By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
How do unholy people approach a holy God? The book of Leviticus is God’s answer to that question. In Exodus, He revealed Himself as both personal and fearsome, a God who tolerates no rivals (Exodus 3:1-12; 19:21-25; 20:18-21; Exodus 12:12). Now that the tabernacle is finished and filled with “the glory of the Lord” (Exodus 40:34), God’s people need to know how to approach Him. The Lord provides a way for individual sinners to be accepted into His holy presence through an atoning sacrifice.
The first offering and most basic sacrifice that worshipers bring is the burnt offering (Leviticus 1:3, 10, 14). Note that the sacrifice is performed by the worshiper and not the priest (v. 3). After laying his hand on the animal, signifying the substitutionary aspect of this sacrifice, the worshiper gives the animal the death penalty on his own behalf (v. 4; Romans 6:23). Imagine what it would be like to kill an animal from your herd or flock every time you sin! Once the blood is sprinkled and the carcass cut up by the priests, the entire animal is consumed on the altar (Leviticus 1:9). When offered in faith, this atoning sacrifice satisfies God’s anger against sin and makes the worshiper acceptable to Him (Romans 3:25).
Once accepted into God’s presence, forgiven sinners offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. The grain offering in Leviticus 2 most often follows the burnt offering, though it is given at other occasions as well (Numbers 6:15-19; 15:4; 28:4-5, 9, 13; Leviticus 7:12-14; 14:10-20). Consisting of either uncooked flour and grain or cooked cakes and bread, it is a grateful acknowledgment of God’s provision for the worshiper and the primary way God provides for the priests (Leviticus 2:1-3, 4-10). The purpose of the peace offering in chapter 3 is to celebrate the benefits of peace with God. It might be offered in thankful response to some specific thing God has done, in fulfillment of a vow, or just as a general thanksgiving or expression of love toward God (Leviticus 7:12-13, 16-17; 22:18, 21).
God no longer desires an animal sacrifice but exhorts us to present our whole selves a “living sacrifice” to God (Romans 12:1-2). This offering is not to make us acceptable but because we have been accepted by God through Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10). We’re called to “walk in love” as Jesus did when He gave His life as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). We willingly surrender to God’s sovereign purposes, even if doing so results in our death (Philippians 2:17). Giving ourselves “first to the Lord” is the basis for the stewardship of our material possessions (II Corinthians 8:5, 9; Acts 4:32-37; Philippians 4:18). Finally, we offer praise and thanksgiving to God as the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15-16).
In Leviticus, being acceptable to God was very costly in terms of bulls, goats, sheep, and pigeons. But the greatest cost of sin came when God put His own Son to death: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Let us be sobered by the cost of sin, overwhelmed by God’s grace, and willing to give our whole lives to the praise of His glory. In the words of Peter Stam: “No sacrifice is too great to make for Him who gave Himself for us.”