Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 15: The Lamb of God
April 4, 2010
Main point of sermon:
· Jesus is the Lamb of God who death and resurrection took away the sins of the world.
· Rob Bell, NAC
· Carefully read about Sin Offering
Scripture reading: Rev. 5:9-14 (Sarah Dunn)
As we celebrate Easter, we need to understand just what we are celebrating. It is nothing less than the grand climax of a great story that you have been telling since the beginning.
Easter is churches’ “big day,” our Super Bowl. I read an article saying I’m supposed to preach an encouraging, practical message. Instead, I’m preaching a doctrinal message from Leviticus.
· It’s probably the 1st Easter sermon on Leviticus you’ve heard.
I © Leviticus
On its face Leviticus is an instruction manual for Israelite priests, filled with laws about sacrifices, mildew, cleanliness, and festivals, so I usually avoided it. There are few moral laws, and fewer stories, just a lot of rituals.
We usually just ignore it as antiquated and embarrassing, but since I have to preach on it, I didn’t have that luxury.
· The strangest thing happened as I’ve study it: I’m really enjoying it – it’s my favorite book of the Pentateuch.
It’s not a book of rules, but a script for this cosmic drama, a morality play, that teaches us about things like sin, holiness, atonement, and how to be right with God.
· Instead of actors, you have the priests and Israelites, playing their parts with deadly seriousness.
And instead of a stage, you have the land of Israel, the tabernacle, animal sacrifices, childbirth, funerals, and many other parts of daily life.
Leviticus describes an incredibly complex symbol. Think of communion or baptism, simple acts having deep, rich meaning of our redemption. Rather than a simple act, it’s entire way of life was meant to teach profound truths about God and about us.
· The book has one point: We need Jesus, he is the Lamb of God who death and resurrection took away the sins of the world.
It’s not frequently quoted in the NT (not many one-liners), but is the framework for the entire NT.
Buckets o’ Blood
Leviticus is filled with wild images, disturbing pictures. The doctrine of our depravity and utter sinfulness and need for a savior isn’t explained in didactic form. It’s played out in flesh and blood, literally, lot’s of blood.
Q What is the most blood you have ever seen?
· For me, it’s when it’s either when I cut my foot open with an ax or dropped a steel beam on Micah’s head.
I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing blood. Last time I gave blood, I nearly fainted. But Leviticus is filled with blood. The first seven chapters are about animal sacrifices.
· There’s more blood than all Quentin Tarantino movies combined.
The animal sacrificial system was bloody, to say the least. For example: Many years after Moses, when Solomon dedicated the temple, he sacrificed 142,000 animals. (2 Chr. 7:5) Can you imagine how much blood flowed out of the temple?
· All of this seems quite brutal to us, barbaric and doesn’t fit our idea of a God of love.
Not to avoid that, but just to give a different perspective: Literally millions more animals are “sacrificed” to our appetite for meat today than were ever killed on an altar.
· Because we don’t watch it happen and get our nice shrink-wrapped flank steak, we think we are so much more civilized.
Q How long does it take for us to slaughter 142,000 cows?
36 hours – about 100,000 are killed every day and about 25 million chickens. That’s not from PETA, but the USDA.
I am not trying to make a moral judgment on that one way or that other, but just to point out we lack the moral high ground over the ancient culture. Hopefully we can respectfully look at the world through their eyes.
Sacrifices in ANE
Sacrifices were a part of life for everyone in that day. Pretty much every culture sacrificed animals to their gods. It was no more disgusting to them than carving an Easter ham.
· What made Israel’s sacrifices different from the surrounding pagan nations was their purpose and meaning.
The pagans sacrificed animals to feed their gods. Their gods needed sustenance. In pagan versions of the Flood story, the gods are worried because they just lost their food source.
Furthermore, the reason they would feed their gods is the gain their favor so they could get what they want. They gave to their gods in order to get. It was manipulation.
· BTW: How often do we worship, pray, or give to God so we can get? When we do that, we are no better than them.
The pagans sacrificed because their gods needed it, Israel sacrificed because they needed it: Completely unlike pagans, their sacrifices were about dealing with sin.
There were several types of sacrifices in Leviticus, some for sin and some for expressing thanksgiving and worship, but at the root of all of these was “atonement.”
Leviticus 1:3-4 3 ¶ “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. 4 He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
· Atonement is a one of the two key themes of Leviticus – it’s used 56 times, more than half of the entire uses in the Bible.
Leviticus describes sin and unholiness as these constant forces that pull us away from God (that’s the other theme, more on it next week). The sacrifice allowed Jews to bridge the always widening gap between God and man.
Leviticus 17:11 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
The English word actually started as two words “at onement,” meaning to reconcile and make peace between two parties. This follows the Biblical meaning of bringing peace between us and God via a sacrifice.
· The sacrifice wasn’t salvation by works, but a gift of grace, so they could atone for their sins and be reconciled to God.
And so, in order to atone for the ceaseless stream of sin and wickedness that was constantly pulling them apart from God, a constant stream of animals had to be sacrificed:
· Every morning and evening, for the nation. (Ex. 29:38)
· On special days, such as Passover, and esp. Yom Kippur.
· Individual Jews would offer sacrifices for their sins.
The Jew didn’t have the theology textbooks to explain sin and that God in his justice must punish sin, they had the daily symbolism played out before them.
I want to walk you through the process so you can understand this drama God wrote into Leviticus, which was meant to show us our need for Christ, the Lamb of God.
Imagine you are an Israelite and you slandered your neighbor, had to repent publically, but you still have to sacrifice a sin offering to God. Why? Because all sins are against him first.
You would begin by choosing the best of your flock, not the runt, not the leftovers, but very best. It would represent a significant financial investment.
· In a bartering society, it was like burning money.
In smaller households, the animals would have been kept in the house at night. Your children knew the lamb well, played with it, and named it.
· I wonder if your children would beg you not to kill this lamb, but your sin had to be paid for.
You would take the lamb to the temple and place your hands on its head, the Hebrew says “lean on it” as if you are forcefully taking your sins and pushing it onto the lamb.
· By this act, you were saying “I am a sinner. I have dishonored God, and I deserve to die, but this lamb will die instead.”
Then you, the worshipper, would take the knife, and slit the throat of your lamb. If you knew what you were doing, the lamb felt almost nothing and died very quickly.
· Because it trusted you, it didn’t even struggle – making it worse, because it was so innocent and unsuspecting.
And then you would hand the lamb over the priest, who would take some of the blood and smear it on the altar, then pour the rest out on the ground.
· Every Israelite understood: “When I sin, something dies” – it was driven into mind in the strongest possible way.
You would watch, with its blood still on your hands, you would feel a mixture of sorrow at the death of your lamb and joy that you were freed of your sin.
Does this upset you? Does it bother you that all these innocent animals were slaughtered for their owners’ sins?
It should bother you, it should shock you. That’s point. Sin kills innocence, sin destroys life. It is awful, nasty stuff, and we forget that all too often.
· For a moment, we should sense the way God feels about sin.
Remember at the beginning I said we think we are so much more civilized that the ancients because we don’t slaughter our meat, we get it shrink-wrapped, sanitized, nice and neat?
We have also done the same thing to our sin: We lose sight of just how nasty and horrible it is, but the disciples would have clearly understood just how much sin costs.
God created this entire drama to teach Israel, and us, two vital lessons: 1) The wages of sin is death, and 2) someone else could pay that for you.
But all of these thousands upon thousands of sacrifices were still insufficient. They were a temporary measure, preparing Israel for Jesus:
Hebrews 10:1-4, 8-10 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
8 ...First [Christ] said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
· Jesus was the Lamb, his death and resurrection took away all the sins of the world.
His death on Good Friday was the final sacrifice, ending the need for sacrifices. God made this point clear 25 years later when the temple was destroyed by the Romans, ending Jewish sacrifices to this day.
Up until this point, this could be a Good Friday sermon, but we must bring it back to Easter, because the cross was not enough.
· That’s right, the cross wasn’t enough – without the resurrection we’d still be dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).
According to the Bible, Easter is the foundation of our faith. Why is that? There are many reasons, but only time for one:
On the cross, Jesus had to bear the weight of trillions of sins, past, present, future. He had to remove the filth of corruption that spreads across the entire earth, as Leviticus describes it.
Q If the death of an innocent lamb could not truly remove even one sin, who can we be sure that Jesus’ death removed it all?
Q How can we be sure that it didn’t run out last year?
· We know it was enough because Jesus came back from the dead.
Each and every animal that was sacrificed stayed dead to pay the price, but Jesus came back, showing that not only had paid the price, but had plenty of forgiveness left over.
· Christ’s resurrection is testament to the fact that you can never go too far to be forgiven.
That’s why we celebrate today, the assurance that our sins are completely forgiven – no more little white lambs have to die for us. I don’t have to die, because Jesus conquered sin and death.
· In place of fear and death, we are given freedom, hope, and life, beginning now and extending throughout eternity.
Q & A