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Needed:  Sacrifices That Keep On Living!

Somewhere I ran across a Spanish proverb that says, "It's not the same to talk of bulls as to be in the bullring." The preacher in me sees an application of that statement to the Christian life in the area of sacrifice and giving. It's not the same to talk of sacrifice as to be on the altar. The concept of offering sacrifices to God was part of Biblical religion almost from the get-go. Genesis 4 reveals that Cain and Abel knew and practiced the concept of offering sacrifices to God, even though Cain's offering was not by faith and therefore did not please God. Noah, upon embarking from the ark after the flood, built an altar and "offered [sacrificed] burnt offerings on it" (Genesis 8:20-21). The altar was a prominent feature of Old Testament sacrifice. The Israelites practiced animal sacrifices and other kinds of offerings at an altar built for that purpose at the Tabernacle (and later at the Temple). At that altar animal sacrifices were slain and their blood was sprinkled around in various rituals. The body of the victim was placed on the altar and "offered" to God. Some sacrifices expressed devotion to God, some thanksgiving, and others were aimed at providing atonement for sin. Slouchy and cheap sacrifices would not do. Animals offered had to be the best — to quote Moses in Leviticus, "without blemish" (see 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6, etc.). A somber feature of the Old Testament system was that the sacrifices offered to God had to die. So it was that Old Testament sacrifices always involved a high cost to the worshiper and the thing being sacrificed. It cost the worshiper the monetary value of a choice animal, and it always cost the animal its life.

This side of the cross the sacrificial language is just as vivid but radically different. In Ephesians 5:2 we are told that Jesus has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." Like the Hallmark card commercial says, God cared enough to send the very best. Based upon the stunning sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, the apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 made this impassioned appeal: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Here Paul uses the Old Testament imagery of sacrifice, but infuses it with new meaning. We indeed die to self and sin (Romans 6:1ff), but the sacrifice Christians make to God stays alive! Our bodies, yea our very lives, are daily offered in service to God. Our bodies are used, not just as ornaments to be painted, pierced, petted, pampered, and pleasured, but as instruments yielded to God's control and purposes. Not one gigantic, dramatic sacrifice that leaves us dead, but a day by day life surrendered to God's will and dedicated to His honor and glory and service. Old Testament worshipers offered God sacrifices that ended in death, but Christians offer a sacrifice that keeps on living! The great need of the hour is for Christians who daily offer themselves in God's service — at home, in the church, on the job, in the world. Are you still on the altar? Are you surrendered to God as a living sacrifice, or are you mainly living for yourself?

"But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased"  (Hebrews 13:16).

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