As we continue seeking for descriptions of God’s heart in Ezekiel 45-48, we notice that the next section, Ezekiel chapter 45, verses 13-25 is a retelling of the Jewish sacrificial system. What would that show us about God’s heart? That God wants us to sacrifice animals at a temple? No. Remember that famous saying of God, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God was concerned about the heart motivation in the sacrifice.
From that perspective of heart motivation, there are a few more aspects of the sacrificial system that we can learn from.
First, all participate. Yes, the priests had their role. But so did the people. Everyone participated, bringing the gift, seeking to honor God. We could carry that over to the New Testament church and say, “That means the pastor does all the work of ministry, and the people participate by paying offerings.”
Except that the New Testament teaching doesn’t work like that. In the New Testament, we learn the theology of the body of Christ. We are all priests. Each one has a role to play, a gift to use in the life and ministry of the church. There are also important tasks that Jesus and the New Testament writers taught that all of us should participate in. We are all called to make disciples. We are all called to serve in the church family. All of us should be able to look at our lives and have an answer for “Who are you discipling?” and “How are you serving?” If you’re not able to answer those questions, I would love to talk with you about that.
Furthermore, when we gather for worship services, each one of us should see ourselves as participants. The set-up of most church worship spaces can very easily lead us to believe that the ones seated in the rows of pews are the attenders, the observers, while the ones up front are the participants. I know it is that way at the theater, but it is not that way in a church family. All participate. All give, all sing, all pray, all encourage. When you gather for worship, see yourself as a participant.
That said, my guess is that your church, like mine, would love more participants in more roles. People could play the drums, guitars and other instruments. We would love more singers. People to serve on the sound board and projection systems. We would love more people to serve in the nursery and welcome team. And not because we just want to fill roles. We participate in these ministries because we want our worship gatherings to be places where the Holy Spirit is at work. Serving has the additional benefit of helping you feel more connected, more part of the church family, building relationships as you grow together.
Another aspect of God’s heart we see in the sacrificial system is the idea that the sacrifices were for atonement for sin, and in that idea of atonement, we see perhaps the greatest way that God’s heart desires us to be participants in worship.
Think about sacrifices in worship for a moment. If you read through the passage, you’ll read descriptions of how people are to bring animals and other offerings to be sacrificed. It could seem random. But the sacrifices were not random, they had a purpose. What purpose? Why could God possibly want people to bring animals, kill them, and cook them over a fire? Is this an ancient ox roast?
God didn’t ask people to make sacrifices because he was hungry and needed food. Though the sacrifices did produce food for the priests and their families to eat. No, God had a much deeper, symbolic reason for the sacrifices. That deeper meaning is depicted in the word atonement. In chapter 45, verses 15, 17, and 20, God says that the sacrifices are for atonement. What does atonement mean?
The meaning of atonement is a very visual. You can act it out, just by covering your face. Symbolically, atonement refers to the idea that something is being covered. When Israel would sacrifice to God, that sacrifice was a covering for sin. When sin is atoned for, the person or nation is no longer going to be punished for their sin. Instead, they are forgiven. There we see God’s heart. He is a forgiving God.
God’s forgiveness is most clearly shown in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. We need to be forgiven because we did something wrong. That wrong is called sin, which is any thought, word or act that goes against God’s heart.
We all do sin, and the seriousness of sin is that it separates us from God. But praise God, just as he made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sin, he has forgiven us in Jesus.
Do you see what this means? We can have a restored relationship with God. We can be participants! If you don’t know about the status of your relationship with God, or if you feel a distance or brokenness between you and God, God’s heart is to be in close relationship with you. He has made atonement possible for you and him to have a restored relationship!
Please comment below if you’d like to talk further!
Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash