I find it fascinating that the idea of sacrifice seems to be built in to our human DNA.
Every culture we have discovered including those from prehistoric times leaves evidence of rituals involving sacrifice. In ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, sacrificial rituals were common. These societies believed in appeasing or pleasing their deities through offerings, including animals, crops, or even humans. Sacrifices were seen as a way to maintain harmony with the divine, seek protection, express gratitude, or atone for sins.
In ancient Greek and Roman religions, sacrifices were made to appease gods and goddesses, and public rituals involving animals were common. Aztec and Mayan civilizations in Mesoamerica practiced human sacrifices, believing it necessary to maintain cosmic balance and ensure prosperity.
In the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—sacrifice takes on profound significance.
In Judaism, animal sacrifices —the rules for which are meticulously detailed in the Old Testament — were central to religious worship until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD.
In Islam, sacrifice is observed during the festival of Eid al-Adha, commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Muslims around the world offer animal sacrifices as an expression of faith, gratitude, and charity.
Christianity recognizes Jesus Christ as the ultimate sacrifice, removing the need for the continual sacrifices of the Judaic system. According to Christian belief, Jesus willingly offered himself as a sacrificial lamb to atone for humanity's sins, demonstrating God's love and providing redemption and salvation.
Beyond religious contexts, sacrifice has taken on metaphorical and symbolic meanings throughout history. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle emphasized the value of self-sacrifice for the pursuit of virtue and the greater good. Their teachings emphasized sacrificing personal desires, selfishness, and worldly attachments for the sake of moral development and ethical living.
But, we might inquire, where does this impulse to sacrifice come from? As you may know, I am fascinated by the origins of the words we use to express our thoughts, and “sacrifice” is composed of two Latin roots: “sacer” (from which we also get “sacred”) with the meaning “to sanctify, to make a treaty”, and the verb “facere” (from which we get words like “fact” and “factory”) with the meaning of “to make, to do”. The verb is transitive which means that something is transferred from the person doing the sacrifice to the entity with whom the treaty or agreement is being made. So, in essence, to sacrifice is to abandon the rights to something of value to ensure peace and harmony with the entity to whom the sacrifice is being made.
Since God created us, I will argue that this urge to sacrifice is a reflection of the character of God! God started it first! God made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could have peace and harmony with Him — mind blown! In the same way as our love is just a reflection of his, so are our sacrifices just pale imitations of his ultimate sacrifice.
Can I back up these assertions from scripture? Of course!
Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28 (NIV)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds, you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)
So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28 (NIV)
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)
Notice that the intention of the sacrifice is important. In each case the sacrifice has a purpose in mind, and that purpose is to bring us into an harmonious relationship with our creator.
So what should we be sacrificing, if at all? Obviously nothing we can sacrifice can come close to or exceed Jesus’ action on our behalf, but we are moved to express our love and devotion and scripture gives us a couple of ways to do so.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
Of course, this may be the hardest sacrifice we can make since it involves us abandoning the right to our own will and presenting it in fulfillment of the treat God has made with us! All other sacrificial acts follow from this!
Time, health and talents presenting, All that I have shall be thine; Heart mind and will consecrating, No longer shall they be mine. — Brindley Boon
I am sure that you cannot out-give God, but I encourage you to try!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/