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Elements of Sacrifice

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Elements of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:18-25

Let's first consider a few historical views of sacrifice.

In the fourth century A.D., St. Augustine said of sacrifice:

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. (The City of God)

The Spanish naturalist philosopher, George Santayana, whose life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, had this to say about sacrifice:

Nothing so enhances a good as to make a sacrifice for it.

Moving up to our time, Frederick Buechner wrote,

To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.

So what is sacrifice? If we bring together these views, sacrifice is giving up something for a greater good, whatever that good may be, as an expression of love for God and man, so as to enhance not only that greater good, but also the value of what is given, as well as the life of the one who gave it.

The most beautiful expression of this kind of sacrifice is stated in

John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

As John 3:16 reveals, sacrifice is central to our faith. Yet it has become marginal in our contemporary Christian thinking. We need to rethink king David's own definition of sacrifice. "I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (v. 24)

 

A sacrifice is that which costs us something in the way we live. It means giving up something I love and cherish for something I love and cherish more. Let's think about sacrifice in this was in relation to Veteran's Day, which is coming up this Thursday, November 11.

Now that we've established what sacrifice is, we're ready to consider the three elements that make it up.

The first element of sacrifice is the desire to promote good through sacrifice.

King David, heeding the prophetic word of God, went to Araunah's residence in order to purchase his threshing floor. He intended to make sacrifice there. The time was immediate because the need was desperate. The circumstance behind Gad's speaking to the king was David's sin of numbering the fighting men of Israel and Judah. This displeased the Lord and caused Him to send a plague on the people that lasted for three days, and which took the lives of 70,000 people. To stop the plague, Gad, the prophet, suggested that David build an altar to the Lord at the very place the Lord had stopped the angel of death from destroying Jerusalem, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

In this case, the good David was attempting to do was prevent the death of other innocent Israelites. After all, it was because of his actions that thousands had died of the plague.

 

If we relate this to those who have served, and who presently serve, in the military, the personal sacrifice they make is to save the lives of others. It's tragic that our youth today are being called on to make such sacrifices, but, it seems to me, the actions of our enemies necessitated it. We can be thankful that the present generation, much to the surprise of many, has been more than willing to make whatever sacrifice, even that of life, to help millions of innocent people from being tyranized, tortured, or killed.

Someone has said that "nothing is costly to one who does not count the cost." Don't count what it costs you to sacrifice for the good of someone else. Consider only the good your sacrifice will do for others.

 

There's another element involved in sacrifice.

Sacrifice involves my refusal to offer what costs me nothing.

King David had the opportunity to offer to God a free, absolutely cost-free worship. Araunah was more than willing to sacrifice for the needs of the king, and of the whole of Israel. He is to be commended for such a worthy offer Apparently, realizing the destruction he'd been spared (his land was where the angel of the Lord had spared the destruction of the entire land], Araunah offered David a "package deal" that would cost him nothing. He offered the altar, the sacrifice, even the yokes used with his oxen to use for the wood to burn the sacrifice. Free of charge!. Yet David refused. Not that he was wasn't able to pay whatever price Araunah charged, after all he was king, but David felt obligated to sacrifice whatever was necessary to atone for the wrong he'd brought on his people.

The important principle here was David's refusal to take the easy way out, to bear no responsibility for others' loss. Whatever it cost him, he was determined to right the wrong.

We can rationalize all we want that our responsibility towards the suffering and oppression of others stops at our own borders, but that argument won't hold water; not even according to the Bible. Cain's question to God, after he'd killed his brother, Abel, "Am I my brother's keeper?" presupposes a yes answer. The issue wasn't whether or not Cain's actions toward Abel brought sin and death into the world, they didn't. His parents' actions did that. But he was responsible for his own actions toward Abel. His brother's well-being was in his own hands.

From God's standpoint, we're each responsible for the well-being of the other. We can choose to do good or evil. When we choose to sacrifice ourselves for a greater good we choose wisely and lovingly.

This leads logically to the third and final element of sacrifice, as this scripture text makes clear.

Sacrifice results in a costly offering
that pleases God.

The result of David's costly sacrifice to buy from Araunah his threshing floor, the oxen, and the wood for the sacrifice, was the stopping of the plague that killed so many (v. 25). But his sacrifice paid off in a more elaborate way than David could have ever imagined.

Not only did David willingly pay Araunah for his threshing floor, his oxen, and his wood, but he also, unknowingly, made a sacrifice that influenced Israel for good for generations to come. He initially purchased those items needed to offer the sacrifice to rid the country of the plague. However, he later paid a much higher price to Araunah for all of his land. We're told in 1 Chronicles 21:25 that David paid Araunah 600 shekels of gold for the rest of his land on which the temple in Jerusalem was eventually constructed by Solomon, David's son.

We received a couple of emails this afternoon from our nephew who's in Baghdad, Iraq. He told how fortunate they were not to have had more wounded than there were. Most of those wounded were harmed in ways other than in battle. He said that its amazing how bite-size pieces of candy, mostly Hershey's chocolates, Almond Joy, and Mounds will sustain one through long days and nights of patrols. But what touched him the deepest was the children of Iraq they encountered everywhere. And just one bite-size piece of candy, sacrificed by soldiers who could eat them all themselves, goes a long way in improving the relations of the Americans to the Iraqies, most of whom want a new way of life under freedom.

David sacrificed a huge sum of money to buy Araunah's land, because he refused to sacrifice anything to God that didn't cost him anything. But in the process, he set in motion the forces that led to Araunah's being able to live comfortably for the rest of his life, as well as providing his nation a place suitable for a capitol city, Jerusalem.

All of us in America are being called on to make personal sacrifices for the war effort in some way or another. Yet if our goal in life as Christians is to be a living sacrifice for God, and make a worthy sacrifice for good, then we ought to be willing to make a sacrifice that costs us something. After all, freedom is never free!

If there's one element that has no place in sacrifice, it's coercion. Sacrifice dies immediately when I give because I'm forced to, or I'll feel guilty if I don't, or because it's my duty rather than because I seek to love and worship my Lord who sacrificed all that I might have all.

We all have the privilege of sacrificing for the good of our fellow man. Our country has always been willing to make such sacrifices, when able, when it came to preventing people and nations from being run over by despots and tyrants and thugs.

What did our Lord Jesus say? "He who loses his life for my sake shall find it." There are perhaps millions of other Americans who are sacrificing for the cause of freedom for reasons very much different from ours as Christians, but they're admirable if done for the good of their fellow man.

Sadhu Sundar Singh found this out.

One day Sadhu and a friend were traveling through a pass high in the Himalayan Mountains. They happened to come across a body lying in the snow. Sadhu wanted to stop and help the man, but his companion refused, saying, "We'll die if we burden ourselves with him."

Sadhu couldn't bring himself to leave the man. As his companion said farewell, Sadhu raised the helpless man to his back. He struggled to carry the extra weight, but miraculously, the further he went the more heat his body produced, which in turn caused the frozen man to revive. Soon both were walking side by side. Miles up the road Sadhu found his former companion lying on the road, frozen to death.

Sadhu was willing to sacrifice his life for another person; and, in the process, he saved not only another man's life, but his own. His companion, however, refused to make a sacrifice, and lost his life.

Frederick Buechner is right. "To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love." Make your life an offering of holy, loving worship to God by giving sacrificially to alleviate the plague of hunger in this world.

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