A Pleasing Aroma

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Leviticus 1 | January 1 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
January 1
A Pleasing Aroma | Leviticus 1
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Jesus is the only one who can wash away your sins. The only one who can turn away the Father’s just wrath. The only one whose death will arise into heaven as a fragrant offering. The only one who can make you a child of God instead of His enemy, so lay your hands on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and in Him in this new year know the pleasing smile of God.

O Lord, what a joy it is to study Your Word. How kind that You would reveal Yourself to us, and how very kind that You have given to us in this place, in this country, a Bible that we can read that is easily accessible. We can read in a language we understand. Not only that, but commentaries and books and resources, an embarrassment of riches, to help us understand Your Word. Truly, it is no exaggeration to say of all peoples at all times and all places, no one has had such privilege as we have in studying and understanding Your Word. Give us ears now to hear Your voice and eyes to see Jesus. Amen.

Some of you may remember almost six years ago, March 2017, I preached my candidating sermon here at Christ Covenant on this text, Leviticus chapter 1. Some of you were here, many of you were not. If you were, you may remember something from that sermon. It’s not the same sermon, though you’ll be glad to know I haven’t changed my mind on what the text means and the text means the same thing, so there’s some similarities and perhaps you’ll recognize some outline or illustration.

I heard a few people joking after I preached that candidating sermon, at least I took them to be joking, say, “Wow, Leviticus. I thought maybe you didn’t really want to be the pastor here.” [laughter] I did, I’m glad I’m here. If you remember a lot from that sermon, than you’re doing better than I am six years on.

I love the book of Leviticus. Now, I love all the books of the Bible, of course, but I love this book, and this may seem like a surprising book to love. I’m going to go ahead and make a guarantee that if you are here for most of these, it’s going to be about 20 weeks, and if you pay attention, so that’s a big if, you will, I promise, love this book of Leviticus.

If you’re not familiar with the Bible, and we’re glad that you’re here, Leviticus sounds like a strange name for a book of the Bible. After all, most of the books of the Bible are named after the person who wrote it, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; or named for the people who received it, the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, or Timothy or Titus; or their given the name representative of the theme or the major person in the book, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Proverbs, Acts.

But Leviticus sounds like either a pair of jeans or a communicable disease. There are actually many diseases in the book, there are no jeans in the book.

It is called Leviticus, of course, because there are instructions here for the priests and the Levites. If you’re familiar with the Bible, many of you are, you’ve heard of Leviticus, maybe you’ve studied some of it before, but if you’re honest, it sounds really boring. In fact, if you were to rank all 66 books of the Bible in order of your most favorite to your least favorite, Leviticus is probably pretty close to the bottom. If it’s not at the bottom, it’s only because you forgot some of the other books.

When you hear Leviticus, you think dull chapters about sacrifices, strange laws about skin diseases and mildew and animals you can or can’t eat, and then you think of a bunch of weird and sometimes extreme laws that don’t make sense and we don’t follow them anymore anyway.

So why study Leviticus?

Did you know that Jesus referred to a verse in Leviticus more than any other verse in the Old Testament? You’ve probably heard of this verse, Leviticus 19:18 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That comes from this book. And in the New Testament, it’s referred to 10 times.

Did you know our concept and word “scapegoat,” someone who gets blamed for what someone else did, that comes from Leviticus 16, and Lord willing we’re going to come to that on Easter Sunday.

Did you know the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, I was up in Philadelphia I guess it was last year now, several months ago, and went through and waited in line and saw the Liberty Bell, I think I’d seen it when I was a child, but there it is in Philadelphia. It has one verse inscribed on it, and that verse is from Leviticus, Leviticus 25:10 – “Proclaim liberty through all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” And that Liberty Bell became a great rallying cry for the abolitionists in the 19th century and that verse from Leviticus was important to them.

