By Rolan Monje, Oct 2004
In the Old Testament, the word "sacrifice"
refers to the ritualistic ways by which man was to
approach God. Sacrifice referred to actions and ways
given to man so that he could draw near to God. It
seems that the first record of a sacrifice (or offering)
is in Genesis 4, where Cain's sacrifice was compared
to Abel's. For sure, by this time men knew that in
approaching God some sort of offering was to be given.
This should not surprise us, since the fall made clear
that man is clearly imperfect before the perfect God.
The large gap between man and God could not be easily
The other books of the Pentateuch (Exodus-Deuteronomy)
make clear that God expected strict compliance to
ritualistic requirements. In Leviticus, God placed
the responsibility on men to make sure that they approached
God in the proper manner. God considered man's offerings
as holy (Lev 2:3; 6:17, 25, 27, 29; 7:1, 6; 10:12;
Nu 18:9-10). Offerings were given at specified places
and times (Lev 1:3; 3:2; 17:4, 8-9; 1Ki 8:62; 12:27;
2Ch 7:12). All animal sacrifices were to be without
blemish (Ex 12:5; 29:1; Lev 1:3, 10; 22:18-25; Dt
15:21; 17:1; Eze 43:23; Mal 1:8, 14; Heb 9:14; 1Pe
1:19). All of this was due to the fact that God is
higher and holier than man. Sacrifices reminded God's
people that they constantly needed to draw near to
God to ask for mercy.
Jesus well understood the OT concept of sacrifice.
Among a people whose leaders put ritual first, Jesus
agreed with the prophets. Twice he alluded to Mic
6:6-8, which reads: "With what shall I come before
the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall
I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves
a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands
of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does
the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love
mercy and to walk humbly with your God." In mentioning
this, Jesus shows us the true heart of sacrifice -
giving to God what is due him. In reality, no one
can really give a "perfect offering." However,
when we understand that we can never truly please
all of God's requirements, the best we can do is to
give God our best.
Later on, Jesus challenged his critics and told
them to "go and learn what this means: `I desire
mercy, not sacrifice'" (Mt 9:13; cf. 12:7). And
he said that if one who is approaching the altar harbors
anger against a brother, he must leave his gift and
be reconciled with his brother. Then he can return
to the altar and offer his gift to God (Mt 5:23-24).
Jesus agreed with the teacher of the law who said
that to love God and neighbor is more important than
all burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mk 12:33-34).
Again, the point of giving to God any offering is
to offer our heart to God. More than any action, the
heart is what God observes; and that is what he blesses.
This idea is further developed by Paul. He adopts
the language of sacrifice to speak of the Christian
lifestyle. Believers are to present themselves to
God as living sacrifices (Ro 12:1). This "spiritual
worship" corresponds to the OT concept of whole
burnt offering of consecration. Like that OT sacrifice,
our spiritual commitment can come only after the sacrifice
of expiation has been offered for us. Using the same
symbolism, Paul sees his approaching death as an offering
(technically, a libation) added to enrich the full
commitment to service demonstrated by the Philippians
(Php 2:17). Paul also uses the analogy of the OT offering
in speaking of the Philippians' gifts to him: such
are fragrant offerings, acceptable sacrifices that
please God (Php 4:18). In this way, anything we do
and anything we give can be considered a spiritual
act of sacrifice.
Points for reflection:
The Sacrifice of Christ
When you take communion, do you really think of Christ's
Are you grateful that the NT does not require calves
and goats like the OT?
How can you make communion time more meaningful?
How does Christ's sacrifice impact me on a daily basis?
- Do you see giving to SMC as simply giving money
or giving to God?
- Do you see SMC as a chance to give your best to
- How can you make this SMC more meaningful?
- How can you inspire others with their SMC?
- How does God's holiness change our attitude towards
- What does sacrifice mean to you personally?
- How are you teaching your children to sacrifice?
- Does giving help you to become more grateful?