Thursday, May 27, 2010

Unselfish Hearts

Sacrifices are always costly. Some of our military servicemen have sacrificed time away from their loved ones, others have sacrificed their health. Some have sacrificed their limbs and other parts of their bodies like my own father did.

Sometimes parents sacrifice for their child to go to college, or workers sacrifice for their company in order to please their boss. In the religious sense, people often make ritual or ceremonial sacrifices.

Yet what kind of sacrifices is God pleased with? What kind of sacrifices is He not pleased with?

Sacrifices God is Not Pleased with
First of all, the sacrifices in the Law were only a shadow or type of what we now experience in Christ. “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Heb 10:1). Priests continually, year after year offered these Old Testament sacrifices. Yet they could never make anyone perfect.

According to the Law, these had to be offered daily. “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Heb 5:1). “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Heb 10:11). But these could never remove sin.

And these sacrifices could never clear anyone’s conscience. “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? (Heb 10:2). “Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.” (Heb 9:9). If these sacrifices had cleansed anyone’s conscience, then the worshipers would no longer feel guilty and there would be no need to keep repeating the sacrifices endlessly.

Those sacrifices could never make anyone perfect. “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Heb 10:1).

So then, if these sacrifices could never remove sin, clear anyone’s conscience, or make anyone perfect, what was the purpose of offering them? One thing those sacrifices did was remind the people of their sins. “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.” (Heb 10:3). So that was a primary function of the sacrifices, but it was not to please the Lord. In another place it says, “In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure.” (Heb 10:6). Not even a very costly whole animal offered as a burnt offering could please the Lord.

Another function of these sacrifices was to cleanse the place of worship. “Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” (Heb 9:23)

While these were offered according to God’s Law, He never desired them at all. “’Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law).” (Heb 10:8).

A Perfect Sacrifice
It’s very clear from Scripture that all of the animal sacrifices in the world could never take away anyone’s sin or please God. So God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world as our great High Priest. “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.” (Heb 8:3). You see it was necessary for Jesus to have something to offer.

But He never sinned. Unlike every other priest, He lived a perfect life. He “does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” (Heb 7:27). Rather than offer up animal sacrifices that God was never pleased with, Jesus offered up Himself. His body and his blood was sacrificed for your sins and mine.

This is the one blood sacrifice that pleased God. It’s the only one that God desired. It’s the only one that can take away sin. It’s the only one that can clear your guilty conscience. It’s the only one that can make you perfect. And it was so powerful, so effective that it only had to be offered one time for all people. “This He did once for all.” (Heb 7:27)

Some people think that the sacrifice of Jesus’ Body needs to be offered over and over again, on a daily basis. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus entered the holy place, the heavenly sanctuary once for all. “And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12)

If this were not so, then Jesus would in fact have to suffer often. “Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb 9:26).

Make no mistake about it: the sacrifice of Jesus was a one-time event. “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Heb 9:27,28). The next time he comes, it will not be to suffer. It will be to save those who are waiting for Him.

This one perfect sacrifice put away sin. It makes holy and perfect those who put their faith in Jesus. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:10). It’s absolutely clear that it was once for all.

“But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” (Heb 10:12).

And Jesus’ sacrifice was not offered in any man-made temple. It was offered in the temple of His body. Jesus once stood in the temple and responded to those who challenged His authority and asked for a sign. Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (Joh 2:19-21). It’s important to see that the perfect sacrifice was not a ritual one or a ceremonial one offered to God in a temple made with hands. The sacrifice that pleased God was made in the temple of Jesus’ body.

So once you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you no longer need to offer blood sacrifices over and over. You no longer need to carry your sins. They are taken away completely. You no longer need to feel like you have to sacrifice to God in order to receive forgiveness. Your sins have been forgiven. He paid the price for them in full! He died in your place. Just accept it by faith.

When you truly give your life to Jesus, you change the way you’re living. That’s called repentance. If you have put your trust in Jesus, then your life will certainly change. You will stop living in willful sin. It doesn’t mean you will never sin again. The difference is that before you know Jesus, you are running after sin, but after you come to know Him, you are running from sin.

The Scripture says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (Heb 10:26). You see, if you receive the knowledge of the truth about Jesus and His loving sacrifice for you, and you just go on sinning willfully anyway, this is a dangerous place to be. What sacrifice is left for you after that? The one sacrifice Jesus made for all is finished. It will never be made again. There will never be another better sacrifice. Never! So if you have received this knowledge and go on sinning willfully, then there is no longer any sacrifice that can be made for your sins.

When Jesus hung on the cross and completed His perfect sacrifice, He said, “It is finished!” There is no other sacrifice for Him to make. And there is no other sacrifice that you or anyone else can make for your sins.

Sacrifices God is Pleased with
So then if we no longer need to make sacrifices for sin, what sacrifices does God desire from those of us who have put our faith in Jesus?

