Summary: Sacrifice can a foreign and strange thing to us. When looking at sacrifice, it is help to look at purpose, place, and presentation. When keeping this in mind, we can apply his point to our lives and see the richness of the imagery and truth.
Sacrifices were important and instrumental to the worship life of believers in the Old Testament. We might be unfamiliar with them, so it can helpful to look at them in detail. When talking about sacrifices, I find it helpful to talk about three things: purpose, place, and presentation. Purpose. Sacrifices had a lot of purposes. At the time of the patriarchs, the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, people offered sacrifices to thank God for His blessings or to participate in a fellowship meal with God and His people. Sacrifices were also done that focused on atonement and were offered to cover up for the sins of the people. Animals would have to die, and their blood would need to be shed. Imagine having to kill and sacrifice an animal for something that you did against God’s Commandments. That would certainly make you look at things differently, and even your actions, and their consequences.
Place. Sacrifices were often done at the tabernacle and later were done in the temple. Picture the combination of a church, slaughterhouse, and open air kitchen all put together, and that is what these two places would have been like. Picture the sight and smell of animals in God’s house, the bleating of goats, the smell of bread and burnt meat, and the commotion of people coming in and going out, buying and selling. Picture the sight of blood, and lots of blood. At major festivals, it would not be uncommon for the priests to be up to their ankles in blood!
Presentation. The animal sacrifices that were given to God were supposed to be animals that were pure and without blemish. They had to be healthy and strong, not the runts of the liter or the ones that would die from complications. God wanted the best and deserved the best. Sacrifices were to be offered to Him alone, and the Israelites got into deep trouble when they offered them to other gods besides the Lord.
Why are we talking about sacrifice this morning while in the book of Romans, a book about God’s grace? We are talking about sacrifices because Paul does in our text. As Paul talks about sacrifices, he uses a weird descriptor. He uses an oxymoron. See if you can find it. He says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Find the strange saying? Isn’t it “living sacrifice”? Last I checked, sacrifices are dead! They are killed! Can a sacrifice really be living? That is like saying I have an open secret or I want the larger half. It is like telling a person to act natural or that you endured a deafening silence. These things don’t make sense. They are contradictory. They are oxymorons. Today, we’ll look at being living sacrifices. We’ll look at what that means, how and why that can be, and how to apply that to our lives.
How and why are we living sacrifices? Let’s hear again what Paul says. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice because of the mercies of God. Notice that the word mercies is plural, not singular. Some English translations have mercy, but the word is plural. God’s mercies cover a wide scope of things.
In the immediate context of Romans, chapters 9 through 11, Paul talked about the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is the teaching that God has chosen believers in Christ before the foundation of the world. This means that our salvation is sure, guaranteed, and completed for us. We don’t have to do anything or worry about it through faith in Jesus. Paul has this in mind as he talks about the mercies of God. He also has in mind the other things that he has written about so far. Mercies like the righteousness, new life, hope, and grace that we have in Jesus.
God’s mercies cover a lot of things, and they are grounded in and stem in Christ’s sacrifice for us. Let’s revisit the three “p”s of sacrifice for this. Purpose. Jesus died to cover and atone for our sin. He shed and gave every last drop of His precious blood to do so. The apostle said earlier in Romans 5:9, “Since therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” Our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross makes us right with God and saves us.
Place. Jesus was taken outside of the city of Jerusalem and crucified on a cross. The author of Hebrews illuminates this point when he writes: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify, that is set apart, make holy, the people through His own blood.” He died outside the city on the cross to save us with His blood.