A Living Sacrifice
A Living Sacrifice
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I awoke early this morning with some words that were in my head you know, and I believe that God puts them there. They were the words in Romans: “a living sacrifice — present your body a living sacrifice” and I immediately thought, “Oh, that’s what Jesus did. Right in the middle of his life, in a sense — at 33 when he was young and full of agility and aliveness — he presented his body a living sacrifice.” I mean, that dear body that was healthy and was well able to live another 40, 50 years was sacrificed on a cross and cut with a spear, or a sword, and nailed into with nails. He willingly presented his body a living sacrifice for our sake.
And it seemed to me — you know the way in those moments in the twilight hours either before you wake or before you go to sleep when everything seems very vivid and God seemed to make it very clear to me — that that was a living sacrifice. It was a sacrifice in that – and I always think of sacrifice where either rightly or wrongly in connection with those animal sacrifices — it’s something that involves the destruction of something that is living, alive and whole.
In some way, it’s the throwing away or the casting away of something that is valuable. And so when I thought of Jesus, a living sacrifice not a dead sacrifice, not killing the cow and then burning it, but burning it as it was still alive. And suddenly all the terror of that and the completeness of it came home to me, “Yes, that’s what it was, it was a living sacrifice.” And I actually had got as far as “present his body a living sacrifice” and I realized that that’s what he did. He presented his body, a youthful, live body full of strength and life and health — and he presented it as a living sacrifice. He willingly gave up his whole body that was in good shape and could live a lot longer. He gave that up as a living sacrifice.
And then it seemed to just burst upon me what was the full verse from the Bible? And of course, you can look it up yourself, Romans 12 I believe it is, and you can see how strongly I felt I should speak on this because I haven’t even looked at it this morning since God showed me these things or emphasized them to me. Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” And I think another translation is, “…which is your reasonable service”.
And then it came home to me so strongly that that’s what God was saying actually, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,” all the mercies that you and I have received from God, you know. I mean, we sitting here in this room can easily see the sunshine outside and the beauty of the azaleas and the flowers, but then we can think of the good brunch we had, and we can think of the nice table we sat at, and we can think of each other, friends, closer than friends, people who love us and care about us, and we can think those are mercies from God.
And then we think of our cars, and how much better they are than they were maybe five years ago. And then we think of the motels we stay in, not the bottom of the heap by any means, and we think of our meals that we have, and we think of our clothes that we’re wearing, and then we think of the holiday that we talked of -– “Will we go to France, or will we stay here in America, or will we go to London?” And then you think – I was saying to someone, “You know you think of so many people today who are full of insecurity and uncertainty about the future and wonder what they will do. For
example, somebody who had to sell their store. What would they do? How would they exist?”
And many people wonder how will we see our way through even to death? And of course, here we are with a family that cares for us and with a future that we know is in the Father’s hands. We can even see some of the ways in which it will work out ourselves. And then you think of the mercies of God. You think of so many people who do jobs that they don’t like and they see no sense in. They’re doing it only to keep themselves alive. You think, “Here we are with something that we believe in, something we see purpose in and something we see that could have eternal results” — and we begin to realize that we’re surrounded with mercies.
But then of course, that touches nothing of the real mercy of God that we who have been so filled with selfishness, bitterness, criticism, despair, hopelessness, lack of belief in people, distrust of others, distrust of God, desire for our own way and all kinds of things that we’ve inflicted upon other people in order to get our own way, we see that we deserve nothing but death. And yet, we have not borne one iota of pain for any of those things. Anything that could be called pain, certainly nothing of eternal pain, nothing of eternal darkness and desolation, nothing of, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
And we will bear none of it, after the moment of death, when we should be cast out into a darkness of space that drives us crazy and insane with worry and with anxiety. You know, they say many people in a plane crash die of heart attack, sure shock as the thing begins to break up. And we won’t bear any of that the moment after death. We’ll immediately go into our Father’s arms. Why? Because, a dear person has borne that for us, has borne us in himself through that dreadful time of desolation and has borne us through to his Father’s home.
So it’s as if somebody else has borne the strength, the power, the agony, and the exertion of the journey and we find ourselves at the destination without any trouble — and you realize the mercy of God. Why did he do that? Why did he give us freedom and then himself bear the cost of us exercising that freedom against him? Why did he do that? Just out of shear mercy.
So Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, by all the things that you’ve received, all the things that you’ve got, all the experiences you have, by your very present situation, by those mercies, I beseech you [what?] to present your bodies a living sacrifice.” What does he mean, “Give your body to Jesus as a living sacrifice?” Regard it no longer as your own, no longer as yours to do what you want with and as something that is living. Please, give it while it’s alive. Present it as a living sacrifice. Don’t wait until it’s old and worn, or until it’s dead and in the grave. Present your body as a living sacrifice to God which is your reasonable service, or which is your spiritual worship.
So either way you know, when you talk about worship or service, here’s the only way to do it: present your body as a living sacrifice. That is something you regard is gone, something you regard as gone. It’s gone. It is not mine. It is not mine to do what I want with. It is not mine to treat as I want. It is not mine to exercise as I want. It is not mine to speak or to write as I want. It is his to do what he wants with.