The first sacrifice we need to offer is our own bodies. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom 12:1). God is not interested in a ritual sacrifice from you. He doesn’t desire you to offer something to Him in a man-made temple. Just as the sacrifice of Jesus was not a ritual or religious one, but a loving one made in the temple of His body, so should your sacrifices be made in the temple of your body.

If you consider what Jesus has done for you and you accept His sacrifice as perfect and complete payment for your sins, you should be very grateful. Your response should be to present you body to God as a living sacrifice. This is a holy sacrifice. It’s your spiritual act of worship to your Creator. In doing so, your body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Another kind of sacrifice we should make is doing good to people and sharing with them. “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb 13:16). This is not a sacrifice for your sin. But it is a sacrifice that God is pleased with. Duguet said, "The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention."

When you have faith in Jesus Christ, you will certainly make sacrifices and you will serve, as the Philippians did. Paul wrote to them saying, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” (Phi 2:17)

Loving God and other people pleases God more than all sacrifices and burnt offerings. Jesus commended the scribe who said to Him, “To Love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mar 12:33).

“And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph 5:2). Love is not a feeling. When Jesus loved you, He gave Himself up for you through a painful death on the cross, and that sacrifice to God was like a sweet aroma to Him. Loving is giving or it’s not love at all.

Yet even in your sacrificial giving of your possessions and in offering your body to God as a living sacrifice, if you don’t do it in love, it will be of no value to you. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1Co 13:3)

Jesus put it like this: "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mat 9:13). He was speaking to people who were really into making sacrifices. They thought God was pleased with their sacrifices, so the more the better. It makes sense right? But they were wrong. Jesus said that God desired for us to have compassion on others. He does not desire sacrifices.

If we really understand what this means, it will transform our lives. When you have compassion on someone, you will not stand by doing nothing. You will see their need and do something. The Lord may have you pray for the person, give to them, or help them. But He desires compassion on your part. That’s why Jesus said to go and learn what this means. It is not apparent on the surface. But if you will go and learn what it means, and ask the Heavenly Father to show you what it means, He will teach you by His Spirit.

It’s so easy to judge and condemn others. Often those who are religious may look at others who are serving the Lord in righteousness, and pass judgment on them, because it doesn’t look the way they think service to God should look. The religious people of Jesus day did exactly this to Him. He was innocent, but they condemned Him. He said to them, "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Mat 12:7). It’s easy to be religious like they were and yet have no compassion. But the Lord desires compassion, not sacrifice.

Another pleasing sacrifice to the Lord is giving financial gifts to help those who are bringing the gospel to the nations. Paul wrote to the Philippians about the gift they sent to him through Epaphroditus. “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Phi 4:18). As Leo Buscaglia once said, "Only when we give joyfully, without hesitation or thought of gain, can we truly know what love means."

Another sacrifice that’s pleasing to God is giving praise and thanks to Him. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb 13:15). Be a thankful person. Sing praise to the Lord. This is not something to reserve for Sundays or holidays. The Scripture says, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” It’s continual, so make it a way of life. Give thanks to Him for all the blessings He has poured out in your life, especially the sacrifice He made for you at the cross.

Putting it All Together
So we can see clearly that animal sacrifices for sin could never make anyone perfect, never clear anyone’s conscience and never remove sin. Jesus Christ in His love for us made the perfect sacrifice of His own life by dying on the cross, and shedding His own blood. It was not a ritual sacrifice offered in a man-made temple, but a loving one offered in the temple of His body. It pleased God. This was done once for all, and will never be repeated again. If you put your trust in Him, you are forgiven, your sins are removed, you are cleansed, and you are made perfect.

But then you should want to make sacrifices to God out of gratitude for all He has done. Just forget about making sacrifices for sin. Start by offering your own body as a sacrifice. Ask Him to take your body and use it for His glory in any way He chooses. Let Him consume it the way that the animal sacrifices were consumed on the altar in flames. But you are a living sacrifice, not a dead one. So when it gets painful or difficult, you will want to get up and remove yourself from the altar. I’ve done this myself. But let me encourage you to get back on the altar, and offer yourself again and again each time you worship. Give God permission to use you however he wishes.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Offer up the sacrifice of praise and thanks to Him. Offer sacrifices out of love for others. Share with others your time, talents, money, food, property, or whatever the Lord asks of you. Give the sacrifice of financial gifts to your leaders, to those who are carrying the gospel message to the nations, and to the poor. This is a sweet smelling fragrance to God. And most importantly is compassion for people -- go and learn what this means. God desires these sacrifices more than any ceremonial sacrifices you could ever offer.

If you have not yet put your faith in Christ, I urge you to do that today. He loves you and wants you to know Him personally.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note Also see my daughter's poem called A Pleasing Sacrifice. You can access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." Now I'd like to ask a very important question.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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