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Pastor DeYoung: Join me in prayer as we come before God’s Word.
Oh, Lord, we come before you, trusting in your promise, that though you oppose the proud, You will give grace to the humble. And so we ask that we might not be among the proud. Lord, it is my prayer that I would decrease and Jesus Christ would increase. It is our prayer that we would sit humbly at your feet as your Word is proclaimed. We thank you for this great and precious promise that when we come before you with humility, meekness of spirit, lowliness of heart, that you will come, speak, and you invite us to lay our burdens before you and find our rest. Speak, oh Lord, for your servants are listening. In Jesus, we pray, Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 1. I know what some of you may be thinking. “Did he say Leviticus?” I did. Leviticus.
It was a few years ago when my wife was out of town. It doesn’t happen very often that my wife is gone and I am home alone, and I think she even took all the kids, and yet the people of the church still had compassion on me, thinking, “Here’s a husband by himself. Does he know how to work the toaster? Can he make a meal for himself?” And we had some friends who invited me over and the good friend’s wife said, “You have to come over tonight. I am making borscht.” Now, I don’t want to give any offense to anyone from Russian or Ukrainian extraction here, but borscht doesn’t even sound good, doesn’t sound right. I need to talk to the people from Turkey, Turkish Delight; they have the marketing down for that. But borscht, I didn’t even know what it was, so I looked it up and it had beetroot and that didn’t make me feel any better. One of the things you will discover is that I have what you might call a very sensitive palate. I was at the doctor a while ago and he said, well, has your diet changed any and I thought, um, not since I was 4, so borscht was a bit extravagant for me. I thought, beetroot? Borscht? That doesn’t even sound good; it doesn’t look right. It looks like something got hurt and it’s in my bowl here. I’m not sure if I can eat this.
Now, why do I tell you about borscht? For this reason. Leviticus is sort of like the borscht of the Bible. That’s how people think of it. They think, “Are you sure? That doesn’t even sound right. It sounds like I got a disease or something.” Leviticus. If we were to go and just take a national poll of all the Christians and say, “I want you to rank your favorite Bible books.” If Leviticus wasn’t 66, it’s only because people couldn’t name all the books of the Bible. It would be somewhere near the bottom. You hear ‘Leviticus’ and you think, “Aren’t there a lot of boring chapters about sacrifices? Aren’t there strange instructions about skin diseases and mildew and a bunch of extreme laws that don’t make sense for us anymore?” And if we’re honest, when we get to that part in our read-through-the-Bible plan, when we come to Leviticus, we think, “Hmm, I’m going to skim some of these.”
But did you know, Jesus referred to Leviticus 19:18 more than any other verse in the Old Testament. You know what that verse is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s from Leviticus. The New Testament refers to it 10 times. Did you know that the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia has around the bell inscribed one Bible verse, Lev. 25:10, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This book, whether we realize it or not, is deep in theology. It is practical in its application. It is inspiring in what it calls us to and, most importantly, it exalts the name of Jesus Christ and his work on the cross when we begin to understand this book correctly.
Follow along, as I read these verses, which will seem strange and may even seem boring at first, from Leviticus, Chapter 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. 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 in pieces and the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall put 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 priests shall burn all of it on the altar as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from a sheep or goat, 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 priests 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 priests 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. 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.”
Now, here’s the setting. The Israelites have left Egypt. They have crossed through the Red Sea and they have made their way to Mount Sinai and Moses goes up and down the mountain a few times until finally he goes up there and he stays there for 40 days and 40 nights. And principally what he receives when he is up there on the mountain are the instructions for the building of the tabernacle. The building of the tabernacle is another one of those parts in the Bible that seems sort of strange to our ears, and yet it was so important that it occurs twice in the Book of Exodus.
