The human view of sacrifices is quite easy to understand: We crave blood!  The human use of sacrifices goes back thousands of years – long before the time of the Bible in fact. The idea is simple really. If I owe someone, I need to give him something. If, for instance, I take his daughter, I need to give something back. But what do we do when we feel we owe God? We can’t pay Him – He doesn’t use money. We can’t prepare a feast for Him, because He won’t sit still long enough. As a matter of fact, we can’t even see Him! The best thing that we can do to show Him that we are sorry or that we are devoted to Him is to give him something or his priest something that is really important – land or a daughter or son or an animal. And then we take its life and burn it so that the smoke can go up to the place we think God lives – in the sky somewhere … and hopefully God will see our intent and reward us accordingly.

When we read the Old Testament, we find that God actually gives us the opportunity to give Him sacrifices, not because He needs any of it, but because a sacrifice was supposed to be a symbol of ourselves … when we offer a goat that is special to us, we show our sincerity. Unfortunately, people saw it is a loophole by which they could keep God satisfied and not as symbols of their sincere devotion. When a person did something wrong and they were afraid that God would retaliate with bad luck, they sacrificed an animal. The animals were not special to them anymore – they bought them at the temple shop for the best price. People sacrificed when they needed good crops; they sacrificed when they stole on Monday and again on Thursday and again on Sunday. Rich people, who usually made the rules, could afford to sin a lot because they could just kill off another goat. Poor people couldn’t. And soon they were stopped at the temple gates because they couldn’t afford to bring another animal. The whole system became sick! Animals were sacrificed continuously without people’s hearts being changed. The temple became a meaningless bath of animal blood spilled for the sins and cravings of humans. Sacrificing didn’t mean anything anymore. Not to God anyway.

In Isaiah 1:13 we can hear God’s irritation: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” The human act of wanting to give something to God to feel that they are worthy…or forgiven… or heard in prayer had become totally meaningless to God.

He had to bring a stop to it. Its almost as if God wanted to shout: You want to see blood spilled for your sin? I’ll give you blood! In your lust for blood, you will shout: Sacrifice Him! Sacrifice Him! And in your bloodlust, when his blood drips from his beautiful feet, you will realize that you have sacrificed the Son of the Living God Himself! The thought of Jesus on the cross and the image of Jesus’ Beautiful Feet dripping with his blood must shock us to our senses. It was supposed to be finished. No more blood! John says in 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This was supposed to bring an end to meaningless religious sacrifices. But it didn’t. People still do it. As a matter of fact, the business of religion thrives on our human failure to rid ourselves from the burden of sacrifices. God was very upset with his people’s constant need to try and please Him through all sorts of religious “sacrifices”. In that same passage God also tackles other areas of his people’s religion. It was not only blood sacrifices that became a problem but other areas of their religion as well. In the Message version of Isaiah 1 God says: “Quit your worship charades! I can’t stand your trivial religious games: monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings- meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more … I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way.” We do these things because they are much easier and more comfortable than the solutions God propose in the same passage: “Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless” (Is 1:16,17 The Message). These things ask much of us. It asks sacrifices of habit and character that matches the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord. It asks us now to acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice not only as an easy ticket to heaven, but as a lifestyle to follow in order to bring light to every corner of our dark world. It demands of us to take it very seriously when Jesus says: “Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples” (Matthew 10:38).

by Francois Smit, senior pastor