ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE

What does God want from us? He never asked for animal sacrifice and He never will. However, God has told us plainly what He does require in the way of what we should sacrifice.

God never ordered or required animal sacrifice.

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The scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah 1:10-20 has a number of interesting concepts presented in those few verses.

Isaiah is the first of the major prophets.

I say major, because the prophetic books of the OT are divided into two groups known as major and minor.

Major and minor have nothing to do with the quality of their prophecies, but rather the length of the prophecy.

Isaiah is the longest of the prophets with 66 chapters.

We are familiar with much of Isaiah’s prophecies because he made numerous predictions concerning the messiah whom we know to be Jesus.

However, in this section there is no prophecy about Jesus.

But there are some interesting things we should take note of for our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

The first note of significance is that Isaiah speaks to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
Isa 1:10

I was under the impression that these two cities were destroyed back in the days of Abraham, which was 1300 years before Isaiah prophesied.

Those two cities were never rebuilt. Some scholars believe they are buried beneath the Dead Sea, but archeologists have yet to uncover them.

This is one of those places where trying to take the Bible literally would be a grave mistake, because Sodom and Gomorrah were not in existence at the time.

He could not possibly be prophesying against those who no longer were alive.

So, what is Isaiah saying here?

We’ve all done this at one time or another—using a derogatory slur when referring to someone with whom we were unhappy.

That is what Isaiah did here by calling Israel Sodom. They had become a disgusting people and he likened them to the cities that had been destroyed due to their repulsive behavior.

The main thing to notice in this entire passage though is what he says about sacrifice, which makes up the heart of the passage from vss. 11-14

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
Isa 1:11-14

On the surface it appears that God does not want these sacrifices; but we must read the context of the passage to get the full intent.

God is not pleased with sacrifices offered by those who do not really have an ongoing relationship with Him.

We see that plainly in v. 13

I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

One or the other, He says. Quit playing the hypocrite.

Either live properly or don’t bother trying to fulfill your religion.

Didn’t Jesus say much the same thing as He concluded the Sermon on the Mount?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Mat 7:21-23

They had done many supposedly religious things, but Jesus called those things sin, because they were not in relationship with Him.

What we can learn at this point is that without an ongoing living relationship with the Lord, any and all of our religious behavior is worthless.

Going to church, reading the Bible, giving to the poor, even our prayers in no way help secure a place in heaven if we do not know the Lord.

However, there is something more about sacrifices that Isaiah didn’t mention in this passage or anywhere else in his prophecy.

Sacrifices of the burnt flesh of bulls and goats was not what the Lord required.

Those were things that Moses set out as a part of worship for the Jews when they left Egypt, but they were only symbolic of what God really wanted.

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt,
I did not speak to your fathers
or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Jer 7:22

That is probably shocking to many who hear this for the first time.

Didn’t we read in Exodus and Leviticus about all the thing the Jews were supposed to do in their worship of God.

Yes. We did.

However there is a point that we have been oblivious to over the years.

“If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision,
so that the law of Moses may not be broken,
are you angry with me because on the Sabbath
I made a man’s whole body well?”
Jhn 7:23

Jesus called it the law of Moses, not God’s law.

The phrase “Law of Moses” is used 22 times in the Bible. Eight of those are in the NT, used by Luke, Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews.

It was the law of Moses, not the law of God.

This is important to understand in our consideration of what the Lord desires in the way of sacrifice.

In fact, Jesus said that it was important for us to understand.

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mat 9:13

Jesus said this to the Pharisees after they had criticized Jesus to His disciples for eating with tax collectors and sinners.

We know that the Pharisees prided themselves on their absolute strict obedience to the letter of the law.

Jesus destroys this concept with one simple statement by saying they did not understand what the law of Moses meant.

Long before Jesus came, there was already an understanding developing among God’s people about true sacrifice.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Psa 40:6

This is King David speaking, a man after God’s own heart.

He had gained an understanding of what all the physical stuff of their religion was about.

