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Epiphany - Living Sacrifices

There's nothing we can offer God that He needs. So you could say we're offering Him nothing. But that nothing is also everything, isn't it?

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
15 min read
Epiphany - Living Sacrifices
Photo by Grant Whitty / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the raw, unedited transcript from a sermon given on Jan. 29th, 2023. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! :-)

In in some ways, this morning's sermon, how will you talk, whichever term you prefer is kind of a continuation of last week. Um, and that's I guess you could say it's on purpose, but I wasn't planning on it. One of the things I really, I love about election erI and our calendar year is that from ad vents through easter or as or ascension, you could even argue. Maybe through Pentecost, we follow the life of Jesus. We do that every year, every year we are, we are reminded not because of dry ritual or or repetition of, but with intentionality of the events of Jesus life.

And that's I I just think that that is a great rhythm to have to be continually reminded of these things because in in fact it is also a reminder of the Gospel every year, built into the rhythm of our lives. So last week we talked about the gospel and of course this week we're going to talk about the gospel again, this is the Sunday that we mark the presentation of Jesus, Jesus has brought to the temple per the law and to have offerings made as, as giving up the first born under God.

This was something that God established way back when so we see right off the bat that his parents mary and Joseph or you could say his mom and his stepdad adopted father were obedient to God. They loved God, They wanted to follow what God had for them. I'm sure the miraculous birth of Jesus was enough to maybe get them on that track, I would hope. But still it's something they did out of devotion and out of love for God and while they are there, this probably seemingly crazy old coot named Simeon comes up and grabs the kid and holds them up like it's the lion king or something and prays over him and their parents are a little weirded out by that, but it's, it's an amazing prayer.

I wonder how many people he told, hey God told me I'm not gonna die until they see the messiah. Probably, hopefully, maybe not very many, I don't know, maybe everybody, I'm not sure, but that would be an interesting thing to, to kind of have have in your hand. But that's what apparently the spirit told him and the spirit fulfilled that promise to him, we see that Jesus is not just a fulfillment of a promise to one man, but to a nation and in fact to the whole world, this goes, we talked a little bit about genesis last time.

God promises even from the garden, that one will come, it's kind of a roundabout way, but one will come as a redeemer, one will come to fix the problem of sin that Adam and Eve introduced into the world. God's big into fulfilling promises. I don't know if you've noticed that maybe your life, maybe if you, maybe you hear them going, I don't feel that way in my own life and I'm sometimes I don't feel that way either. I'm like this, this is what God promised.

I'm going through this in my life pass. But then the other times when I can be most broken that, like, you know what, I'm glad for God's promises of Jesus as having come in the flesh and as a comforter. So let's, let's look at some of those thoughts as we go through the passages in the election arian maliki, it's this very bold proclamation of of of God or his redeemer coming back to the temple. And I find it fascinating that when you read through that, you see that there are times when offerings are not pleasing to God.

There are times when offerings are not pleasing to God

That might sound the opposite. Like if you're obeying, if you're doing what God tells you to do and offering what he tells you to offer, shouldn't he be pleased with that? Well, that's really only half of it, isn't it? If you look, if you can write this down and look it up later if you want. But in psalm 51, which is probably my favorite song at the end of it, David is doing business with God and comes to to realize some things about what God wants he says in verse 16 for you talking to God for you will not delight in sacrifice or I would give it.

You will not be pleased with a burnt offering the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart O God, you will not despise that's really what God's after. God wants my broken heart. Does that mean he's gonna break me all the time? No, but he might need to break you when you need to be broken, might break me when I need to be broken. And that process can happen through what Malaci shows us as refinement, talks about refining silver talks about refining gold.

And maybe we've talked about this before, talked about it a lot in my life when I lose track and I'm getting old and I forget. So bear with me. But the process of refining silver back then was you take the raw ore and you put it in a crucible and you heat up that crucible to a particular temperature and you have to keep it at that temperature. And as it's at that temperature, the ore and everything begins to melt and break down. And there's a sort of pressure built into the process.

And the one who's refining it, what will happen is the stuff that's not silver. The stuff you don't want in. It will float up to the top and and the refiner takes a tool and he skims off that stuff and gets rid of it waits a little longer, more impurities come to the top, skims it off, gets rid of it and he repeats that process until he can look into the crucible and see his reflection. I think that's just the best picture of what God does can do with us.

When he puts us in that crucible, when he puts the heat on and the pressure is on, All the crud that's in us comes to the surface, doesn't it? Because it was already in there when when somebody cuts you off in traffic or somebody's maybe somebody on the news thousands of miles away, says something that really irritates you and this thing comes out of you. It'd be easy to say, well, that person made me feel that way. No, that was already in there. It's just that process brought it to the surface.

It didn't make you feel anything that was already there. Well, let that heat do its work, let that refining, do its work. And as God refines us, those sacrifices then become pleasing the things we bring to him with the right heart become a sweet smell to him, a pleasing aroma, a sacrifice that he wants to take receive gladly.

We never leave God's presense. We are suppossed to take it with us.

