenant servant whom he created in his own image, with the mission of entering into the sabbath day with the whole creation in toe. The old covenant sacrifices did not absolve transgressors of guilt once and for all, so their negative function (forgiveness) was temporary, and furthermore, such sacrifices could not offer to God the positive obedience (justification) that God required of his covenant partner.
In Christ, however, both types of sacrifices converge: not only is he the only qualified substitute for the guilt of sinners; he is the only one capable of rendering the life of thankful obedience in which God truly delights.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Take time to read this excellent article by Michael Horton.