Worship Through Sacrifice
Open Your Bible
Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 51:1-19, Luke 7:36-50, Hebrews 13:15-16
My toes tend to curl when I hear the word “sacrifice.” My toes curl when I’m uncomfortable, when my anxiety spikes, or when I see something gross or gory flash across the television screen. It’s involuntary, like the knee-jerk reflex test at my annual physical. There’s some sort of connection in my brain between the word “sacrifice” and the feeling of danger and discomfort.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad reaction, but one that gives me pause when I think about today’s readings. Even the notion of “worship as sacrifice” feels a little primitive, conjuring up images of priestly rites and clean animals and fires and blood.
The Old Testament sacrificial system depended on an exchange: the clean blood of an animal exchanged for a person’s uncleanness. Psalm 51 shows David’s prayer of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. It is full of references to the sacrificial system but hints at the salvation to come: “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; you are not pleased with a burnt offering” (v.16).
We no longer have to offer blood sacrifices to draw near to God; rather, Jesus has served as the sacrifice. Hebrews 10 gives us all the assurance of this blessed truth: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time” (v.10).
Ritual sacrifice is no longer required from us, but as we read today, sacrifice is presented as a form of worship. Throughout the New Testament, we see sacrifice exhorted and explained. It is part of our life of worship, our response to who God is and what He has done for us.
The beautiful story in Luke 7 shows a sinful woman offering her finest perfume to wash the feet of Jesus. Her sacrifice is monetary, but she also lays down whatever pride and fear she must have had. Given the scornful cynicism of the Pharisees who watched her, her actions must have cost her substantially more than an alabaster jar of fine perfume.
In Romans 12, Paul calls believers to sacrifice by living differently than the present age. “Do not be conformed to this age,” he writes (v.2). Reflecting on what it would truly mean for me to live differently than the world also makes my toes curl.
Hebrews 13 gives us two more examples of sacrifice: praise and good works. Philippians 4 commends financial offerings as sacrifice (v.18). And Mark 12 tells us that loving God and loving our neighbor are more valuable than burnt offerings (v.33).
Sacrifice looks like submission to God as He renews my heart, mind, words, service—my whole life—to better reflect His perfect character and boundless mercy. I am called to sacrifice my sinful nature, my active temptations, and my selfishness in an ongoing act of worship and praise to God, whose sacrifice alone makes me worthy to stand before Him.