I’m definitely not one of those guys who refuses to approach an outdoor grill without first donning a stained apron adorned with “smack talk” about how his barbequing techniques will reduce the efforts of other would-be grill masters to the status of pathetic culinary losers. Such proud boasting is frowned upon around our house. Instead, we like to emphasize positive things like hope and wonder. My wife and I get to engage in both of those as I head out to the patio with a platter of raw hamburger patties. We wonder what they’ll look like when I finally bring them back, and hope that I manage to get it right this time. But even though the outcomes may be less than optimum, we get to reflect on God’s clearly revealed appreciation for burnt offerings.
Remembering an Ancient Ritual ~
So, as I laid the meat on the grill recently, my thoughts were drawn once again to an ancient ritual that most of us don’t tend to think about or talk about these days. The offering of sacrifices not only seems foreign to us, but it can even seem barbaric to our Western Christianity thinking. In spite of that, it is a practice instituted by God Himself and goes all the way back to Eden. Since then, it has been seen as a fundamental expression of worship among God’s people – and one that His adversaries have infused into their pagan religions throughout history.
The role played by sacrificial rituals can be a fascinating subject to explore and far too extensive for the space we have here. But given the attention God devoted to the process, it’s one that we shouldn’t ignore. There are lessons illustrated in it that can deepen our understanding and offer fresh appreciation for the nature and character of the incredible God we serve. My purpose today is to focus on the force behind the sacrificial system and what it means to us today. To do that, we’ll need to take a mental journey all the way back to Eden and put ourselves in the situation that our forebearers faced.
As we know quite well, Adam and Eve willfully transgressed the single restriction established by the Living God who created them. It wasn’t a complicated or obscure issue. God made both the boundary and the consequence of violating it quite clear.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 NKJV)
Excuses Rejected ~
Adam and Eve had no effective defense when the Living God confronted them. The best they could do when hiding from God didn’t work, was to try to shift the blame. Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve, but God wasn’t having any of it. Their behavior, which could neither be excused nor eliminated, sealed their condemnation. They were left with no one to turn to, no advocate to call on, and the One whose very image they bore had now become their judge. Death was a new and terrifying thing, and nothing in the world they knew could save them from it.
The ultimate result of their sin should have been obvious, yet God seemed reluctant to simply execute them. We find the first hint that God has a different plan when the issue of their clothing, or the lack of it, comes up. In an almost off-handed way, God reveals the impact of their sin in one significant area. When they looked at each other after their transgression, instead of the peaceful sense of absolute unity they had always enjoyed, the guilty couple felt an intolerable sense of shame. That led them to go into the organic garment business. In a lame and foolish attempt to hide the shameful reminder of their sin, they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. God didn’t reject the idea of a covering, but fig leaves wouldn’t suffice. He had something in mind that was far more significant.
Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21 NKJV)
Compelling Questions ~
A couple of obvious questions come to mind. “Where did God get the skin from which to fashion those coverings?” and “Why would He provide them?” These new beings created in His very image had ignored His warning, collaborated with His enemy, violated His trust, and destroyed the atmosphere of “shalom” that had made their Garden home a paradise. How would God handle this rebellion and at what cost?
The violators were clearly guilty, the judgment was just, and God’s holiness would have remained intact if He had just executed them on the spot. The righteousness He embodies would have been vindicated and the justice He demands would have been done, so why didn’t He do that? The only answer lies in another aspect of the character of God that wouldn’t be denied. He didn’t carry out the sentence they deserved because . . . He loved them. Love is the force behind God’s determination to offer a way out, but His righteousness and justice could not simply be set aside.
A Painful Resolution Arises ~
God resolved the issue by introducing the concept of a vicarious exchange. If one life could be offered in place of another, and if one party’s state of innocence was allowed to replace the guilty status of another, then redemption could be achieved. But there were only two people in the world and both were guilty. Who would die in their place? Where would the one with unblemished innocence be found? All of us are quick to say that God chose a lamb, but did the sacrifice of that little creature alone accomplish the redemption that was Adam and Eve’s only hope? The answer is, clearly not. The animal that was offered as a vicarious substitute for Adam and Eve was also a substitute for the Son of God Himself. Jesus was the one acceptable Lamb who could vindicate God’s righteousness, satisfy God’s justice, and still save hopeless sinners.
None of this is new information, but in a culture where it’s not unusual to find folks who consider it a “sacrifice” to drive a few miles to sit in a climate-controlled atmosphere and watch a spiritual performance for an hour or two, maybe we need to look at what the term means to God and where we’d be without it.
