I’ve been reading through Numbers, and one of the things that has been striking my heart is the immense cost to worship. To be in relationship with God–the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the jealous and burning fire, the consuming One–is a dangerous and costly thing.
Yes, Jesus’ blood has paid the price of our sins, and his act of redemption on the cross enables us to come into the presence of God, but still there is a cost to worship or it is not really worship. Worship is an act of giving, and so it necessitates a loss on the part of the worshiper. Now, this cost is negligible when compared to the ultimate glory we receive, the joy, peace, healing, love, and acceptance we find in the presence of God. But there is a cost.
In Numbers 28 and 29, Moses details the normal, expected, everyday offerings required of Israel. These are not the special offerings a man or woman would give after a healing, the birth of a baby, a sin was committed, or a special vow was made. These offerings were made whether the people were especially good or especially bad, whether they had obeyed or disobeyed God. They’re just a part of life, like (to quote Forrest Gump’s mom) death or (via Benjamin Franklin) taxes. You’re just going to have to pay sales tax if you want to enjoy a Starbucks coffee; there’s no way around it. (Incidentally, that’s where I happen to be right now. Without high-speed internet at home, the Starbucks at Mall Vitan has become a favorite place to go for internet and a comfortable place to get some time with God.)
Some of the offerings commanded in the Old Testament would be eaten by the priests or by the worshiper. You’d lose a lamb, but at least you’d get a good meal out of it and some fellowship with your family. (It’s like a holy barbecue!) But these regular offerings described in Numbers 28 and 29 wouldn’t be eaten by anyone. They were simply burned up as “a soothing aroma” (28:2) to God. It’s like an expensive air freshener or perfume, I guess, but a perfume nobody but God could really appreciate. (Have you ever smelled burning hair? It’s really not a very pleasant smell.)
So the animals aren’t eaten, they’re just burned up.
And these are all healthy animals, “without defect” (to use the words the Bible uses). These are the people’s prize animals, the ones every 4-H student hopes to raise and every meatetarian hopes to find on his plate. These are cetainly not animals you want to see get tossed into a fire and burned up.
Further, these are young, just one year old. (Well, it’s difficult to tell in the Hebrew and English whether all the animals are young or just the lambs.) They haven’t been worked yet. They’ve just been sitting around, drinking their mothers’ milk and eating their owners’ food. The lambs haven’t given their fur to make a coat, the bulls haven’t plowed a field (do you do that with a bull?) or made baby bulls, the goats haven’t made any milk or cheese… The one-year investment of caring for this animal has earned no return for its owner. And now the animal is simply burned up? Talk about a bad return on your investment.
And how many animals was this? Well, it was at least two lambs every day, but there were some special events throne in there where things got really bloody. (In the seventh month, for example, Jerusalem’s streets would surely have run red with blood.) After a year, if I did the adding correctly, it would have been something like the following: 1,064 lambs, 113 bulls, 38 rams, and 30 goats. That’s an entire farm (or twelve)! Talk about a lot of money down the drain!
In 1 Chronicles 21, David ends up in trouble with God, God sends a plague and then relents and promises restoration. David is told to build an altar on land belonging to a certain man named Ornan and then to offer a sacrifice there. David hurries to obey.
He comes to Ornan and tells him what he intends to do. Ornan, presumably being a decent Hebrew man, offers to give the land freely to David and even to donate the animals to sacrifice.
David refuses Ornan’s generosity, telling him in 21:24, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.”
I will not offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.
Today, we pay a price when we come to worship, but it’s not counted in animals.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are three costs we pay when we come to worship Jesus:
1) We pay our time. We could put on a Christian radio station before bed and listen while we drift off to sleep. We could go to church, sit in a chair, and finish our homework during the sermon, “killing two birds with one stone.” But, while neither of those is necessarily a sinful or thing to do, we would have fallen far short of worship. To worship requires that I set aside my time, probably the most precious of all my resources because I can never get any more of it, no matter how hard I work. (Sorry, but that life-sucking machine from The Princess Bride just isn’t real… yet.)
2) We pay our attention. This is obvious when we look at another word we commonly use for worship: “devotion.” How can you be devoted to one person and have your attention in another place? If you’re devoted to driving, you’re not putting on lipstick. If you’re devoted to the Packers, you’re not cheering for the Viqueens. Yes, we’re all busy, and sometimes we’ll have to be a little divided in our worship–thinking about taxes or tasks while trying to meditate on the word, changing a baby diaper in the middle of a church service–but true worship does require giving our attention. I think many of us are like the sitcom husband who, with eyes glued to the football game on TV, swears, “Honey, I hear every word you’re saying.” To worship requires a payment of our attention.
3) We pay our pride. What better example of this is there than David dancing before all the people of Israel, earning his wife’s rolling eyes and sarcastic remark: “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Samuel 6:20). My dad was once called a “goofy dancing clown” when he got excited at a service in a more traditional church. To worship Jesus may not require such extremes as David went to, but I do know we have to lay down our pride if we want to truly worship Jesus. You have to let your love for your reputation go if you want to worship. Lift your hands, get on your knees, dance, laugh, cry… and enjoy the presence of Jesus. Let your pride go like the burden it is.
I call it a price, but really you’re getting rid of an encumbrance, something that stands between you and greater union with the Father. You pay your pride, and you get humility and freedom. You pay your attention, and you get the mysteries of God’s heart revealed to you. You pay your time, and you get closeness with the Father.
Hebrews 12:1 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance…”