First, there is the whole series of instructions given to Moses and then there are subsequent chapters repeating those instructions as the tabernacle itself has been built. And at the end of Exodus, the Glory Cloud, just as it had rested upon Mount Sinai, now fills the tabernacle in Chapter 40. And it is from that that Leviticus then begins, as the Lord calls to Moses, verse 1, speaks to him from the tent of meeting, so He is speaking to him now from this place and He is telling them what to do. Leviticus is a long monologue that God has with Moses about what he needs to tell the people to do and what He needs to tell the priests to do in order that the Lord would be worshipped correctly. And the first set of instructions concerns the sacrifices they are to offer at the tent of meeting. There are 5 types of sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus. There are burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. When we read our Bible, they all sort of blend together, but there are actually five distinct types of offerings that would be offered on different occasions. This first one, you will notice, is the burnt offering, and it is the foundational offering for all the others.
What do we have here, well you notice, if you look in your Bible, and I’m reading from the ESV and probably most of you are as well, you will see that there are, after the opening paragraph, there are 3 separate paragraphs because each of those are giving instructions for a different kind of animal that you would bring before the altar.
So the first, verse 3, “If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd…” So here’s the first category, “the herd”. So we are talking about bulls. So the worshipper would bring an animal, a bull, to the entrance to the altar, there would be an altar there in the courtyard before you approach the tabernacle, it says he would “lay his hands on the animal,” we’ll say more about that later, possibly there was some kind of prayer that was offered. It’s likely later in Israel’s history, some of the Psalms were sung and maybe one of the priests would sing a psalm, something like 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 savor your burnt sacrifices.” That sort of psalm was probably later sung at the offering of the burnt offering.
And then the worshipper, the Israelite who was there, would kill the animal himself, probably slitting its throat; he would allow the blood to drain. The priest would then collect the blood, throw it against the sides of the altar. The priest alone would handle the blood because blood in the Israelite mind was considered the sacred part, the life of the animal, which is why there were instructions about not eating the blood and here the priest alone will handle the blood. He sprinkles it on the sides of the altar as a way of further symbolizing that the life of this animal is going to be offered to God. And then it says the worshipper will skin the animal, that’s what it means when he says he ‘flays it.’ He cuts it into pieces and then the sons of Aaron, that is the priests, will prepare it and arrange the pieces. And this gets very detailed, almost embarrassingly so. We talk about the entrails and the hind legs, which are probably washed first with a basin near the tabernacle because you can’t have anything that is unclean, and this would be an unclean part of the animal. And then the whole animal, minus the skin, is burnt up. There is no food left over for anyone. It is a burnt offering. So those are the instructions for the herd.
Now you look, verse 10: “If his gift is from the flock.” So now we have basically the same thing, not from the herd with cows and bulls, but now from the flock with sheep and goats. And it is the same sort of procedure. The worshipper kills the animal, drains the blood, the priest comes, he sprinkles the blood on the altar, he arranges all the parts, he cleans it up, they skin it, they burn it up. It’s a burnt offering. Herd, flock.
And then you look at verse 14: “If it is a burnt offering of birds.” You might think why do we have to go through this three times. Well, as we’ll see in a moment, it’s because some Israelites could only afford a sheep instead of a bull, and most Israelites could probably only afford a bird, so there are 3 sets of instructions based on what the Israelite could afford to bring. So if you don’t have a cow, you don’t have a sheep, the poorest Israelite, which would probably be most of them, could bring a bird. Very similar set of instructions here for the birds. There are a few little differences. There is no stipulation about a male without blemish because now you’re getting to the poorest of the poor and just bring a bird if you have one. The Lord will accept what you can bring. The priest does all the work because it’s a bird; there’s just not a lot of work to go around to divide this up. So they kill it, they drain the blood, they remove anything that’s unclean.
You see verse 16; I had to look this up, “a crop.” What is a crop? I’m not really familiar with my bird innards, but a crop is a little part in the bird. As they chew up food on the ground and they eat as much as they can and they fly away and digest it somewhere. This is what children do as well, but this is what our birds do. They store this sort of half-digested food in this thing called the “crop,” so this is another kind of gross area, unclean part of the bird, and so he’s got to get rid of that and all the contents, all the sort of half chewed up bird food, and then the bird is burned up, a “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” You notice that in verse 9, a “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Verse 13, “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Again, at the conclusion, verse 17, “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
When did these offerings take place? Let me give you the when and the why and then we’ll finish with, “What in the world does this mean for us?”
