Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’
This is a podcast of the sermon I preached this past Sunday evening from Hebrews 10:19-25. It is the fourth part of a series I am preaching through Hebrews. I have been posting the manuscript links here and I will publish this manuscript too and also upload it to my box.net. Here are the links to the first three sermons:
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sermon four is: Drawing, Holding, Considering Because of Jesus
Download Podcast here: Hebrews 10:19-25
Or us the inline player below:
Sunday, March 22, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 4
The Book of Hebrews
I suggested to you last week that chapter 5:11 through chapter 6:12 was a parenthesis. That is, the author interrupted his argument about the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood which began in chapter 4:14 (which actually began in 2:17 & 3:1) and reminded us yet again about the need to persevere in the faith.
In last week’s imperative, he said that we need to grow up in the faith-we need to grow up in the Word of God. Paul said similar things to the Church in Corinth; things we looked at this morning. A little maturity will go a long way towards Christian unity. This was the interruption in the book of Hebrews 5:11ff. Grow up!
Now he brings it back around to his earlier discussion on the High Priesthood of Jesus. And this discussion is not a short discussion. And the author is not willing to spare a single detail of this conversation-however hard or complicated it might be for the babes on milk to understand. Thus there is a lull, so to speak, in his imperatives from 6:13-10:18. When the author is all done, we sense a deep breath before he finally utters, “Therefore…”
This high priesthood of Jesus carries with it powerful consequences to all who know of it and are blessed enough to participate in it. When we begin engaging in the 90 Days with Jesus in May, we will explore deeply this priesthood because I think it is probably one of the more unexplored aspects of the Christian faith. Still, we can say this much: Everything said in Hebrews 10:19-25 is predicated on the substantial idea of Jesus’ high priesthood being sufficient, and, what’s more, on the idea that he is not only He the High Priest over the House, but He is also the sacrifice that was offered. Both aspects are important when considering what he says in this sixth ‘therefore.’
As one commentator notes:
As Paul often does, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers on the basis of the doctrine he has made so clear. Because the great teachings he has set forth are true, it follows that those who profess them should live in a manner befitting them. There are resemblances between the exhortation in this paragraph and that in 4:14-16. But we must not forget that the intervening discussion has made clear what Christ’s high priestly work has done for his people. On the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, the writer exhorts his readers to make the utmost use of the blessing that has been won for them.
So, again, the great teaching he has made clear is the High Priestly work of Christ and the perfection of the sacrifice He offered. So, imperative section number 6:
6. The sixth marker is found in Hebrews 10:19-25: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Now, as you heard, and as you can see, he actually includes within this ‘therefore’ three distinct imperatives that we should be concerned about because Christ has opened up a ‘new and living way for us’. I don’t think it would be unhelpful at this point to visit the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and see exactly what all this entails-this ‘entrance’:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats-one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
23 “Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you- 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.
So you can see what a terribly complicated situation this was. Jesus not only simplified this matter of entering in, but he also opened it up for people outside the priestly caste and people outside the Jewish population.
33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
This is what he is talking about: Jesus, at his death, opened things up for people. Those who enter the temple, the part opened up for us, enter in as priests (‘let us hold unswervingly to what we profess’), as companions (‘let us consider how’), and as people who have the right and authority to commune with the living God, that is, worshipers (‘let us draw near’). It is in this context then that the author of Hebrews offers up his imperatives in verses 19-25. Let’s look at each one briefly.
First, he says, “Therefore…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is the authority to commune with the living God. Jesus has opened up the way, and he has clothed us with the proper wedding clothes. I happen to think here he is talking about baptism in some way. We might debate over the issue of baptism a great deal, but the Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the important things that happen at baptism.
So we can draw near to God. The work of Jesus at the cross makes worshiping such a God even possible. There is a cost. Jesus paid it. So we should draw near. Get close. Get to know. Worship. Offer ourselves up to him. He is not for us to fear in the sense that we stay away. We come before him in sincerity because he knows we don’t have to fake it. We come before him with assurance. What I wonder, for those who have not experienced the outward sign of baptism is: Can they have the full assurance? If it is merely an outward symbol of an inward work, can we be certain of the inward work if we have not experienced the outward symbol?
