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Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Spiritual Sacrifice

Our Spiritual Sacrifice

The Apostle Peter described the Christian life as being one of offering "spiritual sacrifices":

"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV)

I find myself a bit fuzzy with what "spiritual sacrifice" looks like. After looking a a few (of the many) references to sacrifices, both in the Old and New Testaments, I'm convinced that it means this:

Jesus Christ IS our spiritual sacrifice. Lifting Him up, making much of Him, speaking of Him to the world, depending upon Him and delighting in Him as our greatest Treasure are the expressions of the truest sense of "spiritual sacrifice".

Giving money to charity, singing to others, spending our time and energy, cleaning the church or sharing our food with the needy is only one degree removed from actual, blood-spilling sacrifice of animals. Without love for Jesus, without treasuring Jesus, charitable and religious activities cannot be called "spiritual sacrifice".

Sharing our possessions, our wealth, our abilities and our talents is an expression of spiritual sacrifice only to the degree that they reflect a love for Jesus.

Here's how I got there:

LIVING STONES: zao (to live) and lithos (a stone)

SPIRITUAL HOUSE: pneumatikos (non-carnal, ethereal) and oikos (a dwelling)

HOLY PRIESTHOOD: hagios (sacred, pure) and hierateuma (priestly fraternity)

SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES: pneumatikos (non-carnal, ethereal) and thysia (sacrifice)

ACCEPTABLE: euprosdektos (well-received, approved)

A spiritual sacrifice is one that is not physical, with an essence that is like breath: felt, but unseen. At the same time it reflects the image of a sacrifice, involving the death and spilled blood of a living creature.

The sacrifice described in the Old Testament required blood:

"This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy. In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the guilt offering, and its blood shall be thrown against the sides of the altar. And all its fat shall be offered, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys." Leviticus 7:1-4 (ESV)

The sacrifice is to be kept clean:

"If any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering is eaten on the third day, he who offers it shall not be accepted, neither shall it be credited to him. It is tainted, and he who eats of it shall bear his iniquity. Flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned up with fire. All who are clean may eat flesh, but the person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people. And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people." Leviticus 7:18-21 (ESV)

A spiritual sacrifice, thus, is that which is the image or "breath" of the death and blood of a living animal, untainted and sacred.

Samuel saw obedience as the essential component of sacrifice:

"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." 1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV)

God Himself described Solomon's temple in Jerusalem as "a house of sacrifice" but desired humility, prayer and repentance more than the physical shedding of blood:

"Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:12-15 (ESV)

David echoed the superiority of spiritual sacrifices:

"But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord." Psalms 4:3-5 (KJV)

"In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." Psalms 40:6-8 (ESV)

"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalms 51:16-17 (ESV)

"Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!" Psalms 107:21-22 (ESV)

Isaiah records God's harsh condemnation of empty, physical sacrifice:

"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." Isaiah 1:11-17 (ESV)

Hosea tells of God's deepest desire:

"I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6 (ESV)

Jesus Christ is the only One Who could be the Perfect, True Sacrifice to God. Only in Jesus can the shadow of blood sacrifice be completely realized.

Offering spiritual sacrifice, at its core, is not about what we do, nor even what we feel, for or about God. Our ONLY spiritual sacrifice is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus fulfilled all that God requires and desires. Only when we lift up Christ, only when we hide in Christ, only when we exult in Christ, are we truly sacrificing.

That is spiritual sacrifice.

Offering to God our possessions, our wealth, our abilities and our talents can be an expression of spiritual sacrifice only if they reflect a genuine dependence and delight in Jesus Christ as our True Spiritual Sacrifice.

Simply singing at church, or cleaning the church or giving money to the church, even with a pure heart, accomplishes nothing spiritually, unless it is a reflection of a heart caught up in the magnificence of God's mercy shown to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Spiritual Sacrifice.

Image courtesy of CĂ­ntia Martins, www.flickr.com/photos/de_lima