Does God Require Sacrifice?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 14-15

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are me, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them..” – Acts 14:15

Barnabas and Paul traveled to Lystra where they spoke about Jesus. Paul saw that a man crippled from birth and unable to walk was listening intently to his preaching. So, Paul said to the man, “Stand upright on your feet.” The man immediately got up and walked.

When the crowd saw this, they thought the gods Zeus and Hermes had come to them as men. Lystra had a temple of Zeus at the entrance to city. So, the priest of temple got oxen and garlands to offer a sacrifice. But, Barnabas and Paul are distressed, tearing their clothes, that the priest and the crowd want to offer sacrifice.

They cried out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

“Why are you doing these things?”

Why are you offering sacrifices?

This is what Barnabas and Paul are asking the men of Lystra.

The basic question is this:

Does the God and Father of Jesus require sacrifice?

The Old Testament gives conflicting answers to this simple question.

Leviticus 1:1-2 says, “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 3:1, Leviticus 4:1-3, 13-14, 22-24, Leviticus 5:1-6, 14-15, and Leviticus 6:1-7 all say something similar.

Moses certainly thought that God required the Jews to offer sacrifices of dead animals to him. So, on the one hand, the Old Testament says that God requires, in fact he needs, a sacrifice for the cleansing and removing of sin.

But, almost every writer of the Old Testament outside of Moses says something different.

“And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'” – 1 Samuel 15:22

“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.” – Psalm 51:16-17

“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” – Proverbs 21:3

“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 this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an 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. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:11-17

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like who blesses an idol.” – Isaiah 66:3

“What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.” – Jeremiah 6:20

“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. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” – Jeremiah 7:22-24

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

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:21-24

“‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall i give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 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?” – Micah 6:6-8

Almost all the writers outside of Moses say that God does not require sacrifice of any kind, whether it is the sacrifice of animals or the burning of incense to an idol. In fact, if you do offer the sacrifices that Moses said God requires, then you are just like all the other nations. Further, if you offer the sacrifice of an ox, then it is as if you have killed a man.

And, these writers say that instead of sacrifice God wants people to listen to his voice. God wants people to obey him. According to the writers that said God does not require sacrifice, what does obedience to God look like?

Have a broken spirit.

Have a contrite heart.

Do righteousness.

Do justice.

Remove your evil deeds from before God’s eyes.

Cease to do evil.

Learn to do good.

Correct oppression.

Bring justice to the fatherless.

Plead the widow’s cause.

Walk in the way that God commands you.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

So, should we offer sacrifices or not?

Who is right – Moses or almost every other writer, the prophets, of the Old Testament?

How do we decided?

We listen to Jesus.

This is the most fundamental thing of being a Christian. Yet, it is the one thing most Christians fail to do. So, let me say it again.

We listen to Jesus.

This is the point of the Jesus’ transfiguration. Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophets, both appear with Jesus. But, when Peter tries to put them all on equal fitting, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus remains. Then God says, “This is Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

We decide what is true, what is really God in the Old Testament, by letting the voices of Moses and the prophets, the voice of the writers of the Old Testament, disappear. And, we listen only to the voice of Jesus, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these days he has spoke to us by his Son.”

God spoke through Moses. God spoke through prophets. He gave them many visions, images, symbols, and pictures to communicate to the people. But, because Moses and the prophets had never seen God face to face, they were not able to give a clear picture of who God was and what God required.

But, in these last days, today, God speaks through Jesus. For, no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side; he has made him known.” (John 1:18) Only Jesus has seen God face to face. Therefore, only Jesus God tell us what God is really like and what he requires.

So, what did Jesus say about sacrifices?

What was Jesus’ answer to the dispute in the Old Testament about God requiring sacrifices?

Did Jesus ever quote from Leviticus, from Moses, to tell us that God requires sacrifices from us?

No.

Did Jesus ever quote from the other writers of the Old Testament that God does not require sacrifices but obedience, justice, mercy, etc.?

Yes he did.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus alludes to Micah 6:6-8 when he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 when he says, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 again when he says, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

Look very closely at what Jesus says in Matthew 12:7.

If you had known that God did require sacrifices but mercy, then you not have condemned the guiltless.

Because the Jews believed God required sacrifices, just like the Gentiles, all the other nations, believed, who was the guiltless one that they condemned?

Jesus.

In John 18:38, Pilate said of Jesus, “I find no guilt in him.”

In John 19:6, the Jews cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

Who demanded the sacrifice, the crucifixion, of Jesus?

The Jews.

Men.

All nations, all men, believed that God required sacrifices. Therefore, Barnabas and Paul said to the men of Lystra, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” Did you notice that this is what the writers other than Moses continually said? The Jews were walking in their own ways and counsels, not God’s, by offering animal sacrifices.

Since men demanded the sacrifice, the crucifixion, of Jesus, who is God, then where does that leave God in the whole equation?

The sacrificed.

God doesn’t require sacrifice.

He is the sacrifice.

Men, all nations, have required a sacrifice. So, Jesus, God in the flesh, became that sacrifice for us.

When we read Moses, Jesus, and therefore God, is not the priest doing the sacrificing.

No, not at all.

Instead, Jesus is the ox, the sheep, the goat, the bird, the grain that is sacrificed. We see Jesus in the innocent animal that was slaughtered and burned on the altar at the hands of men.

Remember, Isaiah said that to offer an ox was the same as killing a man. To offer animal sacrifices is the same as killing, crucifying, Jesus.

Seeing God as the one who sacrifices, the one who demanded Jesus be crucified, the one who requires sacrifice, does not free us from our sins.

No, Jesus, and therefore God, is not the priest who sacrifices.

Instead, seeing Jesus, and therefore God, as the one who is sacrificed by men, by you and me, when we should have offered mercy to him as a guiltless man, when we should have done justice to the one that was oppressed, is what cleanses us from our sin.