Second, he says, “Therefore…let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised us is faithful.” We have hope. We have hope precisely because hope does not depend on us. Somewhere in all the mix is a mustard seed of faith that the story we have believed and the Messiah we have followed is true. Frankly, sometimes that’s all we have; sometimes less. But there it is: hope does not lie within us. If it did, it would be destroyed in a minute. Our hope, Peter says, is stored up for us in heaven; it is precious; it is resurrection hope in Christ; it can never perish, spoil, or fade; it is protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Praise God.
Our hope depends upon the one who is faithful and therein is our hope. Again, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a dream, or an idea, or a concept, or a religion or anything of the sort. The author of Hebrews says that we have hope because he who promised it is faithful. He is faithful. We hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. This is the same thing he said back in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Profess is also confess or announce to declare. As priests, we have a confession to make; we announce to others this hope. We must hold unswervingly to this hope.
Third, he says, “Therefore…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching.” The danger, of course, is in trying to hold on to this course alone. As I have been emphasizing in our Sunday morning messages from Corinthians, we are best served and best when we are together. So we must encourage one another which means that this is a responsibility for everyone in the body towards everyone in the body. These are words we ought to be sharing with one another constantly. But I think it is critically important that these words rest not on a single person, but that the responsibility falls to all of us.
If this is but the responsibility of one person the words can grow weak, the person can grow weary, the warning can be wasted. I think if I am reading this correctly and all of us have been invited into the priestly class, then all of us have a confession to make, a worship to offer, and encouragement to give. How can we do this? Well, it means we have to talk to one another, share with one another, be involved in one another’s lives. We have to love one another enough to care about them. We have to know enough about one another to do the spurring. Frankly, as I have said elsewhere, some people have more access to others than some others do. We all must share in this responsibility so that people know they are loved and cared about and that people are concerned for them. We are companions on this journey. We move at the rate of everyone, neither speeding ahead nor lagging behind. We journey together.
Let us draw near is an exhortation to worship, fellowship, communion, confidence, faith, and trust. We enter as worshipers.
Let us hold fast is an exhortation to our priestly responsibilities inside our confession. Our confession is not something we keep secret. We enter as priests.
Let us encourage one another is an exhortation to fellowship, communion, companionship, and love. We enter as companions.
The profoundest part of these verses is that they are even possible. But Jesus had made it so. We no longer exist in solitude, we no longer live in isolation, we no longer walk alone.
The profoundest part of these verses is surely that Jesus’ work does not compel us laziness and complacency, but rather to work and energy and fellowship. We are together.
We are called together in a fellowship in God’s presence. He has opened the way for us not to enter singly, on our own, but together; as one. We come before him together. We draw near together. We hold fast together. We encourage one another together. We. Together.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Abraham the Warrior
Genesis 12, Luke 11
Abraham is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. There is something about his character, his unassuming personality, his toughness that resonates with my own spirit. Not that I am tough or unassuming like he was, but just that…well, I just like Abraham. He, along with David and Moses, is one of the most often spoken of people in the Biblical narrative and what is ironic about it is that he just sort of appears out of nowhere. I know he is mentioned at the end of chapter 11 in connection with his father, Terah, and his brothers and Lot. But after all that took place in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, I guess I have always been somewhat surprised at the intrusive nature of the Abraham narratives.
It’s such a striking contrast, this call of Abram. One is forced to wonder: What is God up to? How does this seemingly new story flow out of the previous stories?
To be sure, it is startling to me, as a reader. That doesn’t mean his intrusion is altogether intrusive to the narrative though. The genealogies connect Abraham with the previous eleven chapters which suggests to me at least that the narrative assumed Abraham at some level. At least I think it is safe to say the author of Genesis didn’t find Abraham’s story an intrusion but that ‘he’ rather saw it as a necessary denouement to the first eleven chapters and also a perfect preface to the rest of Scripture. The call of Abraham is a watershed moment in the Biblical narrative, but perhaps there is something more to the narrative about Abraham that should be noticed.
I will branch into chapter 13 just a bit in this brief sketch, so I ask your patience.
Israel, Abraham’s son, eventually went into exile in Egypt. Long before that God had promised Abraham on oath, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” He had also promised him this: “ ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” To an extent, I am at a loss as to why Abraham would want this promised land, and I am at an even greater loss as to why God would give him this particular land. Time and time again we read, “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (These are the same Canaanites who were cursed by Noah in chapter 9, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’) Why would anyone want to live in such a place, a place inhabited by people under a curse of slavery? Strange, but that’s what happened.
