A fragment on sacrifice
The cross is not a new way for God to relate to his creation. The cross is the historical revelation that God cannot relate to sinners in any other way. This is why Peter says Christ was ordained before the world began (1 Peter 1:19) and why John said he was the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
This is less a matter of the philosophy of sacrifice than it is the recognition of how the Bible develops the subject for us. If God is a holy lover of his creation (including the human family) then the cross was inevitable. It wasn’t some “deep structure” necessity that was imposed on God. It is an eternally free choice by God; but it is an eternally free choice that is inevitable because of his nature and character.
(I say a free choice because God lives rather than merely exists. He doesn’t just “happen” to be a holy lover, his holiness and love is his will. A block of ice doesn’t “will” to be cold. God eternally wills to be holy and loving.)
In the Old Testament God provided the sacrifices (Leviticus 17:11). They were provided to maintain the relationship God had chosen to have with sinful Israel. God established the sacrificial system—not Israel. In doing this and in providing the means of at-one-ment God was saying, “I cannot live among you except I pay the price.” It isn’t that he pays the price “to” someone. The phrase is metaphorical and makes the point that it costs the Holy Father to live with his wayward children. It stresses not his irritation at, or his reluctance to be the Father of, children that sin. The sacrificial system stresses the reality of their sin and the fact that God takes it seriously. He takes it seriously not because he is sulking with wounded pride. Philippians 2:5-7 makes it clear that along with the truth that he has no identity crisis (he loves whom and what he is)—he has no identity crisis but he has no vanity. So little does he care about his reputation (in that non-vain sense) that he gladly and freely went to the cross and as the KJV would have it, he "made himself of no reputation."
The sacrificial system did not rise from humans who were trying to placate a God who threatened to destroy them every time they sinned. The sacrifices were not ways in which the sinners bought mercy and grace from the Holy Father. The whole enterprise was an exercise of God’s holy grace that enabled the people to live with him in peace and he with them. It “covered” their sins.
The Hebrew writer had a specific thrust in mind. He wanted to compare favourably Christ’s sacrifice with the Mosaic sacrifices. In the course of it he showed that due to the work of Christ animal sacrifices were no longer relevant to divine-human relations (so Gunton). But he did make it clear that Christ’s sacrifice is an eternal one, that is, its inevitability and effects are eternal even while, historically, it is a once-for-all offering. By one offering he has perfected forever those he makes holy (see Hebrews 9:12 and Hebrews 10:10,12,14). In addition, as Paul insists in Romans 6:3-4 that death can still be accessed by faith. We don’t normally think of accessing an historical act (how is such a thing possible?) but Christ’s sacrificial death can be savingly accessed to this day by accessing its meaning.
Justification or cleansing by faith in the blood of Christ is not justification as a result of the mere act of his physically dying. Christ’s mere biological dying has no saving effect but then he didn’t merely die. He died “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). The power of his death is in whom he is and what he meant to do in the dying. And while all that he was and meant to do comes to focus in his historical life-consummating death, we continue to relate to God on the basis of what that dying means. It’s a past event but we experience life with God even now and in an ongoing relationship based on that event (1 John 1:7).
But the cross of Christ was an eternal act, an act that revealed not only how we relate to God since the cross, but also how God has always related to us from the beginning (compare Hebrews 9:15). The cross tells us not only what God did in Christ but in Christ the cross tells us what God is like, and what he is eternally like. All that being true we are to understand that for sinners like us, unbroken life with God is possible only on the basis of sacrifice. However we work that out, that is, however we understand the Bible’s rationale for that teaching it is nevertheless the teaching of scripture. Why is it the case that we can only live with God on the basis of sacrifice? Because when the Holy Father wishes to dwell with unholy people it costs him. [Can we now see a pale illustration of that in the lives of saintly parents who live in love with a thoroughly wicked child?]
So the sacrificial system and especially the sacrifice of Christ is less about how our problem with God is "fixed", it’s less about how the gulf is spanned than it is about God’s will to fix the problem and span the gulf while he maintains his commitment to us to bring us to fullness of life with himself.