Genesis 22:1-8, Matthew 1:1-2          “Sacrifice”


            Because we are just coming out of the Christmas Season, I have included the second biblical text this morning to be just part of the “begats” in the Gospel of Matthew. As every pastor is told in seminary, “You cannot preach the begats,” so I am always doing what I should not be doing! I want to point out an interesting fact here: If it were not for Abraham and Isaac’s surviving up on the mountain, we would not have Jesus being born at Christmas time! We see a verifiable connection between what happened on Mount Moriah and Mount Calgary.

            That connection is the one idea of sacrifice. We have the understanding that God demands a sacrifice. What exactly is God demanding from us? What is sacrifice? The word in English can be broken down into its constituent parts: “Sacri” means holy. “Fice” means to make. So, a sacrifice is simply when you make something holy.

            If you recall last week’s sermon, which was about Creation, then you will take note that when God created the universe, everything was with God and therefore holy. Then, we fell away from the holiness of Creation in the Garden of Eden, as the bible tells us, because we ourselves wanted to be more God-like by attaining the knowledge of “good and evil.” We ate the forbidden fruit. Death entered our bodies. WE were not all holy anymore as we had been created to be.

            Yet, we have all been created in God’s image. We are all children of the Almighty. So, there is still something very holy in us. So, sacrifice is the idea of making ourselves more holy again, to be with God as it was in the paradise that God originally created for us. How do we do that? Okay, here are three ideas about what makes something “holy,” that is a sacrifice to God:

First, purity. Second, a dedication to a higher purpose. And third, something is given back to God.


            A couple of weeks ago I did a baptism at Kekaha beach that was unique in that although it was at the beach, the person being baptized did not want the full immersion in the seawater experience. Instead I had a little bottle of Jordan River water from Israel. I gave the bottle of water to the person afterwards. Was that water from the Jordan River any holier than Waimea River water? Isn’t all the water on the planet equally holy?

            I was shopping at a local store and wanted to pick up some water. I wondered where that bottled water actually came from. I read that it came from Irwindale, California. Now, I grew up in Southern California and remembered that Irwindale was that gravel pit off the 605 freeway. I put the bottled water back on the shelf. I thought to myself how it was that the company that produced that water had pumped it up out of an LA suburb, put it in a polyethylene bottle (exposing drinkers to carcinogenic PET’s), shipped it in a rusty container across the Pacific Ocean, and was now selling it to people on an island that is the wettest place on earth and has the best quality of water you can imagine. And, people were buying that water! Irwindale also produces  one of the most popular beers in America right now. I can only see the gravel pit while stuck in LA freeway traffic.

            Will that Irwindale water purify you for God? Nope. When we speak of Godly sacrifice, we are talking about the cleansing of the soul. Jordan or Waimea River does not really matter, but it is kind of cool to think about being baptized with the same water that Jesus was. Nasa is searching for water on Mars as we speak–makes me wonder about the first Martian baptism! It will probably happen one day. Someone will be baptized on Mars! Will Martian water be any different? Nah. As long as the soul is cleansed in that moment of redemption, it would not matter.


            The second idea of sacrifice is that of being dedicated to a higher purpose. In baseball, when the coach tells you to put a line drive to first base when there is a runner on third, that is called a sacrifice. You give up your own chance to score in order for the other runner to come home and score for the team itself. That is what Abraham is called to do. That is Jesus is called to do. And, it is what allows us to come home to God in the end, too.

            Now, when we read the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, we do not even get a hint that Abraham would ever do anything other than what God is asking him to do. “Abraham?” God calls. “Here I am, Lord” is the response right away. “Go offer your son as a sacrifice.” “Okay, off I go then.” Abraham responds. That is an incredible test of faith! That is exactly what it says, too. “God tested Abraham.” (verse 1)

            Is your life dedicated to the higher purpose? Are you ready to make a sacrifice? Is God going to test you on that? I find it fascinating that when Jesus teaches us to pray the “Lord’s Prayer,” he literally says that we should pray “Do not lead us into a test of faith.” This is most often translated as “temptation,” but it is in fact the word “test” in the Greek– πειρασμόν.

            Has God ever tested you in your life? Throughout the Bible we see characters being tested by God actually: Job, Moses, Elijah, Jonah, even Jesus. It is not just Abraham that is tested. Remember Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

            King David prays in Psalm 26 the “Prayer of Examen” as it is called today. “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord with wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For thy steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in faithfulness to thee.  . . .”

            So, this actually is not conflicting at all. We can pray as King David did that God test us, but then right after that pray as Jesus taught that God not actually do that to us! Yes, God, please do not test me like you tested Abraham! I want to live my life to your higher purpose, but no need to test that!


            Third point, a sacrifice is given back to God. This is by far the most Hebraic of understandings that something is set apart or made holy to be given back to God. This is “kaddish” in Hebrew.  If you have been to one of the Seder meals here at the church during Holy week leading up to Easter, you will have heard me blessing the wine or matzah back up to the Creator of the Universe.

            In Abraham’s case, he sees that God gave him a son, now he is called to give it back to God in a sacrifice. Yes, Abraham will give it all back to God. His own life, his son’s life, they are all belonging to the God already. We all belong to God already. It is as Jesus said when he was asked if we should pay taxes. He looks at the coin, “give to Caesar what is his, give to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17) That is always how I look at paying taxes this time of year, by the way.

There are many words in Hebrew that might be translated as “sacrifice.” However, the one that really melts my heart is the word “zedek.” I have preached just on this one word before. It literally means to balance the universe in justice again. Commonly it is translated as “righteousness.” God has provided for us everything in this life, and so an offering is trying to rebalance the grace so that we also give back to God.

The way this kind of sacrifice works is that we see around us that others do not have enough to eat or a place to sleep. Then, we see that we have a little extra cash and we could go spend it on ourselves. We could go buy a new car or take a fancy trip. Instead, we make a sacrifice. We take that money and we make it holy. We set it aside for God’s purposes. We put it to use for God’s higher purpose in this world. WE use it to help make the world right again. 

That is what God did with Jesus. God sacrificed in order to make the world right again. When we sacrifice to make things right again in this world, we are just taking that most Godly example. Someone actually suffered and died that you might have the chance to be pure and holy and with God again. That was God by the way–Jesus on the Cross. How do we balance that understanding in our lives now? How do we live righteous lives now in response to that? Maybe that is our test this day from God!

Yup, we ask now that our hearts be made pure and set aside for God. We pray that our lives will be dedicated to that higher purpose. WE pray that we can now give it all back to God in this our moment of making life holy and beautiful again.