As time moved along, Abraham was forced to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. He was forced to go because ‘there was a famine in the land.’ This is the same circumstance that forced Israel to Egypt many years later. There is also no little foreshadowing in Pharaoh’s rejection of Abram, “ ‘Take her and go!’ Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.” While Abram was in Egpyt, he plundered them: “[Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels.” It’s all a rather brilliant scheme on the part of Abram. This all reminds me of the life of Israel in Egypt as we are told of in Exodus. Pharaoh didn’t change much in that period of time. Abram’s going up from Egypt foreshadows Israel’s going up from Egypt many years and generations later.
For the most part, however, Abram wandered around the land of Canaan. He lived near a tree at Shechem. Later he moved along to Bethel near Ai. Then Egypt. Then we are told of Abram’s ‘great wealth.’ Back to Bethel and as chapter 13 rounds out, he has separated from Lot and moved near more trees, the trees of Mamre at Hebron. He would go to a place and, evidently, live there for a while, pitch a tent, acquire wealth, the move to a new place. It’s rather brilliant never staying in one place too long and giving your enemies a chance to wrestle from you your wealth.
So here’s where all this comes together for me. Everywhere Abram went he did what? Not only pitched his tents and fed his cattle and grew wealthy, but what? Look, it’s there; in verses 12:7, 12:8, 13:4, 13:8: He built an altar! Well this is certainly not a mere side note to the narrative. The author is telling us something. Not only did he plunder Egypt (12:10-20), but he was, in effect, conquering Canaan! You see every place he went he built an altar which was Abram’s way of conquering that land for the Lord. Abram was dotting the land with not so subtle reminders of YHWH’s presence.
That’s also where Luke chapter 11 comes into the picture: “ ‘When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder’” (11:21-22). As Jesus went through the land, that’s exactly what he did. He plucked off a demon possession here, healed a cripple there, raised a dead man in this place, healed a bleeding woman in that place. That’s what Jesus did every single time he went about preaching the kingdom: he was building little or giant altars to God in the midst of Canaan. He was continuing the conquering of the land that was begun in the life of Abraham and continued under Joshua and David; the Land that was lost in the exile; the land eventually taken over by the Romans.
Everywhere Abram went, he built an altar. Everywhere he went, he conquered a small piece of the land–driving out all the demons and claiming that place for the Lord. He was taking it back for the Lord. I am hard pressed to believe that our goals are any different now. We are sent out, in the power of the Spirit of God, and commissioned, empowered, to take back the land, which in this case is the people of God, a little at a time. Abram wasn’t taking back the land for himself: he was conquering for the Lord. That is, he didn’t build altars to Abram; he did build altars for the Lord. Every life that Jesus touched was another altar he built for the Lord.
I’m hard pressed to think that it is any different for us now. (See Romans 12:1-2)
I have been enjoying Stanley Hauerwas’ fine theological commentary on Matthew. It seems that on every page I find something that I say, “Yes,” to. It’s my first in depth reading of Hauerwas and I suppose to be fair I should read some more of his work.
Nevertheless, here’s another of those paragraphs that really stood out to my mind and the current revolution my faith is undergoing:
Scripture is the weapon of truth that enables those who follow Jesus to disarm the powers by exposing their lies and deceit. Christians are not without defense, having been given God’s word to shield us from our delusions that are the source of our violence.
Jesus, however, is clear. Attempts to secure our lives through the means offered by the world are doomed to failure. If we are to find our lives, it seems, we must be prepared to lose our lives. But this is not a general recommendation meaning that we should learn unselfishness–even unselfishness that may cost our lives–for the life we must be willing to lose is the life lost ‘for my sake,’ that is, for Jesus. Self-sacrifice, often justified in the name of family or country, can too easily be tyrannical. The language of sacrifice is often used by those in power for perverse ends. Jesus does not commend the loss of self as a good in and of itself. He demands that we follow him because he alone has the right to ask for our lives.
Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order. ‘The family that prays together stays together’–but such sentiments cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.–109
There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. Get the book and have a good read. It is necessary and important that Christians do understand the hard nature of the life of a Jesus follower. Consider well.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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Here are my sermons and Powerpoints on the Crucifixion Driven Life. The sermons are based Matthew’s Gospel, and, as I said elsewhere, I have drawn illustrative material from a variety of sources. I have also included two study guides that I wrote for my Bible school class. The study guides contain short bibliographies on the back pages. Sadly, I have lost the print version of the first sermon in this series (“The Crucifixion Driven Life Begins with Birth“), but I have posted the audio version in a skycast (podcast) elsewhere here. As I did with my sermons on Daniel, I have provided links to box.net where the work can be downloaded. You can also use the box.net widget on the right side of the blog.) If there happens to be any incorrect links, please let me know.