There were at least 3 main occasions in the life of Israel that the burnt offering was called for. Three main occasions.
Here’s the first. The daily, morning and evening sacrifices. Numbers 28, we won’t go there, but it stipulates that there would be a sacrifice in the morning, a lamb, and then in the evening at twilight. Later in Israel’s history they probably sang from Psalm 4, in the evening, “Be angry and do not sin. Ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent. Offer right sacrifices. Put your trust in God. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, Oh, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” They may have sung that with the evening sacrifice. And then, Psalm 5, and you may ask yourself, “Well that’s strange. Why would the evening be Psalm 4 and the morning be Psalm 5.” Because, of course, in the Jewish reckoning, the day went from sundown to sunup, so Psalm 4 is evening, that’s sort of the beginning, and then Psalm 5 is the sunup. “Give ear to my words, Oh Lord. Consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. Oh Lord, in the morning you hear my voice. In the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” Psalm 4 in the evening. Psalm 5 in the morning. A lamb daily, morning and evening, sacrifices. These were the responsibilities of the priests.
Turn over just a moment. You have your Bibles open, to Leviticus chapter 6, and it’s the sound that a pastor loves to hear, people singing and pages ruffling. Maybe you’re swiping on an iPad, but that doesn’t make a good sound, so it’s just the pages ruffling is great because the only authority any preacher has is from this Word and you always want to know, “Is this guy saying something that God has said?” Well, look here in Leviticus, chapter 6, verse 9. “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. The fire in the altar shall be kept burning on it.’” So one of the things the priests have to do is keep this thing burning all night long. Look down at 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. He shall arrange the burnt offering on it, shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually. It shall not go out.”
When you hear the word, “priest,” you think of someone who is very clean and in some nice robes and doing what seem to be very spiritual things, but, of course, these priests often had to be butchers. They were dealing with blood and guts all the time and one of their responsibilities was to make sure that this offer never was extinguished. Morning and evening with the sacrifices and during the day a lot of people would come, but at night people are sleeping and there’s not a lot of activity, but they would have to have shifts and the priests would make sure that this altar did not go out. That’s the first occasion for this burnt offering. Daily, morning and evening sacrifices.
Here’s the second occasion. There were extra burnt offerings to be offered on special days. Numbers 28 and 29 tells us that there were extra offerings on the Sabbath, the beginning of the month, Passover, all of the different festivals. In fact as many as 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs on a single day would be prescribed depending upon the season and the holy day in the life of Israel. So every morning and evening you have a burnt offering and then you have extra burnt offerings on all of the holy days and Sabbath days.
Here’s the third occasion, and this would keep the Israelites busy, uncleanness. After childbirth, Leviticus 12:6 tells us that a burnt offering had to be offered. You remember with the Nativity story, after Jesus’ birth, what did Joseph and Mary do? They brought to the priest 2 birds, in keeping with Levitical law, and it tells something about their economic state, that they didn’t have a bull; they didn’t have a sheep or a goat, but they had 2 birds, which is probably what the vast majority of Israelites could have afforded. To have meat was to be fabulously wealthy and rich and to have sheep and flocks, kind of middle class, and most everyone could barely afford a bird, and that’s what Jesus’ parents brought.
In Leviticus 14 we read that when a leprous person is pronounced clean you bring a burnt offering and in Leviticus 15 after a bodily discharge from a man or from a woman, you have to bring an offering for a burnt offering. So these offerings are happening all the time. Think about it. Every morning and every evening. There is an extra one on Saturday, extra at the beginning of the month, extra during the feast times. Plus, every time a child is born, every time a man or a woman has some kind of discharge, every time a disease gets cleared up, there’s an offering, a burnt offering. And, if there was ever a break, the priest had to make sure that that fire kept burning. And keep in mind, this is only one of the 5 prescribed offerings, so this altar is a busy place.
So why does this matter? Okay, that’s sort of interesting, Pastor. He took us through and explained some things and I know a little bit more about Old Testament history. Why in the world does this matter for us? Why should we bother to study Leviticus? Let me give you 3 statements, 3 things that Leviticus 1 can teach us about the Christian life. Three things.
