There are different ways one can demonstrate and express the worship of God. One of the ways we demonstrate our worship to the Almighty God is through sacrifices. In this article, we shall look at the following: How do our sacrifices speak? Why is sacrifice a form of worship? Does sacrifice and how it is offered matter to our worship of God?
The Bible talks about several ways that our worship of God should be expressed. Today we are going to take a look at Worship through Sacrifice. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord prophecies about a time when Egypt will worship the Lord. He says in Isaiah 19:21:
So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings.Isaiah 19:21
Making sacrifices before the Lord is a way we worship Him. When we make sacrifices, we are saying that what or whom we are sacrificing for is worth more than what we are sacrificing.
As Israel is called to worship, they are reminded of the thoughts that should occupy the heart of any true worshiper. Biblical worship is far more than just gathering together to sing a few song, pray a few prayers, preach a sermon and go home. Biblical worship has its foundation a heart that is filled with love for Almighty God and what He has done for the worshiper. The children of Israel are told to approach Him with appreciation for the wonderful things He has done for them. Consider what the true worshiper is to have in his mind as he approaches God.
Definition Of Concepts
“Worship” is the common translation for the Greek verb proskuno (proskunw). It is defined as “the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, etc.” In the New Testament, it is used in a Jewish context with a direct link to the temple at Jerusalem: Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast (John 12:20). In the book of Revelation, the worship of God is one of the most obvious activities in heaven: …the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying (Revelation 4:10),…
“Sacrifice” is the translation for the Greek verb thuo (quw) and noun thusias (qusiva”). In the New Testament, it is used to describe the ritual killing of animals for presentation to God as a part of the Law of Moses: For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins (Hebrews 5:1). In the church age, sacrifice consists of living a life of self-denial, giving of money to help mission work, praising God, doing good and sharing with others. In radical contrast to the practice of the Jewish religion, there were no ceremonial aspects to worship, ministry and sacrifice in the apostolic church. Each of these ideas consisted of living lives of prayer and praise, self-denial and furthering the work of God on the earth in the specific ways that have been identified.
Items Of Sacrifice
There are five main types of sacrifices, or offerings, in the Old Testament. The burnt offering (Leviticus 1; 6:8–13), the grain offering (Leviticus 2; 6:14–23), the peace offering (Leviticus 3; 7:11–34), the sin offering (Leviticus 4; 5:1–13; 6:24–30), and the trespass offering (Leviticus 5:14–19). Each of these sacrifices involved certain elements, either animal or fruit of the field, and had a specific purpose. Most were split into two or three portions—God’s portion, the portion for the Levites or priests, and, if there was a third, a portion kept by the person offering the sacrifice. The sacrifices can be broadly categorized as either voluntary or mandatory offerings.
There were three voluntary offerings. The first was the burnt offering, a voluntary act of worship to express devotion or commitment to God. It was also used as an atonement for unintentional sin. The elements of the burnt offering were a bull, a bird, or a ram without blemish. The meat and bones and organs of the animal were to be totally burnt, and this was God’s portion. The animal’s hide was given to the Levites, who could later sell it to earn money for themselves.
The second voluntary offering was the grain offering, in which the fruit of the field was offered in the form of a cake or baked bread made of grain, fine flour, and oil and salt. The grain offering was one of the sacrifices accompanied by a drink offering of one-quarter hin (about a quart) of wine, which was poured into the fire on the altar (Numbers 15:4–5). The purpose of the grain offering was to express thanksgiving in recognition of God’s provision and unmerited goodwill toward the person making the sacrifice. The priests were given a portion of this offering, but it had to be eaten within the court of the tabernacle.
The third voluntary offering was the peace offering, which consisted of any unblemished animal from the worshiper’s herd, and/or various grains or breads. This was a sacrifice of thanksgiving and fellowship followed by a shared meal. The high priest was given the breast of the animal; the officiating priest was given the right foreleg. These pieces of the offering were called the “wave offering” and the “heave offering” because they were waved or lifted over the altar during the ceremony. The fat, kidneys, and lobe of the liver were given to God (burnt), and the remainder of the animal was for the participants to eat, symbolizing God’s provision. The vow offering, thanksgiving offering, and freewill offering mentioned in the Old Testament were all peace offerings.
There were two mandatory sacrifices in the Old Testament Law. The first was the sin offering. The purpose of the sin offering was to atone for sin, intentional or unintentional, and cleanse from defilement. There were five possible elements of a sin sacrifice—a young bull, a male goat, a female goat, a dove/pigeon, or 1/10 ephah of fine flour. The type of animal depended on the identity and financial situation of the giver. A female goat was the sin offering for the common person, fine flour was the sacrifice of the very poor, a young bull was offered for the high priest and the congregation as a whole, and so on. These sacrifices each had specific instructions for what to do with the blood of the animal during the ceremony. The fatty portions and lobe of the liver and kidneys were given to God (burnt); the rest of the animal was either totally burned on the altar and the ashes thrown outside the camp (in atoning for the high priest and congregation), or eaten within the tabernacle court.
The other mandatory sacrifice was the trespass offering, and this sacrifice was exclusively a ram. The trespass offering was given as atonement for unintentional sins that required reimbursement to an offended party, and also as a cleansing from defiling sins or physical maladies. Again, the fat portions, kidneys, and liver were offered to God, and the remainder of the ram had to be eaten inside the court of the tabernacle.
The sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to the perfect and final sacrifice of Christ. As with the rest of the Law, the sacrifices were “are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Christians today recognize Christ’s atoning death on the cross as the only needed sacrifice for sin, offered once for all (Hebrews 10:1–10). His death opened the “holy place” for us (Hebrews 4:19–20) so that we can freely enter God’s presence and offer our “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15; cf. 9:11–28; 4:14—5:10).
Ancestors In Worship
The first generations of the genealogy of biblical figures occurs in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The genealogies of Genesis record the descendants of Adam and Eve as given The enumerated genealogy in chapters 4, 5 and 11 reports the lineal male descent to Abraham, including the age at which each patriarch fathered his named son and the number of years he lived thereafter. Abraham is the founding patriarch of the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, and the Midianites and kindred peoples, according to the book of Genesis.
Abraham’s form of Worship
Many Christians have never truly worshiped God because they don’t know how. Abraham models for us the essence of true, biblical worship. Charles Stanely once said that he believed that most Christians in most churches have never worshiped God. We go to church, but we don’t worship. We sing songs, but we don’t worship. We listen to sermons, but we don’t worship. All of these things are elements of worship but they are not worship in and of themselves which means that you can do all of them and yet have failed to truly worship God. We Christians often mistake the means of worship for worship itself. True worship is not interested in the created but the Creator.
Abraham’s worship was in faith (Gen 22:4,5): He saw the end from the start – he had no delusions – no vagueness about his faith – he had seen Moriah 3 days earlier in his mind and heart. He leaned only on his God to carry him – oh that we knew how to do the same. He went all this way “to worship” – not grieve, or lose, or die, be entertained, or be blessed – Abraham lived to worship God, no matter the cost.
Abraham’s Worship Was a Burden: Worship is no easy task – worship sometimes is heavy. It was a burden upon Abraham: He could not send his servants to do it in his place, Worship is a personal act of submission to the will of God.
Abraham’s Worship Was a Picture (John 8:56): A picture of a yet future event – almost 2,000 years later; An event where GOD the Father would direct His only begotten Son (Gen 22:2; John 18:11) up a small hill called Golgotha – Mount Moriah is exactly where Jesus would die (2Chron 3:1).
Abraham’s Worship Was a Sacrifice: There is no worship without a Sacrifice, There is no worship without a Cost – a high cost; There is no worship without Faith – he had to trust; There is no worship without Obedience – willful obedience; There is no worship without an Altar
Purpose Of Sacrifice
As a Covering for Sin
God required animal sacrifices to provide a temporary covering of sins and to foreshadow the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10). Animal sacrifice is an important theme found throughout Scripture because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). When Adam and Eve sinned, animals were killed by God to provide clothing for them (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain’s was unacceptable because he brought fruit, while Abel’s was acceptable because it was the “firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4-5). After the flood receded, Noah sacrificed animals to God (Genesis 8:20-21).
Forgiveness and Removal of Sin
Another sacrifice called for on the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16, demonstrates forgiveness and the removal of sin. The high priest was to take two male goats for a sin offering. One of the goats was sacrificed as a sin offering for the people of Israel (Leviticus 16:15), while the other goat was released into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20-22). The sin offering provided forgiveness, while the other goat provided the removal of sin.
Permanent atonement for sin and Redemption
Why, then, do we no longer offer animal sacrifices today? Animal sacrifices have ended because Jesus Christ was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. John the Baptist recognized this when he saw Jesus coming to be baptized and said, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). You may be asking yourself, why animals? What did they do wrong? That is the point—since the animals did no wrong, they died in place of the one performing the sacrifice. Jesus Christ also did no wrong but willingly gave Himself to die for the sins of mankind (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus Christ took our sin upon Himself and died in our place. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Through faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, we can receive forgiveness.
True worship demands our entire being: Heart, mind, body. It means our flesh. Worship is complete surrender, utter devotion, absolute, unconditional relinquishing of our autonomy. In Deuteronomy 26: 2 – 4, The Israelites were commanded to approach God with the best of the land. Notice that he was to “take of the first of all the fruit”, “put it into a basket”, and “go unto the place” of worship. Each of these acts brings to mind someone who is appreciative of all that the Lord has given him. He takes the blessings the Lord has enriched him with and he gives of them a willing sacrifice to the glory of the Lord. This is a picture of gratitude in action.
When we approach the Lord in worship, we should be grateful to Him for all that He has done for us. In a spiritual sense, we need to fill our baskets with thanksgiving for His blessings and come to His house ready to offer that thanksgiving up to Him as a living sacrifice. Far too many times, we only come to Him when we want something from Him. We should all develop a heart full of gratitude for all that He has done for us. If every individual would come into His house thankful for salvation and all the other spiritual blessings in our lives, it would transform our corporate worship. I fear that we usually come into His presence with empty baskets. We come to worship in a state of spiritual poverty, with nothing to offer Him.
Alan, Carr. “The Sacrifice of Biblical Worship.” The Sermon Notebook. 2003.
Engler, John. “Keeping the Faith” Barnabas Ministry: Great Commission Illustrated, 1997.
Kircher, Scott. “Worship through Sacrifice.” Sermon Central. September 2012.
Ledbetter, Craig. Biblical Worship – Abraham and Isaac. Ballincollig, Cork: Bible Baptist Church, 2001.
Satterfield, Bruce. “The Law of Worship and the Law of Sacrifice.” Brigham Young University – Idaho: New Perspectives, Fall Semester Vol. 14, No. 2, November 1997, pp. 14-16.
Soli, Deo Gloria. “Worship as Sacrifice: Displaying the Cross.” Life under the Blue Sky: The view from below. January 21, 2008. Zuck, Roy B. “A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament.” Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1991.