"Sacrifice" is not a popular concept. Who wants to sacrifice something? It means giving something up, right? We all look forward to getting stuff, not giving stuff away! Or, do we? Have you ever felt the joy of helping? The joy of giving something to someone who needs it more than you do? What does God require of us when it comes to sacrifice? Is sacrifice a way to get stuff? Our study of the Bible this week is about sacrifices, let's dive in and see what we can learn!
October 19, 2013
Genesis 3:9-21; Exodus 12:21-27; Leviticus 2:1-3; Genesis 22:1-19; Leviticus 17:10-11; Philippians 4:18
He has now spent 19 months in jail for a crime that he did not commit. On March 15, 2012, Pastor Antonio Monteiro was arrested in the West African country of Togo. The charges against him? Murder, conspiracy, and criminal association.
Kpatcha Simliya, a convicted criminal, had several times visited Pastor Monteiro, who was the Family Ministries director of the Sahel Union Mission. He came asking for a job and financial help from the church, and was always treated with respect. But when he was later arrested a second time and interrogated, Simliya told officials that Pastor Monteiro had masterminded the crimes.
On that evening in March, police burst into Pastor Monteiro's home and arrested him in front of his wife and three children. They accused him of committing the terrible crimes.
"This is a mistake," Monteiro said.
An officer replied, "Aren't you Mr. Monteiro?"
"Yes," he replied, "but involved in a crime? No," he said.
Three days later, Monteiro was told by an officer, "You entrusted him [Simliya] with a mission."
Monteiro asked, "What mission? I have one mission that I've been fulfilling for 40 years. I'm a pastor and my mission is to preach the gospel."1
Adventist News Network reported three months ago that, "Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders and national ambassadors have employed diplomatic efforts in Togo, throughout Europe and at the United Nations in New York. Local lawyers have attempted numerous legal appeals. Yet Monteiro, who came to Togo from Cape Verde to serve as a Christian missionary, remains in prison.2
Pastor Monteiro is truly living out his life in that Togo prison as a "living sacrifice." His daughter, Andreia says, "I believe God has given him a special task."
This week's lesson taught us about sacrifice, beginning with the first sacrifice when Adam and Eve had to be covered with animal skins because they had sinned. That first sacrifice-and first covering-were symbolic of what would later come through the sacrifice and covering of Jesus.
In response to such love on God's part, we are asked to present our bodies as a "living sacrifice." Jesus has already died as the sacrifice-now we are to live as one. You don't have to have a dramatic story like Pastor Monteiro. Your living sacrifice can be giving of yourself to God and others on a daily basis.
Look around you. How can you serve in your community, your church, and your home? How might you sacrifice your time or your possessions? Considering Jesus's immense sacrifice for us, what we give in return seems to be an unworthy sacrifice. But in reality, they are sacrifices of the heart, and those are what matter most to our Savior.
1. News Adventist
2. News Adventist
Commentary for the October 19, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Genesis 22:9-12, NIV
The first example of mankind offering a sacrifice to God is found when Abel offered up some fat taken from some of the firstborn sheep of his flock.[i] We are not told whether this was a spontaneous action on Abel’s part or somehow he learned to do this and was following some instructions not related in the text. In any event, spontaneous or not, sacrifice of animals and even humans, at some point in the distant past of man’s history, became common to most cultures. Sometimes sacrifices were made for purposes of augury. Other times they may have been done to demonstrate power either through casting of magic or public destruction of enemy captives. Probably most often though they were done to appease an indifferent or hostile deity and obtain favor. An example of that favor may have been fertility for one’s crops, livestock and household. Another may have been for military victories.
Offering of animals perhaps made sense for a nomadic populace with large flocks and therefore ample grist for the sacrificial altars. The magical element of these sacrifices was in the blood of the victim. Perhaps it was this that caused many cultures to also employ human sacrifice. After all if the blood of the animals sacrificed was powerful, wouldn’t the blood of the men who had power over the animals be an even more powerful libation? Following that logical progression could even take us to the idea that the blood of a god would be perhaps the most powerful fluid of all. By such reasoning, one might see how the blood of Christ on the cross could be understood as a worldwide balm for evil. But once you arrive at that plateau, where do you go from there? Perhaps that and some other salient issues contributed to the end of the system of animal sacrifices.
As mankind abandoned the nomadic lifestyle to settle in cities, it probably became difficult to maintain large flocks in close proximity to those cities to provide the sacrifices. As the cities grew, they may have had to go further afield to find enough animals to offer. This could possibly have increased the desire on the part of some to find a reasonable substitute. For the Aztecs of Middle America and others, this meant the sacrifice of human captives, a supply made possible for some by a never-ending state of war with those around them. For others, it may have meant an increasing reliance on grain or drink offerings which were more easily transported and therefore more readily available, perhaps animals then being reserved only for the “high” offerings on special dates.
