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Live Life as a Sacrifice of Praise

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 10, 2013

Hebrews 13:15-16

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13.  We’re going to be looking at verses 15 and 16 today.  As we have worked our way through the book of Hebrews together, we have seen the theme repeated that we should continue to trust in Jesus.  William Hendriksen says that the exhortation and argument of the whole book can be summarized this way:  “Jesus is worthy of your faith.  Have faith in Him and do not fall away.”  Now the way we’ve been putting it is this way:  “Jesus is better.”  Don’t put your ultimate trust in anything or anyone else but Him.  And as we get to chapter 13, we meet a series of exhortations, and though they may look random to you, they in fact all are exhortations about how to live the Christian life.  So allow your eyes to look at verses 1 to 14 and remember what we’ve been in this passage so far.  We’ve had an exhortation for us to love our Christian brothers and sisters, we’ve seen an exhortation for us to honor marriage, there’s been an exhortation not to fall in love with money but to be content with what God has provided us, there’s an exhortation for us to remember and imitate those who first taught us the truth of God’s Word, and there’s an exhortation for us to follow Christ no matter what else may be taught and no matter what it costs us.

And that brings us to verses 15 and 16.  And in this little section of Hebrews 13, in these two verses, we meet yet another exhortation.  And so that you can follow the content of this exhortation better, I want you to be on the lookout for five things as we read it together.  It’s just one exhortation, but you’ll understand the one exhortation better if you see these five things.  First, look at verse 15.  Notice that it says, “through Him.”  This exhortation is to be done through Him.  Second, verse 15 again, it says that it’s to be done “continually.”  Third, this exhortation calls on us to give expressed thanksgiving - “the fruit of lips that acknowledge or give thanks to His name.”  Fourth, this exhortation calls on us to “do good.”  And fifth, this exhortation calls on us to share generously.  So look for those five things as we read Hebrews 13 verses 15 and 16 together.  And before we do, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, and as we come now to the last page of the book of Hebrews we pray that You would open our eyes once again to behold wonderful things in Your law.  Teach us by Your Spirit of the aspiration that is contained in this exhortation.  We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God.  Hear it in Hebrews 13 beginning in verse 15:

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Our Christian aspiration, individually and collectively, is to live life as a sacrifice of praise to God.  That’s what this exhortation is all about.  It’s exhorting us to live life as a sacrifice of praise to God and that ought to be an aspiration.  It ought to be something that we want to do, that we long to do, that we desire to do.  That is, because of what Jesus has done for us, and through His grace, we want to, we long to, live lives that are sacrifices of praise to God both in word and in deed.  Now what does that mean and how do we do that?  Well, we understand what that means and we are enabled to do that as we see the five parts of this one exhortation.  It’s a one point sermon, but to understand the one point sermon let’s understand the five parts of this exhortation.  First, notice:  through Him, continually, expressing thanksgiving, doing good, and sharing generously.  Let’s look at all five of those things in this exhortation.

I. Living Life as a Sacrifice of Praise: through Him

The first thing I want you to see in verse 15 is we do this “through him.”  In other words, Hebrews is telling us we live lives as sacrifices of praise to God only through Christ, who is the real sacrifice.  This is a very interesting and perhaps surprising and unexpected verse because the author of Hebrews has spent the entire book of Hebrews, this entire sermon, this letter, arguing what?  That Old Testament sacrifices could not forgive sins and two, the only real sacrifice is the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ, and three, therefore we do not offer animal sacrifices anymore because those sacrifices didn’t forgive sins in the first place; they pointed to the one, true sacrifice of Jesus Christ that has forgiven sin once for all for all who trust in Jesus Christ and therefore there is no more sacrifice for us to give.  Remember what he says?  “The blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins.”  He’s talking about the Old Testament sacrificial system.  And he says those sacrifices didn’t forgive sin.  

Jesus Christ: the Sacrifice for our Sins

Now if you look up the word, “sacrifice,” in your English Bibles, you will find it about a hundred and sixty-six times, give or take a few depending on what your translation is.  Guess where most of those occurrences are - the Old Testament.  The word sacrifice appears a bunch of times in the New Testament but most of those occurrences are in the Old Testament.  And the author of Hebrews is saying, “You know those Old Testament sacrifices that you had to offer?  None of those forgave sins!”  And then when the sacrifice is mentioned in the New Testament, the great sacrifice that is pointed to is not those Old Testament ceremonial sacrifices but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And what does the author of Hebrews says about that sacrifice?  That Jesus, once and for all, brought about the forgiveness and remission of sin through His death on the cross.  And those Old Testament sacrifices just pointed forward to that.  Therefore, he argues - and he’s been arguing this since Hebrews chapter 1 - we don’t look to the animal sacrifices as our source of forgiveness and hope; we look to Jesus.  Why?  Because Jesus is better!  He’s better than Moses, He’s better than Joshua, He’s better than those old sacrifices.

