A Reflection on Sacrifice (from our communion service)

Few themes occupy as central a place in the scriptures as the theme of sacrifice.

In Genesis 8 Noah leaves the ark and what does he do? He offers a sacrifice.In Genesis 22 Abraham ascends Mount Moriah. Why? To offer his son as a sacrifice. In Genesis 33 Jacob builds an altar and calls on the name of the Lord. In Exodus 17 Moses builds an altar.

In fact, the entire exodus event is predicated upon Moses request to leave Egypt and go to the wilderness to make sacrifice (Exodus 8:27-28). Not only that, but the exodus itself finally happens when the Israelites sacrifice a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts so the death angel will pass by (Exodus 12:22). That sacrifice is memorialized in the life of the nation of Israel in perpetuity (Exodus 12:14-17). Furthermore, the Passover sacrifice is also used to describe Chris’s sacrifice for us (1 Cor.5:7).

For hundreds of years, throughout the wilderness wanderings and after the Israelites conquered the land and settled the tabernacle in Gibeah, these sacrifices continue. Until we get to King David. David reasons that God needs a permanent dwelling. After all, why should this grand and glorious God of the universe be dwelling in a temporary tent (2 Samuel 7:2)? So David imagines a permanent structure in the capital city of Jerusalem and begins to collect the materials for such a building to be built. His son Solomon actually builds the building, and what happens at the dedication of this temple? You guessed it, an enormous sacrifice! We read about all the animals offered in 1 Kings 8:62.

Throughout the centuries of the rule of the kings of Israel, even after the kingdom divided, sacrifice remained central. Sometimes the sacrifices were abandoned, and sometimes, in time of national revival the sacrifices were restarted (like Josiah in 2 Chronicles 35).

Then the prophets arrive on the scene. Their message was often directed at Israel and the sacrifices she brought to the Lord. Malachi condemns Israel for bringing sickly animals for sacrifice (1:8). Hosea prophecies against Israel bringing obligatory sacrifices (6:6). Ezekiel promises a future kingdom when the sacrifice would return, as does Zechariah (14:9-21).

When the New Testament opens, sacrifice is still happening. Even in Luke 2:24, Mary and Joseph bring the offering designated in Leviticus 5:7 as the offering for the poor. Think of it. Mary and Joseph go to the temple to sacrifice; too poor to bring a lamb yet with them is the very Lamb of God whose blood will be shed to pay the price for all sin for all time.

The Biblical story of sacrifice points forward to the perfect sacrifice. The author of Hebrews summarizes the millennia of sacrifices as an imperfect picture of a coming, perfect reality (Hebrews 9:6-15). Hear what the scripture says. All the sacrifices which were offered throughout the Old Testament proved to be insufficient. Animals are fine if you are looking for temporary relief (Hebrews 9:13). But for permanent cleansing, for a sacrifice that would wash you clean for all time, you need the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:14). And so Christ sacrificed himself (Hebrews 9:26). His sacrifice, his broken body, his shed blood was the final sacrifice. No more sacrifices for sin need to be offered. No more offering for sin needs to be made because the sacrifice has been made once for all, forever (Hebrews 9:28).

Why does this matter to me? Well, I must believe in the sacrifice of Christ, true. But that is not my principal point. I am seeing the sacrifice of Christ, as a motivation for another sacrifice. It is that I sacrifice myself for others. Not in a way that saves them – I do not have that power. It is the sacrifice of Christ that secures redemption and justification. But, I am called upon, based on this sacrifice, to present my body as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2). I love others, I serve others, I care for others, I have compassion on others, I seek to meet the need of others, and I must sacrifice myself to do it. Think of God’s love for you in the sacrifice of his son as an offering for sin, as the motivation to give yourself in sacrifice to others!

Ephesians 5:2 – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How about it? Will you sacrifice yourself for the good of others? Remember how Christ was sacrificed for you.

 

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