The Crucifixion Driven Life, 2006
Sermon 2 The Crucifixion Driven Life is Victorious in Defeat, Matthew 16:21-28, PPT
Sermon 3 The Crucified Life Hates Sin: The Cross and Holiness, Matthew 17:22-23, PPT
Sermon 4 The Crucifixion Driven Life Does Not Avoid the Cross, Matthew 20:17-28, PPT
Sermon 6 The Crucifixion Driven Life Is Concerned About Jesus, Matthew 26:1-13, PPT
Sermon 7 The Crucifixion Driven Life Partakes of Jesus’ Death, Matthew 26:20-30, PPT
Sermon 10 The Crucifixion Driven Life: Carried to the Next Level, Genesis 22; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Matthew’s Gospel; Various Letters, PPT
Study Guide 1: January 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
Study Guide 2: February 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)
That’s all. I hope that you find these sermons helpful to you in your own studies of the Word of God. I know that the study and preparation that went into these sermons radically altered the course of my own discipleship in Jesus. May you be blessed in your efforts to serve our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This continues my series on The Crucifixion Driven Life. This quote is from John RW Stott a scholar admired and respected across denominational lines as a sound expositor of Scripture and a welcome ambassador for the Kingdom of God:
The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice does not mean, then, that we have no sacrifices to offer, but only that their nature and purpose are different. They are not material but spiritual, and their object is not propitiatory but eucharistic, the expression of a responsive gratitude…What spiritual sacrifices, then, do the people of God as a ‘holy priesthood’ offer to him? Eight are mentioned in Scripture…living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)…praise, worship and thanksgiving, ‘the fruit of lips that confess his name’ (Heb 13:15, Psalm 50:14, 69:30-31, 116:17)…the sacrifice of prayer, which is said to ascend to God like fragrant incense, and our fourth ‘a broken and contrite heart,’ which God accepts and never despises (Mal 1:11, Ps 51:17, Hose 14:1-2, Rev 5:8, 8:3-4)…faith is called a ‘sacrifice and service’ and sixth are our gifts and good deeds, for ‘with such sacrifices God is pleased’ (Phil 2:71, 4:18; Heb 13:16; Acts 10:4)…sacrifice is our life poured out like a drink offering in God’s service, even unto death, while the eight is the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a priestly duty because he is able to present his converts as ‘an offering acceptable to God’ (Phil 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6; Rom 15:16)—The Cross of Christ, 263-264
Always For His Glory!
The Life Under the Blue Sky podcast is now available for download. In this episode, I discuss the important issue of the cost of the sacrifices we make for Christ. The Cost of Sacrifice. This is part 2 in the six part series based on Leviticus. Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to subscribe and/or leave a comment. Thanks. (This podcast is about 8 minutes long.)
Soli Deo Gloria!
I am happy to bring you my second podcast. This is part 1 of a six part series from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The six parts come from a sermon I did about two years ago. Part 1 is the introductory material. The sound isn’t too bad considering I do not have professional equipment. This episode is 10 minutes and 45 seconds long. Don’t forget to leave feedback after you have listened and you can use the button below to subscribe to this and future podcasts from Life Under the Blue Sky. Thanks for stopping by. (You can use the link above to open in a new window, or you can use the inline player below.)
Soli Deo Gloria!
I just finished watching ‘Amzing Grace’ the story of a man named William Wilberforce whose tireless efforts eventually resulted in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Here’s my review: Fantastic! A Great family film that responsibly demonstrates how Christians should ‘grow where God has planted them’ so to speak. I cannot honestly comment on how much of the film was poetic license, but I will say that what was in the film was brilliant. I highly recommend you see this film. This film has a lot to say about the measure of Christian involvement in ‘making this world a better place.’ I think each Christian will decide for themselves how far to carry that mandate–if in fact such a mandate exists. Nevertheless, the film makes one think about the issue which is important in an of itself, but it also draws us deeper: How much is our faith worth and what price will we pay (or, better, are we willing to pay) because of our faith? Clearly Wilberforce’s decisions and actions were dictated and governed by his faith in Christ. Equally as clearly, he paid a price for such surrender. A serious question that all Christians must ask themselves is this: How much sacrifice are you making because of your faith in Christ? I think that is a legitimate question for each of us to ask. If our faith never demands of us that we make hard decisions, difficult, costly sacrifices, we might well ask how much our faith is really worth. If our faith does not cause us to stand against that which is decidedly wrong and mark justice and righteousness in the face of injustice and unrighteousness then can our faith be legitimately described as Christian? These are heavy thoughts we must consider deeply. They are heavier thoughts that we must put into action. I don’t know if we are going to ‘change the world.’ I don’t know if that is our mandate. But I do know what Scripture says: Faith without works is dead.
