The author of Hebrews explains that the sacrifice Jesus made by offering himself “once for all” (Heb 10:10) was superior to the animal sacrifices and grain offerings that the Levitical priests made in the past. Under the old covenant the Levites offered sacrifices “day after day” (Heb 7:27) on behalf of the people. These gifts had to be offered again and again because they served a symbolic function. They were a “shadow” of what was to come in Christ’s great gift (see Heb 8:5). Because the old covenant prefigured the new covenant that would be established permanently by Christ’s blood, the gifts and offerings that were made under the law were ineffectual and ultimately unacceptable as payments for sin. Or, as the author of Hebrews puts it, they were not able to “clear the conscience of the worshiper” (Heb 9:9).
The shift from the old to the new covenant brings with it an enormous shift in the way that we are to think about giving. This is because under the old covenant, worshipers gave gifts in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice that would be made “once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin” (Heb 9:26), whereas today Christians give in response to and even “through” Christ’s sacrifice that has already been made (see Heb 13:15; cf. 1Jn 3:16–18). Interestingly, one thing has not changed. Under the old covenant, God gave specific instructions that regulated the way sacrifices were made and to whom they were to be given. In the new covenant, God has given his people instructions about how to give in response to Christ’s sacrifice. Hebrews 13:16 tells us that we do this by doing good and sharing with others, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) weighs in on the kind of sacrifice we are to make.
Let this, therefore, be our rule for generosity and beneficence: We are the stewards of everything God has conferred on us by which we are able to help our neighbor, and are required to render account of our stewardship. Moreover, the only right stewardship is that which is tested by the rule of love …
And lest perhaps we should not realize that this is the rule for the proper management of all gifts we have received from God, he also in early times applied it to the least gifts of his generosity. For he commanded that the firstfruits be brought to him … Yet you wish to strive in vain to enrich the Lord by sharing your possessions; since, then, your generosity cannot extend to him, you must, as the prophet says, practice it toward the saints on earth … And alms are compared to holy sacrifices so as to correspond now to those requirements of the law (Heb 13:16).
God, thank you for the sacrificial gift of your Son, Jesus. I praise you and thank you for your great gifts.