Our Lives: A Sacrifice of Gratitude and Response

So doesn’t it surprise you a little bit for him to get to Hebrews chapter 13 verse 15, I mean he’s only got a few more verses left in the book, and then he tells you what?  Live life as a sacrifice of praise!  It takes you off guard, doesn’t it?  The Old Testament sacrifices didn’t work; they didn’t forgive sins.  Jesus’ sacrifice did forgive sins, therefore you don’t have to offer sacrifices, so live life as a sacrifice of praise.  It catches you by surprise!  That’s why this little phrase, “through Him,” is so important.  We live life as a sacrifice of praise only through Christ who is our real sacrifice.  The author of Hebrews isn’t saying, “Do some things in the way that you live that can add to what Jesus has done so that you’ll be forgiven of sins.”  That’s not what he’s saying.  In fact, he specifically calls this a “sacrifice of praise.”  It isn’t a sacrifice of atonement that he’s asking you to live.  Jesus has already done the atonement.  He’s asking you to live as a sacrifice of praise to God - why?  Because of what Jesus has done!  Jesus has died in your place.  Jesus has imputed His righteousness to you.  You have received His righteousness by faith so that you are declared right with God, not because you deserve it but because Jesus has paid your penalty and lived in full righteousness on your behalf and that righteousness is credited to your account.  Therefore, he says, because of what Jesus has done, I want you to give a different kind of sacrifice - not an Old Testament animal sacrifice, not a sacrifice of atonement, because all of the atonement that you will ever need has already been given; I want you to live out a sacrifice of praise. So the first thing I want you to see is this - we live as a sacrifice of praise to God only through Christ who is the real sacrifice.

II. Living Life as a Sacrifice of Praise: Continually

The second thing I want you to see is, the author of Hebrews is calling us to do something that impacts absolutely everything in life.  He’s not saying, “I want you to go to church on Sunday and sing a song.  I want you to go to church on Sunday and give a word of thanks to God.”  He’s saying, “I want you, in all of life, to live continually as a sacrifice of praise.”  Look at what he says in verse 15 - “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”  In other words, we live as sacrifices of praise to God not in some occasional activity but in a continual rhythm of all of life.  He is calling us to a whole life act of worship where we view ourselves and everything we do as a sacrifice of praise to God.  It’s really not unlike the catechism saying to you, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  And you don’t just do that on Sunday morning or Sunday evening or Wednesday night; you do that 24/7.  You live to glorify God.  And he’s saying, “I want you to be a sacrifice of praise to God continually.”

III. Living Life as a Sacrifice of Praise: Expressing Thanksgiving

Third, look at what else he says in verse 15.  You may be asking, “Well what does it mean to be a sacrifice of praise, Ligon?”  You’ve said that over and over but I don’t know what it means.  Well the author of Hebrews doesn’t leave you hanging on that question.  He tells you exactly what he means.  Look at what he says.  “Through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” - okay, you’re scratching your head, “What’s that?”  “That is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”  So he starts to tell you what he means by “sacrifice of praise” by saying this - “the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name.”  What does he mean?  He means that you live as a sacrifice of praise to God with lips that continually acknowledge God in praise and in thanksgiving.  One way you live life as a sacrifice of praise is you live in constant expressed thankfulness.  

A People who constantly have Thanks on their lips 

Are you a complainer?  Are you a grumbler?  Are you a critic? You know, is one of the ways that you cope with the ups and downs of life, the hard times and the burdensomely repetitious hard things of life, do you deal with that by complaining and grumbling and criticizing and blame-shifting and all sorts of other things?  Well the author of Hebrews says, “This is what I want us to look like, brothers and sisters.  I want us to look like people who constantly have thanksgiving in our hearts and on our lips.”  When we wake up in the morning we want to say, “Thank you, Jesus.”  It ought to be instinctive that thanks is the first thing out of our mouths and it’s the last thing out of our mouths at night, that we live constantly aware of the mercies of God to us in Christ Jesus so that we are thanking and thankful all the time.  That’s how you live as a sacrifice of praise. You live with thanks to God in your hearts and so on your lips all the time.

