For four thousand years sacrifices, setting out man’s condition as a sinner, were offered up and accepted by God; for two thousand years God has desired no sacrifices from His people except those suited for saints. Taught of God, men previously brought the former; having received fresh revelation since the death of Christ, God’s children must now present the latter.
When the truth of man’s fallen condition is realised—that he is dead in trespasses and sins—the folly of his doing anything to commend himself to God is evident. The sinner must be born of God before he can please God. This lesson is one which man is slow to learn—many an unsaved soul labours under the delusion that he can bring something to God to merit His favour. Sadly, Christendom perpetuates this myth, encouraging the unsaved to worship when they should repent, and teaching unbelievers to live by God’s law instead of preaching the Gospel to them. The sinner must receive from God first, then, as a believer, he can bring his offering to God. God has both provided and accepted the sacrifice for the sinner; from the saint He is now willing to receive one.
In the OT, the sanctuary was the appointed place for the worshipper to draw near, but believers must now be “without the camp” (Heb. 13: 13), bearing the reproach of Christ. The allusion is to Exodus 33 when Israel had departed openly from God in making the golden calf. It was then that all who remained true–hearted went outside the camp to the tent of meeting (see v7). So again, when the Hebrews in the Apostle’s day were obedient to the call of God amidst the general apostasy, they had to learn that their proper place, like that of their crucified Master, was outside the camp of Judaism. Obedience to God’s word forced them into this new and difficult position bearing the reproach of the Saviour who had suffered “without the gate” of Jerusalem (Heb. 13: 12). All the promises of earthly glory in connection with the Messiah they gave up, and the land, in which they had lived by divine favour, was no longer their home. As “strangers and sojourners” (Heb. 11: 13), they journeyed forth afresh with a home in prospect but of which, though tasting the fruits by the Spirit (see Eph. 1: 14), they had not yet got the full enjoyment. They had on earth no “abiding city” (Heb. 13: 14), but sought one to come. What a change all this was for them! The eye of the faithful among the Jewish dispersion was to be redirected from earthly hopes to the “living hope” of “an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance, reserved in [the] heavens” (1 Pet. 1: 3, 4).
Yet in abandoning the temple ritual, surely the Hebrew Christians were also forsaking the only true avenue through which an offering to God could be made? How they would be scorned by their earthly brethren who remained within the camp! Was not Jerusalem the place where Jehovah had put His name? Indeed it was, but the death of Christ had changed everything. From now on, all the Mosaic offerings could be dismissed as “dead works” (Heb. 9: 14), while those who trusted in Jesus could rightly boast of offering a “sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is, [the] fruit of [the] lips confessing his name” (Heb. 13: 15). For generations, the temple courts had resounded with the service of praise from the sons of Korah—but the sacrifice of praise which God would now accept would be offered up elsewhere. From now on, no time would be unseasonable and no place unsuited, where a heart, conscious of God’s grace, could be responsive to His love and goodness. Even in the inner prison of Gentile Philippi, and at the unusual hour of midnight, this superior sacrifice was offered to God and accepted (see Acts 16: 25). One condition was, however, indispensable: the sacrifice of praise could only be “By him” (Heb. 13: 15). Where Christ is not the object of faith and his finished work at the cross unknown, then no such sacrifice will be accepted by God. As Peter says elsewhere, “spiritual sacrifices”, if they really are so, are “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2: 5, my emphasis).
Nor is this the only sacrifice that the redeemed can offer. In Rom. 12, Paul beseeches the saints by the compassions of God to present their bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (v1). The apostle knew something of this himself as his statement “for me to live [is] Christ” (Phil. 1: 21) bears witness. As Christians, we “have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6: 20), and are thus to glorify God in our bodies, yielding ourselves to God “as alive from among [the] dead” and our “members instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6: 13).
Still this is not all. The writer of Hebrews tells the saints that “of doing good and communicating [of your substance] be not forgetful, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13: 16). The philanthropy of the unbelieving is not here in view. Only the saint can approach God with such a sacrifice. As conscious recipients of divine grace, such have become partakers of the divine nature, and so are characterised by love to others (see Eph. 2: 10). On earth the Lord Jesus went about doing good (see Acts 10: 38) and in this we must surely imitate Him.
Many and varied then, are the sacrifices that can now be offered—but not apart from a living knowledge of Christ and His death. Any sacrifice offered on other grounds or apart from Him in whom we have access by one Spirit to the Father, will be rejected. It must ever be remembered that what God can receive from His children He will reject when offered by an unsaved soul. Like Israel, His people can bring the first–fruits (see Exod. 23: 19)—which from Cain He would not accept (see Gen. 4: 3). All, whether for sinners or saints is ordered. The former must believe God in what He has said about the sacrifice of Christ; the latter, as standing on it for acceptance, are privileged to render the service appropriate to believers.