Sacrifice is a tough word. It means giving up of yourself for someone or something else. It’s the system that God set up in the Old Testament to atone for the sins of His people. And it’s the plan He made from the foundation of the world to redeem mankind. But sacrifice isn’t just for salvation. Sometimes God requires us to give something of ourselves as a condition to obtain His promises. He asks for us to have faith that goes beyond words and ideas and translates into action. But He never asks for blind faith. He lets us know the stakes up front and is always as good as His Word. Here are three places in the Bible God gave a promise and required a sacrifice in faith. They are a model for us in these last days.
1. Elijah and the Widow Woman
The story of Elijah the prophet and the widow woman happens in 1 Kings 17. Elijah had just informed King Ahab there would be a drought in Israel. Times were tough and about to get tougher as resources were hard to come by. After a time of testing in which God fed Elijah by ravens at the Brook Kidron, God sent Elijah to Zarephath to the house of a widow woman.
When he got there, he asked for water and food. She was willing to give him the water, but she said that she only had enough meal and oil to make one more cake of food for herself and her son. 1 Kings 17:12 “…behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
A Sacrifice and a Promise
Through the prophet Elijah, God asked the woman to make a sacrifice. She would have to give up the only food she had for herself and her child. 1 Kings 17:13 says, “And Elijah said unto her, fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.”
But the request would come with a promise of supernatural provision from that time until the drought was over. 1 Kings 17:14, “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, ‘The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.’”
The widow had a choice. She could believe the man of God and sacrifice her last bite of food, or she could “eat it and die.” Keep in mind that when God sent Elijah, He told him that He had already commanded the widow woman to sustain him (1 Kings 17:9). She understood who God was and what He required of her, but she still had to act first – which she did. Then came the reward. 1 Kings 17:16 says, “And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.”
2. Abraham and a Sacrifice to Leave His Home
Abraham is known as the patriarch of the Jewish people. God found him in Haran (modern day Turkey) and revealed Himself to him. Thus began a relationship between Abraham and God that was as close or closer than any other person in the Bible. James 2:23 says, “He was a friend of God.” There are at least two instances in which God asked a sacrifice of him but also offered a promise.
First, God asked Abraham to leave his home and follow Him to an unknown land. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee’” (Genesis 12:1).
In return, God promised to make him great and give him blessings that would last generations. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Abraham and a Sacrifice of His Son
Later, God asked him to sacrifice the son God gave him and his wife Sarah in their old age. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you’” (Genesis 22:2).
But God had already promised to bless him and make a great nation from that very son. Genesis 17:15 says, “God said to Abraham, ‘I will change the name of Sarai, your wife, to Sarah. I will bless her and give her a son, and you will be the father. She will be the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will come from her.'”
Abraham had choices. He could have stayed in his homeland and lived out his days in Haram. He also could have refused to sacrifice Isaac, the son he dearly loved. But Abraham believed God. He had provided for him in his travels and given his wife a child despite her age. He had even supernaturally protected his nephew Lot in the destruction of Sodom. Abraham trusted God. He knew God had given him a promise that involved Isaac very much alive. So even if Isaac died, God could raise him up again. He made the decision to bring the wood and the boy to Mt. Moriah.
As a result of Abraham’s faith and obedience, God stopped him from harming Isaac and provided another sacrifice. “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). He also multiplied the seed of Isaac in Jacob (who would later become Israel) as God’s chosen people. Still today, those who bless Israel are blessed. Those who curse or harm Israel are cursed.
3. Jesus Came to Live
Jesus is the Son of God, and He is God. As uncreated, He existed always and understood the plan from the foundation of the world. God would send Him to die as a propitiation for the sins of mankind. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22).
But just as Jesus knew He would die, He understood the promise of God in return. For those who would put their faith in His finished work, their sin debt would be paid. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus knew what had to happen to fulfill God’s plan. Even when he anticipated the pain he would endure, Jesus prayed this prayer, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). His death and resurrection made a way for all who will believe on His name to be reconciled to God.
What Does That Mean for Us?
For New Testament Christians in the age of grace, we are no strangers to the sacrifice of praise. We’re also used to taking up our cross, dying daily to self, and living for the glory of God — or at least we should be. But we’re also living in the last days. What if the Christian persecution that has been rising steadily around the world for years is one day at our very own doorstep? What if it suddenly costs us something to follow Christ?
We may have to sacrifice reputations, friends, family, or even jobs to stand for Jesus. But Mark 10:29-30 says that these kinds of sacrifices come with a reward. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, ‘There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.’”
We may even be called to sacrifice our very lives. But Mark 8:35 says that’s how we save it. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”
In the tumult of tribulation, what if we have to share or give up our provision, trusting God can supernaturally provide? What if we have to leave our homes or put our family members in God’s hands, believing that God will take care of us and them no matter what? Whatever the sacrifice required, we can make it in full assurance that God will be with us and reward us for our faithful service to Him.
A Promissory Note
When God promises something, He delivers. He also never asks us to step out in blind faith. Instead, He lets us know up front that those who sacrifice for God will be rewarded. He also gives us plenty of chances to interact with Him, so we are never in doubt of His faithfulness. After all, a promise is only as strong as the promise-giver. The widow woman believed that God was able to provide. Abraham believed that God was well able to bless, and Jesus was never in doubt of God’s plan for salvation. All these would give up something precious to obtain the promises of God. And all were rewarded, whether in this life or the next. And we will be too. We can trust Him.
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