To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice; But Why is Obedience So Hard?

“Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Exodus 19:3-6, NKJV)

When God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery, He gave them the evidence of mighty works that literally changed their world. He covered them with grace and offered them His Presence. He promised that they would be His own special treasure out of all the people on the earth. He delivered them from a lifetime of servitude to an ungodly master, and He formed a covenant with them that would last forever. Sound familiar? He did ask for something in return. These verses contain an “if-then” clause, making the fulfilment of the promises somewhat conditional. God said, “If you will indeed OBEY My voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me…” Apparently God really values obedience.

I guess it makes sense that we should be obedient, but the Bible (not to mention all of our current headlines) is pretty much the story of how we have NOT obeyed Him, starting with Adam and Eve. Pharaoh had a pretty sweet deal, what with all the slaves to build stuff and serve him. Imagine if he had said, “I think I’ll obey this God of the Israelites. Maybe if I take good care of these chosen people and follow this God, I can get some of this blessing for me.” His deal could have gotten even sweeter. But “Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should OBEY him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

He wasn’t willing to obey the Living God, and he came to an inglorious and ignominious end. (Yeah I know, how often do you get to use the word ‘ignominious’? But if you aren’t obedient, it could happen to you…)The practice of animal sacrifice was designed as a graphic reminder of sin’s penalty and it became a focal point for the Hebrew religion, and yet Samuel said, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To OBEY is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

When rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, the Levites under Nehemiah told all the people why they had come to such a desolate state. Their public ceremony praised God for his deliverance, and included this reminder: “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not OBEY your commands.” (Nehemiah 9:16) The whole Bible is full of examples of disobedience and consequences. “But wait”, you say. “Why are you talking so much about disobedience to me? I’m New Testament. I’m under Grace.”

Well, consider what Jesus said: “Anyone who loves me will OBEY my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) Apparently faith always results in obedience. Do you believe in Jesus? Yes. Well, then, how’s that obedience thing going? Do you realize he even included obedience as an important part of the Great Commission? “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I’m a little worried sometime that we have cheapened Grace by emphasizing how free it is, while failing to remember that our faith naturally results in our obedience to God. Have you seen God do something in your life? Do you say you have a relationship with Him? Well, just ask yourself one question: Are you obeying God? As you take spiritual inventory every now and then, it’s a great question to ask.

Here’s something no one likes to say,
Or much less, DO. And that’s OBEY.
It’s what God told the Israelites
Would please Him more than sacrifice;
It’s just how Pharaoh wouldn’t bend
That brought his ignominious end…
And here’s a different thought, my friend:
Although your Testament is the New,
It also still applies to YOU.
But you protest: “That’s out of place!
I’m free! I’m covered up by Grace!
I disobey God now and then,
But really, Jesus is my friend!”
Well here’s what Jesus has to say:
“To obey is love, and to love, obey.
There really is no other way.”
Obey. Today and every day.
Read your Bible. All I’m sayin’
Is just that Jesus wasn’t playin’.

 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472300960&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle version, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1472300960&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

The Mysterious Sacrifice that Makes Murderers Become Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus, and you will find a number of different words for love, many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways to express it. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a singular way that has stood firm for over 2,000 years. Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth. You have to admit, he was different.

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ, when he didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension? If you read his work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well, even though the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote. His conversion and particularly his education about Jesus has to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time!) And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice, repeating the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that literally for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God. The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”

God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE. If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

 

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
And you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Unthinkable Sacrifice That Never Actually Happened

The Bible tells many stories about sacrifice and redemption, and one of the most striking occurs early in God’s interaction with Abraham. The Genesis account says this:

“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:1-2 NIV)

This request from the Lord was surprising to say the least. There were pagan cultures that sacrificed children to deities, but YHWH never endorsed such activity. In fact, when the law was written later He called it an abomination in Deuteronomy 12:30-31: “for every abomination to YHWH, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt (sacrificed) in the fire to their gods.”

Abram had left Ur and been obedient to God, following Him geographically to a distant place; but the Lord apparently wanted to take Abram further still, and so He asked Abram to do the unthinkable. Abram and Sara had waited all of their lives in hopes of having a son, and it seemed the opportunity had passed them by. They were overjoyed (and yes, a little skeptical) to receive the promise of an heir when they were seventy five years old. Then they waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS to conceive and have a son. It is impossible for us to underestimate the depth of their love for Isaac. Just imagine the attachment these old folks must have had! Isaac was their heir, their legacy, and their promised one.

