No Pleasure in Sacrifice: Psalm 51 (Part 17)

“For you do not take pleasure in sacrifice—I would give it—

with whole burnt offerings you will not accept with pleasure.”

(Psalm 51:18 {Psalm 51:16 in English Bibles})


Passages like this one have often caused people to stumble because of the many sacrifices that God required of the people in the ancient times—sacrifices that are given to be a “pleasing” aroma before God.  Yet, here and in passages like Isaiah 1:11-17, God demonstrates his distaste for such offerings—how are we to make sense of these seemingly contradictory teachings?

To understand this, we must first ask the question as to why there was sacrifice made in the Old Testament times, and the answer brings us around to sin.  As we have mentioned above, where there is no shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22).  Thus, as you looked at the ancient sacrificial system, it becomes more and more clear that this system was not meant to stand alone and deal with sins, but was meant to accompany a heart moved by faith to repentance.  What good was the slaughter of a thousand rams if repentance does not accompany the sacrifice!?!  As David will write in the following verse, it is a broken and a contrite heart that is the acceptable sacrifice before the Lord.

In David’s time—and in our own time as well—there are many people that think that a certain act can save them without a God-given change of heart.  In Roman Catholic theology, oftentimes people fall into the trap of saying, “If I just sponsor enough masses” or “if I just say enough ‘Hail Mary’s,” then I will be alright with God.  In protestant circles, we tend to do the same thing, although we package it differently.  Many say, “If I just say the sinner’s prayer just so” or “if I just go down to an altar call at the proper time,” then I will be alright with God. 

Beloved, true repentance requires a change of your heart, and that change can only come as a result of God changing your heart.  It is not about what you do or when you do what you do, but it is all about what God does in you.  Why does David say that the only sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart?  He says such because without a broken and a contrite heart to begin with, sacrifices will serve you no value.

So back to the issue of sacrifices; there is one more aspect that we need to address, and that is the issue of sacrifices as symbols or pointers to the coming sacrifice of Christ.  The temple sacrifices were imperfect in that they were performed by sinful humans and they were but a shadow of the perfect sacrifice that would come in Jesus Christ.  Yet, at the same time, all the blood that flowed on the ancient altars was meant to make us come to terms with the weight and costliness of sins.  Those ancient sacrifices had to be performed over and over; when the perfect sacrifice came in the person of Jesus Christ, it was performed once and for all time with no need of a repetition.

And herein lies our answer—God took pleasure in the sacrifice when it was offered by one who was offering it up in faith and genuine repentance.  At the same time, many people confuse the symbol with the reality.  The bloody sacrifices were symbolic both of the rent heart of the individual and of the greater sacrifice of Christ—in and of themselves, they had no value.  Many people felt that just as long as they offered the right sacrifice, they would be redeemed—it is these sacrifices that God detests—sacrifices offered as ritual and not in faith and repentance.

Loved ones, this applies directly to us today.  Though we are not making altar sacrifices any more, we are claiming to trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  Yet, if this trust is not accompanied by faith and a heart broken by sin, it will avail nothing.  True repentance accompanies true faith, and without true faith, there is no salvation.  Beloved, take this to heart, and come to our Lord in faith, offering to Christ a heart that has been made supple by the work of the Holy Spirit.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be.

-George Matheson

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on April 30, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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