I’m preaching a short, four-week series on the Spiritual Discipline of Worship. This sermon on Romans 12:1-2 is part three in the series. Thanks for stopping by.–jerry
Let’s begin this sermon with a brief review of Romans up to the twelfth chapter:
- Paul begins by asserting that all of us are sinners in need of salvation.
- He makes the case that there is no one who has any excuses before God. All have sinned and fallen short.
- He asserts that if all are sinners, and there is no difference, then all are also ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
- For those of us who ‘believe in him who raised him from the dead’ our faith is ‘credited to us as righteousness.’ (4:23-24)
- We have been given a gift of immense proportions—totally undeserved, totally outweighing the offense and totally from God’s grace.
- For those who believe, there is a death: We die to sin in baptism and are united with Christ in his death. So then if we are we will also be united with him in resurrection. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It is the same for us. Risen to walk in newness of life.
- So then, we also become slaves to righteousness: set free from sin, offering the parts of our bodies to righteousness, so that we may increase in holiness. We have received this gift of eternal life from God.
- So there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ. We are not to live by the flesh, but by the Spirit. We have an obligation to the Spirit. We are more than conquerors.
- We are the ones who have believed in our hearts and confessed with our mouths: Jesus is Lord.
- We are the ones who will be saved by God’s great power and mercy.
- ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.’
And chapter 12 begins: Therefore…
“Therefore, I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
I’d like to make four observations about these verses this morning.
Worship: Surrendering the Body
At the root of all that we have said about worship is a single thought. It is this: The God who saves us in his mercy also is the God who makes demands on our lives. The question we ask is this: Does God have a right to make any demand, let alone this demand? I think part of the problem with the way we do church is precisely at this point. When we do evangelism, for example, we are happy to let people know that Jesus died for their sins, that he wants to set them free, that he will help them in their difficulties—maybe even heal them of illness and disease, and that he will be a great pal through the many changes that occur in life.
What we frequently fail to tell people, while we are telling them to ‘give their hearts to Jesus,’ is that God has made demands not just on our heart, but on our very lives as represented here by the apostle in these words: “…offer your bodies…” Now this is representative, but it is far more than metaphor. No, I happen to think that the apostle is not mincing words at all. Offer your bodies is Paul’s way of saying: Your entire being now belongs to God in light of His mercy.
I think we do a great disservice to the people we share the Gospel with when we tell them that salvation is only about salvation as if redemption had nothing to do with sanctification or making us holy creatures. I think the demand that God places on our lives is best said here by the Apostle: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices…” We are fond of salvation, but worship as a sacrificial lifestyle is probably abhorrent to us.
True worship demands our entire being: Heart, mind, body. It means our flesh. Worship is complete surrender, utter devotion, absolute, unconditional relinquishing of our autonomy.
“To sanctify something means to separate and prepare it that it may be presented and offered to God. This is more precisely defined in the conception of sacrifice. The exhortation which is grounded upon the mercies of God and is directed towards men is summed up in the demand that men should present their bodies—that is, their concrete, observable, historical existence—as a sacrifice. Now, sacrifice means surrender; it means an unconditional gift; it means the renunciation of men in favour of God. If men are themselves the object to be surrendered, renounced, and given up, their sacrifice can mean nothing less than the relentless acknowledgement of that questionableness and confiscation which occurs when they are confronted by the unfathomable God; the sacrifice which they have to offer by means of an ever-renewed, but never completed, return to His mercy and freedom…”—431, Barth, Romans
There is always the temptation to think that we can give Christ our spirit and keep our bodies for ourselves. Our Bodies too belong to Him.
Worship: The Living Sacrifice I happen to have an advance copy of next week’s Christian Standard. As I looked through it I happened upon an article that I was certain I was going to reject out of hand before even reading it. Then I did something silly: I read it. And I liked it. The article in question is by a woman named Mandy Smith. I’d like to share some of her thoughts with you.