He realized that God was after much more than burnt animal flesh.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psa 51:16-17

And then we find Hosea saying

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hos 6:6

I do not know how it could be made any plainer for us.

These passages say it rather clearly that God was and is not interested in any kind of animal sacrifice.

Not now.
Not then.
Not ever.

There are plenty more verses which say this same thing.

I will just give a couple more from the NT

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:5-6

And to love him with all the heart
and with all the understanding
and with all the strength,
and to love one’s neighbor as oneself,
is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Mar 12:33

All these tell us is what God does NOT want.

They do not give us much of a clue as to what we are to do instead.

We are not left to our own devices in this area, however, for there are places where we are told the kind of sacrifice God does want.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,
that is,
the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Heb 13:15

Praise is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Many people will say something to the effect that “If it doesn’t hurt, then it is not a sacrifice.”

That is purely western thinking coming from an incorrect understanding taught by those trying to get into your money bag.

They will tell you to give until it hurts.

That is not a sacrifice that God desires, and we can see that plainly here in this verse.

A sacrifice is simply something you offer to God.

That’s all. That’s it.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us here that the fruit of our lips giving praise to God is a sacrifice, an offering with which God is pleased.

There are two other places in the NT where we are told what kind of sacrifice pleases God.

Each of them are different, but neither involve killing an animal or digging deep into your bank account.

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.
Rom 12:1

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Heb 13:16

Finally, there is a famous verse from one of the prophets which sums it all up with a directive that anyone can understand.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Mic 6:8

This is all the Lord requires of us.

Anything else is man-made dogma amounting to less than a hill of beans.

The two great commandments are still the only thing we need to understand— love God and love your neighbor.

When we have these perfected, there is nothing more that can be done.

If you have not yet arrived at perfection in the realm of love, then make that your practice this week.

Go show love to someone. Anyone. Someone you know. Someone you don’t like. Someone you don’t know.

Ask the Lord for an opportunity to put love into practice.

VANITY

It may take some people years, yet others may learn quickly that there are some really important things to consider in this life. Regardless, we will all eventually learn that much of what we consider to be necessary is a vanity and a chasing after wind.

Vanity of Vanities;
All is vanity.
(Ecc. 1:2)

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Vanity. What an interesting word.

A lady’s make-up dresser is called a vanity, and so is the bathroom sink.

We are all familiar with the magazine called Vanity Fair.

The preacher tells us in the Book of Ecclesiastes that all of life is vanity.

The word vanity is not much in use today except for the magazine and maybe the make-up dresser.

A bit more common is the noun form of the word which is “vain.”

Vain carries the idea of extreme conceit and self-centeredness, as in the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain.” For most people, that is the definition with which they are most familiar—self-centeredness.

A recent critic has noted that—

“Vanity plagues us all. From lowly selfie-takers pouting at their phones and zapping their images out into the cold infinity of cyberspace, all the way to those occupying the highest offices in the land. It’s unseemly, this desperate campaign to control how we are seen by the world. But it’s also deeply human, something that unifies us all, this lonely pettiness, this struggling against our forever-thwarted egos.”

However, this is not the thought of the preacher in our scripture lesson today.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
Ecc 1:2

The Hebrew word translated as “vanity” is used 73 times in the OT. Its basic meaning is that of emptiness. It is often used for breath or vapor—something that passes as quickly as it is formed.

So, when the Preacher says that life is nothing but vanity, he is not saying that it is about self-centeredness.

He is saying that it is emptiness, a vapor.

We need to be careful, though and not take this idea too far.

He is not saying that ALL of life is vanity, for that would contradict much of what Jesus said and did.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Jhn 10:10

It does not require an in-depth reading of Ecclesiastes to discover that Solomon is talking about what we believe is the purpose of life here on earth.

He is talking about our pursuit of pleasure, security, wealth.

He is speaking against the notion that “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

I remember what the ‘80’s were like as we came out of the economic recession.

