I was thinking recently about the Altar of burnt sacrifice. About how as Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice upon the altar of the Cross, we are to offer up sacrifices before God, spiritual, (1 Peter), Praise (Heb 13), and last, but not least, ourselves.
Paul spoke of being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice, and also spoke of us imitating Christ, and following Him as He offered Himself as a sacrifice:
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
It is right and it is good that we allow ourselves to be placed upon the altar as a living sacrifice to Him, and it is there that we are purified and refined, and there that our worship becomes a pure, sweet odor rising before the throne. But wait! There’s more!
“So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 12:32-34)
Note the center portion “…to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices…” Once again, LOVE tops all else. The Word says in Hosea that God desires mercy (kindness and goodness – i.e. love manifested) and not sacrifice and knowing Him to burnt offerings.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
Allow me to suggest that it is in all the trials, tribulations, and persecutions upon the altar that God refines us and teaches us how to love as He loves. It is there we learn compassion, understanding, and to discern the thoughts and hearts of men – or more accurately to hear the Holy Spirit as He does these things. No, it’s not a process we enjoy, but it is one we must endure if we are to step into the fullness of what God has for us. Just as the newly formed porcelain cup must pass through the fiery furnace not once, but twice, before it is fit for use, so too we must allow the Lord to bring us through the furnace of affliction before we can be used.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.” (1Peter 1:6-8)
When those trials come, do not despair, but rejoice for God is working a good thing in you and you shall emerge an ever more faithful reflection of Him. Ask Him what the lesson is, take it to heart and then rejoice that you are counted worthy of enduring trials for the sake of the kingdom.
Above all, continue to love, stay in His love; keep your eyes fixed on the Lover of Your Soul, for in the end all that really matters is that we learned to love, really love, as Jesus loved us.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1Corinthians 13:13)