ďSacrificial DevotionĒ

1 Kings 8:54-63

Romans 6:9-19

March 7, 2004

 

The word devotion is used routinely to describe the Christian faith.As Christís disciples, we devote ourselves to Christís teachings and his way of life.We use daily devotionals to help us through the day, and to help us remain focused and centered on God.We even speak of having a deeply devoted love for God.

Yet, I wonder if we truly grasp the significance of our claim of being devoted people.Certainly, if we are talking about devotion as meaning passionate and affectionate love for Jesus, then I believe we can understand what this kind of devotion means, because we can understand Godís love for us in Jesus Christ.

We understand what agape love means.We love our children with agape love.We love our parents and spouses with agape love, with an unconditional love, self-sacrificing love that knows no bounds.But, I also believe that saying we love God in Jesus Christ and showing our love for God are two different things.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines devotion as (1) the act of giving or applying oneís time, attention, and self entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause, or person, and (2) as the act of setting apart for a specific purpose or use.

Being devoted people is more than just saying we love Jesus, being devoted people means that we must also radically demonstrate that love for Jesus in our everyday lives, it means that our devotion must be more than just passionate and affectionate in nature; our devotion must also be sacrificial in nature.

But, the reality is that we often have a difficult time showing our love for God in Jesus Christ in a sacrificial way.Itís not because we donít want to, we desperately want to, but because we are sinful creatures, because we routinely fail to completely and perfectly demonstrate our love for God as we are supposed to.

We know and confess that we fall short of Godís glory everyday.In the words we say and donít say, we fall short.In our actions and inactions, we fall short.In our humanness, we fall short.We donít need to make excuses, and we donít need to dance around the issue.Letís have the honesty to call it like we see it, we are sinners.

We are sinners who are in constant need of Godís reconciling grace.We are sinners who are in constant need of the liberating power of cross for our very lives.We are sinners, who need to constantly re-evaluate the devotion of our faith, and then re-commit ourselves to a faith that is sacrificial to God.

††††††††† Throughout the history of Godís interaction and relationship with Godís people, God has called for sacrifice as a response to Godís faithfulness and steadfast love for Godís people.Our first inclination is to turn away from any concept of sacrifice at all.When we hear the word sacrifice, we have a tendency to think about all those instances and examples of sacrifices in the Old Testament, and we quickly remind ourselves that we donít do that kind of stuff anymore.

The pure size of the sacrifice in our reading from 1 Kings is astonishing enough, and makes us again cringe at violence of this ritual.Twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep were used at this dedication ceremony of the new, Jerusalem Temple.You would think that a ribbon cutting ceremony would have sufficed?††

However, let us remind ourselves that sacrifices were more than just for the atonement of sins, they were the means by which Godís people demonstrated their loyalty, allegiance, faithfulness, and repentance to the Almighty God.Throughout the Old Testament, sacrifices served as an important ritual in the lives of the faithful.

Even though the Old Testament is ambiguous about the practice of sacrifice - in some places saying it is a divine requirement and in other cases saying that God rejects the whole practice all together - sacrifices served to symbolically demonstrate a personís own self-offering to Godís will and purpose, to atone for sins willingly and unknowingly committed, and to evoke Godís good favor and blessing upon them.

But this kind of sacrifice only brought a temporary change in the lives of the people.This kind of sacrifice was only effective until the next sin was committed, and then another sacrifice was needed to put the people back in Godís favor and re-establish their relationship with God.

††††††††† But as Christians, we believe it is the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that definitively secures for the whole of humanity the full effects of atonement and fellowship that the older sacrifices brought about temporarily.We believe that what people could only do temporarily for themselves, God did permanently for the world in Jesus Christ.

For us as Christians, the cross event is the defining moment in human history, when the invisible transition between two epochs of time, the old age and the new age, became visible to the world.In the cross event, the whole of history has shifted from the old age to the new age, from law to faith, from death to life, from sin to obedience.

