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Sacrifice vs. obedience
- Jacob Ninan
Sacrifices, rituals and festivals were instituted in the old covenant to teach people certain lessons and also to point prophetically to the coming of the Saviour (Messiah) who would take their ultimate meaning. The sin offerings pointed out that sin needed atonement through the shedding of blood. Burnt offerings helped people to recognise God and submit to Him in their lives. Different rituals concerning temple worship and sacrifices taught people to give attention to every part of life to be pleasing and acceptable to God. Festivals were reminders of great things God had done for them in the past. But when the Saviour came and made the new covenant between God and man through His death and resurrection, He fulfilled all these requirements of the old covenant, and opened up a new and living way for us to walk in. But it is a sad thing if we have not learned the meaning and purpose of sacrifices and rituals, and give more attention to them than to be obedient and pleasing to God from our heart.
Sacrifices were not meant to be a substitute for obedience. For example, if there was disobedience a sin offering became necessary. But the people of Israel misunderstood this, and thought that however they lived, whether they lived for themselves or worshipped idols, they could always go to the Temple, offer their sacrifices and be blessed by God. At one time when they got defeated by the Philistines because God was not with them, they thought that if they took the tabernacle into the battle place they would get the victory! (But the Philistines captured the tabernacle!) As time went on they continued to give sacrifices while they continued in idolatry. God had to tell them that no amount of sacrifices could compensate for their disobedience (Is.1:11-15).
When God asked King Saul to destroy everything of the Amalekites he saved some sheep and cattle, ostensibly for making sacrifices to God! God was appalled that Saul could think that sacrifices could make up for disobedience (1Sa.15:22).
Do we think that by offering sacrifices we are obeying God and thus pleasing Him. But what is the use of external sacrifices if our hearts are disobeying God? Will God value 'ministry' without a godly life? Is God fooled by outward actions of sacrifices, rituals and festivals when He primarily looks at our heart and wants sacrifices and offerings in the heart (1Sa.16:7)? Even when living with cheating, lying, unforgiving attitudes, bitterness and complaints, and lacking love, mercy, kindness or compassion, people make much of paying their tithes, keeping Lent, Good Friday, Easter and Christmas, taking part in communion, etc.
It's not that festivals or sacrifices should be stopped. There is freedom to have them as long as we do things as unto the Lord (Ro.14:5,6). But how much more important and essential it is to have an inner life of obedience and sacrifice than such external compliance to forms and practices (Mt.23:23)!