“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to do something while you were distracted? I’m trying to write this while my kids are watching a mid-90s teenybopper sitcom—not so easy. We weren’t made for doing multiple tasks at the same time. Some people may seem to have the ability to multitask, but the truth is that trying to do more than one thing at the same time is just going to result in not doing any of them very well. Rather uncomfortably, this goes for worship as well as life generally.
Offering a sacrifice in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was no small task. The very difficulty of it was supposed to help remind people that it really was a sacrifice and in more ways than one. But, Jerusalem was the only place where sacrifices could legitimately be offered, so they had to come. And come they did because those sacrifices were the only way to guarantee the forgiveness of sins.
In the Law of Moses, the only provision that guaranteed the people their sins would be forgiven was the sacrificial system. The animal took their place and God accepted it on their behalf. Now, because of the cross and the resurrection, we can go to God through Jesus with genuinely repentant hearts any time we sin and receive immediately the forgiveness already available by His sacrifice of Himself. He was the permanent version of what the first century Jews did on at least an annual basis.
Imagine, though, living with the uncertainty of never really knowing if the forgiveness was granted. Imagine feeling like you were constantly at odds with God except for one time a year when you could arrange your schedule and save your money to be able to take off work for the days necessary to travel from wherever you were living to Jerusalem, purchase one of the temple-approved animals (the very system Jesus threw such a fit about one time when He saw it operating), and wait in line with everyone else for your turn at the altar with the priest.
It would have been hot. If you had kids with you, they would have been impatient. The smells would have been awful. Nothing about it would have been convenient. But you were going to leave with a sense of peace you spent the rest of the year wishing you had. So you did it.
Imagine a little further with me that you go to see this radical new teacher everyone’s been talking about. He just may be the Messiah and He speaks with such amazing authority as He explains what the Law really means. And when you get there, this little gem gets dropped in your lap. If you’re in Jerusalem offering a sacrifice—it’s your turn and the animal is actually on the altar—and you suddenly remember you have something between you and your neighbor that is still unresolved, you’re supposed leave your gift there, go home and resolve whatever it is, and then you can come back to finish your sacrifice.
This would have sounded like madness. Sheer madness. No one would have even considered doing something like this. They couldn’t have afforded it for one. They wouldn’t have had time for it for two. And who would have wanted to do something like that anyway? It would have been embarrassing. What would you tell the people who had been waiting in line with you? Odds are, they were your family (maybe even one of them was the one with whom you had issues). They were going to ask you questions that you may not have wanted to answer the whole way home. And on top of this, it was going to be another year before you got to go and get right with God again. Who would possibly be willing to do all of that?
Someone who wanted to be right with God.
You see, the point toward which Jesus was pointing His audience, and through them us, was this: You can’t be right with God if you’re not right with people.
Now, maybe that seems like an obvious, lightweight truth, but give it some thought. If going to church is your thing (and if you are a Jesus follower it has to be your thing or you aren’t doing it right), have you ever tried going to worship when either you were upset with someone else or they were upset with you and you knew about it? I don’t care how moving of a service it was, you were wasting your time. You can’t successfully worship God if you aren’t right with His people. Or perhaps these terms will make that idea connect more: You aren’t going to be able to have a good relationship with me if you have something against one of my kids or else they have something against you.
When you go to worship your Lord, you need to be right with His people (and everyone is included in that distinction). Jesus was serious enough about it that He told an audience of Galileans who lived a 2-3 day walk from Jerusalem that they should leave Jerusalem to go home to resolve their conflict with another person before going back to finish their worship. If getting right with people is worth that much inconvenience in order to rightly worship God, we don’t have any legitimate excuses.
Before you go and worship this coming Sunday, then, you need to ask yourself some hard questions. Do I have any broken relationships in my life that I have not done everything in my power to the satisfaction of my conscience to resolve? Is there anyone I know I have offended from whom I need to seek forgiveness through repentance? Is there anyone who has offended me to whom I need to offer forgiveness and an avenue to restore the relationship? It does not matter how hard these conversations are—or at least the successful offering of forgiveness from our hearts—our worship is going to be hamstrung until we do. You cannot worship God if you aren’t right with His people. So then, who do you need to be right with and how quickly can you start that process? Your heavenly Father is waiting.