In Psalm 84. It's a great song about being in God's temple, living in God's house. And I don't know if you've thought about it this way before, but the temple was really a palace. It was really a place for God to make his presence known on earth. It had a throne. The ark of the covenant was actually more like a throne. I love the movie, I grew up on the Raiders of the lost ark movie and when you watch the movie they have an arc that has kind of the same shape as our altar here and they have the poles going the long way on the ark and there's angels on top and their wings are touching but it really is talked about more like a throne and if you simply, if you took those poles and put them on sideways, you have and I just forgot the word when you carry somebody important on a chair on poles.

What now? Sedan chair Sure. That's what that was and they would, they would carry that around the wilderness and then they would put it in a special place in the Tabernacle or in the temple and that was God's throne room where God would sit figuratively and rule his people. As we talked about as we have talked about in the past about kings and God is our king and Jesus is our king. A good king provides and a good king protects a good king. Doesn't just sit and demand worship and demand taxes and demands adulation.

Their job is to provide and to protect people. Okay, I have confession. Hi jess. My wife watches from home and she will text me from time to time during church and she just told me that it's called a litter. The thing that you carry. There's a bit of a delay on the live stream but it comes through eventually. So thank you dear. Yeah, I gotta love technology. Oh man, I gotta read my own handwriting now. What? Oh okay. So this this, sorry, this song paints this beautiful picture.

The psalmist would rather spend one day as a doorman in God's house than 1000 anywhere else than in the tents of the Wicked. Where there would be the idea being there's prosperity there. I'd rather be a servant in God's house and it sounds like a beautiful place. But even when you when you read the bible or beautiful experience, there was some messed up stuff happening in the temple courts when Jesus was around that he had two turntables and make a whip and thrash it about and caused quite the disturbance.

God's house can become very messy. It just can, which is why it's important to remember what it's for that. It's it's a place to come together to be the body. It's a place to come together to serve the Lord, not a place to come together and serve a person or I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. But it's we gotta keep, you know the main thing, the main thing and it's nice to be in God's presence, isn't it? I mean I love coming here and spending time with you all.

We don't want to leave it sometimes. Like I, my wife calls this for me. This is my happy place because I get to go back to work tomorrow, Thank you God for a job, it's okay. My boss never watches this stuff. I can say whatever I want. It is nice to be in God's presence, We don't want to leave it and in fact, I don't think that we do leave it. I think we are supposed to carry it with us because really well, as you may know, the jewish men wear that, that skullcap, that Yamaka as a reminder that they're always in the divine presence that when they have that on, it's, it's a, that's, I'm always there that, you know, fitting that this is a former jewish synagogue.

And that's true when we leave this place, we don't leave God's presence, he's always present. But yet in our heads and in our hearts we can leave his presence, can't we? We can change gears mentally spiritually and go into a whole other mode and not even really think about God when in fact it should be that we take God's presence with us and moses did that very physically, very literally. He was in God's presence so strongly that his face would glow. I don't know how I'd react to that, but he decided to wear a veil to cover that up because it probably apparently freaked people out, but as we spend time in God's presence together as the body and individually at home. We take God's presence with us and hopefully it becomes evident to other people

In order to redeem something we need to give something of ourselves. So did God.

In Hebrews. We see it emphasizes Jesus coming in the flesh. As a, as a fulfillment of promise, Jesus had to come. God had to send somebody in the flesh to accomplish what needed accomplishing. And even that is a, is a fulfillment of a pattern that goes, you know, all the way back to genesis three. But when you read, he mentions Abraham, when you read Genesis 22 which is this great microcosm of the gospel of the father and the son and willing sacrifice and substitution of sacrifice.

It's all a fulfillment of those promises and the author of Hebrews uses the word propitiation. That's one of those words you have to stop and prepare yourself to say otherwise. Like me, you'll get tongue tied but you will always spit on somebody because there's a lot of perpetuation happening in there. The idea behind appreciation and we say it every week, it's in first john 21 and two, we say those words every week. It's the Jesus is appreciation for the whole world. He is the the payment, the substitutionary payment for our sin in our place because we can't pay for it ourselves, can we?

When the wages of sin is death and if we die apart from Christ, we have paid that price, but we don't pay it in such a way that we spend eternity with the father, we spend eternity separate from him, but to spend eternity with the father, somebody else has to pay that price. And that is Jesus in order to redeem something, we need to give something of ourselves. The cost of redemption in the law was 30 pieces of silver. If you wanted to redeem something back, that's and that's what they offered judas and you threw it right back in their faces the the silver, that's what God did, didn't he?

He gave something of himself in order to redeem us. He gave everything of himself in order to redeem us. He had to come as a human as as the kinsman redeemer. Take a little bit of time sometime and read through the book of ruth in the old testament and you'll see what is actually a great picture of what Jesus has done for us as the kinsman redeemer, somebody who is part of the family who has the choice to buy back and restore what was lost. Beautiful beautiful picture.

