Meaningless Offerings

Photo by Redvers

Photo by Redvers

I’m going through a study of Isaiah right now.  It’s probably one of the most beautifully written scriptures in the entire Bible.  In the first chapter, a certain phrase immediately stood out to me:  meaningless offerings. It stopped me dead in my tracks — the truth of it seeming to jump right off the pages, festering right before my eyes.  Have you ever had a moment like that?

In Ecclesiates 1:1 King Solomon takes an deeply introspective journey into the heart of his own life.  Solomon poured out his heart to God, crying out, “Meaningless! Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” The NET Bible uses the word futile.  The ESV uses the concept, “All is vanity.” All these interpretations give a deeper insight into Solomon’s heart.   He knew that nothing he did could make him clean and pure before a Holy and Sovereign God.  He understood this in the depth of his soul.  He saw, felt and experienced the sin of his own heart.  He saw his inability to conquer it.  His frustrations emanate through the words of Ecclesiastes.

I am reminded that Jesus spoke about this very same thing to the Pharisees in Mark 12:33.  Jesus answered a certain scribe (when asked what was the most important commandment of all) by saying the greatest commandment from the law was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus knew the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ hearts.  He knew they were using strict adherence to the rules and regulations set forth in the Law as a benchmark for their salvation.  He understood that they were trying to trap him, hoping that He would answer incorrectly and outside of the acceptable Pharisaical law.

I love how Matthew 22:34-40 (the correlative passage) ends the story.  Jesus says, on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Why do you think that Jesus said these words?  He wasn’t singling out these two commandments.  Instead, he was pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  He was showing a connection between law and grace that they had yet to see.  He was trying to show that that nothing they could do, even the strict adherence to the Law, could save them from their sin.  Sin is the state of our human condition from the very beginning.

Often, we misunderstand the Law.  We place the Old Testament in a separate and antiquated category against the grace-driven gospel of the New Testament, when in fact, they cannot be separated from each other.  Rather, they complement each other.  They need each other.   They are intertwined and together form the rich, completed message of the gospel.

The Old Testament law has an important function:  to convict us of our sin.  It was not intended to be a complicated must-do list which must be legalistically maintained in order to show our pious commitment to the Father.  Instead, the Law had and continues to have a rich purpose:  to convict us of our sin — our innate sin — the original sin each of us is born with — the sin we cannot escape from in this world except through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross.

When Jesus said not to bring meaningless offerings to Him, he was reminding us that nothing we personally can do can reconcile us with the Father.  Only Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross could alone atone for our sin and bring us once again into a right standing with God.

Within the Law, it is easy to develop a works-based mentality that focuses on the things WE do for God.  The New Covenant reminds us that even our best efforts are filthy rags before God.   Isaiah 64:6-8 cautions us that we are all like one who is unclean; all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. The NET Bible version has a very descriptive definition of a filthy rag:  a menstrual rag.  That paints a picture, doesn’t it?

God alone is responsible for our salvation.

Isaiah 64 further told the rebellious Hebrews “there is no one who calls upon Your name, for He has hidden His face from us and allowed us to melt in the hand of our iniquities.  But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand.” Are we not like those rebellious Israelites?   Our Heavenly Father created us for His glory.  He is the molder of our heart and our destiny.  We are simply clay in His hands.  He alone made the clay. He alone molds it into its finished product.

Photo by Carulmare

Photo by Carulmare

Hebrews 10 is an outstanding reminder of the connection between The Law and Grace.  Emphasizing that the law was but a shadow of the good things to come, it could never make perfect those who draw near to God.  Yet, in these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sin, Hebrews 10 tells us.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sin but when Christ came into the world, He came to do God’s will, as was written in the law.  God did not take pleasure in the sacrifices and offerings according to the law.  Instead, Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins and then sat down at the right hand of God and now waits for the future world to come.  The Holy Spirit tells us that the Lord made a covenant with us and put His laws on our hearts.  He wrote them on our minds.  Then He said:  I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more for where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.  This gives us complete confidence and assurance in our faith.  We must hold fast to the confession of our hope, for The One who promised this is faithful. He did this through Jesus.  He did this through a once-for all blood sacrifice of His very own Son. He alone bore the penalty for our sin.  God is faithful as the next chapter (11) so eloquently states.

Thus we learn, our works and service do not save us from our sin in the eyes of a Holy God.  That, however, does not mean we must not be faithful to use our gifts, finances and service for God.  He has commanded that we do so.

Need a way to consider how to be faithful to God in this way? It is out of deep love that we serve.  Jesus reminds us in Mark and Matthew that the greatest gift we give God is our complete devotion — our every ounce of being.  What better way to do that than to love others first.

Hosea 6:6 — For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Amy on February 26, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    Dear Kathy – you are such a wonderful writer. The pen (type) really expresses your heart and thoughts – wow! Our “meaningless” offerings must keep us humble – especially as we enter this Lenten Season and remember the truly most and only Meaningful offering – our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for sharing Kathy,

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