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The Worshiped King

The use of sacrifice was an integral element of Israelite worship. God prescribed animal offerings to be pure and blameless, representing the pure intention of the worshiper’s heart. The Israelites did not always adhere to these instructions, and in the book of Malachi we see God’s displeasure with their sacrifices.

Instead of giving God their best, they profaned the Lord’s table by bringing injured and diseased animals. They would vow to offer an acceptable sacrifice but then “cheat” God by substituting a lesser animal. If no human ruler would accept such actions, why would God? This was no small matter. As God explains, worship was intended to make His name “great among the nations” (v. 11). Because God is a “great king,” His “name is to be feared among the nations” (v. 14). Instead, their polluted worship dishonored God and sullied His name.

For Christians, after the coming of Jesus the Jewish system of animal sacrifice ceased. But this does not mean that God no longer desires worship and sacrifice. There is a new “Lord’s table” (see 1 Cor. 10:21) at which Christians offer their praise and thanksgiving in celebration of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Likewise, prayers across the globe ascend before the Lord’s heavenly throne like incense (Rev. 5:8), fulfilling the words of Malachi 1:11: “In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations.”

Scripture also reminds us that our entire lives are a kind of sacrifice before the Lord. Paul urges us: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1). God no longer desires animal sacrifice. He wants our whole lives offered to Him in pure and holy worship.

Apply the Word

This Sunday as you enter into worship, keep today’s lesson in mind. Your prayers are like incense ascending before Christ’s throne. Your praise and thanksgiving are like a sacrifice before God. And above all, as you go into the world with the message of God’s love, your entire life can be offered as a “living sacrifice . . . your true and proper worship.”

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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