The outline of this book is pretty straightforward, especially for the first half of the book. Chapters 1 through 7 deal with sacrifices. There are five types of sacrifices. We’ll look at the first one in just a moment. Then chapters 8 through 10 deal with the consecration of Aaron and his sons as the priests. Chapters 11 through 15, regulations for what is clean and unclean. Chapter 16, which is really the heart of the book, and I think you could argue even the heart of the entire Pentateuch, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Then chapters 17 through 27, various laws about holiness. That’s the roadmap of where we’re going.

But more important at this point than where we are going is where we are. You need to understand something about where we are in the Bible at the start of Leviticus and where Leviticus rests in these first five books called the Pentateuch, penta meaning five, sometimes called the Torah, the law. Leviticus; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; you can tell, is right in the middle of the Pentateuch. There is a classic one of these funnel/reverse funnel patterns with the first five books of the Bible, a chiastic pattern, you’ve heard me say that before, a chiasm, it’s named after the Greek word chi, which looks like an “X”. As providence would have it, it sounds like our English word “key,” so you think of maybe a keyhole going down, going out, so that A/A prime are similar, B and B prime are similar, and then in the middle of that funnel or that keyhole or that X marks the spot, you have the center.

So you have something like that happening with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Let me explain.

Genesis is about where this family, which turned into a nation, Israel, where they came from and Genesis ends with the death of the patriarch Joseph and before he dies, he blesses the 12 tribes. That’s Genesis.

Deuteronomy, on the other end, the bottom of the funnel, is about where this family is going. So Genesis where this family came from, Deuteronomy where the family is going, and like Genesis, Deuteronomy ends with the death of the patriarch, you might say. With the death of Moses. And just like Genesis, before he dies, Moses, like Joseph did, blesses the 12 tribes. Genesis, Deuteronomy, and you have Exodus and Numbers.

They are almost exactly the same length, whereas Leviticus in the middle is the shortest of the five books. Exodus, in Hebrew, has 16,713 words. Numbers has 16,413 words. Almost identical in their length. If you know something about those two books, you may remember they both have desert journeys, they both have apostasy followed by divine plagues, and they mirror each other in some ways. Deuteronomy returns to the theme of Genesis, Numbers returns to the theme of Exodus, and in the middle is Leviticus.

Or if you want to describe it a different way, in Genesis you see God’s people established; under the promise and in Deuteronomy God’s people reconstituted under the law, because Deuteronomy, deutero nomos, nomos is the word for law, Deuteronomy is the second giving of the law.

Exodus, the people leave Egypt and build a tabernacle. In Numbers, they dedicate the tabernacle and they prepare to enter Canaan.

Then in the middle is Leviticus where the worship and the service that takes place at and in the tabernacle is described.

Let me just describe this in one other way. Hopefully you have your Bible open to Leviticus chapter 1. We are going to read it. Yes, I know this counts as part of the sermon time before we get to it.

Look at Exodus 40 just across the page, and I want you to notice this timestamp, Exodus 40, verse 17. So here’s where they are. God’s people are, at the end of Exodus. Chapter 40, verse 17: “In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month.” So this time reckoned from departing from Egypt. So where are they? First day, first month, second year.

Now keep your finger there at Leviticus and go the beginning of Numbers, the next book, and look at Numbers 1:1 and notice the timestamp here: “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month in the second year.”

So Exodus ends first day, first month, second year; Numbers begins first day, second month, second year. You can do the math, so the intervening time is just one month.

Moses picks things up, Moses the author of the Pentateuch, picks things up a month later with Numbers, and what’s in between are all of these instructions given to Moses in this middle book called Leviticus.

You’ll hear me say this many times in the coming months – Leviticus for all of its weirdness and confusion, is preeminently about one thing: How can unholy people dwell in the midst of a holy God?

Or if you want to put it from the other perspective, it is about how a holy God can dwell in the midst of an unholy people.

That’s what Leviticus is about. His people are unholy, just like us. He is holy; He was then, He is now, He forever will be, always has been holy. How can a holy God dwell in the midst of an unholy people?