We tend to offer the most when we are the most broken

All of these things speak to sacrifice, don't they? They speak to offering. And again, that's that's what we mark today is Jesus being presented. In the collect today we pray that we may present also be presented to him as a sacrifice. And I love that the bible uses this great term, this contradictory term living sacrifice. It's an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly Microsoft Works. It's an oldie, but a goodie one. Paul uses that phrase in Romans chapter 12 verses one and 2. It's yes, is what Jesus did.

And I mean think about Jesus, Jesus is a living sacrifice, isn't he? He died, but he's alive, he was sacrificed yet he lives. The book of revelation describes the lamb as though it had been slain. But alive, living sacrifice. We get to be living sacrifices here. Romans 12 verses one and two says this is Paul speaking, I appeal to you. Therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, basically I'm begging you please do this by God's mercy to present your bodies as living sacrifices. So who's doing the presenting? I am. We are voluntarily willingly intentionally present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Holy and acceptable to God. Which is your spiritual worship or other translations will say reasonable service. If you want to get really clinical about it, you can say that it's logical, that makes sense. If Jesus did that for us, we should do that right back to him. It's our reasonable service. It's our spiritual worship, verse two, What does that look like? Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

That by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. So he gives us a don't do, don't be conformed. Anybody else play with silly putty or play dough when you're a kid, right? You could take something anything another toy or what was fun to do was to take like a quarter with silly putty and smash the quarter into the silly putty and you peel it out and it leaves an impression, doesn't it? The silly putty was conformed to the quarter, so Paul says do not be conformed to the world, don't be silly putty.

And let the world's shape, you don't let that happen instead. How do you do that? Be transformed by the renewal of your mind? It's a it's a new way of thinking. It's it's it's remodeling your thought processes to be in Jesus means to think differently about pretty much everything and there is a lot in this world that is trying to convince us to think the way that it does, whether that's politically, socially, economically, whatever. You know, I don't know if you've had those conversations, but I've heard both, I've heard expressed both ways.

Some one person will say, I don't know how you can be a Christian and not be a republican or I don't know how you can be a Christian and not be a democrat and I'm thinking you're both missing the point completely, completely be a Christian. That's it, end it right there. Follow him first. Your identity is not in your political party, your identity is in Christ be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Okay, so I'm gonna start thinking differently now. This is part of that living sacrifice process that by testing, you may discern.

Okay, Paul is basically saying there's some trial and error involved here as we live, as we learn to follow Christ through testing through trying, we will learn and we will become discerning what is, is what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect living sacrifices, presenting ourselves, everything, we have everything, we are, our past, our present, our future, our life and our death. Now, that sounds huge. That sounds overwhelming and it kind of is and it takes a lifetime to learn. Hopefully none of us gets so stuck in our ways that there's no more room for God to teach us things or for or for having our minds changed about something.

I mean, if I thought that way, I would not be here with you today because I thought Anglicans were the frozen chosen. Mhm. That like there was no way I would go to a church with just endless ritual and people wearing weird clothes and and real wine, what is that? That's it's a sin to drink alcohol anyway, was my former upbringing. If I hadn't been open and in fact, if I hadn't been broken enough for God to teach me something new, I wouldn't be standing here in front of you today.

We tend to offer God the most when we are the most broken. think, think let that soak in for a second because that hit me like a ton of bricks. When we tend sorry, we tend to offer God the most when we are the most broken, we hit that point where it's like God, I will get you give you anything if you get me out of this, to which God says, well I will take everything, but I won't get you out of this, I will take you through this because God doesn't take us out of anything because it is for our testing, it's part of that crucible.

He takes us through it so that when we come out of it on the other side, he sees his reflection in us because we're living sacrifices. We don't just give him our best nor just our first we give him all at all times in always for those of you who are married or who have been married or who want to get married, marriage is also a picture of being a living sacrifice Because it's the two becoming 1 you both have to die to self God has given you that other person as a means of sanctification to make you holy to be part of that crucible process.

To nudge you in certain ways that those impurities that are already in you come to the top for God to scrape off. But if you have the mindset, okay, I'm not in this for me, I'm in this for the other person dying to self living sacrifice for the other person. God works through that. If God is a third member of your marriage, that's how it works. If you think of a triangle, and you and your spouse are at the bottom two corners and God's at the top as each of you individually get closer to God, you also get closer to each other, don't you?

That's how it's supposed to work. And I realized that people have been through marriages and there's and divorces and all kinds of messy yucky stuff. But that's what it can be. That's what God would like it to be. It's a very great picture of a living sacrifice. So today, when you come to the table and you hold out your hands, I think that you are not just holding them out to receive, but you certainly are. I think we can think of our hands out also as offering God something.

There's not a lot in there. There's nothing we can offer God that he needs. So we are in a way, you could say we're offering him nothing. But that nothing is also everything, isn't it? Last week we talked about how it costs nothing to start following God, but it costs everything to keep following him and that's what this is. Here's what I have. God says, great your I hope your heart's in the right place. Let me give you something as a substitute for that, my blood and my flesh, the bread and the wine.

It's a beautiful picture of this, of how we are living sacrifices with him. So let's pray and look forward to that in just a few moments.



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