In the old age, people sinned and needed sacrifice to put themselves back in favor with God.They were symbolic rituals of self-sacrifice, but in the end they were just that Ė symbolic rituals.The sacrifices of old did not affect any real change in the people or person doing the sacrifice.They were external rather than internal.They only served to maintain the status as Godís people rather than empowering them to be someone different and better than they were before because they were Godís people.

Itís the difference between children behaving and doing good in order to keep a parentís love, rather than behaving and doing good because they know the parent already loves them.Itís the difference between works and grace, trying to keep salvation and living as one who is saved.

For Paul, living in this new age means living in the new life we have in Christ.It means living in grace and not in fear.It means living in freedom not slavery.It means living out of our identity and vocation as Godís own children.For Paul, spending the rest of oneís life under the yoke of sinís slavery is no life at all, but spending the rest of oneís life in the freedom of Godís righteousness in Christ is living life at its fullest.Jesus says, ďI came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.Ē

We no longer need the sacrifices of old to make ourselves right with God, God has already made us right with him through the fullest expression of grace and love in Christís sefl-sacrifice on the cross.

It is the cross that has once and for all dealt with our sin and freed us from its deadly consequences.It is the cross that has once and for all brought us into permanent fellowship with God.It is the cross that has permanently changed our status from being slaves to sin, to now being slaves to righteousness, from living under the taskmaster of sin continually burdened with its relentless suffocating, debilitating, oppressive effect on our lives, to living under the power and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

So do we really need to concern ourselves with the whole notion of sacrifice?If Jesus' death was the once and for all atoning sacrifice, certainly we donít need to worry about having to sacrifice anything, because what good does it do anyway?Since God made the greatest, most costly sacrifice, then isnít it just party time for us?Since Jesus took the burdens of sin upon himself and freed us from sin's deadly consequences, then do the things we have done and not done, and the things we have said and not said really matter in the long run?

If the season of Lent is anything, it's a reminder that having a devoted faith means having a sacrificial faith, that our loyalties and allegiances, our deepest affections, all of who we are, and all of who we are called to be, belong not to sin and not even to ourselves, but to God.The season of Lent is the reminder that sacrifice is still important in the lives of the faithful, not sacrifices of token things, but of ourselves.

Sacrificial devotion is not to be a burden to our faith, it is to be a joyful response to Godís grace for the salvation we have been given.Sacrificial devotion is not about having to toe the line and make sure we are in compliance with Godís rules.It is about moving God to the center of our lives rather than ourselves.Itís about serving the Creator and not the creature.Itís about putting God first of everything, including ourselves.Jesus says, ďIf any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.Ē

Sacrificial devotion is about outwardly demonstrating our love for God and responding to God in the opposite way of our human inclinations.It is the way in which we begin to live in a new moral and ethical standard that has Christ-like implications.Spending time in prayer and with Godís word when it means that you have to rearrange your schedule is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Standing up for justice for the oppressed when it may mean that people wonít like us is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Speaking out against something wrong when it means that we wonít be politically correct is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Upholding your convictions at the same time respecting the other is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Refusing to act angrily when someone does something against you when it means they get their way is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Refusing to engage in hateful talk or useless gossip when it means alienation from the ďin crowd,Ē seeking the things that are above when it means that the world is against you, and serving those who are in need when it means giving up something you would rather be doing is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.Even laughing with those who laugh at you when you are the brunt of the joke is demonstrating sacrificial devotion.

Lent is a time to again re-sacrifice ourselves to God, to again give up ourselves to Godís sphere of influence in our lives, to again present the very members of our body as a self-offering to God as Godís instruments of righteousness.Let us take these forty days of Lent and make it a time for us to once again move from theology to practice, to once again re-commit ourselves to the new life we have in Christ, to once again put faith into action, to once again begin to make the right choices in our sacrificial devotion of faith.†† Amen.