Sacrifice


Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 20: 7

 

Let me take a wild guess here, and state that very few of us use the word consecrate on a regular basis. This is simply not something that we think much about doing in the course of our days. Yet, it might be one of the most important things that any of us who desire to know and to follow God could do. To consecrate means to dedicate or to commit to something. It is usually used in religious settings so that the person or thing that is being consecrated is being committed to service in that setting. This idea strikes me as being very formal and even as rather archaic in light of the way that we live in the presence of Christ in our lives and with service to Him being something that we can do outside of the formal setting of the temple or the physical place that we call church.

 

Yet, when the Lord inspired Moses to write down this directive to the Israelites, I believe that God had something in mind that was much bigger than the formal aspects of religious practice. This simple, proverbial statement is embedded in a series of very strong comments on sinful behaviors and the direst consequences that were to be related to them. For the Israelites and for us, living a life that is holy, that is set apart from our world and from its rebellion against God’s righteousness, is the way and the means for us to escape the pain of those consequences. Even more important than that, it is the way that we can dwell in this world while bringing honor and glory to our God as we serve Him and reach that same world with Christ’s Gospel of truth and life.

 

So, this action of consecrating is something that each of us can and, I submit, should do. It is a mindful and purposeful endeavor on the part of each of us to step outside of the influence of the forces around us in our world, away from self-interest, to renounce nationalism as a religion, and to set aside all other forms of false religious allegiance and practice that we have adopted. Consecrating or purposefully setting ourselves apart is the first step, and it is followed by living out this deep commitment to Christ by means of thinking, speaking, and acting as a clear and outwardly visible follower of Jesus. This is not so easy to do if approval and acceptance by the world around us is of great importance. However, as we set aside the world’s concept of worth, power, and significance and enter into God’s view of the same things, we are empowered by Christ to live out our days as His consecrated workers who labor with holy hands in His fields of harvest.

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Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5: 24

 

When does life begin? This is a question that has been debated for a very long time, and it continues to be a point a real contention to this day. Some people argue that life commences at conception, others say that it is at birth, and still others hold that it doesn’t begin until an individual draws independent breath. I am proposing a fourth alternative. This is that life truly begins for each of us when we accept God’s offer of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. The rest of what we might consider to be life is a weak shadow in comparison to being fully alive in Christ, and this new state of being alive is ours from the moment that we surrender ourselves to Christ as this is when His Spirit comes to dwell within us and God’s sentence of judgment upon us as sinners is placed upon Jesus as our personal redeemer.

 

Thus, from that moment forward our lives take on a new meaning and a redeemed purpose. In accepting Christ we have also entered into the will of the Father for relationship with Him. Jesus is the mediator who brings people into the holy presence of the Father with our sins removed and the judgment that we so rightly deserved taken on by Him on the cross. As we are right with God, we can live righteously throughout our days in this world. This is an important aspect of the calling that God has for us as His children and that Christ places before us as His redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross has an eternal purpose and it also has one that is for this moment in time.

 

The life that w have been granted as a gift from God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus is to be used to bring the character and nature of the Father and the Son into direct contact with this world. As we who know Christ go about our lives and engage in the activities of our days, we can touch others with love, grace, mercy, and the truth that comes from God’s Word. We can have a redemptive effect upon the brokenness of this place where we live in the manner that we conduct ourselves as we follow the example of Christ and the leading of His Spirit. In Christ we are set free to live without fear of judgment, and we are also granted the freedom to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ to a world where death rules. So, this is the primary purpose of this new life that we receive in Christ. We can demonstrate and speak of life as something that we possess and offer that same life to anyone who accepts God’s offer of it through Christ.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13: 34

 

Love is in the air. Love is all around us. Love is what makes the world go around. Expressions about love have been on people’s tongues for as long as we have possessed speech. We talk about it, and we sing to its virtues and to its pain and sorrow. We attempt to explain its mysteries as we also try to secure it for all of our days. Yet, despite all of this effort and the expending of mountains of words, it seems that we seldom truly understand that thing called love. It is elusive, slippery, and fragile; so, when we think that we have it in hand, it either escapes from our grasp or we crush the life out of it. The problem just might be that we continuously look to other people as our models for what love looks like, and so we repeat our own errors and enter into forms of loving that have historically proven to be false as if they were the ultimate expression of life.

 

One of the most significant problems that most of us have with loving others is that it starts out and is founded upon our own desires, wants, and wishes. We love because it feels good and gives to us something that we believe that we lack otherwise. Even when we give to those who we love as when a mother loves and cares for her baby, this love may contain a strong component of self-gratification and attainment of identity and sense of worth that derives from the role of mother. This is simply the way that we are made and does not reflect any sort of willful deviation from doing what is good or right. Yet, human love is truly more self-centered than it is outwardly focused. Its expression and reciprocal return to us are more about what we get than they are about what we give away. This is where Christ offers us something else to consider and another form of love to view.

 

He came to us as one whose love brought about an ultimate form of giving away. Jesus entered this world and lived with us as one of us so that the love of the Father and His own love for all of creation could be fully known and entered into by people. In some very real and tangible ways, Jesus, who possessed everything of true worth, value, glory, power, and honor that exists in the universe, set it all aside in order to give Himself up to the forces of evil in that same universe so that they would be totally and finally overcome and defeated, and that as a result of this sacrificial victory, all people would have the opportunity to enter into the eternal life that we had surrendered to our own willful disobedience to God. So, just as it was our own self-absorbed decision that led to death and to the loss of our understanding of eternal love, it was Christ’s self-denying act of sacrificial loving that allows us to enter into the love that overcomes all else and that heals all of our brokenness. This is the love that brings us into relationship with God and with each other, and this is the love that binds us together in a community of faith that is formed around and founded upon Christ.

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