‘Paul doesn’t talk a lot about worship, but when he does it’s usually in the context of the Jewish tradition, in discussions about circumcision and sacrifices. That is understandable, since the Old Testament sense of worship had a good deal to do with sacrifice. As worshipers brought sacrifices from their fields and flocks, they brought together everyday life and spiritual practices, the products of daily work into sacred space.
‘Unfortunately, in our contemporary setting, we have separated worship from daily life. In Romans 12:1, however, Paul provides a new pattern for worship (new for first-century believers and new for us): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Instead of offering dead animals, we are now to offer up our very lives, which are more valuable to God because they allow us to offer ongoing acts of sacrifice. [My emphasis.]
‘Paul goes on, in Romans 12, to describe the various gifts and functions of the members of the body, putting a very practical spin on worship. For him it is not just bowing and singing weekly, but serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing financially, leading, and showing daily mercy (12:6-8). In fact, the word used for worship in this passage is related to work and is often translated ‘service.’ If worship in the OT was largely synonymous with sacrifice, worship in the NT is synonymous with service (living sacrifice), inside and outside of the service.’
‘If worship is supposed to be unceasing, a way of life, then the weekly service is one of many occasions to worship. The Sunday service is special and significant, not because it’s our opportunity to worship, but because it is a joint celebration of the worship that has been going on all week long, an occasion to remember the reason for the work, and a time of preparation for the Monday-to-Saturday service in the week to come.’
‘But that’s what living sacrifice feels like. This is not about changing what we’re doing, but acknowledging that what we’re already doing is worship, if we devote it to God. There’s music and euphoria at times, but there’s also small daily choices of service, simply acts of selfless love, and perseverance, lots of perseverance. It’s the kind of worship that makes you sweat, the kind that means you’ll need a nap in the afternoon.’—Mandy Smith, Christian Standard, January 27, 2008 [When the link becomes available on-line I will link to it.]
The only problem I have here is that for some reason the author thinks that the New Testament descriptions of worship are devoid of sacrificial imagery and that the Old Testament is only about sacrifice. In my estimation, one cannot really see such a clear cut dichotomy—especially as it relates to the New Testament.
The New Testament imagery is, perhaps, equally about sacrifice except that in the New Testament sacrifice is defined not as dead animal sacrifice but as living human sacrifice. I got to thinking that perhaps the reason why the Old Testament people killed the animals before offering them on the fiery altar is this: Dead animals could not crawl off the altar once the heat was applied. But God makes demands of us: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This means that we must, and have to, make a conscious decision to offer everything to Christ as an offering. Gareth Reese wrote it this way: “The idea would be that the Christian’s sacrifice was to be constant; there was to be a dedication about his life-style, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service..”—500-501
Perhaps we might think we can live a day without making this offering to Jesus. Living sacrifices—so long as we are living. Daily—so long as it is day. Day after day. Take up your cross.
There is always this terrible danger that we will crawl off the altar when the heat is applied.
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5″Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7″Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. ” It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” 9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
This is the problem of being associated with Jesus: Your life is in just as much danger as His. And what’s worse now is that since Jesus has defeated death and death can no longer overcome him, the only ones left for the devil to take out his rage on is those who belong to Jesus.
Or I can look at this in another way. If you want to do away with all remnants of Jesus, then do away with all evidence of what he has done. I suppose you can say it this way: “If there is no evidence around of changed lives then the power of Jesus must be effectively zero.”
That’s at least a couple of reasons why they wanted to do away with Lazarus. If Lazarus remained, and there were many witnesses to the miracle Jesus did, then Jesus is still a threat. But if even Lazarus is gone, then there will be nothing left at all linking Jesus to anything: The evidence is gone. People like to do away with evidence to the contrary.
Still Lazarus can be identified as someone who is persecuted simply because of his association with Jesus. There was no other reason to have any hatred against Lazarus. It’s the same way in today’s world too. Christians are persecuted simply because they are Christians, simply because they have an association with Jesus. There is nothing particular offensive about most Christians whose only real desire is to ‘live at peace with everyone’ (1 Timothy 2) and ‘witness their Lord’ (Matthew 28, Acts 1).
