Okay Pastor Win, I am a little confused. You told me earlier that the Law of God had to be satisfied either by myself or another — and that I am unable to satisfy the Law. This, of course leaves the category of “other.” But isn’t that what the sacrifices in the Old Testament were meant to do? Didn’t the slaughter of goats and lambs and rams and birds satisfy the demands of the Law? Blood was shed on the altar. Doesn’t that solve our problem?
The answer, of course, is no. God will not punish an animal for your sins or mine. Think about it, if we could just slaughter a bunch of animals, we could live like pagans and just sacrifice a bunch of animals to “make it all better.” How is there justice in that? Further, how does the life of an unthinking and unreasoning animal truly stand in for the life of a human made in the image of God?
So, why all these sacrifices? The simple answer is that the sacrifices made at the altar in Jerusalem (or at the Tabernacle as it moved through the wilderness) were meant to foreshadow another sacrifice to come. These animal sacrifices had no power in and of themselves, but became powerful in the completed sacrifice of Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism will move toward explaining what kind of substitute that we must have, but in question 14, it makes it quite clear that no creature can endure the weight of God’s wrath and redeem others from it. The sin of humans must be meted out on a human; animals cannot be a substitute. Further, the greatness of the animal sacrifices (oceans of blood were shed at these altars) anticipates the greatness of the sacrifice of the Son of God that must come).