At dawn, the one-hundred-seventeen-year-old Abraham stood in the doorway of his tent peering out into the morning through eyes that had known little or no sleep. He had made ready the provisions for the wilderness trip he and his seventeen-year-old son, Isaac, were taking.
The burden on his shoulders was heavy as he quickly strode out into the new day to meet the challenge that lay before him.
All day long Abraham pondered the words of God, "Take your son," He said, "your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about" (Gen. 22:2). All these years Abraham had claimed that God had called him out of the wilderness for a purpose. All these years he had claimed that God’s hand had been upon him in some unique and special way. And now as never before God was calling him to face his greatest test—the sacrifice of his only son, the hope of a new race.
It was not as though Abraham had never made sacrifices. Earlier in his life Abraham had been asked to sacrifice his past as he left his homeland of Ur and traveled to a new home in Canaan, but now God was asking him to sacrifice his future. He was being asked to take his son—that which was dearest and most precious to him—and lay him on an altar. What took place at Moriah stands throughout human history as one of the greatest tests of man’s faith in a strange God.
Consider the dilemma Abraham faced! The promise of God required that Isaac should live while the command of God demanded that Isaac die. Without a doubt, this trip was his greatest test, resulting in his greatest sacrifice.
The story begs the question: What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God? For the believer, the Apostle Paul answers that question in his Epistle to the Christians at Rome. Two-thirds of the way through his letter, the Apostle gives this instruction to the Roman Christians:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV84)
I. THE MEANING OF SACRIFICE
- the word sacrifice comes from a verb meaning “to make sacred”
- sacrifices were religious rituals that involved the practice of offering food, or the lives of animals or even people to the gods, as an act of propitiation or worship
- the item sacrificed therefore became sacred since it was being sacrificed to a deity
- in Judaism, God commanded five different types of sacrifices
- the burnt offering—made daily to make people right with God
- the grain offering—made to express thanks to God for the land’s produce
- the peace offering—made to express fellowship between God’s people
- the sin offering—made for the forgiveness of unintentional sins
- the guilt offering—offered because your sin had caused another person some loss—it also involved restitution to the person who had experienced the loss
- Israel’s sacrificial system always involved giving up something of value in order to be in right relationship with God and right relationship with your neighbor
- the term sacrifice is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others
- ILLUS. Some people will forgo conveniences and luxuries to save money in order to provide a better life for their children. Others will accept blame in order to protect someone from punishment. We see sacrifice demonstrated in games and sporting events. For example, in chess, a player will deliberately give up a piece to gain an advantage. In baseball, a player may sacrifice bunt, or hit a sacrifice fly allowing himself to be put out while advancing a teammate so he has a greater chance to score.
- such sacrifices aid in extending God’s kingdom on earth and in the hearts of men
- the annals of church history are full of stories of people who have sacrificed profitable careers or comfortable lives to serve God
- others have chosen to live a simple lifestyle in order to invest dollars in ministry and mission causes
- ILLUS. African explorer and missionary, David Livingstone wrote: "People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own reward of healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with such a word, such a view, and such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.”
- ILLUS. Edward Gibbon spent 26 years researching and writing The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Noah Webster worked diligently for 36 years to bring into print the first edition of his dictionary. It is said that the Roman orator Cicero practiced before friends every day for 30 years in order to perfect his public speaking.
- now let's think about how much energy we put into the Lord's work
- what do you or I sacrifice for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom work?
- the answer can be rather embarrassing
- ILLUS. German poet and atheist, Heinrich Heine said to Christians, "You show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer." Evidently some did, and he converted to Christianity.
II. THE REASON FOR SACRIFICE
- why would Christ-followers perform selfless acts?
- why should we live sacrificially?
- let me mention three compelling and foundational reasons for making a sacrifice for God and his kingdom
A. IT SHOWS THAT WE WILL GIVE GOD OUR ALL
- when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, God never intended for Isaac to die (physically); he intended for Abraham to die (spiritually)
- his willingness to sacrifice his son confirmed that Abraham was devoted to God above all else
- likewise, our sacrifices shows that God has our will, our hearts, our possessions, and our all
- ILLUS. An old hymn says, “You cannot have rest or be perfectly blest until all on the altar is laid.”
- “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24, NIV84)
B. IT SHOWS THAT WE LOVE THE GIVER
- what if Abraham had not been willing to sacrifice his son?
- if Abraham had not obeyed the command to sacrifice Isaac, it would have proved that Abraham loved the gift more than he loved the Giver of the gift
- if Abraham had not obeyed the command to sacrifice Isaac, it would have proved that Abraham loved the blessings of God more than he loved God himself
- let’s be honest, all too frequently, we love what God can do for us more than we love God for His very own self
- do you love the giver of all blessings more than you love the blessings?