You can do the application to yourself. I’ll happily do it to myself. It is not mine to determine, “Would I like my greens or would I not like my greens?” It is not mine to ponder, “Would I like chocolate or not chocolate?” It is not mine to ponder, “Will I have Thousand Island dressing or Italian dressing?” It is not mine to ponder, “Will I have another shortbread biscuit or not?” It
is not mine to determine, “Would I prefer this to eat or that to eat?” Above all, it is not mine to allow gluttony to drive my actions.
I don’t know about all of you, but I see more clearly what gluttony is. I don’t think, for me, it’s eating so much that I grow massive because I don’t seem to grow too massive. Gluttony it seems to me is that little drive that gets going where you just eat this, and eat this and eat this. “Chocolate chip cookies. I eat chocolate chip cookies or shortbread biscuits. I just eat, eat, eat.” It’s almost a compulsion inside that makes you want to do that. I can see that gluttony is kind of a drive that is almost even independent of myself. It’s certainly independent of the Savior but it’s almost independent of myself. It’s almost a thing that goes, “I just want to have that TODAY.” Or, “I most have that.”
I see that presenting my body as a living sacrifice is, of course, being free from all those things because you give it away. You give it away. It’s no longer my body. It’s no longer my body to kind of cosset and to nurture, and to soften, and to surround with all the little things that it wants. Similarly, it is not my body to say, “Will I broadcast today or will I not broadcast today?” “Will I write today or will I not write today?” “Will I exercise today or will I not exercise today?” It is a sacrifice, a living sacrifice that I’ve given away to Jesus.
And actually, I can see in a sense that that solves a lot of the problems because you don’t have to deal with all those little details. It’s simply a cut and dry business of, “What, Lord Jesus, do you want to do with this thing that is yours”, not, “…with this body that is me or mine.” And it just came home so strongly to me early this morning that it is not much that God is asking me to do, but it is a very definite commitment. It is a very definite sacrifice and I can see that when I’m hemming and hawing, or when I’m saying, “Oh yeah, I have to give this up,” or, “Oh, I’d love to have that.” Wait a minute, WHO’D love to have it? What is this? Are you your own or are you not your own Ernest O’Neill? Have you presented it as a loving sacrifice or is it still very much yours that you have to kind of enjoy or take care of?
And I know it’s very easy for us, the whole danger of getting into legalism. I understand that and I understand the whole question that we can level at ourselves, “Well, aren’t we here for pleasure? Aren’t you expected to have some pleasure?” Well, probably the truth is in the light of a bleeding Savior walking down the Via Delorosa with the cross on his shoulders. Probably the answer is, is that a relevant question to his followers? Aren’t you not to have a little pleasure in this life?
Well, as I look at his eyes and the sweat dropping off his forehead, and his arms holding the cross I think, where does sanity begin and insanity end? Is this a question that I can ask my Lord? No, not at all. So it came home to me very clearly that God was saying plainly to us, “I beseech you,” asking us always of course, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, brothers and sisters, by the mercy of God,” not because he has a right to demand it of you. No. Not because he’s Lord God and he’ll throw you into hell if he wants to. No. “I beseech you by the mercies” — by the tender mercies he has extended to you, by the loving kindnesses, and the blessings with which he has filled your life, by his undoubted love for you — “I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice to him which is your reasonable service and is your worship of him.”
I could see that that one definite commitment settles all the other stupid things. It’s not a matter of, “Are my trousers shrinking?” It’s not a question of that. It’s not a question of my cholesterol. It’s not a question of, “Am I living the right way?” It’s not a question of, “Am I fulfilling my obligations to God?” It’s not a question of, “Am I being a faithful disciple?” It’s
not a question of any of those things? It’s a question of, “Do I hear my Father speaking to me and do I acknowledge his mercies? Do I see that this life is not mine to live as I please? It belongs now to Jesus who presented his body a living sacrifice for me.”
Then do I, in a grand, generous and ignoble act, commit the thing wholly to him and never look back? And if ever the question rises and ever a particular instance of it comes up in regard to chocolate chip ice cream, or in regard to whether I stay at home and do my article, or do my broadcast, or whether I go out and do what I like, there is not decision to be made as I have already made it, “Lord, it is yours. It is your body. Let’s go!” And go forward with robust delight in his will so that we too, can say with Jesus, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.”
But I’ve applied it to myself you know, because I have no right to apply it to anybody else. It seems to me it is a very plain, clear, word from God that is true — whether we enter into it, live it, or whether we walk by the side of it. It is very clear and plain. And to my mind it is reality and it is what God has for us.
Let us pray. Dear Father, we thank you for your goodness to us and for speaking through all the shades of grey, and the shades of black and white, and all the deceptive rays of Satan’s false light. We thank you for being kind enough to make things clear to us so that we can rise up, walk forward with light hearts, joyful spirits, and with the obedience that is no burden because it is delight in you and in your way. So Lord Jesus, we would hear your word in our hearts. We would allow it to echo through our whole lives and up to you again in gratitude and love. Now we ask that your grace Lord Jesus, and your love dear Father, and your fellowship Holy Spirit, will be with each of us now and ever more. Amen.