acceptable sacrifice

An Acceptable Sacrifice.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;  you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

Psalm 51

David had committed a serious sin. He had willingly and deliberately disobeyed the law of God. He was well aware of what God's Word said regarding his actions. “But those who brazenly violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” (Numbers 15:30-21 NLT). When David had been confronted by the prophet, Nathan, regarding what he had done, Nathan had used a fabricated incident to trick David into confessing. He told David a story about a rich man who, although he was wealthy and had many flocks of his own. decided to steal the one lamb the poor man owned in order to feed his guests. David was shocked and infuriated by the story and exclaimed, “As surely as the Lord lives, any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” (2 Samuel 12:5 ESV). Unknowingly, David had pronounced his own sentence. He was worthy of death and there was no sacrifice he could make that would satisfy God for what he had done. He had “treated the Lord's word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command.” He had blasphemed the Lord. And no amount of sacrifices were going to fix his problem.

What God wanted was a broken and repentant heart. God desired for David to understand the depths of his own depravity and to come before Him in humility, his heart crushed by the weight of what he had done. The nature of the sacrifice that God desired was internal, not external. David could offer the blood of bulls and goats, but if his heart was not broken over what he had done, and if he was not fully convinced of his own sin and God's righteous obligation to punish him, his sacrifices would be worthless. David acknowledged that if there had been an appropriate sacrifice he could have made, he would have done so. He would have done anything to rectify the situation. He would have spared no expense. But what God wanted was a legitimate brokenness over his sin and a humble admission of his guilt. It was essential for David to understand that there was nothing he could do to fix his problem. He was completely dependent upon God for His mercy, love and forgiveness. Sacrifices made with unrepentant hearts were unacceptable to God. Years earlier, when Saul had been king, God had commanded Saul to go into battle against the Amalekites. He had told Saul to “completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3 NLT). But Saul had disobeyed. “Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:9 NLT). When Saul had been confronted by Samuel about what he had done, Saul had justified his actions. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20-21 NLT). His actions were completely justified in his own mind. He was unrepentant and his heart was far from broken over what he had done. That's when God had Samuel break the bad news to Saul. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV). It was at that point that God rejected Saul as the king of Israel. Any sacrifices he would have made would have been unacceptable because his heart was unrepentant.

In contrast, David knew the full ramifications of his actions and he was crushed by what he had done. Which is why he had started his prayer with the confession, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). Rather than justify his actions or blame Bathsheba for causing him to sin, David owned up to his actions. He admitted his guilt and was legitimately sorrowful for what he had done. He knew that all he could bring to God was his brokenness, and it was up to God to supply mercy, grace and forgiveness. David couldn't buy his way out of his circumstances. He couldn't pay God off. On more than one occasion God had warned the Israelites, “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices? I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (Isaiah 1:11 NLT). “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living (Amos 5:21-24 NLT).

God knows our hearts. He recognizes when we are truly repentant and when we are simply going through the motions. The sacrifice he desires is a life that is totally dependent upon Him. Paul writes, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). We need God for salvation. We need the blood of Christ for our constant cleansing from sin. We need the Spirit for our ongoing sanctification. We need to live in constant reliance upon God for his mercy, grace, forgiveness, cleansing and transforming power in our lives. That is an acceptable sacrifice to Him.


The Cain Mutiny.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. – 1 John 3:12 ESV

John has a tendency to use terms and images that portray striking opposites. He loves the use of contrasts. Darkness and light. Sin and righteousness. Lies and truth. Old and new. Love and hate. The temporal and the eternal. Death and life. Abiding and forsaking. Then right in the middle of chapter three, he uses what appears to be a contrast between two Old Testament figures, Cain and Abel. At first glance, this is a very perplexing and difficult to understand passage. Seemingly, out of the blue, John brings up an event that happened all the way back in the story of beginning of the earth, recorded in the book of Genesis. The context is Jesus' command that we love one another. Then, all of the sudden, John tells us, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12 ESV). That's quite a contrast. John goes from talking about love to warning about murder. In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, Cain killed his own brother. But why? John says it was “because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous” (1 John 3:12 ESV). So is John saying that Cain killed Abel because Abel was a righteous person? Did he murder his brother out of some form of jealousy or resentment? That was probably the surface cause. But there is something far deeper going on in this story, and we need to go back and look at the actual event to get a better handle on what actually happened and in order to see why John is using this story as an object lesson about love. Back in Genesis 4, we read, “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:3-5 ESV). Both brothers brought offerings to the Lord. There is no indication that God had indicated the type of offering that was to be given, so God's rejection of Cain's offering does not appear to be about what he brought. But it clearly says, “but for Cain and his offering he [God] had no regard.” The word “regard” in the Hebrew means “to look on with favor.” So when it says God had “no regard” for Cain, it means He did NOT look on him with favor. Cain's offering was an extension of his heart. The offering was not the issue, Cain was. There was something wrong with Cain that caused God to reject him and his offering. You have to go all the way to Hebrews 11 to discover what was going on behind the scenes. There we read, “By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Notice those two words, “by faith.” They are key to understanding the story and getting the point of John's inclusion of this event in his discussion about love. The motivation behind Abel's gift was faith. He believed in God. And his gift was directed at a God he had never seen. That is an important point. You have to remember that neither Cain or Abel had ever seen or heard God as their parents had. After the sin of Adam and Eve, they were banned from the garden and from God's presence. Their sons had never seen Eden or had the joy of intimacy with God. What they knew about God they had been told by their parents. Both had heard the same stories, but it would appear that only Abel believed what he heard.

What is interesting is that the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abel had faith and his offering was pleasing to God. Cain did not have faith and his offering was displeasing to God. Cain did not believe in God. When it says that Abel offered a “more acceptable sacrifice than Cain,” the word “acceptable” in the Hebrew refers to “greater in quantity, greater in quality.” But it was not the sacrifice that was the issue. It was Abel's faith. His faith gave his sacrifice its value. His belief and trust in God was what made his sacrifice acceptable. And according the writer of Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abel had faith in a God he had never seen. He had hope and assurance in God and gave his sacrifice out of love and gratitude. Verse 6 of chapter 11 of Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please him,” but there is more, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Abel believed God existed. Cain did not. Oh, he gave a sacrifice, but it was not from the heart, and it was given in a spirit of doubt and disbelief. Interestingly, in early Jewish and Christian writings, Cain is used as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve in God. Cain lacked faith in God. Cain didn't love God. He didn't abide in God. Cain loved Cain. His inability to love God made it impossible for him to love his own brother. And John warns that we should not be like Cain. We need to abide in Christ. We need to remain dependent upon Him and believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Our faith in God will produce fruit. Our love for God will produce love for others. Cain didn't love God. Cain loved Cain. And Cain was incapable of loving Abel. The lack of love is hate. Love is saying “No” to one's own life so that others may live. The to key loving others is faith in God. It is when we believe in Him and know that He loves us that we will be able to love others more than we love ourselves.