Friday, December 4, 2009

Living Sacrifice

A favorite passage for Christians is Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
These two verses have some rich theology beind them, but my purpose here is to key on "living sacrifice." What exactly is that? Most people in the world have a concept of sacrifice--to give up something which is directly or indirectly presented to another. In this context the sacrifice is me and the recipient God. If the sacrifice was an inanimate object, it could be consumed or exchanged in whatever way deemed useful by the recipient. More familiar is the animal sacrifice which would be killed and wholly or partially burned up with any remainder used to feed the sacrifice-offerer, be he the presenter or an intermediary.

If the end result of a sacrifice is death, the idea of a living sacrifice is paradoxical. How can a living sacrifice stay sacrificed? Or as more than one preacher has put it, "The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar." It is a cute comment but has no theological basis for two reason: 1) There is no altar. That was where the dead animals were burned as an aroma to God. Nothing living was placed on it; and 2) Anything sacrificed to God was his--period.

Whose Idea Was This?
Some may wonder where Paul got the idea of a living sacrifice. The notion of dedicating something to God was not novel. A noted application of human dedication is found in 1 Samuel 1:9-11 where Hannah dedicated her yet unborn son to the Lord. Another example is the hasty, foolish one made by Jephthah (Judges 11:30-31) which ended tragically though the original intent was well-meaning. By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had wrongly worked the whole dedicatory system to their advantage, thus dishonoring God's law by taking what was due their parents and calling it Corban or offering (see Mark 7:1-13). In effect they became the recipients of their own "sacrifice."

The most applicable passage concerning the dedication of a person or persons to the Lord is in Numbers 8:5-22:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Then let them take a bull from the herd and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord. Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord to make atonement for the Levites. And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the Lord.

Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary."

Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the people of Israel to the Levites. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, the people of Israel did to them. And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. And after that the Levites went in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.
The wave offering is a peace-offering that is waved by the priests (Ex. 29:24, 26-27; Lev. 7:20-34; 8:27; 9:21; 10:14-15, etc.) in token of a solemn special presentation to God. The special presentation here are the Levites as a group. In a visually symbolic manner, the priestly tribe is wholly dedicated to God for the work he had called them aside to do. They were literally a living sacrifice to God. This tribe then typifies what we as Christians are before the Lord as a people set aside unto him.

The purification rite also looks forward to Paul's admonition for holiness and acceptability.

  1. The first requirement was the water of purification which is a type of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
  2. Then came the shaving of the body. This was used to lay bare any spot that might be on the skin which could signal uncleanness.
  3. Clothes were washed to remove contaminates leading to uncleanness.
  4. Sin and burnt offerings were given for atonement and worship.
Only after all these were done could the Levites serve the Lord. In the same way, the Christian is to be pure and acceptable to God through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, plus the sanctifying and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, every Christian is qualified to this work and has been endowed with the ability to bring it to pass.

No comments: