The first flash of lightning caused concern, the second flash—anxiety, and the third flash followed by a thunderous response instilled woe within my heart, mind, and soul. I was supposed to be camping out at the Dinsdale farm, not swimming and carousing with girls over at Mike’s house. He had an indoor pool and a hot tub. Be honest, you would’ve done the same thing. My parents trusted me and I lied to them. My dad is brilliant, and when the storm started brewin’, I knew it was only a matter of time before the headlights of his truck made their way down Mike’s drive. I changed out of my swimsuit, hung my head as low as it could go, and walked like a death-row inmate up the stairs to wait for the inevitable. Sure enough, before the first raindrop hit Mike’s front awning, my dad’s Ford pickup truck turned into the driveway. The fun was over.
My dad informed some of the other parents of our misdemeanors—the parents he knew at least. Their kids lied and got away with it. How? I have no idea. Either they were incredible liars or their parents were idiots…maybe a little of both. I knew deep down I couldn’t lie to my parents anymore. I purged the truth all over the kitchen table, sacrificed my freedom, and faced the consequences head-on. In the aftermath of those events, my parents punished me by taking away several privileges. My friends escaped repercussions and continued to enjoy their freedom. I, however, held onto something more valuable than my freedom or the opportunity to hang out with my friends. Because of my honesty, my parents forgave me, trusted me, and walked with me into a new level of redemption and new life. My relationship with my parents grew closer and our love deepened.
After entering through the gate and into the courtyard, the first thing the Israelite worshiper encountered was the Bronze Altar. Specifically designed to offer sacrifices for the atonement of their sins and redemption in the presence of God, the Israelites would place flawless animals upon the altar and burn them as an offering. So was it simply the sacrifice of sheep and goats that God desired, or was is something far more than that?
Even after commanding the Israelites to offer sacrifices, God said, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). The sacrifice was a statement and outward demonstration of one’s devotion to God…one’s desire to be in relationship with the Almighty…a path to atonement, redemption, and new life.
I find it fascinating that God instructed Moses to build the Bronze Altar and most of the other Tabernacle furnishings out of acacia wood. The acacia (or tamarisk) bush creeps its thorny existence into several facets of Ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology.
According to Egyptian mythology, the acacia grew around the body of the god Osiris preserving him for a future date when his wife Isis could bring him back to life. Familiar with Egyptian myths, Moses most likely recognized the life-giving acacia bush as God revealed his name as well as Moses’ purpose as Israel’s savior and redeemer from inside the acacia as it blazed in glorious fire yet didn’t burn up. Zealous Jews may have recognized the thorny branches of the acacia when the Roman soldiers twisted them into a crown of thorns and placed it on the head of an itinerant preacher from Nazareth before he was sentenced to be crucified. Some may have even connected the dots between the acacia’s symbolic life-renewing power and the true power of transformation, redemption, and renewal found in one’s faith in Jesus Christ after he rose from the dead.
In the same way my honest repentance led to a better relationship with my parents, when we fall before the cross and purge the truth about our nights at Mike’s house—swimming and carousing with women—God will forgive us, redeem us, and transform us. There will always be repercussions, but true repentance and sacrifice will build trust, increase love, and better our relationship with our God. For us today, this is what sacrifice looks like:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Sacrifice for the young nation of Israel—and for us today—serves the same purpose: it brings about atonement for our sins, redemption, renewal, and a transformed life so that we may have a dynamic relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
Thanks to Jesus, we no longer have to approach the Bronze Altar and shed the blood of innocent animals. Nevertheless, we still need to bring our best before God and live our life as Casting Crowns sings:
Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight
May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You
—Lifesong by Casting Crowns
The acacia bush represents life-renewing power.
Jesus IS that power.
“So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name. Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”