It could be that another reason blood sacrifices are no longer common is that the practice simply became unsustainable. With population growth, the number of animals needed to provide daily sacrifices for the population grew to the point where one had to make a choice between animals for food and animals for worship, and still maintaining enough animals for breeding for whatever need was deemed essential. I cannot fathom the number of animals that would be required to sustain both the daily food and sacrificial needs of a world population currently over seven billion and growing. While we often refer to the tearing of the curtain in the temple at Christ’s death[ii] as ending the sacrificial system, perhaps it was only the “handwriting on the wall” for a system already destined to collapse under its own weight.
Other than the example of Abel and the patriarchs, one cannot help but wonder about the derivation of the massive sacrificial economy instituted during the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. While the writer of Leviticus indicated this was instituted to cleanse the people from sin,[iii] we might be justified in asking why was that necessary if Christ died for all sins? Apparently it wasn’t necessary for we are told in the New Testament that the blood of those sacrifices did not cleanse anyone from sin.[iv] Why the massive bloodshed then? Some might claim the sacrifices pointed forward to Christ and the cross. However, how big a sign post was necessary? Was it necessary to wallow in blood every day to realize that there was a messiah coming? Could there be some other explanation?
The writer of Hebrews offers up one idea. We are told there that it was to remind people of their sins.[v] But someone else already does a pretty good job of that. He is called the “accuser of the brethren.”[vi] So if we already have an accuser to point out our sins and an Advocate to set us free from that accusation, what is the purpose of the sanctuary sacrificial system? Perhaps it is only allegory.
There are those individuals who want to project the sanctuary offering system into heaven based on a single text which states as much.[vii] Yet this may be speculative writing based on the author’s perspective as someone who is culturally invested in the primacy of the temple at Jerusalem. It could have a high likelihood of inaccuracy for three reasons. The first reason is that God showing Moses a pattern[viii] in no way puts forth the idea that the same thing exists in heaven. The second is that Paul makes it clear that what is in heaven may be beyond our ability to understand.[ix] Third, perhaps the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, pointed out how ridiculous it was to conceive of “God in a box” who dwells in a fixed sanctuary when the entire universe is His dwelling place.[x] By definition, God exists everywhere and every when.
Some have constructed entire systematic theologies with the only biblical foundation for such being the single aforementioned text in Hebrews, chapter eight. This may be a theological “house of cards.” We may claim all the extra-biblical inspiration we want for our position, but if there is little support for it in the Bible, whom are we kidding? And if we construct our theology on a flimsy biblical scaffold, what happens if the biblical evidence weighs more heavily against our interpretation than for it? Not only may the single text give way, but the entire edifice we have built.
Maybe at this point we should look at the possible allegorical interpretation of the bloody sacrifices of the sanctuary. Obviously, in order for a flimsy one-verse theology to be suspect, there must be the possibility of another theological perspective. Ezekiel may contain the key to that alternative understanding. In chapter sixteen,[xi] he relates that God found Israel as a newborn, wallowing in blood from the birth process. He willed the child covered in blood to live, and she lived. He cleansed her and adorned her with beauty. Ultimately she betrayed His love for her, but the point of the allegory is that perhaps the blood of the sacrificial system was not the blood of cleansing, which it could never do,[xii] but rather the blood of birth. Every birth is attended with blood. Perhaps this is why blood is life, not cleansing, but life.[xiii] Perhaps this is why Jesus told Nicodemus that to be able to see the kingdom of God, it was necessary to be born again.
Maybe we must recognize ourselves as wallowing in Christ’s blood and change our perspective accordingly. Then perhaps we will understand our need to receive the cleansing water of baptism. I realize that some may find this imagery offensive, but maybe no more so than those who turned in disgust from Christ himself when he proclaimed that they must drink his blood and eat his flesh.[xiv] Birth is not pretty. It is messy and bloody. However, we rejoice at the child who comes forth from the womb and as doting parents, we may believe that no other child is as beautiful as our own.
In spite of our own messy birth through the blood of Jesus, we are the apple of our Father’s eye.[xv] Per Ezekiel, He will cleanse us and make us beautiful as we grow in His care, something the blood of sheep and cattle could never do. As God adopted that cast off infant the prophet wrote about, so He adopts us. Through the blood of Christ we are reborn into our proper family and become sons and daughters of God.[xvi] “…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”[xvii]
[i] Genesis 4:2-4
[ii] Mark 15:38
[iii] Leviticus 4
[iv] Hebrews 10:4
[v] Hebrews 10:3
[vi] Revelation 12:10
[vii] Hebrews 8:5
[viii] Exodus 25:40
[ix] 1 Corinthians 2:9
[x] 2 Chronicles 6:18
[xi] Ezekiel 16:1-22
[xii] Hebrews 10:4
[xiii] Leviticus 17:14
[xiv] John 6:53-66
[xv] Deuteronomy 32:9-10
[xvi] Romans 8:16
[xvii] John 1:12-13
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