C. IT SHOWS THAT WE WILL OBEY REGARDLESS
- in God’s command to sacrifice Isaac no guarantee was provided for Abraham
- when God called upon Abraham to make other sacrifices, God provided a promise in return
- to leave Ur, he promised a new home
- to give up Ishmael, he promised the birth of Isaac
- but, to sacrifice Isaac no promise was given
- the apex of his faith was when Abraham was willing to obey God, step out on faith, and to sacrifice his son, with no reward offered and no assurance of blessing
- Abraham obeyed because he loved God and God had all of him
- are you willing to obey God regardless of what He asks?
III. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SACRIFICE
- through his selfless act, Abraham reveals for us the characteristics of sacrifice
A. SACRIFICE GIVES AWAY SOMETHING OF VALUE
- the American Heritage Dictionary defines sacrifice as “the forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of someone or something considered having a greater value”
- Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac for the higher value of God’s eternal plan
- ILLUS. General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was once asked the secret of his success. General Booth hesitated a moment, then with tears streaming down his cheeks he replied, "I'll tell you the secret; God had all of me there was to have. From the day I got the poor on my heart and a vision of what Christ could do, I made up my mind that God would have all there was of William Booth -- God had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will and all the influence of my life."
- the birth of the Salvation Army came about through a man who offered his life as a sacrifice to God
B. SACRIFICE OFFERS THE BEST
- in Biblical thought what was first was best:
- first of the harvest
- first of the flock
- first of the children
- when Abraham sacrificed Isaac he was giving his best
- Isaac represented all the best things, the good things in Abraham’s life
- he represented his hopes, his dreams, his love, his future, his security, his prestige, his power, his life
- Isaac was the most precious thing that he could have offered God
- God doesn’t want our leftovers; he wants what is best
- ILLUS. Several years ago I had a friend who was called to pastor a church here in mid-Missouri. The church gave Ryan and his wife a “pounding.” (No, they didn’t beat them senseless). Some of you know that a “pounding” is a sign of hospitality when church members bring a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of sausage, and so on to help the pastor’s family set up house. When Ryan and his wife arrived at the parsonage, they opened the cupboards to discover the shelves were filled with canned goods, the refrigerator was stocked to overflowing, and several craft items were lying on the kitchen counter to decorate the new home. They were very thankful and appreciative. But as they began to place the craft items around the house they noticed that some items had pieces missing and others were broken. When they checked out the items in the refrigerator they noticed that some of them had already passed their expiration date. Then they started to go through the canned goods in the cupboard. Some were so old that rust was on the cans. While many of the church members donated items that were of good quality, others gave items that should have gone to the garage sale or the garbage can. Instead the items were redirected to the pastor’s pounding. They gave leftovers. They gave less than their best. Ryan says that he and his wife experienced two simultaneous emotions: One was of great joy for the generosity of many of the people and the other was of great sadness for getting unwanted discards.
- many believers obviously give their best to God
- others, however, give their leftovers
- they treat God and his church like a garage sale
- if it is something they have already used and worn out then they will give it to the church
- God, I think, has a bone to pick with many of His children this morning
- it is the same bone of contention He had with the Jewish priests of Malachi's day
- “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ” (Malachi 1:6, NIV84)
- these priests are shocked!
- the answer comes back to God, "What do you mean? How have we despised your name?"
- God's answer shoots back and cuts to the quick, "You have despised my name by offering me your second best!"
- but giving something away because we don’t want it in the first place is not giving; it is selective disposal
- it is parting with the new and keeping the old
- it is yielding the best and holding on to what will make do
C. SACRIFICE COSTS US SOMETHING
- ILLUS. Someone once said: “We never know how much people give to the Lord until we see what they have left over after they make the gift.”
- sacrifices always cost
- the potential cost for Abraham was a child, a future, a race, a promise from God
- Biblical people knew that a cost was not only required for a sacrifice; it was expected
- unless someone has given up something that costs them, they have not sacrificed, whether it be time, money, resources, preferences, or position
- that is why David said, “I will not offer to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost [me] nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24)
- no cost, no sacrifice
- in biblical times the cost of the sacrifice was visible, but what is the cost to the giver for their sacrifice today?
- in earlier times the sacrifice was highly visible
- the lamb was slain
- the ox’s throat cut
- the blood was shed
- the offering was burnt
- the gift was poured out
- since we don’t make those visible sacrifices today and give money (mostly) and possessions instead, the real change occurs not with the gift, but with the giver
- the sacrificial giver opens their heart, changes their lifestyle, rearranges their values, and looks beyond the temporal to the eternal
In conclusion, I cannot tell you what “sacrifice” is for you. Only you know the meaning of sacrifice in your life. There is only one “Christian standard of living” and Jesus laid that out for us when he said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, you have to determine what sacrifice means to you.
I can tell you this, however, God is looking for people like Abraham who are willing to follow him no matter what. God isn’t looking for people who can give what they can conveniently afford; he is looking for those people who are willing to give it all. It’s a tough demand, isn’t it?