It’s clear that Jesus cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-17) because merchants were doing business there, defiling what was supposed to be holy. I wonder, though, if there could have been another reason beneath the obvious one…
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. … Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. –Exodus 12:3, 6
Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. … Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 15:19-20
Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd… -Deuteronomy 16:2
Sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament cost something—something significant, not just in coins but in time, effort…even love. The people were supposed to tend that firstborn male animal for a year, to protect those spotless lambs (“without defect,” Numbers says over and over) before they gave them to God. So when people in Jesus’ day trotted into the temple court with a bulging purse, their investment in the sacrifice was purely financial. They spent no effort or time, they had no emotional connection to the sacrificial animals. They hadn’t fed it or protected it from predators or led it into the fold each night. The people were buying their way into a false sense of acceptance.
We no longer offer animal sacrifices (thank goodness!), but the principle of sacrifice remains.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. –Hebrews 13:15-16
The offering of service is
supposed to take effort, cost time,
and mean something when it’s given.
We can’t just pay and expect someone else—the professional Christian—to do the work for us. We praise Him with our own mouths, not only the mouths of the paid professionals at the front of the church. We do good and share with others ourselves, not only through charitable organizations and collection drives. The offering of service (doing good and sharing) is supposed to take effort, cost time, and mean something to the giver when it’s given. Feels like I’m stating the obvious, but to truly be a sacrifice, our offering needs to be…well, sacrificial.
What Is Sacrifice, Really?
It’s the difference between donating money to an orphanage and adopting a child. WE NEED BOTH, obviously, but if all you ever do is donate money to this or that cause/charity without experiencing the meeting of needs, the down-to-earthiness of real ministry, you’ve missed so much of the Christ-life!
I would never openly criticize the ladies’ organizations that collect socks this month and canned goods next month. We need people to donate tangible items to help people without the means to buy these things for themselves. I cringe a little, though, when they call that collection a mission project. How are we “on mission” when we’re sitting in our safe, clean churches, keeping our distance from the ones who need tangible help and spiritual guidance?
Jesus entered into the
healing experience alongside
the one being healed.
Jesus broke the bread into pieces to feed the masses (John 6:1-13). Jesus stooped down, made some mud with his spit and smeared it on a blind guy’s face (John 9:1-7). Sometimes he didn’t touch—didn’t even see—the one He healed (e.g. the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13), but many times, he entered into the healing experience alongside the one being healed. For those of us who can’t usually do miracles (which includes me and, I’m assuming, all of you), we need to follow the hands-on approach.
This Isn’t Just My Opinion
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during WWII, knew this to be true.
A major theme for Bonhoeffer was that every Christian must be ‘fully human’ by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some ‘spiritual’ realm. To be an ethereal figure who merely talked about God, but somehow refused to get his hands dirty in the real world in which God had placed him, was bad theology. –Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
More recently (and less famously), I read these musings from Kelly Johnson, a blogger at The Glorious Table.
How was I to answer this call? When I saw stories on the news about impoverished people in war-torn countries, I prayed for mercy. I sent money to the Red Cross in response to natural disasters, sponsored children through Compassion International, and gave to our church mission programs.
If I was honest, I really didn’t run across many hungry or poor people in my comfortable suburban circles, so I offered my money and my prayers where and when I could. Is this what God meant when He said to “spend myself” on behalf of the hungry? How could a suburban mom “satisfy needs of the oppressed” when the needs were so many and felt so far away? Could there be more?
Johnson learns that there is more, that actually serving with your own hands is a far different—and more blessed—experience than paying someone else to serve.
It’s Not the Pastor’s Job
Our leaders equip the rest
of us to share Truth.
Our church leaders are not responsible for meeting the needs of people or telling them about Jesus on our behalf. They do these things as believers, but they don’t do them for us or instead of us. God gave us church leaders to equip his people for works of service (Ephesians 4:12). Our leaders equip the rest of us to share Truth, to do good and share with others, those sacrifices with which God is pleased (back to Hebrews 13:16. See also James 1:27).
In “Escaping Professional Christianity,” I wrote,
I want to stop being like the doctor, all sterile and expecting people to come to me. I want to be more like the midwife who goes out into homes and gets messy attending the birth (John 3) of new believers.
I write this from a place of conviction. Like Johnson, I don’t do it. I make excuses about being too busy or protecting my kids, but the truth is that I just don’t want to get my hands dirty. It would be inconvenient, maybe even painful. So I’m saying these things to myself first and just sharing the same thoughts with you. Let’s stop looking at the authentic Christ-Life as something beneath us. Let’s loosen our ties, dig into people’s problems, hold their hands, look them in the eye, and walk alongside them! Let’s sweat in His service, get some calluses, and lose sleep over lost friends.
Yes, we’ll get hurt.
Yes, we’ll get dirty.
Yes, we’ll feel exhausted.
Yes, it’ll be expensive.
But. (You knew there was a ‘but’, didn’t you?) You know that feeling at the end of a long day of manual labor? That sense of accomplishment and satisfaction? That’s what waits for us, except now it’s bound up in God’s pleasure, which is even better!
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