IV. Living Life as a Sacrifice of Praise: Doing Good

Fourth, he goes on to say, look at verse 16 now, “and do not neglect to do good.”  Now isn’t this beautiful?  You live as a sacrifice of praise - how?  You’ve got thanksgiving to God on your lips and you’re doing good to others.  Whoa!  What is this?  This is Jesus’ first and second commands, the two great commands expressed in living the Christian life.  When the scribe comes to Jesus and asks Him the question, “Jesus, what is the greatest commandment?” what does Jesus say?  “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love God.  Love others.  Now look at what the author of Hebrews has just said - “Live life as a sacrifice of praise.”  How do I do that, author of Hebrews?  You let God’s praise be continually on your lips, you’re loving and praising and blessing and worshiping God, and you are doing good to others.  You are obeying the first and second commands!  Love God.  Love your neighbor; love others.  That’s how you live life as a sacrifice of praise.  We live lives as sacrifices of praise to God when we do good to others.  “Do not neglect to do good.”  When you are loving others, you are living life as a sacrifice of praise to God.

V. Living Life as a Sacrifice of Praise: Sharing Generously 

And then he says, again at verse 15, fifth - “Do not neglect to share what you have.”  Do not neglect.  Doing good and sharing.  We live life as sacrifices of praise to God when we share generously.  This comes very fortuitously on the heels of Commitment Sunday and our stewardship sermon!  And by the way, here, the word “share” especially has to do with alms giving or sharing with those who are in need.  This is what we call benevolent giving - giving to those who are in particular need.  And the author of Hebrews is telling you here this is how you live as a sacrifice of praise.  You do three things - thanksgiving and acknowledgement from God is in your heart and on your lips, you’re doing good to others deliberately because you want to bring praise to God, you want to live as a sacrifice of praise, and you’re generous in sharing with those in need because you want to live as a sacrifice of praise to God.  

A Parallel in the Apostle Paul

This theology is not unique to the author of Hebrews.  You know what I hear when I hear Hebrews 13 verses 15 and 16?  I hear Romans 12 verse 1 in the back of my mind - “Therefore, brothers, by the mercy of God, present yourselves, your bodies as living sacrifices, which is your spiritual worship.” You know people argue about who wrote the book of Hebrews.  I don’t know, but I do know this - whoever wrote the book of Hebrews sure did know Paul’s theology well and he is echoing in Hebrews 13 verse 15 and 16 exactly what the apostle Paul is saying in Romans chapter 12 verse 1.  Paul calls us to live our lives, give ourselves as sacrifices, not to atone for ourselves - Jesus has already done that and Paul spent eleven chapters explaining that!  And the author of Hebrews is saying not to go out and do something to atone for yourself because he’s just spent twelve chapters explaining that Jesus is the one who offered that atonement.  He’s saying in light of what God has done for you in Christ, here’s the sacrifice that God wants - thankfulness to Him, doing good to others, being generous with what you have.  

God’s goodness: telling us how to please Him

Isn’t it glorious, my friends?  God does not refuse to tell you what pleases Him in your life.  You know there are some people who refuse to be pleased; there really are.  There are some people who you can’t please for nothing.  There are people who will not tell you what they want you to do to please them and they will stand back and wait for you to fail.  They will stand back and wait for you to not do what they want you to do and then when you do it, they get you!  That is not how your God is.  Your God says, “You want to know what causes Me to smile upon your life?  You know what gives me pleasure when I look down upon you?  It’s when there is a sacrifice of praise in your heart and on your lips to Me because of the mercies that I have shown to you in Christ Jesus and when you do good to one another and when you’re generous.”  In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying God does not leave you in suspense wondering what a life that pleases Him looks like.  The kind of life that is pleasing to the Lord is a life which is a sacrifice of praise to God, doing good to others, and being generous.  What does he say?  Look at the end of verse 16 - “such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  In other words, the Lord is saying, “Child, when I look down on you and I see the thankfulness in your heart and the thankfulness expressed on your lips and you doing good to one another and you being generous, I just want you to know right now you have My smile upon you.”  

You remember how Eric Liddell says, “The Lord made me fast and when I run I feel His pleasure”?  Well here is God saying, “Child, you live this kind of life and you can know My pleasure just like Eric Liddell knew My pleasure when he ran.  You don’t have to guess what is pleasing to Me.  This is the life that is pleasing to Me.”  You see how all of these exhortations, however random they may look, actually tell us how to live the Christian life?  May God make us a congregation like this.  Is that what they say about us?  “Those people always have thanks to the Lord in their hearts and on their lips.  They’re always doing good to others.  They’re very generous.”  Is that what they say about us?  Well it doesn’t really matter what they say about us; what we want is our heavenly Father to take pleasure in our doing those things.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, make us a thankful people, constantly, continually doing good to one another and sharing generously what You have so graciously and generously given us with those in need.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s take up blessing on our lips to our gracious heavenly Father.  Take your hymnals out, turn with me to number 6, and we’ll sing the first, second, and last stanzas of this great hymn.

The author of Hebrews is telling us that if you’re living life as a sacrifice of praise you are already receiving from God the word that He is going to give you at the end, that, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”  He’s already pleased.  

And so for all who are trusting in Jesus Christ, receive His good word:  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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