WHAT IS A SACRIFICE? I’m pretty sure most of us know the English definition of the word that basically refers to “giving up something that is valued“.
But when it comes to the Bible we’re looking for a more nuanced definition. Perhaps the image that comes to mind for most Christians when the Bible refers to a sacrifice is simply killing an animal and then burning it on a pile of rocks. This description differs vastly from God’s requirements for a sacrifice.
I’m indebted to a friend of mine, Ken Bolden, a former missionary to Kenya for sharing the following observations about sacrifices. Around the world, including the Israelites, acceptable sacrifices generally must meet four requirements:
- The thing offered must be holy (victim, object, animal).
- The person offering the sacrifice (priest/mediator) must be holy.
- The place offered must be holy (alter, grove, temple, etc).
- The way the sacrifice is offered must be holy (rites, rituals, pronouncements, order).
Holiness or sacredness obviously plays a huge part in the rite of sacrifice. The reverence described in these four points is a far cry from slapping a dead animal on a pile of rocks. Sacrifices represent a serious avenue to approach a holy God. One doesn’t have to spend much time in the Old Testament book of Leviticus to realise the central role that “holiness” takes throughout the book and its consistency with the four values listed above.
God goes into great detail describing the animals that can be sacrifice, the way each animal should be sacrificed, the distinct roles for both the priest and the individual, and in which part of the tabernacle the sacrificial events take place. Here’s a sample:
If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord.You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting.You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces.The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. (Leviticus 1:3-7)
This description seems to be basically repeated over and over with only minor differences for different animals and different sacrifices. The obvious question while reading this is, “Why should I care?!?!” Cumulatively these details reinforce to the nation of Israel the holiness and “otherness” of God. Even more importantly the third sentence reminds of the purpose of the sacrifices, “to make atonement for you.” Reconciliation, or “atonement”, with God is possible. God in his grace has made a way.
This understanding of sacrifice complements the reading of Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Offering our bodies as living sacrifices means embracing holiness. That’s why Paul’s next word is “holy and pleasing to God.” That’s what a sacrifice is all about. Living a life of holiness means dedicating our lives, our time, our energy, our possessions to God. We can’t just offer a part of our lives as a sacrifice. We’re to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and will all our soul and with all our mind. (Matt. 22:27)
As living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God:
- We work with integrity.
- We care for people genuinely.
- We view those around us spiritually.
- We serve God and others willingly.
- We give generously.
- We share the Gospel freely.
- We follow and obey Jesus with endurance.
- We forgive as we have been forgiven.
- We praise God joyfully.
Because this is true and proper worship.
Leviticus is a tough book to read, but it’s worthwhile. I’d love for you to share your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
- How do you define holiness?
- Do you have any suggestions for “living a life of holiness”?