Whenever the ancient Hebrews offered the best of their flock or herd to God, they tied it to the altar still alive, kicking and struggling. Once there, the shepherd bent back the animal's head and slit its throat with his own hands. Then, hands red with its blood, he watched it die.
I'm glad we don't have to do that anymore.
Not so fast.
Actually, I'm thinking that we do.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. --Matthew 5:17
The New Covenant Jesus introduced changed the old one, but did not put it away. We can eat pork now, but we must eat it to God's glory. We do not have to abandon disobedient children beyond the city gate, but we do have to abandon them to Christ. We don't have to slaughter our animals in church, but we do have to kill what is not godly in ourselves.
We are no longer required to kill a sheep, but we still have to raise the knife.
What do we have to kill now?
Put to death, therefore, everything that belongs to your earthly nature...--Colossians 3:5
Great. My earthly nature. Isn't that just about everything?
Well, yes, it is. Everything, at least, that doesn't resemble God.
This is going to hurt.
Well, yes again. It will hurt. That's what sacrifices do.
Do you really think that those Hebrew shepherds didn't look at those spotless lambs they kept having to bring to the temple and wonder whether they would be able to feed their family on what they had left over? Of course, they did. And so do we.
What are we supposed to give? Time, talent, and treasure, isn't it?
So what does that look like? Warning: Some of this may sound familiar...
Time: If I spend an hour or two praying or reading and studying my Bible, who will do my other work?
Talent: If I fix the church's computers, who will fix mine? If I take someone else's mom to the grocery store, will someone take mine? If I adopt this child, will my others suffer?
Treasure: If I give ten percent, or even more, what will happen to saving for a rainy day? If I ever need something, who will meet my need?
Remember, we have to bind up the sacrifice while it's still alive, not wait until we don't care anymore, until it's become comfortably surplus. When it finally goes up in smoke as incense, we need to watch it rise with some regret.
It's true that we are not to be foolish in this--there are limits. We are not usually called to give away all of our earthly attachments and possessions, but that does not mean we are not to give away any of them.
In the end, what I bind to the altar is concern for myself.
My comfort, my pleasure, my affection, my habits.
That's right. My hesitance to offer real sacrifice points to lack of faith, lack of trust in God. Every time we cling to something, we uncover an instance of unbelief.
We say that we believe that God has our back, but when we can't let go of something, whether it's material or human or emotional, that is the single thing we most desperately need to lay down.
I'm sorry, but we have to kill it.
"But I don't know what I'd do without it...." Exactly.
We don't know what we'd do without that thing or person or feeling. But God does.
Raise the knife against it, my friend. Raise the knife to it and trust God that, if you are not to kill it after all, He will stay your hand. He's done it before.