I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that those of us who have been even something just short of physically resurrected (Romans 6) are also being plotted against by those who hate Jesus. This is not paranoia, just ask those in the Middle East who claim Christ. We in the US get to be mocked by Kathy Griffen and inundated with barrages of verbal assaults by morons like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and lectured by friendly atheists about how to conduct ourselves around such people.
Then there’s another group of people. I’ll call them the Judas folks. This is a fairly obvious group of people. They are strikingly religious. They make all the people think that they are part of the inner circle, part of those sheep who hear and obey their master’s voice.
This group of Judas folks are very concerned about a great many very religious and pious sounding endeavors. These folks are not hard to find because they are typically the loudest ones. You can hear these ones a mile away insisting that their plan is more righteous and more pious than someone else’s plan.
In the name of Jesus these people declare that there’s a certain way we should do things: help the poor, save the whales, build a ministry center in the Name of Jesus. Or, we have a better plan for helping the poor so don’t keep the money in your own community, send it to ours and well distribute it for you! Oh, yes, I love those ones!
The problem is, as Jesus clearly points out, these folks are typically (not always, but often) simply in this for themselves and what they can get out of it. They really don’t care about the cause whose horn they are tooting. Their motives appear to be right and just and their voice smacks of reason and clarity when they criticize what others are doing and the way they are doing it.
Isn’t it funny then that the one person in this story who makes the most sense is a woman who comes into the room, let’s down her hair, takes a jar of perfume worth a year’s wages, and dumps it on the feet of Jesus?
I’m by no means rich, but I think I’m paid well. On the other hand, I work hard for my money and the Lord blesses my family abundantly. Still, since I work for a church, I know that there are many folks upon whom I am dependent for a year’s salary. I wonder how those folks would think if I took a year’s salary and ‘dumped’ it on the feet of someone?
I don’t know what a year’s salary is to most people, but I suppose that between me, my second job, my wife’s job, some benefits, and our housing allowance my wife and I are making close to 45 of 50k a year. I think that’s rather a large amount of money. I wonder what I would do if my wife decided to take that money and ‘dump it on Jesus’? I wonder what my wife would do if I did the same?
“The poor you will always have among you.”
The point is that this woman, Mary, represents a third type of person in the story: She’s the one who, I think, gives very careful thought to what it costs to follow Jesus, to love Jesus, and gives it for just that reason. She knows the cost, she counts it, she gives it. She didn’t ask for permission or approval. She gave to Jesus with only one thought: To bless Jesus. I wish that I had that sort of faith. In her mind, no gift is too big, no cost is too great.
It was an extravagant gift. It was a gift that I confess I am too weak to fathom and too shallow to think for a minute that I could give. I don’t have the courage to think that I could give away a year’s salary to Jesus. I give myself a pat on the back when I manage to give away a mere 10% of my salary every year. No. I don’t have that sort of faith. But is this episode merely about how much money we give away? I think Jesus makes his point clearly that this episode is not about money at all. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
Three people. One people who will die for and because of Jesus. Another group who will use Jesus to achieve their own ends. And a third person who will do whatever it takes to bless Jesus.
Surely, there’s more here than what I have touched on in these words and I’m sorry if I have disappointed you. It’s just that every time I get to this story I have to pause and consider again how much I am willing to give to Jesus. I’m hardly talking about money. If the only way I measure my commitment and devotion to Christ is by how much money I give to the church then I am to be pitied more than most. No, I think there is a level of devotion and commitment to Jesus that goes much deeper than mere money. It’s that depth that I am always searching out in my heart. It’s a depth of gratitude and devotion that cannot be fully measured and a depth that I am most of the time unprepared to rise to.
The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. She filled the house with a cemetary smell, the scent, not of a festive wedding or a gorgeous woman or a sun drenched flower, but of a death. I wonder how many acts and sacrifices I make in my life leave people with the distinct impression, the clear picture, the undeniable truth of the death of Christ? I think that is what Mary was going for that day and it is what we should be going for each day, each moment, too.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’d like to leave you with a happy thought for today from John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life:
Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. Our lives don’t look like they are on the Calvary road, stripped down for sacrificial love, serving others with the sweet assurance that we don’t need to be rewarded in this life. Our reward is great in heaven. ‘You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just’ (Luke 14:14). If we believed this more deeply, others might see the worth of God and find in him their gladness. (109)
So to all my believing friends, and to all my evolutionist and atheist friends, I bid you good evening and hope and pray you will find your gladness in Christ, see the worth of God, and know hope through Calvary. Until tomorrow.