Some time ago I met with two prominent Jewish rabbis who were interested in having access to the Church’s family history software and database. During our visit, we enjoyed a long discussion on the law of sacrifice.
I asked my two rabbinical friends about Jewish beliefs concerning the doctrine and practice of the law of sacrifice. They explained their understanding of the biblical context of this law and confirmed their deep conviction that it continues to be an important requirement.
Yet, they said, “We are quite certain that our people would reject the notion of bringing back the practice of animal sacrifice. But we confirm that the law is a requirement for all Jews.”
The rabbis’ discussion caused me to reflect on what we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know about the doctrine and application of the law of sacrifice in our lives today.
The scriptures teach that after Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, they began to till the ground. They had been directed to labor for their food and had been commanded to build an altar and offer sacrifices unto the Lord.
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
“And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:6–7).
Thus, the law of sacrifice had been introduced to Adam and Eve to help them understand the mission and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“This is the whole meaning of the law,” Amulek taught, “every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:14). Although the sacrifice of the Savior was the “great and last sacrifice,” the offering of sacrifices continues in His Church today. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared:
“It is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e.,] the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in [the] future; but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the Priesthood, or with the Prophets.
“The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 172).
Latter-day Saints believe that the law of sacrifice is an important element of their lives. Because the great sacrifice of the Son of God ended sacrifice by the shedding of blood, today we live the law of sacrifice in other ways.
A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
The resurrected Lord told the Nephites:
“Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Ne. 9:19–20).
Church leaders have taught that the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit is part of the sacrifice we make when we repent. Elder Ted E. Brewerton of the Seventy wrote, “In a very real way, repentance is one of the gifts we give to our Savior when we ‘offer a sacrifice unto the Lord [our] God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit’ (D&C 59:8)” (“Rejoice in Christ,” Ensign, Dec. 1984, 7).
President Ezra Taft Benson identified what constitutes a broken heart and a contrite spirit: “Godly sorrow … is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit’” (“A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 4).
While serving my first mission, my companion and I were privileged to teach the Tony and Norma Johnson family of Ellesmere Port, England. As part of a missionary discussion, we taught that a truly repentant person would want to confess all his wrongdoings to the Lord in prayer, that a vague, blanket confession was inadequate because an individual should confess his sins in some clarity.
When we returned three days later, Tony Johnson looked terrible. Upon inquiring, we learned he had not slept for three nights. He indicated he would finish one prayer, get into bed, then remember some other event or thought that he felt should be part of his confession. He then would get out of bed and ask forgiveness for another wrongdoing.
While I realized Tony’s depth of feeling was unusual, I left our meeting that evening knowing I had never spent three nights on my knees asking for forgiveness. I had never approached that level of brokenheartedness and contriteness that repentance sometimes requires. I didn’t sleep as well during the next few nights.
“Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming” (D&C 64:23; emphasis added).
Before 1838 the term tithing, as we learn in the heading of section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants, “had meant not just one-tenth, but all free-will offerings, or contributions, to the Church funds.”
I remember a time early in my marriage when poverty was a regular part of my daily life. I suggested to Sister Brough that we might consider carefully the choice between eating and paying tithing. She, however, was firm in her commitment to pay tithing, and she prevailed. Tithing was a sacrifice during that time of financial challenge, but we continued to make our offering to the Lord.
My testimony of the law of tithing grew during those financially difficult years. Why? Because I learned that the law of tithing, through which my financial sacrifice blessed others, teaches us about the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice.
Obedience is a great and important part of the law of sacrifice. The Lord acknowledged the Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience and sacrifice in these words: “Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you” (D&C 132:50).
The happiness that comes from obedience can be seen in the lives of many people. When we are obedient, we are blessed with greater ability to communicate with our Heavenly Father and to know and do His will. The willingness of faithful Latter-day Saints to obey the Lord’s call to serve makes possible the Church’s ability to carry on its mission, including missionary work.
Even greater than monetary sacrifices associated with missionary work is the sacrifice of time with loved ones. The Savior taught: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37–38).
An experience that is part of the lives of the Church’s General Authorities illustrates this point. Members of the Church’s Quorums of the Seventy serve in Area Presidencies throughout the world. Each year the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy receive new or extended assignments for the coming year. Some of these assignments mean that a General Authority and his wife will spend three to five years away from their homes and families.
With great love and concern for the Brethren and their wives and children, a member of the First Presidency typically has interviewed each member of the Seventy before giving him such an assignment. During this interview, the member of the First Presidency would inquire about many issues the Seventy and his family would face while away.
Several years ago all the General Authorities and their wives were invited to a special meeting with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Thomas S. Monson explained that with the demands of general conference there was not to be time to conduct interviews regarding some changes in assignments. Then he asked us to prepare ourselves to receive our assignments for the coming year, which he then proceeded to announce.
There was great suspense as President Monson announced the list of assignments that would require members of the Seventy to leave their homes and, in some cases, family members. I have never witnessed a greater demonstration of willing sacrifice. I heard no complaints. I heard no negative comments. No one objected to either the method or the nature of his assignment. All of the Seventy and their wives simply left that meeting to begin preparations that would take many from home and other family members.
Of course, sadness is associated with absence from our families. Many members of the Seventy miss important family events, such as weddings, funerals, blessings, and graduations. They, too, understand the sacrifice of families. But they may have the assurance that they will have their families in the eternities because they will merit the promises given to those who obey the law of sacrifice.