Now right there if you’re convinced by the end of Leviticus that that is the story, that does a lot to shape and help us understand what the purpose and meaning of life is really about, because our world tells us a different story, the story is about how you find maximum fulfillment, how you find self-expression. The story in the Bible, and I would argue it’s not just in Leviticus but it’s in the Bible, is this story, how a holy God can dwell in the midst of an unholy people.

Has that not been the problem since Genesis chapter 3? Genesis 1 and 2, all is good, the creation is good, paradise is good, God dwells with Adam and Eve. Chapter 3 they sin and what is their punishment? They are cast east of Eden, out of the Garden of Eden, and from that time forward, there will be estrangement between God and man.

How can this holy God dwell in the midst of such an unholy people?

Here’s the setting. The Israelites have left Egypt. They cross through the Red Sea. They make their way to Mount Sinai. While on Mount Sinai, Moses receives all sorts of laws for the people. The last chapters in Exodus deal with the construction of the tabernacle, sometimes called the tent of meeting, think of it as the rendezvous tent. It’s where God meets with His people. God’s presence is there in the midst of the camp, because you have three tribes north, south, east and west, and there in the geographic center and spiritual center of the camp, is the tabernacle representative of God’s presence. There the tabernacle, and there’s a holy place and there’s the holy of holies, and then there’s the ark of the covenant, and look what happens in Exodus chapter 40, verse 34. The tabernacle is completed, verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. This place, this rendezvous tent where God is going to dwell in the midst, it’s happened here, His glory cloud descends and rests there in the holy of holies.

Now what you would think is that the climax of Exodus is therefore God’s glory descends and then the people enter in. Or at least the high priests, or at least Moses goes in and there it is, happy days are here. God has come to dwell with His people, they’re together at last.

But look what happens in the very next verse. Surprise of surprise, verse 35: “And Moses was not, not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

We have such a light and trifling view of God. We think, “God is here. Everybody, get your kids, get the grandparents, everybody come in. We’re going to see God.”

Verse 35 tells us, uh, it’s just the opposite. Moses couldn’t go in the tabernacle because God was there.

So you come to Leviticus and it’s trying to resolve verse 34 of Exodus 40 and verse 35. God dwells there, Moses can’t go in. Well, now what? Can God’s people ever dwell with God? How, if Moses of all people, Moses didn’t even sin with the golden calf, if Moses of all people cannot enter in, what hope is there for any of us to be with God? For God to be with us? Are we just going to be destroyed, eaten up by plagues, like the Egyptians were when God dwells in the midst of us?

Well, the answer to that problem is the book of Leviticus. Look at verse 1: “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. ”” So what transpires in these 27 chapters is a long monologue that God has with Moses about what he should tell the people and the priests to do so that they can dwell with God and God can dwell with them. If Moses can’t get in, how will anybody get in? How is this not going to be an unmitigated disaster that the glory and the holiness of God descends in our midst? What are we going to do?

The answer? Listen to Leviticus. The first set of instructions, fittingly, are about sacrifices. There are five types of sacrifices in Leviticus – the burnt offering, in chapter 1; the grain offering, in chapter 2; the peace offering, in chapter 3; sin offerings, in chapter 4 and 5; and guilt offerings, in chapter 5 and 6.

The most common, and the one that was foundational for the whole sacrificial system, is this one that Leviticus talks about first. In Hebrew, “ola,” translated “burnt offering.” If you have your Bibles, follow along. You’ll notice, I’ve read verses 1 and 2, you’ll notice the remainder of chapter 1 broken up into three paragraphs, because each of these paragraphs are going to describe what is to be done with a different animal should this animal be brought for the burnt offering.

So first we have instructions what to do if the animal is brought from the herd, verse 3.

““If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put the fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.””

Now let’s just stop and understand what’s happening here. A worshiper would bring an animal, a bull, so we’re talking about from your herd, to the altar. He would lay his hands on the animal, we’ll come back to this in just a bit, possibly as he lays his hands on the animal a prayer might be offered.

It’s likely that later in Israel’s history some of the Psalms were sung at this point, possibly by the priest, perhaps Psalm 20, “may the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, may the name of the God of Jacob protect you, may He send you help from the sanctuary, give you support from Zion, may He remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.” Many scholars think Psalm 20 was written for just this occasion, or was used at this occasion, as you lay your hands on the bull, the worshiper then kills the animal, probably slitting its throat, allows the blood to drain. The priest collects the blood, throws it against the sides of the altar. The priest had to handle the blood, and we’ll see this many times throughout the book, about the blood, since the blood was the life of the animal and the blood was considered the holiest part, so the holy people, the priests, had to handle the blood. He would sprinkle it on the sides of the altar, probably a way of further symbolizing that the life of this animal is being offered to God.

The worshiper then skins the animal, that the word he flays it, cuts it into pieces, and then the sons of Aaron, Aaron is Moses’ brother, and the sons of Aaron are the priests. They prepare and arrange the pieces on the altar, the entrails, that’s Hebrew for the gross stuff, and the hind legs are washed first, in the basin probably, the entrails and the rump may contain some excrement so they need to be cleansed. Then the whole animal, minus the skin, is burned up, no food left over for anyone and it ascends to the Lord as a pleasing aroma. That’s what you do with a bull.

Now we have instructions if the animal comes from the flock, verse 10.

““If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.””

Almost identical in instructions. First one is when you bring a bull from your herd, the second is if you bring a sheep or a goat, again it’s a male, you do the same sort of thing, you wash out the dirty parts, you burn it all up.

Then finally instructions if you bring a bird, verse 14.

““If his offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.””

First question you may be asking, “Why three sets of instructions?” Well, it’s very simple, because some Israelites could only afford a bird, some could afford a sheep or a goat, and the wealthiest of the Israelites would have been able to bring a bull. So you have three sets of instructions. Later this is made clear in the law and you may remember that when Mary and Joseph had to provide an offering, a cleansing offering after she gave birth to Jesus, they brought two turtledoves, so they were poorer. Although most of the Israelites probably would have been in that class, very few would have been the ones who could have brought a bull.

So the idea is you are to bring what is best and what is most costly. Don’t bring birds if you have sheep and goats; don’t bring sheep and goats if you have a bull. And don’t bring one that has a blemish, don’t bring an animal that, God knows and lots of people would do this, you’d cut corners and you’d, “Oh man, I got to do another one of these bull things and a sheep thing. These cost me a lot of money.” It’s like, okay, you need to turn in your car to the church. Well, boy, we got any cars about to die? That’s what you’d want to do and that’s what they did with the animals. Let’s find a diseased one, let’s find the old ones, the ones that aren’t going to cost us anything.

The instructions are clear, however. No, you need to get one that’s healthy, a male, the best, the most that you can afford.

Here with the birds there are no stipulations about a male without blemish because we’re getting to the poorest of the poor and the Lord will accept whatever you can give. Notice here there is no division of labor. The sheep and the bull, the worshiper does some, the priests do some, here the priest does all of it probably because it’s a bird, there’s just not that much to go around. But the basic procedure is the same – kill it, drain the blood, removing anything that might be unclean. So with the animals, that means the entrails and the hind parts, here it’s translated as the crop, a little holding area for food at the end of the bird’s throat as they eat up all this food and then it gets half-digested in this crop so they can later eat it. Well, that’s another gross part and so you need to throw that away. The rest is burnt up as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

That’s the basic procedure for this burnt offering.

Now when and why would you do this burnt offering? When and why?

Well, in the life of Israel, there were three main occasions in which a burnt offering is called for. Three main occasions.

Number one were the daily morning and evening sacrifices. We don’t have time, but if you’re taking notes, you can write down Numbers 28, 1 through 8. There it details that morning and evening, one of the arguments that Reformed Christians have always used for a morning and evening worship service, it’s not determinative but it’s suggestive, is that it’s modeled on this practice in Israel of morning and evening sacrifices, so we have a morning and evening sacrifice of praise on the Lord’s Day.

Perhaps later in Israel’s history we think they might have sung Psalm 4 in the evening, listen to it: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in God… In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Remember in Israel’s reckoning that the day went from evening to morning, so Psalm 4 was likely read at some point for the evening sacrifice and Psalm 5 for the morning sacrifice.

Psalm 5: “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch.”

So morning and evening sacrifices. These were the priests’ responsibilities.

Just turn a few pages over, real quickly, to Leviticus chapter 6. We’ll come to this, Lord willing, weeks from now, but you see in verse 8, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.”

Go down to verse 12: “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.”

So in addition to the priests arranging the morning and evening sacrifices, they also must arrange themselves on watchful duty that the fire on the burnt offering is never extinguished. It’s always to be lit. Not too difficult during the day because people are coming and going for all sorts of sacrifices, but more of a challenge from the last sacrifice at night to the first sacrifice in the morning, you have to have your priests on a rhythm and a regimen to make sure that they’re putting wood on the fire and it never goes out.

So the first occasion is the morning and evening sacrifice, and then the priests keep it lit all through the night.

The second occasion for the burnt offering would be extra burnt offerings on special days. We can read about these in numbers 28 and 29. So there are extra offerings on the Sabbath, the beginning of the month, Passover, and the various festivals in Israel’s life. So you might have as many as 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs on a single day when there are these special holidays, and that just comes from “holy days,” you have extra animals.

So morning and evening and all through the night, that’s one. Two, special days.

Then the third occasion would be ritual uncleanness. Leviticus 12:6 says you offer a sacrifice after childbearing. That’s what Mary had to do. You, Leviticus 14, offer a burnt offering when a leprous person is pronounced clean. Leviticus 15, you offer a sacrifice after a man’s discharge or a woman’s discharge, because they render the person ritually unclean. Now, remember you have a population probably in the millions here, which means there are burnt offerings going on all the time. Every morning, every evening, extra on Saturday, extra at the beginning of a month, extra during feast times, plus every time a child is born, every time a man has an emission, every time a woman has her monthly cycle, every time a disease gets cleared up. And if there should ever be a break, like at night, the priest is supposed to keep the fire going.

So this altar outside of the tabernacle is a busy place. Remember, this is only the first of the five offerings.

So what is the take-home in all of this? It’s very simple. When you get past all of the strangeness of flaying animals and crops and entrails and hind legs, when you step back, it’s really quite simple. The burnt offering reinforced the central plank of Israel’s worldview, namely God is holy and without His provision, we are not. Nothing else in Leviticus makes sense, and dare I say nothing in the Bible makes sense, without those two things. God is holy, and without His provision, we are not.

The word “holy” or “holiness” occurs 87 times in Leviticus. It’s the over-arching theme for the whole book. You cannot make sense of the Bible without this framework. You cannot make sense of Leviticus without this framework. This is why there are punishments and curses, why there is exile for disobedience, why God’s people need sacrifices and a mediator. The whole system of Israel’s worship assumed as a starting place the holiness of God and the sinfulness of people.

That’s why you have a holy people, the priests, who must wear holy clothes to enter a holy land and they have a holy place, the tabernacle, later the Temple. They must use holy utensils and holy objects. They celebrate holy days. They live by a holy law in order that they might be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

So the question once again is how do we live in the presence of such a God?

I do remember that I’ve used this illustration before and used it when I preached on this six years ago, that we had in my house growing up our family room, where the family goes, and the living room, where no one goes. Ever. White carpet. Taut vacuum lines in there somehow. My friends would come over and they’d want to write with their finger, “Hello, Mrs. DeYoung,” I said don’t do that, into the carpet. They wondered how? There’s no footprints. Is there a system of levitation or something to keep this? This was only for Christmas, for missionaries to come over and have dinner in here somewhere. It was a holy place. You would not come in out of the snow and the muck and the mire and put your dirty boots here in this taut, vacuumed, clean, white carpet.
Such carpet does not exist in our home.

