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A Sacrificial Journey

Worship in the Wilderness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  44:32
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Introduction

“Sacrifice” is not a popular term to speak about. Our lives are hard enough, busy enough, without the extra struggle of choosing to go without something we feel we need. Perhaps some of you have made a sacrifice over Lent to do without something which you usually have in your lives; whether that be chocolate, beer or social media. Has that been difficult?
Perhaps it would be better to ask: “Does God demand that we give things up for him, or choose difficult, “sacrificial” paths in order to please him?”
Psalm 51:16–17 ESV
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.
In fact, it would appear that God is not “looking for sacrifice, so much as a renewed attitude of personal humility. This notion is “fleshed out” by Jesus, as Paul explains in Philippians 2.
Philippians 2:5–9 NASB
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
That idea is further underlined by our reading in Romans 12.
Romans 12:1 NIV - Anglicised
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.
So, if we are to understand better what God means by sacrifice, we should turn to chapter 53 of Isaiah, and the prophet’s well-known descriptions of the Suffering Servant. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah spoke of a Messiah who was not the strong and powerful leader which Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting (another David, come to deliver Israel from her enemies). Perhaps that is why in Judaism this passage was most often thought to represent the nation of Israel and its suffering; it was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that the New Testament writers understood it to be about Jesus.

Jesus: the man of sorrows

We already saw last week how Jesus meets us in our different states of distress. Yet, we read in this chapter that Jesus does more than just provide a shoulder for us to cry on. The journey of Jesus himself was one of sorrow as he travelled through the wilderness of this world, a journey which ultimately took him to the very epicentre of wilderness: the cross.
Isaiah prophesied about Jesus that he was:
“like a root in dry ground….
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)
We know that this “man of sorrows” wept at Lazarus’ tomb, wept over the fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and mourned the loss of his cousin, John the Baptist. In Matthew 14 we read the horrific story of John being beheaded. When Jesus hears this news about his cousin he takes himself away to a desert place (verse 13). He chooses to go to the desert to mourn before his heavenly Father. Our God knows intimately the human experience of grief and pain. This is part of who Jesus is.

Jesus: the sacrificial lamb

Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would not only know our sorrow, but that he would carry the full weight of our suffering, sin and shame.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4)
Isaiah’s words contain many echoes of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. This passage from Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness tells of how God dealt with their sin, one day each year, through the death of a sacrificial lamb and the sacrifice of a “scapegoat”. The priest would place his hands on the head of the goat to transfer the guilt of the people onto it. It was then sent away to symbolically carry the weight of all Israel’s sin out into the wilderness: “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place” (verse 22). It was to be “cut off from the land of the living”, suffering for these sins so the people didn’t have to. Echoing this story, Isaiah writes:
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.” (Isaiah 53:7-8)
Whatever the wilderness you struggle in, Jesus has born the pain of it, on his shoulders on the cross. He has become your scapegoat, carrying your sin, your struggles, your sorrows. He went out into the wilderness of judgement and death all alone, so that ultimately we may all be healed, restored and made whole. As Hebrews 2 explains:
Hebrews 2:9 ESV
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
In fact, the book of Hebrews is a good place to go to in the New Testament to help us understand how Jesus continues and concludes the story of the Old Testament. In chapter 10, the writer describes how Jesus completely fulfils all that the Day of Atonement was pointing towards; that Jesus is the one, final sacrifice for all sin, and that:
“by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
We cannot make ourselves right with God - only Jesus has done that. Therefore, any sacrifices we bring today are not given in order to earn God’s favour. And yet the writer to the Hebrews does say that there are sacrifices we are called to make. We are called to make sacrifices of praise, and sacrifices of doing good and sharing with other people.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:12-16)

Church: living sacrifices we are called to be

But the best place to go to understand how we may respond to God in a way that pleases Him is Romans 12.
Romans 12:1–2 NIV - Anglicised
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 is one of the best-known passages in the Bible—and deservedly so, for we find here a succinct description of the essence of the believer’s response to God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news of Jesus Christ is intended to transform a person’s life. Until individual Christians own and live out the gospel, it has not accomplished its purpose. Yet, though Paul exhorts us in light of the manifold mercy of God, he knows that our obedience is the product of what God has done in our lives, not something we can manufacture on our own.
God is at work, transforming people from within by his Spirit, who produces “fruit” pleasing to God (Galatians 5:16–26).
The sacrifice we bring is the sacrifice of response. We offer ourselves not ignorantly, like animals brought to slaughter, but intelligently and willingly. This is the worship that pleases God. Worship that pleases him and that truly leaves its mark on a believer always engages the mind. Seeing how Jesus has dealt with our sorrow and shame, we are inspired and empowered to bring our praise and our service. We can worship God with our lips in songs and prayers, and we can worship God with generosity and compassion towards other people.

Conclusion

Worship is about the way we live, not what we do on Sunday morning.
We worship God, says Paul, by giving ourselves in sacrificial service to our Lord. We are to serve him every day, every hour, every minute. In other words, worship is a lifestyle.

"If you will here stop and ask yourselves why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it." (William Law - Serious Call)

In our Journey with Jesus we need to ask ourselves, every step of the way, do I really mean this? I pray that we do. Amen.
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