– 1 John 4:10-12 NLT
The First Sacrifice
The first sacrificial offering recorded in Scripture is found in Genesis 4 when Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, gave an offering to God. Cain, who was a tiller of the ground, brought some of his fruits. Abel, who was a keeper of the flocks, brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s. Why is that? The Bible is not clear on exactly why, but it is clear on a few important details that could help us to infer the reason. The first is that Abel offered a living sacrifice, a blood sacrifice. The second is that Abel brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. Cain simply brought from his fruits; it doesn’t specify that he brought the first or the best of his fruits. Therefore, Abel’s offering appears to be more sacrificial. Hebrews 11:4 tells us Abel offered the better sacrifice by faith. He was demonstrating a complete dependence on God’s future provision.
The fact that Abel’s offering was a living, blood sacrifice is important because a blood sacrifice is what is required for the forgiveness of sins. We see this as early as Genesis 3:21 when God made animal skins to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned and became aware of their nakedness. Adam and Eve had attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves, but it was not enough. Once again, the sacrifice of fruit paled in comparison to the sacrifice of blood.
In a sense, the fig leaves of Adam and Eve and the fruit offered by Cain represent our spiritual fruits and good works. They represent our feeble attempts at covering our own sins and earning our own salvation. Adam and Eve sowed the fig leaves together with their own hands. Cain tilled the ground with his own hands. Our fruit is good, our works are good, but it’s not enough. It is by Grace we are saved, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Life is in the Blood
God’s forgiveness requires the sacrifice of blood. Blood is the source of life in the human body. Without it, our bodies would stop working. It transports oxygen and nutrients throughout our body. It keeps our hearts pumping and our lungs breathing. It fights off diseases. It helps discreet waste. It clots up and scabs over to provide healing and protection. It is vital. It is essential. It is active. It is alive, and it keeps us alive. Blood is a symbol of life, and God is the giver of life. Salvation comes only through Him
Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Leviticus 17:11 tells us the blood makes atonement for our souls. It covers us. In Exodus 12:13 we see that God required the Israelite’s to spread the blood of a lamb over the doorposts of their homes. This act of sacrifice served as a sign for God to pass over and not permit the final plague to enter in and kill their first born sons. Jesus was later recognized by John the Baptist as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” On the night of His death, Jesus and His disciples celebrated Passover, and Jesus foretold of His coming death. At that last supper, He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24).
1 Samuel 15:22 says that obedience is better than sacrifice. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. In the end, God did not require Abraham to follow through with this command. God did not desire Abraham’s sacrifice, He desired his obedience. God only wanted to know if Abraham would be willing to give up what was most precious to him. God only wanted to know if Abraham would continue to trust Him even when it didn’t make sense. Abraham was willing. He was obedient. He continued to trust. Abraham obeyed God’s command because he trusted in God’s promise. Many years before, God had made a promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations, and Abraham trusted God to fulfill that promise. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was, Abraham responded, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). And God provided, just as Abraham expected. Our willingness to obey will always be met with God’s faithfulness to provide.
Just as the Passover lamb was a foreshadow of the death of Jesus as our Passover Lamb, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was a foreshadow of God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son. Jesus is our sacrificed Lamb, our sacrificed Son. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Jesus lived a life we could not live to pay a debt we could not pay. He is the spotless, blameless Lamb of God. He is the sinless Son of God sent to save us from our sins. We are like Isaac. We were bound and destined for death, but a provision from God took our place on the altar. Jesus was the ram in the bushes who took our place. He was sacrificed for us so we could be eternally freed from this life of sin and death.
Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are made alive. Our sins are covered. He made atonement for us. We are in right standing with God. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). And because we are alive, we are called to be living sacrifices. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So how do we present ourselves as living sacrifices? We do this through our service. We serve Christ by serving others. Our service is an act of worship. It is an active sacrifice.
God doesn’t need our service, but He desires it. As Dallas Willard writes, “Our need to give is greater than God’s need to receive.” Service is a vital part of our spiritual growth. We receive so much through our giving. Service is cleansing for our souls. It rids us our selfishness and arrogance, causing us to look beyond ourselves. It rids us of our envy and greed, causing us to look beyond the external and superficial. It rids us of our bitterness and resentment, causing us to look beyond the faults and failures of others. It broadens our perspective, expands our horizons, and softens our hearts.
Service is how we put our faith into action. It is how we put the love of God into action. Service should not be seen so much as a discipline, but as opportunity to show God’s love and share God’s love. We should approach every new encounter, every new meeting, with an openness to serve. How can I serve this person? How can I show love to this person? How can I show Jesus to this person?
We take service one step further when we keep it a secret. In earlier weeks we discussed the spiritual discipline of secrecy, of keeping things between you and God. Jesus teaches this on His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:17-18). And “When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard says, “The discipline of sacrifice is one in which we forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up.” An offering isn’t sacrificial until it hurts us to give it. It is the same with fasting. Have you ever tried to make negotiations and excuses with your fasting? When you start trying to think of the reasons why you can’t give something up – that’s probably the exact thing you need to give up. It shows you’re becoming dependent on it. I can give up the chocolate and sweets, but I can’t give up my morning coffee. I can’t function without it. I can give up the binge watching shows on Netflix, but I can’t give up social media. I need it for my job, I need it to stay in touch with my friends and family. We make excuses when we know it’s going to cost us something, when we know it’s going to hurt us in some way. But it isn’t truly giving unless it costs us something – whether that thing be our time, our money, our comfort, or our pride.
In Mark 12:41-44, as Jesus was observing people giving their offerings, He noticed that the rich people were giving large sums of money, but it was a widow who put in two small coins that caught His attention. Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
That’s the kind-of sacrifice God desires. It’s not the giving that matters, it’s the heart behind the giving. Her giving was not calculated and thought out. She didn’t calculate how much she could give and still have to live on. She didn’t make excuses to justify what she gave. She didn’t give out of an overflow of what she already had, but out of the overflow of her heart. She gave out of obedience. She gave with a willing heart, fully trusting God to meet her needs. Her giving was an act of worship.
Let us, too, worship through giving.
Let us honor His sacrifice through our service.
Let us give of ourselves for others, because He gave of Himself for us.
Let this be our prayer: