In considering the sacrifice of Christ as we approach the Lord’s Table, let’s consider Psalm 40:6-8
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; 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.
The sacrament of Holy Communion, which had as its purpose to show forth the death of Christ in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine, also makes very explicit the centrality of the doctrine of vicarious atonement. This is one passage among many in the Old Testament which makes clear the insufficiency of the sacrificial system as it was observed in the Temple of Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 51:16, Micah 6:6-8, Jeremiah 7:22-23). The point is that God will have from us obedience rather than sacrifice.
So, then, of what value were these sacrifices and why was it that God had regard to these sacrifices as he did to the sacrifice of Abel (cf. Genesis 4:4)? The first reason the sacrifices were acceptable to God was that they were done in obedience. The second was that these sacrifices were a remembrance of human sin, and the pain and death wrought by our sin. In Hebrews 10:3, we read that the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were a continual remembrance, year by year, of the sin of Israel. A third purpose served by these sacrifices was to show the necessity of offering satisfaction for the wrong deeds of the people. The people were taught that justice had to be satisfied by the meting out of a penalty. Sacrifices made clear that without the shedding of blood there was no remission of sin (cf. Hebrews 9:22). These sacrifices also taught God’s willingness to be reconciled. The sacrificial system taught not only God’s passion for justice but also His abounding mercy. Above and beyond all this, the sacrifices serve as types and foreshadows of far more profound mysteries – that is the gospel.
In spite of this, it is clear from both the Old and New Testament that the sacrifices could never remove sin. However, the glory of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross actually did atone for the sins of the elect. The sacrifice of Christ was superior to all other sacrifices because Christ made his soul an offering for sin (cf. Isaiah 53:10). He gave himself not the body of another or the body of a beast, but rather He Himself was a perfect sacrifice. He was without blemish and without sin, something that could not be said of any other offering. This offering was not only superior because He was spotless, but it was infinitely holy because He was the Son of God. He was in and of Himself divine. He was not only faultless but divinely perfect, the source of all that is good and right. It is that which gives the sacrifice an infinite value in the sight of God. As Jonathan Edwards states,
The divine nature of Christ is that altar that sanctifies the gift, supposed to be typified by the altar in the tabernacle and temple; which altar had no real holiness, for what holiness can there be in stones or brass? Now this altar so sanctifies the gift, that it gives it an infinite holiness. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, p. 620.
The sacrifice of the cross was actually propitiatory because the Son delighted to vindicate the Father. Christ despised the pain and suffering that He might vindicate the holiness, the justice, and the mercy of God, and in His own willingness and compassion, He made satisfaction for our sins. Moreover, He offered a proper sacrifice because He disposed and offered His own soul to the Father. He voluntarily subjected Himself to this extreme suffering because He delighted to do God’s will, which likewise showed an infinite regard to God and His commands. This rendered that act of His an act of transcendent holiness.
Hence, glorying in the atonement of Christ is a meditation on the grace of God as it is revealed in the sacrifice of the cross. It is in its highest sense worship. Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all time and it is on this that we should meditate as we approach the holy Table of our Lord.