A sacrifice, as a noun, is defined as
- the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession [to God]; or the person, animal, or thing so offered.
the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim; or the thing so surrendered or devoted.
In both cases, however, the sacrifice is an offering that is hopefully pleasing to whom it is being offered. Throughout Old Testament history, we see various examples of sacrifices, offered for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.
One of the earliest recorded examples of an offering is seen in Genesis 4:3-5. Abel’s offering was recognized by God as a sacrifice, since he brought to God his “firstfruits”, the most valuable parts of his possessions. He was surrendering these prized possessions because he believed God was worth more, and he felt that only his “best” was suitable. As a result, his offering was found favorable to God, while Cain’s offering was not. Cain did not offer God his best, and it was, therefore, no sacrifice to give it up.
The Latin sacrificium is equivalent to sacri- (a combining form of sacer [holy]) + -fic-, (a combining form of facere [to make]). To “make holy”, where holy means “to be dedicated or devoted to the service of God.” Set apart, to be used for God’s purpose.
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy… – Genesis 2:3
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9
So, God can either choose to declare something as holy, or accept something that we’ve declared to be holy, set apart for Him, by freely offering that something to Him. But, as in the case of Cain, what good does it do us if we offer God the things that are of no great consequence to us?
Let’s say it’s my dad’s birthday, but I have no money to go buy him a present, and so I’ve determined to offer him one of my own possessions as a gift instead. So I dig through my closet and find an old sweater that I never wear. I know I won’t miss it, and so I feel there’s no great cost to me. It’s a really nice sweater, and I think he’ll like it.
But hanging right next to that sweater is my favorite jacket. I wear it all the time, and take great care of it. It’s kind of a part of me; it’s special to me, and I can’t replace it because they don’t make them anymore. I’ve checked.
Yes, he’d like the sweater, he may even wear it on occasion, but it’s certainly no sacrifice to me because I don’t wear sweaters. He may not even want the jacket, he has others. But this one is special to me, and he knows that. So if I presented him with that jacket, it would indeed be very special, so much so that he may nearly refuse to accept it.
Okay, so my heart is almost there. I’m trying to make the decision to give him the jacket. And I’m pretty sure he won’t accept it because he knows how much it means to me. But what if he does? What if he says “thank you” and just makes it his own? Or worse, what if he accepts it and doesn’t acknowledge how special it is? What if he doesn’t even like the jacket and never wears it?
But isn’t that silly? He knows me. I’m his son, and we have a really good relationship. He knows what that jacket means, and he will know how special a gift it is as a result. And I want to give it to him because I love him. Nothing else I have will be as good a gift as this. This is the best I have, and I will offer it to him freely, because I want him to have it.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1
So, in context, whatever I present to God as an offering must be the best of what I have, always. If I’m offering Him my time, my money, my strength, my mind, my skills, my talents, my body – indeed, my very life – it must be my very best. My offering must be a sacrifice, anything less is dishonorable to God and He doesn’t want it.
He sent that which was Most Holy to earth to be the Last Great Sacrifice, for me and for all. Through Christ, God’s best, He has made me holy. If God sacrificed His best for me, how justified can I be in doing any less?
In fact, when I feel my weakest, most broken, and humiliated, my best may not be very much at all. But, amazingly, what I offer at these times will be the most precious to Him that I can ever give.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44
So it seems to me that it doesn’t take much to please God. It only takes my best.