sacrifice

Romans 12

Today’s reading is Romans 12.

Romans 11 ended with a praise poem to God’s mercy. Today, Romans 12:1 began by calling us to act differently “in view of God’s mercy.” Because God has called us and given us new life and the gift of faith, God’s word urges believers “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” That means serving God with your life by making moral choices that please him (v. 1b-2: “holy and pleasing to God...”) and living a life of service to others based on the gift God gave you (vv. 3-8). It means loving God’s people in real ways (vv. 9-13) and being kind and loving to our enemies (vv. 14-21).

I want to focus on that phrase, “living sacrifices” in verse 1. Up to and including Jesus, sacrifices were dead; they were living things killed to be offered to God on behalf of someone else. Christ gave himself as the ultimate (and only truly meaningful) sacrifice. He was the final dead sacrifice that God wanted as his death made atonement for us. Then, raised to life, he gives life to all who come to him in faith. Now, God does not want your dead body or for us to bring him dead bodies in worship. Instead, he wants believers to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” To do that, we continue to live in this world, but the things we do with our lives, our human bodies, we do in worship to him. The ways that we spend our time, the things we say and do, our service to each other and our kindness to those who are unkind to us all grow out of the fact that we are God’s and want to worship him with our lives.

Imagine that each morning when you rise from your bed, you thought about this verse and made a decision to worship God with your body, your life, that day. What would change about your daily schedule, your thinking towards other people, what is important to you, how you use your money? Would it change the way you eat or how you spend your free time? Would you find greater joy in life because you’ve surrendered control and quit worrying about things?

Try it today; maybe even write “Rom 12:1” or “living sacrifice” on your right hand to remind you.

Hebrews 13

Today we finish reading the book of Hebrews by reading Hebrews 13. Congratulations! You’ve read two books of the New Testament already; only 25 more to go.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others....” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have--a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 17, Psalms 20–21, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 17.

Blood was really important to the rituals associated with Israel’s worship and to the purification of God’s people. This chapter in Leviticus demonstrates just how serious it was with dire consequences spelled out for anyone who sacrifices away from the tabernacle (vv. 1-9) or who eats blood (v. 10). Why was this so important? Verse 11a: “For the life of a creature is in the blood…” Blood carries oxygen (and other important stuff) to every cell in the body of a person or animal and it carries away waste from those cells. It is so essential to life that God chose it to symbolize life itself. When an Israelite sacrificed an animal, the blood of that animal represented the exchange of one innocent life for one guilty life. That’s what verse 11b is saying: “…and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” All of this symbolized and prepared God’s people for the coming sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When the Bible says that “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), it is drawing on the theology stated and explained here in Leviticus 17. When Jesus died on the cross, he poured out his innocent life in order to erase the sin debt for my guilt. His sacrifice was, finally, the one life that could truly solve the problem of our guilt. Thanks be to God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 6, Psalms 5–6, Proverbs 21, Colossians 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 6, Psalms 5–6, Proverbs 21, Colossians 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 6.

Leviticus 6 continues the section that we’ve been reading for the past few days. These chapters detail the regulations for the various types of sacrifices the Hebrew people were to bring to the Lord at the Tabernacle. Verses 1-7 describe the sin offering—the type of offering brought when someone sinned. Verses 8-13 describe the burnt offering and verses 14-23 describe the grain offering. Finally, verses 24-30 give further regulations for the sin offering. Verses 1-7 described this sin offering from the perspective of the sinner; verses 24-30 described the priests’ responsibility for handling this sin offering. When we think of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, the sin offering is the one that usually comes to mind, at least for me. We understand the need to pay restitution to others (v. 5) and to pay the wages of sin, death, to God (vv. 6-7). But as important as the sin offering was, it was not the only offering the Hebrews were commanded to bring to God. The burnt offering described in verses 8-13 was an offering of pure worship. It was often offered to God in conjunction with other offerings, such as the sin offering, but it could be brought on its own by anyone who just wanted to worship God. Verse 9 tells us that this burnt offering “is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” It is called the burnt offering because of this verse. It was to be given to God completely and not removed from the altar until nothing but ashes remained. The symbolism of this is that the worshipper belongs to God. It is an expression of the worshipper’s desire for God to consume his life completely. “Take all of me, O God,” was clear message that this offering was to convey. Think about what that must have been like. The worshipper gave up something of high value to him—a perfect animal that would totally consumed, nothing left for him to use or sell. The priests received no value from it, either. It was 100% given to God, a complete waste from the perspective of someone who did not know God but an act of pure devotion for those who do. It as also an act of faith, expecting to God prosper his work and provide for him and his family in the days ahead.

For us, Christ himself was our sin offering (see 2 Cor 5:21) but, just as the Hebrews were to bring other offerings as acts of worship to God, we too bring offerings to God—not for the forgiveness of sins but as expression of our praise, thanks, and love to God. This is what Paul had in mind in Romans 12:1, a passage I’ll be reading this morning in our Sunday worship service: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” In light of all that God is and all that Christ has done for us as our sin offering, we owe God everything! But instead of consuming a dead animal to show him our love and give him our worship, we have an opportunity to be his living sacrifices. As we’ll see in today’s message, this means serving within the body of Christ. Every time we spend time giving the gospel, or preparing to teach or teaching, or serving the poor in our food pantry, or listening to others who are hurting or need advice, we are giving of ourselves to God as living sacrifices, acts of “true and proper worship.” 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. See you when we gather for worship later today!