Sacrifice of Praise (Hebrews 13.15-16)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13.15–16 NIV)

Throughout the sermon that we call the Letter to the Hebrews, the preacher has emphasized that Jesus is our perfect High Priest; his qualifications is that as God he can connect us with the Father and as a human he can understand and sympathize with us. Better than any of the early high priests Jesus can truly mediate the things of God to people.

Yet one of the most important functions of a High Priest was to offer sacrifices, first for himself and his family, and then for the people. Analogous to this, Jesus, while not needing to offer anything for himself, still needed, in the logic of Leviticus, to offer a sacrifice for his people. Here, the preacher offers his most significant insight: Jesus is both Priest and victim—but he is not a victim in that he is a willing and living sacrifice.

Now we are able to look back at the beginning of Hebrews to see why making purifications for sins before sitting down at the right hand of God (1.3b) is such a big deal.

Since Jesus has accomplished atonement (at-one-ment) with God, there no longer remains any useful reason for continuing animal sacrifices. They simply are not necessary since Jesus’ self-sacrifice in the heavenly temple.

However, there was one sacrifice from Leviticus that was not connected with the “forgiveness of sins.” The peace or thanksgiving offering was a free will offering just to express gratitude to God. In the passage cited above, this offering is transformed into “sacrifice of praise,” also called “the fruit of lips that confess his name.” This would include the public confession of Jesus in word and song.

Yet there is one more form of sacrifice mentioned in this text:  to do good and to share with others. Furthermore, this kind of sacrifice pleases God. Amazingly—to me—the kind of sacrifices that God is seeking through the Letter to the Hebrews are these: to love God by confessing him and by doing good to others.

And so closes Hebrews on the note of loving God and loving people.

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Transparency: Being Truthful before God

I have been reminded this past week that telling the truth can be hard. I am not just talking about confessing bold sins, but about the way we humans lie to ourselves and others about the little things leading up to the announcement of the bold sins. These more subtle mis-truths set the stage for the curtain to fall.

Now we also lie by what we do not say. The failure to confront is participating in the sin of others. This “fear” of confrontation is one of Satan’s best tools for keeping us from becoming transparent before God. When we get to the point where we cannot speak into each other lives because we are afraid of the possible reaction, we have succumbed to the Evil One–we are working for him.

What we need is a new sense of “transparency.” Even the secular leadership world is giving attention to the need for a new level of honesty among leaders. Warren Bennis, a well-established leadership expert, recently co-authored a book called Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor. When these authors define transparency or candor, they mean that organizations should have a free flow of information among the members of the organization and even the public.

Now if the business world knows the value of being open and honest, how much more should the church of God who has been admonished to stop lying to one another (Col. 3.9) and to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4.15). God calls us to have nothing to do with “fruitless deeds of darkness” but rather to expose them (Eph. 5.11).

Bennis makes it clear in his book that creating an environment where people are free to speak the truth begins with the leaders in the organization. If the leadership will not hold themselves mutually accountable, transparency will never permeate the organization.

Without transparency, there will be no trust and, without trust, we cannot move forward in God’s mission.