It was holy. Where do you go when you’re full of mud and dirt?

Leviticus is to reinforce, over and over, every time, that fire which is never to be extinguished. They smell it, they see it rising. It is to remind them that they are sinners and God is holy.

You all know the line from Princess Bride, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

Well, this is to remind us of a much more biblical truth – “My name is Kevin DeYoung, I am a sinner, I deserve to die.” You put your name in there.

The burnt offering was to communicate night after night, day after day, “We are a people with sin in the midst of a holy God and we deserve to die.” It may be that we need to start our evangelism with Leviticus because people have no concept of a holy God and a sinful people. “Yeah, yeah, I’m not perfect and God is a little bit, you know, better than us.” We do not see sin as grievous. We do not see our sin as traipsing in our filth into the presence of a holy God.

The burnt offering was a vicarious offering, that is, the animal takes our place. You go back to chapter 1, verse 4 – “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him.”

You see, in laying a hand on the head of the animal, it speaks of transfer, my guilt upon your head. It speaks of identification, this animal, about to be killed, you will bear what I deserve. My guilt upon your head, my death will be your death, you will be my substitute.

Which is why we have that word which William Tyndale so helpfully created for us in English, “atonement.” Break it apart – at one ment. Atonement is how estranged parties are reconciled.

Over and over, the worshiper would be lead to think, “I am a sinner. I deserve what is coming to this animal, but he will be my substitute.” Over and over, for days and centuries, imagine. The collective memory of the nation, some of it in your own nostrils, told by your own family, the smell of blood. You know how pungent the smell of blood can be. The cry of bleating sacrifices, the bull groans or the sheep and the lamb bleat out. The sight of mangled flesh, the smoke arising from the altar day after day, year after year, offering after offering, for centuries. Centuries.

Then one day some wild-eyed, bug-eating prophet comes along and he points to this man, his relative, and he says, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

If they had ears to hear and eyes to see, centuries and a millennium and a half of sacrifices should have been ringing in their ears. A lamb to take away once for all? Not just my sins but the sin of the world? Could it be, could it be that this is what we have been waiting for? Could it be that He’s the One we’ve been looking for?

You notice the refrain after each set of instructions, verse 9: “A food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

Verse 13: “The priests shall offer all of it, burn it on the altar, it is a burnt offering, a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

Verse 17: “It is a burnt offering, a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

Then you listen to Ephesians 5: “Therefore be imitators of God, beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us a fragrant offering.” It’s almost the exact same Greek from the Septuagint. A pleasing aroma and sacrifice to God. Paul’s writing the Ephesians saying, “Do you see it? This pleasing aroma, this burnt offering. This wafting up into the nostrils of God. He’s here. He’s come. He was born, He died, He rose.”

So just as the worshiper would lay his hands on that animal, so you and I lay our hands on Jesus’ head. You can’t do it by just being a church person. It doesn’t work by just being born into a Christian family. You can’t get to heaven by just being a little bit better than your other neighbors. No, you lay your hands on Jesus’ head because He dies in your place. You deserve the punishment, the shame, that He received, but as He commits His spirit into His Father’s hand, the Father breathes in deep and the sacrifice is a pleasing aroma, a fragrant offering, and you and I are accepted because of atonement, because of the spotless male without blemish.

You need a substitute. Now you know your spouse needs one, you know your kids need one. Kids, you know your parents need one. My kids know I need one. You need one. Every one of you need a substitute and there is no other substitute. Jesus is the only one who can wash away your sins. The only one who can turn away the Father’s just wrath. The only one whose death will arise into heaven as a fragrant offering. The only one who can make you a child of God instead of His enemy, so lay your hands on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and in Him in this new year know the pleasing smile of God.

Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your many gifts to us, and we come before You now, approaching this table, mindful of our own sin. 1 Peter tells us you shall be holy, for I am holy, and if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Amen.