Number 1: We see from Leviticus chapter 1, that true worship is costly. True worship is costly. Now where do we see that? Well, we see it all over the place. The animal is supposed to be a male. Not some sort of gender thing that men are more important than women, it’s just talking about in the agrarian society, for the life of an Israelite, a male animal would have been more valuable than a female animal. So you need to give a male, and not just any old male. It needs to be a male without blemish. You see that in verse 3. You see it again in verse 10. The series of laws here are to inform the Israelite that they must bring what is best to the altar. So don’t bring a bird if you have sheep and don’t try to get away bringing a sheep if you have a bull in the herd. Any don’t bring an old bull that’s about to die. You can see the temptation people would have had. Well, Bessie’s not around much longer so I’ll offer him up to the Lord. You can’t do that. You don’t bring a crippled or diseased cow that isn’t worth much to you. You bring your best. You bring your costliest animal. The whole sacrificial system reinforced to God’s people, true worshippers bring what is best, what is costliest, what is first.
Now does this primarily have to do with what you wear when you come to church on Sunday? No, if you want make that application and it’s a good looking group here I can see, and you know, we try to dress up and show that this is a special day and a special occasion, and that’s good. But, of course, the New Testament explains that all of life is worship. This is a unique, special part of corporate worship, but all of our lives are supposed to be offered before the Lord as worship, so this isn’t something that we just, you know, you get out of the way with a couple of hours on Sunday morning. This is all of life. And so we need to think. Do we just give to God leftovers? Whatever energy, whatever money I have left over. Some of us try to cut corners. You read the book of Malachi, and he charges the people with their crimes. The minor prophets are like prosecuting attorneys. They come before Israel and they say, “Here are the sins that you’ve committed. Here’s what God has against you.” And one of the things that Malachi brings out is “your priests are cutting corners.” They were cutting corners because they were bringing these offerings and they were doing just what we saw here not to do. They were bringing diseased animals, figuring, “You know what, why does this matter? It’s just an animal. We’re just going through the motions. We’re just putting it on the altar to just burn up. Who cares? God’s in heaven, we’re down here. I could use this bull. I’m tired of having to give my very best stuff away. I need this bull. I need that good sheep. Put that sheep on the altar.” You can sympathize with the temptation. But the Lord didn’t sympathize with it. Don’t think to yourself, “How can I live a life of minimal obedience.”
Some of us as Christians are guilty of that. “Okay, God, I want to be a Christian. I want to go to heaven. I want to sort of be a nice person. I want my kids to behave. So what’s the bare minimum I can do and still get into heaven; that’s what I’m interested in. How much do I really have to…I don’t want to go overboard with Christianity. I don’t want to be, you know, really up tight about this church stuff. But I want to be a Christian. I don’t want to go to hell.” And some of us have that mentality with God. Instead of thinking, “How can I most love God, most glorify God, most serve God.”
There’s no exact formula about why you can’t have a house like this or a car like that or clothes like that. You know, you get into that and you’re all messed up. No. The point is, “Where’s your heart at?” And how about this question to ask yourself. “Does it cost me anything to be a Christian? Anything.” Now, depending on where you live in the country, depending on what you do, that’s going to look different. What kind of school you go to. So, I get that. But a Christianity that costs us nothing likely means to us nothing. Some of us have a garage sale mentality when it comes to God.
I saw driving down here yesterday on 51, I saw one of the neighborhoods there and there was a big sign that said, Garage Sale. My kids love garage sales because they think…or yard sale or rummage sale, whatever you call them. They love garage sales because they think this is when we get to throw away our junk and people give us money for it. They think, because our neighborhood always has a big one in June when the snow’s gone, you know, and everyone puts all their stuff out and people drive in and they come by and my kids just have these great entrepreneurial instincts that I’m going to put this stuff out, these games I haven’t played with, these half-broken dolls and things, I’m going to put that out and someone’s going to come and we’re going to get rich. People buying our junk! Some of us think that way with God. God’s happy to just get whatever. He’s so just desperate for our attention, for us to come and talk to Him, that whatever we can give Him, whatever sort of leftovers, He’s just happy to go to the garage sale of your life.
You think about Jesus when he points out the woman who put in the last 2 copper coins, the widow’s mites, into the offering. Why did He praise her? It wasn’t because of the amount that she gave but because of what it cost her. True worship is not measured by what you give but by what you hold back, and some of us hold a lot back. Now listen, the goal is not to feel so crushed with guilt…Oh, boy, I went on a vacation this week, oh, I feel terrible. No, that’s not what this is about. What it’s about is Romans 12, because we’re talking about offerings. Many of you have memorized Romans 12:1 and 2, which of course is what? “Present your bodies”, your very selves, as a “living sacrifice.” You. You don’t have a sheep, you don’t have a goat, you don’t have bull, you don’t have a bird. You. Crawl up on the altar, “Lord, here I am. I give you what is first. I give you what is best. I give you my very self and take whatever you want that I might be of use to you.” True worship is costly.
Here’s the second lesson we learn from Leviticus chapter 1: Not only true worship is costly, but second, God is holy and without His provision, we are not. The burnt offering reinforced this central plank of Israel’s worldview. The word, “holy” or “holiness,” that Hebrew word, occurs 87 times in Leviticus. Holiness is the overarching theme of the book. You cannot make sense of this book and, indeed, you cannot make sense of the entire Bible without understanding God is holy and we are not. This is why there are punishments, curses, exile. It’s why God’s people needed sacrifices and a mediator. This is what is so foundational about the book of Leviticus. Even in all of its strangeness to us, the whole system of Israel’s worship, assumed as its starting place, there is a God and He is unimaginably holy. That’s why you have holy people, the priests, with holy clothes, in a holy land, Canaan, ministering at a holy place, the tabernacle, using holy utensils, holy objects, celebrating holy days, instructing the people to live according to a holy law that they might be what…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The question that we are meant to ask in light of Leviticus is this: How can we live in the presence of such a God? How can we live in the presence of such a God who is holy? Now that’s not the question that most people ask today. They ask why would God be upset with me? The question the Bible presumes is just the opposite…why would God accept me? How could I come into the presence of this holy God?
Growing up in my house, and my parents still live there, we had a family room that you could go in, and then we had a living room, which you never could go in. It had white carpet and it was reserved, it was all the wing of the upstairs house, but it was reserved for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and missionaries. It was just reserved for special occasions. And my friends would come over, and it became a running joke, the house was famous that that room, you could never go in there. It had, some of you may have your house like this. It had all the vacuum tracks still on the carpet. My friends would say, “Does your Mom hover? There are no footprints. How does she get that, just this taut, white carpet?” And my friends know, you don’t go in there. And some of them thought it was funny. They’d write little…it was so tight, the carpet, they’d write, “Hi, Mrs. DeYoung.” “Guys, don’t do that. That’s not helping me out.” It was pristine, white carpet. You don’t go in there. Certainly, Kevin and his little friends don’t go in there traipsing around from the outside. They didn’t even want a footprint, let alone muddy tracks caravanning throughout that sacred space.
And you get this picture in your mind of approaching God in His supreme holiness, much more pristine and pure than that white, taut carpet. And we each walk in and we think that our dirty, muddy footprints will go unnoticed among His holiness? That we can just sort of traipse on in there and say, “Hi, God, here I am.” Into His presence? We’ve tracked mud in day after day. God sees our sin, knows our sin, even when we do not see it and know it ourselves. Sometimes I wonder if we should start our evangelism with Leviticus. If people had the worldview of Leviticus, they would not doubt that sin was grievous. They would not doubt that their sins were offensive to a holy God.