Gory Process — Glorious Outcome ~
We might prefer not to think of animal sacrifices and even if we do, it may seem like a barbaric relic of the ancient past. But the powerful lessons God unveils in the grisly process are desperately needed today. The ritual paints a graphic picture of the horrible impact of sin and where the devil’s deceitful promises lead. The slaughter of innocent animals that we’d rather not envision cannot begin to demonstrate the torture and humiliation suffered by the true Lamb of God who offered Himself in our place. But as we avert our eyes from the horrible process that the sacrifices involved, we must not avert our hearts from the unexpected love connection underlying it all. The greater the devastating impact of the transgression, the greater the love that the redemptive sacrifice demands. Jesus condensed it to this:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13 NKJV)
Maybe the next time we fire up our charcoal altars, we should take a moment to think about why God ordained those burnt offerings so long ago and what they mean for us. We might just realize that embracing the sacrifice God offered on our behalf didn’t just remove the curse of death. It began a legacy of life – and the benefits are far beyond our comprehension.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32 NKJV)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “God didn’t carry out the sentence Adam and Eve deserved because . . . He loved them. Love is the force behind God’s determination to offer a way out, but His righteousness and justice could not simply be set aside.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The animal that was offered as a vicarious substitute for Adam and Eve was also a substitute for the Son of God Himself. Jesus was the one acceptable Lamb who could vindicate God’s righteousness, satisfy God’s justice, and still save hopeless sinners.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The slaughter of innocent animals we’d rather not envision can’t begin to demonstrate the torture & humiliation suffered by the true Lamb of God who offered Himself in our place. We must not avert our hearts from the unexpected love connection underlying it all.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Averting our eyes from the horrible process of the sacrifices involved, we must not avert our hearts from the underlying, unexpected love connection. The greater the devastating impact of the transgression, the greater the love His redemptive sacrifice demands.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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God did, indeed, model the act of sacrifices (burnt offerings) when He chose to clothe Adam and Eve in animal skins. Whenever we prepare food, we should be mindful of God’s infinite provision for us and give Him thanks for it all.
I always love your weekly reflections, Ron! Blessings!
Thank you so much once again, Martha, and again, I’m sorry for being so slow getting back to you. I used to think that if I lived long enough to achieve my present status as a genuine antique human, I’d be bored to death and have nothing to do. What a misconception that turned out to be. Retirement is running me ragged. Anyhow, I love seeing your name in my inbox and treasure your comments. They always reinforce my faith that the battles aren’t all lost and that God still has seasoned warriors like you who refuse to abandon their post. My the joy of His presence continue to inspire you and strengthen your faith. Keep those insights and encouragements going out, my friend. They are like spiritual vitamins for our soul.
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As has become custom on Saturday mornings, I found myself with both tears of laughter and sorrow as I read your post today sir. I laughed as I thought about the numerous “burnt offerings” I’ve brought to the supper table when I got preoccupied with some other chore, or something prettier and shinier caught my attention. I also laughed when I remember something my adopted dad once told me, “If you have to brag about it, then it probably ain’t worth bragging about.” But then came the crux of your lesson this morning, my friend. Focusing on sacrifice. As I thought about your insightful post, my mind wandered to the great sacrifice Christ made for me. I thought too of the sacrifice others had made for me. My adopted parents, fellow soldiers, my wife, my friends. Oh, some cost far more than others, but the common thread among them all, as you point out, was/is love. I asked myself, “How well do I sacrifice for them? Do they notice?”, and most importantly, “Do they see Christ and His love in my sacrifices?”
I think that the most important sacrifice we make by far is the one we should be making daily. Each day, we should be sacrificing our selfish desires, wants, and self-importance to God. We must daily, take up our cross and sacrifice our will for His. I think that sometimes gory walk of surrender is pleasing to God. Not because He wants us to physically suffer or die, but He expects us to die to ourselves over and over again; to sacrifice ourselves so we might become more like His Son.
Lots to reflect upon over the coming days with this one sir. Thank you and God’s blessings for speaking truth into our lives. And thank you for your sacrifice of time each week to share your wisdom with us.
I love the things you pass along from your dad, and the one you included this morning is another one I want to steal and pass along to our grandchildren. With 6 boys coming along who like to be noticed, the temptation to brag about stuff creeps in now and then :). I shared your reminder of the things others have sacrificed for me over the years and wish I had been quicker to acknowledge it when I had the chance. My family didn’t make a practice of saying “I love you” to anyone, but the message was declared in what they did every day. My grandma was always working to see that my brother and I had what we needed and to build practices into our lives that would protect us and prepare us for whatever lay ahead. Love is always spoken loudest in what we do, not just what we say, and that is never more true than when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. We can declare that we “believe” in Him and never move our butt off the chair, but following Him is a different matter. He said that loving Him is defined by whether we actually apply what He teaches and do what He says.
As is common around here, my Diane thinks your response is worth a post of its own. Saturday morning was demanding for us, and we were a bit late in calling our “J.D. fan club” to order, but it was another uplifting and encouraging time when we finally got to it. So, thank you once again for being the instrument of God’s blessing here in the Gallagher compound. May the love you so freely distribute to Jesus and so many others be more contagious than anything that ever crept out of a lab.