Americans love convenience. From microwaves to pizza delivery, from cell phones to high-speed Internet, from drive-through funeral viewings to drive-in church, Americans have become increasingly fond of—and accustomed to—convenience. And convenience is certainly nice in its place. After all, who isn’t glad to be liberated from the time-consuming, back-breaking drudgery of doing things the “old-fashioned way”? (The “good old days” weren’t always all that good, as I understand it. Just ask those who lived them!). Modern-day convenience has brought about a number of benefits: time in each day to do what we want as opposed to just what we must; the means to stay in regular contact with loved ones far from home; the ability to access information when and where we want it. Yes, convenience is nice. But some things can’t always be convenient. And to attempt to make them so is to risk making them into something they’re not. Worship to God is such a thing.
King Jeroboam is a case study in convenience misapplied. After receiving headship of the northern ten tribes of Israel, Scripture tells us that he grew concerned that his new subjects might not remain loyal to him (1 Kings 12:26-27). Knowing that they would be returning to Jerusalem multiple times a year to worship per the Law’s injunction, he feared their frequent visits to the former capital might foster a renewed affection for their former estate. This, in turn, could result in his execution. Something had to be done—or so he thought. What Jeroboam did is instructive. Rather than commit his way to God who had given him the new kingdom, Jeroboam adopted a pernicious plan that unabashedly played on the people’s love of convenience: “Therefore the king…made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel…’” (1 Kings 12:28) “It is too much for you…Here are your gods,” calls to a more convenient worship, for sure.
Probably Jeroboam was playing on discontent already present in the hearts of the people. One would have had to admit, a trip to Jerusalem could be inconvenient. At 2,500 feet, Jerusalem sat higher than many places in the Promised Land, and a journey there could include significant uphill travel. Many a devout Israelite very literally went “up to Jerusalem.” Furthermore, the journey would have required significant time, money, and the possible trouble of taking your sacrificial animals with you. Yes, a trip to Jerusalem was inconvenient. In fact, one could say, it was a sacrifice.
To their shame, the people of the Northern Kingdom turned out to be all too accepting of Jeroboam’s proposition. Willing to sacrifice obedience (and the personal sacrifice it required) on the altar of personal convenience, they adopted Jeroboam’s new system and forsook the faith of their fathers. And so began the kingdom’s downward spiral into spiritual bankruptcy.
How different the attitudes and actions of these Israelites from that of their father! Abraham was called to sacrifice his son. Nothing convenient about that. And what did he do when he received the command? He got up early the next morning to obey it (Genesis 22:3). Later, when he and his company neared the location where the sacrifice was to take place, he said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder to worship…” (Genesis 22:5). To worship. If anyone could have said of worship, “It is too much for [me],” it was Abraham. And yet we see only a spirit of humble submission and surrender. No worship was too much if it was the worship God commanded…even if it meant taking a knife to your own son. Abraham acknowledged what his descendants denied (at least, in action)–worship does not exist apart from sacrifice.
This invites each of us to ask ourselves, “Is my worship accompanied by sacrifice?” That is, when we examine ourselves, what do we see? “Present your bodies a living sacrifice,” said Paul (Romans 12:1). “[Y]ou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices,” said Peter (1 Peter 2:5). The Scriptures are teaching us loud and clear: there is no true worship without accompanying sacrifice.
So what sacrifices are you making? Are you denying yourself as Jesus taught (Luke 9:23), and keeping his commands in your personal life? Are you the same person on Saturday night that you are on Sunday morning? And when it comes to Sunday morning, are you worshipping with a congregation that obeys the Scriptures? Or just with the group that is nearest home, or the most likely to allow you to meet up with family, or the most entertaining, or the most convenient in terms of service times? These are serious questions, and ones that all of us must ask ourselves, for “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Whatever the Lord calls us to do, we must do it. Whatever worship the Lord commands, we must give it. In this way, we will be sacrifices, and will be bringing sacrifices that can be accepted (Genesis 4:5-7). Let us lay it all on the altar. Let us inconvenience ourselves. Let us be like Abraham. By doing so, God will count us among those the Lord called “true worshippers” (John 4:23), and what better title could there be?