Many of you have probably shared your faith with the Bridge diagram, which is wonderful, you know, here’s us, here’s God, there’s this chasm between us and we need a bridge and Jesus Christ and the cross is the bridge that brings God and man together, which is great, which is true. The only problem is more and more people don’t see the need for a bridge. What do you mean, God’s here and I’m here? Me and God, we’re tight. If there’s a God, He’s all about me. We don’t see the need for a bridge. We don’t see the chasm. We don’t grasp the holiness, the otherness, the transcendence of the God of the Bible. Not the god of our own invention. Leviticus reinforces again and again with offering after offering, you are set apart, you are to be clean; you must be holy because God is holy.
So how in the world are we supposed to live in His presence? I think that’s the storyline for the whole Bible. A holy God desires to dwell in the midst of His people, but His people are unclean. How will that happen? The God who wants to dwell with His people. Do you see this throughout the whole arc of the storyline of Scripture? There in the garden as God is there and Adam walks with Him in the cool of the day. God there in the midst of them. But Adam and Eve sin and what happens? They’re expelled. Because how can an unholy people live with a holy God? And so they get expelled east of Eden. Well then God comes and He makes promises and He makes a people and He says, I’m going to give you a promised land of Canaan. And what happens after so many years? They’re eventually expelled from Canaan. Exiled to Babylon. Why? For the same reason that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. You were to be my holy people. I wanted to dwell in the midst of you.
That’s what the tabernacle is. That’s what the temple is. It’s the physical symbol and manifestation of God dwelling in the midst of the camp. Have you ever made the parallels between Mount Sinai and the tabernacle? Mount Sinai is where the glory cloud rested and spoke there to Moses. Mount Sinai had these tripartite divisions. Some people could go approach the mountain. Some of the elders could go up the mountain and Moses, alone, could go all the way to speak with God. You have the same divisions with the tabernacle or the temple. You have a place where the regular Jewish people can go and then you have a holy place where some others can go and then you have the holiest of holies where only once a year the high priest can go, and that glory cloud that rested on Mount Sinai then filled the tabernacle.
The tabernacle, or the temple, was Mount Sinai in the midst of the people. And you remember when they’re there at the foot of Mount Sinai they are absolutely terrified. They say, “Moses, you speak to us because if God speaks to us, we’re going to die. We can’t go too close. If we break in, we perish.” And now this God wants to live right in the middle of these people? How can a holy God dwell in the midst of an unholy people? When you understand that, you understand how precious are the covenant promises throughout the Bible. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” If you think that God is just chummy with everyone, that sounds kind of ho-hum. Well, okay, God likes everyone; he likes me too. Big deal. If you understand the holiness of God, then when you hear that covenant promise, God wants to be my God and I can be counted among His people, well, that’s something entirely different. How can we, with all of our dirty, muddy footprints into the holy carpet of the Living God, dare to come? Holiness is what Leviticus is about. It tells us over and over again, there is a holy God and He is purposing to dwell in the midst of an unholy people. But how will that happen?
Here’s the third lesson we see from Leviticus, finally. God provides a substitute. The burnt offering was a vicarious offering. That is to say, the animal would take our place. Look at verse 4 again. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. That’s a very familiar Christian word to many of us. You know, that William Tyndale, when he first was translating the Bible in English, made up that word. Atonement. At-one-ment. Atonement is how estranged parties are reconciled. How God and sinners can dwell together. It’s called atonement. So the worshipper would come and he would lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering. Why? What is that symbolizing, as you’re there putting your hands on the offering? It symbolizes transfer. May my guilt be upon the head of this beast. And it symbolizes substitution. I identify with this animal. This animal is my substitute. My guilt on his head. He is there on the altar in my place. Atonement. Which is why it is such a striking phrase, 3 times here. That the burnt offering from the herd, from the flock, from the birds, arises as a pleasing aroma. As those offerings go up, just birds, just sheep, just cows, it’s as if God was taking a deep breath and saying, “I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied.” In all of this, the sacrifices, morning, noon and night, the worshipper is led to think over and over again, “There’s my substitute. I am not worthy to live in God’s presence. They were surrounded by death every day. Every day there were animals dying on the altar to remind the Israelites, “Every day that I live in the presence of God is a day that I deserve to die.”
Some of you may have seen the movie, The Princess Bride. When I was in high school and I was going through youth group and there was Youth Group Movie Night. There were only 2 things that we ever watched, Chariots of Fire and The Princess Bride. And you know that famous line, as the Spaniard is looking throughout the whole movie for the 6-fingered man who killed his dad, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” I’m not saying it is good theology. I’m just saying that’s what he says. Over and over, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” And I think of Leviticus Chapter 1 and I think of the Israelite every day with that burnt offering, thinking to himself, “Hello. My name is Kevin DeYoung. I am a sinner. I deserve to die.” “Hello. My name is Kevin DeYoung. I am a sinner. I deserve to die.”
Can you imagine, for centuries the Israelites have the smell of blood (blood is a pungent, sharp smell), throughout the camp. For generations they hear the bleating sacrifice, the animals dying, breathing their last, gasping. They see the sight of mangled flesh as the butcher priest arranges all of the entrails and offering on the altar, day after day. Bull by bull. Sheep by sheep. Little bird by little bird. Killed, gutted, flayed, roasted, morning and evening and if ever there was a break, the priest would arrange for the fire to continue throughout the night and then after this for centuries. One day a wild-eyed, bug-eating prophet comes along and he points to this man from Nazareth and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Can you believe it? They could probably scarcely comprehend. Wait a minute, we know lambs. We know sacrifices. We know substitutes. What is this Lamb of the world? This Lamb to take away the sins of the world? This Lamb of God. Has anyone uttered better words than that to a people that had witnessed for their entire lives mangled flesh on the altar for their sins?
Christ is the fulfillment of the law for everyone who believes, Paul says. Our mediator, our reconciliation, our atoning sacrifice. He is our burnt offering once for all. He is the male without blemish. He was the perfect, valuable offering without defect. Without flaw. Don’t think, after all that we’ve talked about, that Leviticus was written primarily to tell God’s people all that they needed to do for God. It was written primarily to tell them all that God would do for them. He provided a substitute. Every day, as they dwelt in the midst of a holy God and deserved to die, there was a substitute. And one day, they wouldn’t need any more bulls, any more birds, any more sheep. They would have the Lamb of God.
1 Peter: “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.”
Christ, therefore, is the pleasing aroma in the nostrils of his Heavenly Father.
Listen to Ephesians 5: “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, (now listen to this) a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.”
I could take you and show you the Greek translation there in the Old Testament and in the Greek there in Ephesians and how identical it is. Paul is deliberately pulling the language from Leviticus Chapter 1 to say, “You know those bulls and those sheep and those birds that died a thousand deaths for a thousand years…now let me tell you about Christ.” He is the pleasing aroma to his Heavenly Father.
So when you deal with your sin, and you all have sin, and those of us who are not aware of our sin are the ones most ensnared by our sin, you think, “How do I live with this God? Why would this God want to have anything to do with me?” You want a clean conscience. You want to feel like God loves you, like God’s on your side. Will you picture approaching that altar and you put your hands, those hands of atonement, of identification, but not on another cow. You place your hands right there on Christ, on the Cross, the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world, and His righteousness is yours. Your guilt is upon His head. He dies the death you and I deserved and as He breathes His last, and He says, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit,” the Father, in deep purpose and union with the Son and the Holy Spirit, breathes in deep and the Father says, “This sacrifice is a pleasing aroma and a fragrant offering.”
You need a substitute. I need a substitute and there is no other sacrifice. There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Only the name of Jesus can wash away your sins. Only the name of Jesus can turn away the Father’s wrath. Only the name of Jesus can make you a child of God instead of His enemy. So lay your hands on the Lamb of God and know God’s smile upon you. Because of the Son’s forsaken cry, we can hear the Father say to us, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, and in Christ, you smell so good.”
Let’s pray. Our Father in Heaven, we give thanks for such a sacrifice for sinners like us. We thank you for your Word, for all of the treasures in your Word, all the things you have to teach us from your Word, and we thank you for Christ who is seen on every page of this Word. Draw us to Christ. May we sing of Christ. May we find our entire purpose and joy and pleasure and hope in this Christ, the Lamb of God, our Savior, our Substitute, our coming King, in whose name we pray, Amen.