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What Sacrifice Looks Like

September 1st 2013 by Joel Schultz

Today is the 15th Sunday after Pentecost and we hear God's Word from Hebrews 13. As we look to Jesus' sacrifice for us and for our salvation, we consider what our daily sacrifice of praise looks like.

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Proper 17C – “What Sacrifice Looks Like” – Hebrews 13:1-17 – September 1, 2013

We have a good idea what sacrifice looks like. A baby is born. It takes time to take care of that child. Middle-of-the night feedings. Diapers to be changed. And diapers are expensive! Sacrifices are made in time and money.

Firefighters and police officers rushed into the burning World Trade Towers shortly before they collapsed. They were willing and did sacrifice themselves to save as many as they could.

A man in a Muslim country becomes a Christian. He will sacrifice his family, work, freedom, and maybe even his life for his faith. These are scenes that show what sacrifice looks like.

Now let’s go back, way back, thousands of years. Making a sacrifice was a huge part of the temple worship during Old Testament times. In the centuries before Jesus was born, the Jews made sacrifices, lots of sacrifices. They sacrificed all types of animals: bulls, sheep, goats, lambs, doves, and pigeons. They sacrificed grain and crops. They had sacrifices to give thanks, sacrifices for peace, sacrifices to go with prayers, and especially sacrifices to take away sin and guilt.

In fact, the most important day in all of Jewish life was a day of sacrifice for sin and guilt. It was called the Day of Atonement. On that day, a bull and a goat were sacrificed. The blood was caught in a large vessel which was then taken into the holiest place in the temple – the place only the High Priest could enter and only once a year. The blood was sprinkled on the Ark of the covenant covering and on the ground in front of it. The blood was then taken out and wiped on the corners of the altar of sacrifice that stood outside the temple. That blood was offered to God as a way to atone for, make up for, bring forgiveness for the people’s sins.

You can imagine what a sacrifice looked like on that day. Blood, lots of blood, on the altar, staining the wood and stone. Blood on the ground and sprinkled on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place in the temple. And then, the bodies of the bull and goat were burned outside the city, outside the sacred place.

What did a sacrifice look like in Old Testament times? Lots of blood and fire and smoke. And many of the Old Testament sacrifices were made to bring forgiveness for sin and to take away the people’s guilt.

But then the day came when all those animal and grain sacrifices were no longer needed. The day came when one sacrifice was made that made all those other sacrifices obsolete. The day came when Jesus made a once-for-all-time sacrifice.

Let’s begin to see what His sacrifice looks like. The altar is made of wood, but it’s in the shape of a cross. On that cross, blood is shed—Jesus’ blood. But notice the irony, the reversal. On the Day of Atonement, the sacrifice was made in the temple, in the Most Holy Place. It was then burned outside the holy places, in a defiled, unclean place. Jesus was sacrificed outside, in the unclean, defiled place, so that we could enter the holy place of God’s presence.

How do you picture this once-for-all sacrifice? I like this poster that someone hung in the conference room downstairs. It reminds me of what Jesus’ sacrifice looks like. It comes at the end of the day of agony. His head is bowed down. He’s taken His last breath. A crown of thorns circles His head. The Roman Centurion looks on in wonder.

I like this picture because it shows Jesus’ back and although the picture is sanitized somewhat the blood is still vivid. You can see the stripes from the whip on His back and down His legs. His face is streaked with blood from the crown of thorns. Blood is oozing out of the nail holes in His hands and dripping down His wrists and arms. Blood is rolling down His side, where a spear has punctured Him. And blood from the nail holes in His feet is seen creeping down the cross toward the ground.

This sacrifice was violent, bloody, dirty, and filled with agony. Don’t lose sight of what Jesus’ sacrifice looked like. And don’t lose sight of why Jesus made this sacrifice.

He did this to take away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was to atone for our guilt. Jesus sacrificed His life so that we might live eternally with Him. On the altar of the cross, His blood was shed so we would be clean in God’s eyes. The writer of Hebrews says, “Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (v 12). We come into God’s holy presence only because Jesus has made us holy, sanctified us, by His holy blood shed on the cross.

Jesus’ sacrifice is the only one that makes all those animal sacrifices in the Old Testament mean anything at all. Jesus’ sacrifice is the only sacrifice that sanctifies us before God. Jesus’ sacrifice is once-for-all and for all times.

But the time for making sacrifices is not over. Oh, it is over for gaining forgiveness, for being clean and sanctified in God’s eyes. Those sacrifices for forgiveness and atonement are done. We can’t add any sacrifice to what Jesus did on the cross.

But other sacrifices are still to be made. Listen to vv 15–16 of our text: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” We still make sacrifices to God: the sacrifice of praise with our lips; the sacrifice of doing good and sharing what we have.

What do those sacrifices look like?

These scenes make me think of the sacrifice of praise with our lips: Hymnals open, and we’re singing together. The words of the Creed are spoken out loud as we confess our faith in the triune God. The choir singing a praise song about Jesus. Shaking hands and sharing “the peace of the Lord” with one another other during the worship service. Telling someone about Jesus at work. Heads bowed before a meal to say thank you for the food when eating at Jose Peppers. Saying “Thank you, Lord!” throughout the day for the wonderful gifts He gives us daily. I’m sure you can picture in your mind what the sacrifice of praise with our lips looks like in so many other ways.

Now for the sacrifice of doing what is good. The writer of Hebrews gives us a list of good things to do, ways to give of our time and money, to sacrifice of ourselves, in the way we live. V 1: “Let brotherly love continue.” We’re family, and we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We sacrifice time and money to make Beautiful Savior our home.

V 2: “Show hospitality.” The writer of Hebrews says showing hospitality is one way of offering up a sacrifice of doing good and sharing what we have (Heb 13:2). Back then, this meant opening up your home because motels were wretched places. Back then, they could have been named the Horrible Inn, Discomfort Inn, or Leaky Roof Inn. Today, people have many places to stay, but we can still show hospitality. One way our congregation shows hospitality is through the many collections of food and toy and life essentials we collect each week here. Another way we show hospitality is to bring a vicar’s family into our midst to love and support and care for and train. Those are a couple of ways to see what our sacrifice for hospitality looks like.

V 3: “Remember those who are in prison… and those who are mistreated.” So many in the world around us are broken and hurting. Our support of Christian ministries for those in prison, for the abused, for the orphaned, for those who are persecuted because of the faith is what our sacrifice looks like today.

V 4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” God’s Word is clear. Marriage is to be treated with respect, honor, and as an institution of precious value. The gift of sex is to be expressed within the marital relationship alone. In a world of rampant pornography, television shows where sex and marriage are seldom put together, and a climate in which sex outside of marriage is seen as the norm, these words about keeping the marriage bed pure seem quaint, out of step, old-fashioned. But they are God’s Word, and it’s what our sacrifice of doing good looks like today.

V 5: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.” Have you ever caught yourself wanting something new or better than what you have? My family has three cars. My wife drives the good one and the other two are slowly falling apart but remain good gifts from God. But then I see a new car or watch a car commercial and boy I wish I had one of those. It could be about a house or clothes or jewelry or whatever. Being content is hard. But once again, the secret is to thank God for what we have. Being content and not loving money is what our sacrifice looks like today.

Vv 7, 17: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Treat your pastors with respect and make our ministry one of joy rather than groaning.

Are you getting a picture of what our sacrifices look like? I hope so. The writer of Hebrews has summarized it well. Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice for us on the altar of the cross. He forgives us and gives us life with Him. And He sanctified us – made us His holy people so that we might live lives of sacrifice to Him with our words and actions. Amen.

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