When was the last time you sacrificed an animal? We see animal sacrifices in the Bible, so when did you last kill a lamb, or a goat, or a cow?
We don’t have animal sacrifices now. It is not expected of us today to go sacrificing animals as part of our worship of God.
Sometimes we have to make sacrifices. Maybe a sacrifice of time, your wishes and desires, or giving up something of value. People are naturally selfish in the flesh, and making a sacrifice of any kind is difficult.
Does God expect us to still make sacrifices? And if so, what sacrifices?
Ancient Israel had to make animal sacrifices to God. That was part of their regular worship and making atonement for sins. But did they stay true to God? Were their sacrifices always acceptable to God? Or did they stray away from God and make wrong sacrifices?
We can look in the Bible and see their history, and read that they stopped following God. They rebelled, and Assyria had took the House of Israel into captivity for disobeying God.
They replaced the people in the land with pagan people, who then claimed they wanted to follow God. But God tells us what they did, in 2 Kings 17:34–37
“To this day they continue practising the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel, with whom the Lord had made a covenant and charged them, saying: ‘You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice. And the statutes, the ordinances, the law, and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall be careful to observe forever; you shall not fear other gods.’ ” (NKJV)
These pagan peoples made a pretence of worshipping God, but continued in pagan practices. They made a show of fearing the Lord, in verse 33, but they did not do what God expects of anyone who follows Him.
2 Kings 17:33 reads:
“They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods — according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.” (NKJV)
These pagans continued their pagan rituals, from the old countries they came from. But they made a pretence of saying they were following God. The Israelites had been removed from the land for the same thing, saying they were God’s people, but following pagan religious practices.
The Israelites had been told to follow the true God, and to offer sacrifices to Him. They forgot what had happened hundreds of years earlier, when God led the Israelites out of Egypt, using Moses to tell them what to do and to guide them.
Back then, Moses had asked Pharaoh for permission for the Israelites to leave Egypt, to go and make a sacrifice to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh was not happy and refused to let them go. God sent 10 plagues on Egypt, which I hope we are all familiar with.
After being bombarded with 9 plagues, the Egyptians had suffered a great deal. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he still refused to let the Israelites leave. God had to send a tenth plague and this one also involved the Israelites doing something. We can read in Exodus 12 that the people were told to take a lamb, to select one without blemish or defect on the 10th Abib, and keep it until the 14th.
They were to wait until sunset, then sacrifice the lamb, and put its blood on the doorposts and lintel above their front doors. This would be a sign to the Death Angel who would pass over their homes and kill the firstborn of the Egyptians, who were not doing what the Israelites were doing with the lambs.
After Moses had explained to the people what they had to do to keep that first Passover, prior to leaving Egypt, he also explained what they should teach their children about it, in Exodus 12:26–27
“ ‘And it shall be, when your children say to you, “What do you mean by this service?” that you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.” ’ So the people bowed their heads and worshipped.” (NKJV)
God wanted to see His people released from slavery in Egypt, but to do so required sacrifices. Each Israelite family, if they were obedient to God, had to sacrifice a lamb.
Today we might not think much of it. If we want to eat lamb, we go to a butcher or supermarket and buy a cut of meat to take home and cook. We generally do not keep animals like lambs or sheep in our homes.
But in ancient times everyone had animals that they kept for livestock. They would use the female sheep and goats for milk, which could also be made into cheese or butter. And when they needed to, they could eventually kill an animal to eat its meat.
But consider that they were not killing lambs every day or even every week, necessarily. A lamb was worth something, it was a valuable animal to have. It if was female then eventually it would start giving milk. If it was male, it could be used for breeding with the female sheep or put to other uses.
We are more distanced today from animals and might not see the value of a lamb. Unless you’re a farmer, in which case I am sure you know the exact value of your lambs.
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they did not have much. Even an animal would have been most of their wealth. So when they were told to sacrifice a lamb, it might have been a big thing for them to sacrifice, especially as they had little else.
But what happened to those who did sacrifice a lamb? And put the blood on the doorposts and lintel?
They were spared, their firstborn children and animals were not killed. But in the Egyptian households where the people did not follow the instructions given by God for that first Passover, their firstborn children and animals all died. Pagan peoples did sometimes make child sacrifices, such as to Molech. God showed the Egyptians what it meant. They no doubt suffered greatly at that Passover.
God requires a sacrifice in order to then carry out the next part of His plans. A sacrifice shows God that we are serious about following Him.
The Israelites sacrificed just a lamb, one per family or household. The Egyptians did not follow God, but ended up having to sacrifice the lives of all firstborn people as well as at least one animal per household.
So when the Israelites had kept the Passover, as instructed, and then left their homes in the morning, they were told to collect gold and jewellery from the Egyptians, as payment for their many years of slavery. If they had been concerned about the cost of a lamb that they had to kill, they received back far more in value from plundering the Egyptians.
In the wilderness and in the land of Israel, God instructed the Israelites to regularly make sacrifices to Him. This meant killing more animals, especially for special events like the Passover and the Holy Days, as well as for sins they committed throughout the year.
Today we do not sacrifice animals. In our lives we might make various different sacrifices, especially to follow God. Sometimes people have to give up things to follow God, which might be a sacrifice. We might have to give up a lucrative job or career that would involve working on the Sabbath or which would involve us to sin in some other way.
We might have to give up material things or status, because of not earning so much. Or give up money, such as through offerings. We have to give up some personal goals sometimes to avoid sinning.
We also have to sacrifice time, such as keeping the Sabbath, the Holy Days, the Feasts of God. This requires spending time doing something that most people would not want to do. And to go somewhere and spend a few hours with people for services. Some people in the world could not make that sacrifice and give up going to see their favourite football team play on a Saturday afternoon.
We also have to give up our pride. For some people it’s a great sacrifice to give up their own ideas and admit they were wrong on many things. We have to sacrifice our own ideas and accept the teachings of the Bible, to realise that our beliefs should be based on the Bible and not on generally-held beliefs, like keeping Sunday or going to Heaven.
When we keep the Passover, it recalls the sacrifices made by ancient Israel which allowed them to walk free from Egyptian slavery. When Christ kept it before He died, He instituted a special service involving footwashing, and taking bread and wine.
It is a sacrifice for us to have to wash someone else’s feet. Christ showed us the example when He washed the feet of the disciples and then told them to do the same thing to each other. It was an act of humility and making the sacrifice of being of service to our brethren.
We do the footwashing once a year, but acts of service and humility should continue all year long as part of the sacrifices we make in life to follow God.
And of course, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, we make a sacrifice of not eating leaven, no normal bread, nothing that has raising agents in, nothing with yeast in. For some people that is a big sacrifice, to go without their normal daily leavened bread.
And when we make such sacrifices in our lives, and do what is pleasing to God, then God will act for us and give us the things we need or are asking for, according to His will.
Power from God can be released through sacrifice. The greatest sacrifice led to the greatest powerful act.
When the Word became flesh and lived a human life, after having lived in eternity with the Father, He made the greatest sacrifice of all.
He allowed Himself to be a human being, weak, with human nature, just like us (see Hebrews 2:17). Except that He never gave in to His human nature. Hebrews 4:14–16 tells us that Christ was tempted but never sinned.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (NKJV)
Thus He qualified to become a sacrifice for us. God the Father sacrificed His Son Jesus Christ to pay for the sins of all mankind, which we already know.
But this gives us an example to follow. Not that we can die for the sins of mankind or any person. But that we can make sacrifices and know that God will look on it and act. Just as He forgave all the sins of those who choose to follow Him, because Christ’s death pays for our sins.
When God sees a right attitude in us then He will act. When we make the sacrifices we need to make, not slaughtering an animal, but rather giving up the things that we might otherwise want to do, then God can bless us.
When we keep the Day of Atonement, for example, we sacrifice our normal routine of eating and drinking. We can fast on other days as well, as this can be a good spiritual tool to help us achieve the things we need, such as healing, spiritual growth, overcoming a trial or difficulty, by making a sacrifice of fasting, which is pleasing to God.
But there is also another sacrifice that we can make, something more positive, which God tells us about in the Bible.
Leviticus 7:12 reads in relation to offerings:
“If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of finely blended flour mixed with oil.” (NKJV)
This describes a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” that involved offering grain and an animal sacrifice. This offering was not for sin, but for rejoicing and showing thankfulness to God.
We can always be giving thanks to God for things He gives us. This can be a type of sacrifice. We have to sacrifice time to pray, time to read God’s Word, and time to give thanks to our Creator.
As Christians, we can make spiritual sacrifices to God, rather than the old animal sacrifices. Those animal sacrifices were superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are told about a “sacrifice of praise to God” — defined in Hebrews 13:15–16
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (NKJV)
Praising God, doing good and sharing are sacrifices that continue to please our Creator today.
Look also at Romans 12:1–2
“So I beg you, brothers and sisters, because of the great mercy God has shown us, offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him — an offering that is only for God and pleasing to him. Considering what he has done, it is only right that you should worship him in this way. Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.” (ERV)
God says we should sacrifice our lives to Him, by doing what is pleasing to Him.
The sacrifices we make means we have a new way of thinking. We need to be transformed, and live the Christian life.
We should be sacrificing in the right way to God. We should remember the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Passover, so that we can be saved.
God expects us to make the right sacrifices to Him in our daily lives.
About the author: David King is a member of Church of God International in the United Kingdom, having attended with the Church of God for over 30 years.
Featured image by AdinaVoicu on Pixabay used under licence CC0.