“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Ritual and ceremony are an important (and necessary) part of worship and spiritual life. However, there is the ever-present danger of engaging in the ritual of worship but missing the relationship with God. There is the temptation to allow ritual to replace the reality of life in Christ.
Ritual sacrifice was an integral element of the OT Law and worship because it symbolized that in order to be forgiven, man’s sinfulness required a sacrifice. Here is how the NT book of Hebrews describes it:
“For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9.19-22)
However, scripture makes it quite clear that ceremonial rituals of the Law are symbols of spiritual realities. Ritual sacrifice in the OT symbolized and foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross. The entire sacrificial system of the OT pointed to and anticipated the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God.
“Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9.23-27)
Here is a critically important truth: Ritual sacrifice in the OT could temporarily cover sin, but it could not permanently cleanse from sin. Once again, here is what the book of Hebrews says:
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10.1-4)
Read that last verse again: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” To repeat, OT sacrifices temporarily and symbolically covered sin, but they did not permanently cleanse from sin. OT sacrifices pointed to Jesus:
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10.12-14)
A person can be involved in church, faithfully attending and fully participating in worship services, and yet not be walking with the Lord. The Lord calls us to do what is right … to seek righteousness and justice that reflect the reality of Christ in our lives.
God is against profession without practice. He is against hearing without doing. He opposes ritual without reality.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4.23-24)