Americans love convenience. From microwaves to pizza delivery, from cell phones to high-speed Internet, from drive-through funeral viewings to drive-in churches, Americans make no bones about their love of convenience. And convenience is certainly nice (in its place). After all, who isn’t glad to be free from the time-consuming, back-breaking drudgery of doing things the old-fashioned way? (The good old days weren’t necessarily the good old days. Just ask those who lived during them!) Who doesn’t enjoy having more free time in each day? Who doesn’t like to be able to get information when and where he wants it? Convenience is nice. But some things just aren’t convenient. And to make them so is to make them into something they’re not.
Jeroboam is a case study in convenience misapplied. After receiving headship of the northern ten tribes, Scripture tells us that he grew concerned that his new subjects might not remain loyal to him. Knowing that they would be returning to Jerusalem multiple times a year to worship, he feared that their frequent visits might foster a renewed affection for their former master. This, in turn, could result in his execution. Something had to be done (or so he thought). Jeroboam’s actions are instructive. He adopted a pernicious plan that unashamedly 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.
One would have had to admit, a trip to Jerusalem WAS 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 traveler 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, you 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 scheme. Willing to sacrifice all that sacrifice on the altar of personal convenience, they 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. No worship was too much if it was the worship God commanded…even if that meant taking a knife to your own son. Abraham acknowledged what his descendants denied (at least, in action)–worship is about sacrifice.
So now it comes down to us. Is our worship about sacrifice? “Present your bodies a living sacrifice”, Paul said (Romans 12:1). Peter added: “[Y]ou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). There is no true worship without sacrifice. And sacrifice is often inconvenient. That’s its nature.
Whatever the Lord calls us to do, we must do it. Whatever worship the Lord commands, we must offer it. There is no other way. So let us all lay it all on the altar. Only by so doing, can we be sure to be counted among the “true worshipers” God is seeking (John 4:23).