Malachi 1:6, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”
Last Sunday Pastor Jordan preached out of Malachi. A tough book to handle homiletically. It starts off affectionately enough but quickly tailspins into controversy (the whole “I love Jacob but hate Esau” talk) and crashes into the raw nature of a Holy God. The cordial introduction is made quick work of and feels like a contrived setup—though it is far from it—to simply catch its original audience off guard, that being, the Levitical priesthood who were more than responsible yet indifferent towards the corrupted priest-and-sacrifice economy originally designed to showcase a tradition and posture of mercy, of healing, and of worship, but that was instead bastardized by greed, laziness, and mockery.
It is not so much that there was a small margin of error in the selection for a proper offering, it is not as if God expected the priests to choose the “one” sacrifice in the same sense we may erroneously think of there being only one soulmate. There was no perfect sacrifice nor perfect choice, just the cream of the crop. The sacrificial system was to give, not out of the worth of the animal, but in response to the worthiness of God. It was not meant for precision and pressure, but for freedom to worship.
I cannot imagine how a jealous God absorbed the full extent of this insult when the priests deliberately went out of their way to give from the bottom of the barrel and not from the bottom of their heart. It was a spat to the face, and surprisingly enough God did not wipe out the people entirely. He was faithful, even in anger, to covenant love. To illustrate this He reminds them of a scandalous love affair with a conniving, undeserving scoundrel for a patriarch (Malachi 1:2).
And to prove there was no perfect choice, God chose to love Jacob. And to prove their was a perfect choice, God chose to sacrifice His son.
In one sweeping motion the cross unprecedentedly overturns and fulfills, on a cosmic scale, an unfinished system through the sacrifice of One. Done away with forever was the need for animal sacrifices in order to make way for worship in spirit and truth, which, ironically, nonetheless calls us to sacrifice still (Romans 12:1). God did not do away with sacrifice in general, just in particular. As the saying goes, “He who has loved without dying has not loved at all.” Yes, to say Christ is the consummate Sacrifice is absolute; to say Christ is the only sacrifice is left wanting, because then, what must I do with gratitude?
“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.”
Perhaps this verse is not about calling us to an old law but rather to a covenant Love, an explanation—to help us make sense—of gratitude. Paul does this with a refreshing truth. Covenant love is not physical circumcision. The heart is the new circumcision. Covenant love is not animal sacrifice. Worship is the new sacrifice.
Gratitude can never do away with worship, in as much as, love can never do away with sacrifice.
Yet, I thought to myself during Pastor Jordan’s preaching, if my body is the living sacrifice, I cannot help but think that I offer nothing but blemish and lameness. With that realization, I could not but resign to sadness.
Then suddenly the Spirit lifted up my eyes and reminded me of something I saw that weekend.
With horchata drinks in hand and a discounted Domino’s pizza already downed, Ben Wagenaar and I created a homies paradise as we roamed aimlessly through the cool trails of the Nature Center talking about nothing new under the sun but enjoying brotherhood through the exploration of God and creation. I motioned for us to stop as we crossed midway over a bridge, as all this was new to me (I had never visited before), and my eyes beheld in shock at the beauty of autumn.
“Springfield is underrated,” I spoke out loud.
Running water trickled calmly underneath but leaped to meet with the falling rain. A few feet away a turtle pocked its head out of the water and stared in salutation. On the horizon, where earth meets the sky, the autumn trees appeared as frozen flames brilliant with warm colors.
I knew this scenery was only possible because a part of Mother Nature was dying. And she did so without fight nor tension. It was her desire to shed her leaves in order to embrace the harsh winter to come. As it is with life in Jesus, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we present ourselves as Fall Colors.
Beautiful in dying. Colorful in living.
A couple weekends ago I took a trip to IHOP in Kansas City, coincidentally also with Ben, and I heard Misty Edwards sing live. In one of her songs she sang, almost as if personally to me, during a time when I had nothing of myself worth offering,
I knew what I was getting into and I still chose you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still like you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still want you.
I don’t regret it; I am not shocked by your weakness and brokenness.
If you are not the cream of the crop, of which I never was nor will ever be, do not fret, through Christ you are altogether lovely; your worship as sweet fragrance. Being a living sacrifice is not a beauty pageant. God desires for us to live out a redeemed theology of brokenness and sacrifice, for only then can we can live out worship in spirit and in truth—that truth being, I am weakness and repentance, yet grateful and adored.
At the close of the service I prayed to the Lord as He wiped away my tears, “BE LIVING IN MY DYING.”