Thoroughly Equipped: First and Best

Today’s reading includes Leviticus 1:1-3:17, Mark 1:29-2:12, Psalm 35:17-28, Proverbs 9:13-18.

Today, we are reading about offerings.  I don’t know about you, but all the cattle, sheep, goat, pigeon, turtledove, and grain offerings are a bit confusing to me.  But instead of looking at the details of the offerings, I began to think of what the overall point of it was.  It was, of course, a bridge between mortal man and our Heavenly Father.  The fact that there was a system of any kind to bridge that gap, is indeed a great mercy and amazing grace.  But all these sacrifices and offerings were only temporary.  Did God really want a goat or turtledove?  He could create another with a just word.  So, if these weren’t things that He needed, if He could create another for Himself with a single word, then what was the point in asking them to bring them to Him.  What was the purpose behind them?  There were multiple things that were acceptable offerings, so it wasn’t really about what was offered.  The point was the way the sacrifice was offered.  We see in Leviticus 1:2 that the Lord instructed that the cattle would be taken from the individual’s herd or flock.  We see that the sacrifice would need to be without defect.  In other words, they would need to pick out the best they had to give back to God.  If they presented a bird as a sacrifice, they would need to find a turtledove or a young pigeon.  This was a guide for those who were too poor to bring cattle or sheep, and yet they still needed to bring the best birds they could find.  Not a crow or a black bird, but a lovely turtledove or young pigeon. Even Jesus’ earthly parents hundreds of years later, kept the laws of sacrifice with pure hearts.

22 Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.”[a] 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”[b]

                                                                                                           Luke 2:22-24 (NLT)

The point of all of the sacrifices was not so much the sacrifice but the heart of giving behind the sacrifice.  God wanted the best of their hearts.  He wanted and deserved first place.  That is why we see over and over that God told his people to bring their first fruits as sacrifice, their best sheep as offerings.  That is why God was so angry with Cain. He did not bring his best to God; he did not give with a pure, generous, and thankful heart. Let’s look at another time when God got angry.

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.

   John 2:13-15

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]

                                                                                                              Matthew 21:12-13 

There were several reasons for the righteous anger Jesus displayed in these accounts.  First of all, it was during the celebration of the Passover.  The Passover was to be a remembrance and a celebration of the time with the death angel passed over the Israelites, resulting in their release from the slavery of Egypt.  This time of remembrance involved offering pure sacrifices to God, which required giving the first and the best.  The money changers and sellers of the cattle, sheep, and doves made it easy to give a lesser sacrifice.  “Oh, I will just buy something at the temple and be done with it.”  “I won’t worry about taking my best lamb, I can just pick something up at the temple.”  The market that had formed at the temple made it easy for the people to give less-than their best.

On the other hand, for those who had come long distances, perhaps it wasn’t wrong to buy something there for the sacrifice.  We see in the very next verses that Jesus encountered a blind man.  He surely couldn’t have gone out to find a turtledove or young pigeon.  So, though it wasn’t wrong for some people to buy their sacrifices there, what was wrong was the fact that the money changers and sellers of the sacrifices were cheating those who needed their products.  They were turning the pure house of God into a den of thieves.  And they were taking advantage of the vulnerable ones who had no other choice but to buy the sacrifice there and pay whatever was asked.  And if they couldn’t pay, they couldn’t make the sacrifice to God; they couldn’t keep the law.  God does get angry sometimes.  But it is always righteous anger.

Of course, the old system of sacrifice ended with the Ultimate Sacrifice when Jesus died and rose again.  No other sacrifice needs to be made.  But God still wants something from us.  He wants what he always wanted.  He wants our first and our best.  He wants us.  Look at the truth found in 1 Samuel 15:22.

22But Samuel replied, 

“What is more pleasing to the LORD:

your burnt offerings and sacrifices

or your obedience to his voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,

and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

God wants our love and obedience more than He wants any sacrifice we could offer Him.  One of my favorite poems is a stanza from In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I’d do my part.

What can I give Him?  I’ll give my heart.

Give Him your heart. Give Him your first and your best.  And He will give you more than you could ever hope or dream or imagine.

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