Surely they enjoyed watching Isaac grow to maturity in their old age, assured now that God keeps his promises… Surely as they sang songs with him or watched him grow up in their household with unrivaled love and affection, they treasured him as much as any parents had ever treasured any child.  And yet God told Abraham to go and sacrifice his only son. In light of these new instructions, Abraham’s response was amazing.

He immediately took Isaac, his only son, and prepared to sacrifice him as God instructed. So many questions come to mind when you read about the way God tested Abraham in Genesis 22. Why on earth did God do that? How could God be so cruel and heartless? What was the Lord thinking? What kind of God would require you to offer up your only son as a sacrifice? Wasn’t this the child of the Promise, the one through whom the covenant would be fulfilled? Was this a fair test? These are all legitimate questions to ask about this sacrifice, but really, aren’t those questions all between God and Abraham?

There’s really only ONE question, perhaps, that YOU should ask about this: what is it that you love more than anything, that you are withholding from God, that you refuse to offer him? “Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NIV)  Abraham denied himself and offered God the one thing in his life that he treasured the most. His relationship changed the way men perceived God, and it changed history from that moment on. God fulfilled the covenant of redemption through Abraham because he had faith and because he was willing to offer everything as a sacrifice to God. What will be different about history when your life is done?

Think. Offer. Move to a new place. Find a new blessing.

What things went through Abram's mind? How could God be so inclined,
To make him give his only son? How could such a thing be done?
He had to hold up once or twice as he prepared the sacrifice;
Did God go back on promises made? And yet, old Abraham obeyed...
Isaac's birth and all the rest had led him to the toughest test
A man would ever think to face! And what did Abram know of grace?
God said, "Take him to the place that I will surely show you."
Abram had to think, "Oh Yahweh, do I really KNOW you?
Would you have me offer up my one and only son?
Why, Lord, would you sacrifice the only Promised One?"
Looking back now, Abram knows the answers to his plea:
For God allowed His only Son to go to Calvary,
Offered as a sacrifice for them. For you. For me.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Broken Vows, Broken Hearts: The Never-ending Story

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:15-17, NIV) David wrote this Psalm after he had his affair with Bathsheba and arranged to have her husband Uriah killed. Like all of us, David fell prey to his own pride and lust, and did just what he wanted to do even though he knew it was wrong. The same man who sang nighttime praises to God on the hillsides, who declared his undying faith and devotion to the Lord, had thumbed his nose at God to go do something selfish, sinful, and downright evil. Now his lips were silent and he was mute with shame. David was the king over Israel, a party in a covenant relationship with God, blessed beyond measure, and yet he caved in to his own fleshly desires and committed sins that were unthinkable. He fell from the heights of blessing to the depths of depravity. Sound familiar? It should. It’s your story. It’s everyone’s story. No matter who you are, no matter how close you are to God, there are times when you turn away from Him and do what you want to do. Your fleshly desires motivate you to lie, to covet, to commit sins in both deed and thought. You act publicly humble while you wallow in pride, you judge others when you are unworthy, and you act with impunity regardless of consequences. And then you stop, realizing that you have broken trust with the Lord, that you have violated Christ’s sacrifice, and that, like the lost son you are broken and far from home. Even though David wrote this Psalm when the Jewish sacrificial system was fully operational, he recognized that animal sacrifice was symbolic, that it portrayed publicly what God wanted to see going on in our hearts privately. The death of the animals represented the death of our flesh, given willingly so that God’s Spirit might live in us. God doesn’t want burnt offerings, He wants our hearts. When we ignore Him, when we elevate ourselves above Him, and when we cave in to selfishness and sinful desires, God doesn’t want us dead; He wants us BACK. When we stray from God’s love, according to David, there is only one appropriate sacrifice. What God wants to see is a broken and contrite heart. God is not looking for those things to insure that we are suffering, or paying for what we’ve done. He wants to restore us, to keep deathly sin from destroying us, and He knows that the only way for us to stay free from its grip is to present ourselves, broken and contrite to Him. When is the last time you were broken and contrite? When did you last do business with God by presenting your broken spirit to Him without self-justification or reservation? When were you last brutally honest with yourself before the Lord, begging him for forgiveness? Well, when was the last time you sinned? When did you last tell a white lie, or have a momentary flash of envy or hatred? When did you covet something, or put anything else before God? If there’s a gap between the last time you sinned, and the last time you were contrite, read David’s words again. You’ve got some business to do.