Leviticus – part two

This week we’re going through the various sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 1-10, and seeing how they were fulfilled in Christ. Yesterday was an overview, which you might like to look at first.

The burnt offering

The first type of offering we read about is the burnt offering. Here are the regulations given in Leviticus 1:

1:3-9 If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. 5 You are to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 6 You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. 7 The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 9 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. 

This burnt offering is about turning away God’s anger at our sin. The technical term is ‘propitiation’ – a turning away of wrath. The person bringing the sacrifice would place his hand on the head of the animal. Symbolising that there’s a substitution taking place. Their sin deserves death. But instead of having to die themselves, they bring an animal to take their place. Someone or something else pays the penalty. Atonement for sin is made, and God isn’t angry anymore. The burnt offering turns away wrath.

The reason for turning away God’s wrath, of course, was so they could come into his presence. So they could relate to God, having removed the barrier of sin. They did this whenever they came to the tabernacle to worship God.

In a famous passage in Romans, Paul says:

Rom 3:23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

… that’s pretty much the message of Leviticus…

Rom 3:24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ 

But how was that achieved?

Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

A sacrifice of atonement. A burnt offering that turns away wrath. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for us. He died in our place. Atonement was made, once and for all. God’s anger at our sin was dealt with. And not just for a while, but forever. We no longer bring burnt offerings each week, because we no longer need to. It’s been done for us.

Yet the ritual of the burnt offering should make us stop and thinkabout the enormous privilege we have in being able to enter God’s presence. It cost the life of God’s son for us to do that; yet we so often take it lightly.

For a start, we have God’s spirit in us. So we don’t have to go to a tabernacle or a temple to enter his presence. And that’s a good thing! But it also makes it easier to take it for granted. Because we can do it anytime we like, we end up not doing it as often. Or without the degree of awe and privilege that it should inspire.

And the same is true of corporately entering God’s presence, when we gather together for worship as God’s people. Now that we don’t have to offer an animal sacrifice just to get in the building, we can forget the seriousness of it all. That’s not to say things can’t be light-hearted in church. (Otherwise I’d be in trouble!) For God is just as much the God of all the light-hearted things in life as he is of the serious. The Bible is as full of dancing, of raucous feasts, and of celebration, as it is of solemn ritual. In our worship services we have poignant, serious moments; and we have times to celebrate, and to laugh together as the people of God.

It’s not light-hearted that’s the problem – it’s half-hearted. It’s when we fail to realise the privilege of worshiping God; of gathering together as his people to praise him. Where church is like a movie session time: pick a time that suits our lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if we’re a few minutes late. We’re just missing the trailers… I mean, the songs. We might not come at all if there’s bad weather out. Or football on. Or we’ve got family coming over for lunch. Church becomes something we fit in when we can, rather than the exercising of a blood-bought privilege that cost the life of the son of God.

Even though we have God’s presence within us individually, there’s still a tremendous significance to our corporate worship. Let’s not forget that!

To think about

How seriously do you take the privilege of being able to come into God’s presence whenever you want, thanks to Jesus, our burnt offering? How might this understanding change your thinking?

If you’re wanting to read all of Leviticus 1-10 this week, read chapters 3 and 4 now to stay on schedule. 

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