General Authorities are not alone in this demonstration of sacrifice. Between 500 and 600 letters are sent each week to young people, senior couples, temple missionaries, family history missionaries, and others, asking them to leave their families for a time.
More than 300 mission presidents and their families and more than 50 temple presidencies accept their callings and assignments with the same spirit, knowing that their special calling is a manifestation of unique, personal revelation.
I love the revelation given to President Brigham Young:
“Dear and well-beloved brother, Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you: My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.
“I have seen your labor and toil in journeyings for my name.
“I therefore command you to send my word abroad, and take especial care of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen” (D&C 126:1–3).
Since its inception, the great latter-day work of salvation for the living and dead has required much sacrifice. Temples symbolize the offering of time and talents for the blessing of others.
As an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder James E. Faust said the construction of a temple “means great and endless blessings. It also means great sacrifice. President Spencer W. Kimball said … , ‘No temple has ever yet been built that did not require sacrifice and hard work’” (“The Keys of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 55).
Countless hours of service within the temples and related family history work also require much sacrifice. Through temple service, we learn to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as we magnify our role as “saviours … on Mount Zion” (see Obad. 1:21).
“How are [we] to become saviors on Mount Zion?” asked the Prophet Joseph Smith. “By building … temples, erecting … baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon [our] heads, in behalf of all [our] progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them” (Teachings, 330).
Occasionally we find ourselves in unique, even awkward social situations because of our Church membership and commitment to live the gospel. We then face the possibility of risking our reputation or sacrificing some social comfort. Each member of the Church will probably be in many situations that demonstrate what the world considers to be peculiar. Obeying the Word of Wisdom, observing the Sabbath day, avoiding R-rated movies, and other practices separate us from society’s mainstream.
Some years ago I became vice president of a large computer services company. The company had an annual executive retreat for its top-level officers. At my first retreat, the company retained a famous professional entertainer, a so-called comedian, at significant expense. We were transported by bus from our resort to a lovely restaurant some miles away to see him perform. I was assigned a seat at the head table with the chairman, president of the organization, and other senior executives.
As the program began, I soon realized that the entertainer’s idea of humor was vulgarity, profanity, and verbal pornography. I knew I could not remain and participate as a member of an audience that seemed to enjoy the entertainer’s style. Yet I was concerned about leaving the head table in full view of other executives and board members. I felt my leaving could represent a statement of disrespect for their effort to provide a relaxing evening of entertainment.
After a few more minutes of internal debate, I knew I could no longer listen to the entertainer assault things I held sacred. As I got up and left the room, every eye seemed to be looking at me. Everyone in the room knew of my Church affiliation, and I suspected they would be offended by my action. It was a long walk back in the dark to the resort. My emotions alternated between worry and anger. I was worried that I had offended the leadership of the company by my action. I was angry that they did not recognize the degrading garbage offered as entertainment.
The next day I learned that some were contemptuous of my leaving and had felt offended that I rejected their choice of entertainment. To my disappointment, not one person gave any indication of having respected my action, and no one ever commented again about the evening. However, the company never arranged for that type of offensive entertainment again for executive retreats.
As I look back on the event, I believe it contributed to my understanding of how Jesus Christ might have felt when humiliation was heaped upon him. I received great comfort from the following scriptures:
“If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18–19).
“For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all nations that are upon the earth” (Deut. 14:2).
“If thou art called to pass through tribulation … , know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:5, 7).
Perhaps the greatest sacrifices we will make are associated with tribulation resulting from death, sickness, financial and business disasters, or other major calamities. None of us will escape tribulation. Even the prophets have not been free of tribulation. In fact, a rigorous study of their lives reveals much tribulation.
Joseph and Hyrum Smith were called upon to sacrifice their lives as martyrs for the gospel. Hundreds of other Saints sacrificed their lives during the winter of 1846–47 and the early years of the great migration west. The Lord has given a great promise to those who lose their lives as a consequence of their faith: “He who seeketh to save his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (JST, Matt. 10:39).
Many of us will not be called upon to die for the gospel but rather to live lives of service and sacrifice for others. Paul counseled, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
President David O. McKay made an important point when he suggested a modest one-word change in the words of the magnificent anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (Hymns, no. 60). The original words were: “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” The inspired change taught a significant lesson: “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”
Those who will inherit the celestial kingdom will be those who have been “faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they [have] lived in mortality; and who [have] offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and [have] suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name” (D&C 138:12–13).
Can we escape sacrifice? Not if we would be exalted. The Prophet Joseph Smith helped us understand this significant requirement when he said, “All the saints of whom we have account, in all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight through the sacrifice which they offered unto him” (Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith , 70).
Our greatest blessings in this life and in the hereafter will come through our willingness to sacrifice as the Lord directs. Only through sacrifice and the faith it generates, the Prophet taught, can we achieve happiness in the eternities: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life” (Lectures on Faith, 69).
The law of sacrifice should be taught and practiced in every Latter-day Saint home (see M. Russell Ballard, “The Blessings of Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1992, 77). We do this by making repentance a part of our lives, by faithfully paying our tithes and offerings, by obeying the commandments, by doing family history work and attending the temple, by being an example to others, and by being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).