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In an age of over hyped heroism and stories of sacrifices made for our favorite sports franchise, real sacrifice is hard to find. In an age when any behavior from any person-ourselves included-may appear on the internet for the world to see, most of the time we see selfishness instead of sacrifice, folly instead of faithfulness. True sacrifice, however-something offered up for the sake of others-goes back to creation.
Sacrifices, the kind involving death, have been with us since the Garden.
After the first couple disobeyed their Father, God made clothing from the skins of animals to cover them. Noah, after exiting the ark, sacrificed animals and birds on an altar to God, and the Lord was pleased with the aroma of the sacrifice. In the first chapters of Leviticus, God gave Moses instructions for how the people of Israel were to offer sacrifices to God, and when they follow his instructions God finds this gift to be a pleasing smell.
Did the ritual sacrifice offered correctly bring salvation to the one who gave? No, salvation comes through faith alone. But the shedding of the animal's blood signified that blood would need to be shed for the remission of sins, and that could only be accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ on the cross. It is this good news that we take to the world.
In Psalm 51, after David had been caught in his sin and repented, he realized that the sacrifice God desired was a humbled spirit, a repentant heart. Throughout the prophets we are told that a sacrifice given without repentance is worthless. Micah asks rhetorically if we should offer God thousands of animals, rivers of olive oil, or even our firstborn child in sacrifice. The answer the Spirit gives is that God has already told us what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
Centuries later, Paul told the Corinthians to rejoice that God had made us his captives and that we-our lives-are a Christlike fragrance rising up to God, spreading the knowledge of Christ as if a sweet perfume was filling the air. Sadly, to some this fragrant sacrifice is the smell of death. But to others it is a life-giving scent.
Christ is our example, as Paul told the Ephesians that the Son had offered himself as a sacrifice, a pleasant perfume before God. He undertook the costliest sacrifice of all when he provided for the salvation of the whole world. And that is why we share this good news of Christ's sacrifice by taking the gospel to the least and the last and the lost. It is a life-giving sacrifice that we share with joy.