It’s seeing Jesus, and God, as the one who is sacrificed that causes us to repent, to no longer be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Seeing Jesus as the sacrifice was meant to open our ear to voice of God, the voice of Jesus.

Therefore, Psalm 40:6 says, “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.”

God did not delight in the sacrifice of Jesus. But, the sacrifice of Jesus was meant to give us an open ear. The Hebrew literally says “ears you have dug for me.” Jesus becoming the sacrifice on the cross was meant to dig through all the other messages and voices blocking our ears from hearing God. Seeing God as the sacrifice on the cross clears away all religious clutter and tradition that keeps us from truly walking in the ways of God.

Why does God not require the sacrifices of dead animals?

Because God is “a living God.” (Acts 14:15)

God “made the heaven and the earth and the sea.” (Acts 14:15)

Why does Paul say this?

He is referring back the creation story in Genesis 1. Paul is saying, “Look and see what God did. He made the heavens, the earth, and the sea, and he filled them with life.”

God is a living God. Therefore, God brings life to every situation and every circumstance. He is always and only bringing life.

“Yet he not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

What was God’s witness to us?

A trail of death in animal sacrifices?

No.

God did good.

He gave us rain and fruitful seasons.

In other words, God brought life to us.

And the life God brought satisfied us with food and gladness.

Therefore, why would a living God require sacrifices of dead animals to be given to him?

The answer is that God doesn’t require sacrifices, dead animals, to be given to him.

“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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

The whole world, all nations, all men, demands a sacrifice. Paul says that we, as followers of Christ, should no longer be conformed to that way of thinking. Stop thinking that God requires sacrifices of dead animals.

Instead, be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Repent, Change your mind. Instead of demanding the sacrifices of dead animals, the sacrifices of the guiltless – the oppressed, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow – present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Become a living sacrifice to God.

This is how we truly worship God.

Why should we become a living sacrifice?

God is a God of the living.

How do we become a living sacrifice?

Listen to Jesus and Jesus only.

Have a broken spirit.

Have a contrite heart.

Do righteousness.

Do justice.

Remove your evil deeds from before God’s eyes.

Cease to do evil.

Learn to do good.

Correct oppression.

Bring justice to the fatherless.

Plead the widow’s cause.

Walk in the way that God commands you.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

Stop requiring sacrifices.

Become the sacrifice.

Mercy and Not Sacrifice

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 6-8

The first seven chapters of Leviticus give, in intricate detail, the instructions for how Israel was to offer sacrifices. Moses wrote that God commanded these sacrifices. And, throughout the Old Testament, we read of Israel offering thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices in seeming obedience to God’s commands.

Yet, Jeremiah 7:22-24 says, “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. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Well, which is it? Did God command Israel to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings and wave offerings as Leviticus says? Or, is Jeremiah correct in saying that God did not speak to the fathers or command them regarding burnt offerings and sacrifices?

Leviticus 1-7 and Jeremiah 7:22-24 are diametrically opposed.

How do we resolve this?

The only possible way to resolve contradictory statements in the Old Testament about God is Jesus.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

John 5:37 says, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, and his form you have never seen.”

John 6:46 says, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Jesus is the only one to have clearly seen the Father. Therefore, Jesus is the only one to know exactly who God is. Jesus is the only one to know exactly what God wills and desires.

So, what does Jesus say about sacrifice?

Amazingly, given all the detailed rules regarding Israel’s sacrifices and all the sacrifices Israel offered for more than 1,000 years, Jesus utters the word sacrifice just two times in all four gospels. (Interestingly, in the gospel of John, where Jesus as pictured as the son of God, the word sacrifice is never used.)

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to not call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus said, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

In both cases, Jesus is quoting the same Old Testament passage of scripture. ¬†Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This is the Hebrew scripture version of Hosea 6:6. Jesus actually quoted from the Septuagint version, which says, “Because I want mercy rather than sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than whole burnt offerings.”

The Hebrew and Greek version of Hosea 6:6 reveal that mercy and steadfast love are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. And, Jesus said that God wants steadfast love, mercy, not sacrifice.

Jesus agreed with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said God did not command Israel to offer sacrifices, but God did command Israel to “obey my voice.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the Jesus’ transfiguration before PEter, James, and John. And, in each account, God speaks from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) Therefore, Jesus is the voice of God, the voice we are to obey.

So, if we are to obey Jesus, God’s voice, then what are the commandments we are to obey?

Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. In Mark 12:30-31, he answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Interestingly, the scribe that asked Jesus which was the most important commandment responded to Jesus that these two commands were “much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And, Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Now, regarding these two commandments of love that Christians are so familiar, Jesus did not just make them up. They weren’t something knew. God had spoken these commandments to Israel.

For the first commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

For the second commandment, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

So, Jesus is God’s voice. Jesus says we are to obey two commandments: love God and love neighbor. And, Jesus showed us just where God spoke these two commandments to Israel.

So, Jesus reveals through his statement that God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice, and that these two commandments of love¬†are the summation, the entirety, of all God’s commandments. Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

Therefore, when Jeremiah says that God told Israel to “Obey my voice” this is what he meant. God wanted Israel to show mercy and not offer sacrifices. God wanted Israel love him and love their neighbor. However, God said, “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

What’s the lesson?

If we make the Bible our authority over Jesus, then we will be stuck with these contradictions, these irreconcilable depictions of God. However, God is not the author of confusion.

Jesus always clears away any contradictions we read in the Old Testament. Jesus alone is our authority. Jesus alone removes the veil so that we can see God clearly.

God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice. He always has. And, he always will.

(Keep that in my mind when you read about a new temple being built in Jerusalem to reinstitute the old Israelite sacrifices.)