What sort of sacrifices were required on this day in ancient Israel, and what kind of sacrifices are required of us today? If we read the Hebrew scriptures we will find many accounts of sacrifices, where bulls and rams and goats and sheep and turtle doves were killed by the hundreds or thousands for the various sacrifices required by God’s law. We seldom pay attention to these matters, because we know that Jesus Christ serves as our sacrifice and that we no longer have to be reminded of the price of death for sin and its cost to us by the slaughter of innocent animals. However, what lessons can we learn from what the Bible says about the sacrifices we are to give and to be today?
Once Upon A Time In Israel
Once upon a time in Israel there were many sacrifices required, different sacrifices required every day, every Sabbath, every new moon, and every Holy Day. What sacrifice was required for the Days of Unleavened Bread? Let us find out in Numbers 28:16-25. Numbers 28:16-25 reads: “On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. And you shall present an offering made by fire as a burnt offering to the Lord: two young bulls, one ram, and seven rams in their first year. Be sure they are without blemish. Their grain offering shall be of fine flour mixed with oil: three tenths of an ephah you shall offer for a bull, and two-tenths for a ram; you shall offer one-tenth of an ephah for each of the seven lamps; also one goat as a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In this manner you shall offer the food of the offering made by fire daily for seven days, as a sweet aroma to the Lord; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.”
Let us note a few quirks about this offering. For one, the Bible is very quick to note that a sin offering was needed to atone for Israel before the rest of the “sweet aroma” of the burnt offerings was made. In addition, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, just like all of the Holy Days, had its own set of offerings on top of the regular daily offerings that were required every morning and every evening at the temple.
Let us ask ourselves some further questions, though. Does the Bible ever require us to give sacrifices in the New Covenant? And if so, what does this mean? If the only thing we think about regarding the sacrificial system is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrifices, do we miss something that God still expects from us even if we no longer slaughter innocent animals for our sins? In what way does God still expect us to give and be sacrifices?
Let us turn to that question now. Romans 12:1 gives us the answer to the question, that we are living sacrifices to God. Romans 12:1 reads: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” God expects us all to present ourselves to God for service as living sacrifices. It is not only Jesus Christ, our savior and Messiah, who is pictured by the offerings and sacrifices of ancient Israel, but we ourselves are also living sacrifices to God, like the bulls and rams and goats and lambs that were offered up to God as a sweet aroma. And this is not anything that is particularly difficult, but rather something Paul considers as our “reasonable service,” a normal duty that is expected of believers.
So, how do we become living sacrifices to God? What sort of behavior is required? Do we have to guess, or does Paul tell us? Fortunately, Paul tells us, in Romans 12:9-18. Romans 12:9-18 gives us what is our “reasonable service” to God and to others, and it is a lot harder to do than we might think: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
Each of these statements could be the theme of their own sermon messages. All of these statements are considered by God as part of our “reasonable service” to Him as living sacrifices. We must love the truth and hate evil, but show love to our enemies, even when they persecute us. We must not only have love in our heart, but also love in our actions through hospitality to strangers and generosity to the poor and needy. We must not be lofty and look down on others, but associate with the humble rather than the high and mighty. We are to rejoice with those who are happy, and weep with those who are sad, showing love and concern and patience to others regardless of their emotional state. We are to be fervent in spirit but also diligent in our work, not being unreliable or lazy. All of these are required as part of our “reasonable service.” We are living sacrifices, and it’s time we acted like it. Since we are to be living sacrifices, then we cannot only look to Christ to fulfill the sacrifices of God but we must do so also in our love for God and each other. Let us not forget to do so today and for the rest of our lives here on earth.