The mentality of that decade was

Get all you can.
Can all you get.
Sit on the can.

It was all about the pursuit of wealth and financial security.

One of the results of that time was the proliferation of credit. Just about anyone who wanted could obtain a credit card, which allowed them to “buy now, pay later.”

Of course, that grew unabated and without much guidance for the young ones just beginning their life as an adult.

A terrible fallout of all that was the rise in bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures on their “dream home.”

I was doing home remodeling during that period.

I often went into new, expensive homes in classy neighborhoods where the family was sleeping on the floor and eating at a metal dinette set.

They could not afford the lifestyle they were trying to portray for their neighbors.

If this current economic downturn lasts much longer, we will see the same thing happen again with bankruptcy and foreclosures.

People have been living on the edge of their income with nothing in reserve and the bottom is dropping out from under them.

Making the pursuit of what this life has to offer as your number one goal is vanity.

It is emptiness.

Regardless of how much you may achieve, there is always more to be had.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money,
nor he who loves wealth with his income;
this also is vanity.
Ecc 5:10

How much is enough?
Just a little bit more!

And it is this fact which keeps people desperately trying to achieve.

This is vanity, and chasing after wind.

One of the mistakes we have made in this country is our emphasis on our right to pursue happiness.

In the Declaration of Independence we have these famous words —

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

While noble in its intent, that last phrase has caused many a shipwrecked life as people pursue something that can never be caught.

Happiness is a choice, not a destination.

We all know people who have much more than we have, yet they are not happy. We also know folks who have less than we have, and yet they ARE happy.

If your happiness is dependent on outward circumstances such as having the right car or clothing, then you will forever be miserable.

The apostle Paul gives us this example in his letter to the Philippians.

Not that I am speaking of being in need,
for I have learned in whatever situation I am
to be content.
I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret of
facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Phl 4:11-13

We see verse 13 used by people in many different ways, many of which often leave me shaking my head.

This verse cannot be used to help you walk up a wall and across the ceiling.

It must be taken in its context, which is about a secret that Paul learned.

He learned the secret of how to face the ups and downs of life, which is being content.

Contentment is not possible when looking at the circumstances.

Looking at your circumstances will send you on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, ins and outs, twists and turns, all trying to shake you from your foundation in Christ.

Recall the verse I shared with you last time from Isaiah.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Isa 26:3

All you have to do to recognize the truth of this promise is to contemplate for just a moment the things that disturb your peace.

News.
High cost of fuel.
Traffic.
Low checkbook balance.
ETC.

When your focus is on something like these, your peace is disturbed.

Anxiety is your reward.

Happiness is a distant memory in these moments.

Distress and disturbance are ever ready in these times to fill your stomach with enough acid to create ulcers.

But, that is okay.

The choice is yours.

The psalmist also tells us the same thing the preacher has told us.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psa 127:2

That word “vain” is still the same word in the Hebrew we saw in Ecclesiastes meaning ‘empty’ or useless.

It is a waste of your time to drive yourself always trying to achieve or get ahead.

I have always loved that phrase when people tell me they just want to get ahead.

Ahead of what?

Nine times out of ten there is no satisfactory answer either for themselves or for me.

It is just something we have been lied to about and we have bought into the lie.

We do not need to get ahead of anything or anyone.

Jesus went to the heart of the matter in His sermon on the mount.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
Mat 6:33

He wasn’t talking about the finer things in life, the extras that we try to add for our comfort.

No.

He was talking about the basic necessities of food and shelter.

So, to summarize—pursuing anything beyond contentment is vanity and a chasing after wind.

I will close with just a few of the many verses that tell us what I have been saying today.

If then you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above,
where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth.
Col 3:1-2

For to set the mind on the flesh is death,
but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Rom 8:6

as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2Co 4:18

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psa 16:11

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
Psa 73:25

I cannot say any more than these verses tell us.

Peace, contentment and happiness come from only one source.

Misery, heartache, disappointment come from any number of sources.

The choice is yours.