2008-09-14 (am) Leviticus 6:24-30 Wholly Holy
This morning we’re taking a break from our 1st John series in order to examine the sacrament of Lord’s Supper.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, instituted a new covenant in his blood, instructing us to remember his death by eating bread and drinking wine?
Well, one reason given in this passage in Leviticus.
Now, before we look at that connection, it is useful for us to see the incredible grace of God at work in the Old Testament.
The people had sinned, everyone had sinned, and everyone sins. Nothing has changed since then. Now, in his justice and righteousness, God could have wiped out humanity all together and still have been loving and good in doing it.
One of the lectures I listened to this week, it was either John MacArthur or John Piper, described a faithful Christian, who had experienced much pain and sorrow in his life. All three of his children died in their early 20’s. His wife of 60 years suffered some form of dementia and was thoroughly unable to recognise him. He was now dying of cancer. An interviewer asked, in light of all these hardships, did he ever ask God the question, “Why me?” “No, never.” He replied. “Instead, I asked the question, ‘Why not me?’”
Jacob Eppinga, in the September issue of the Banner, in his very last Cabbages and Kings article, echoed similar sentiments when he said, the question isn’t “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The question is, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
That’s precisely what is happening in this Levitical instruction regarding sin offerings. Here we have humanity, sinful people, deserving of everlasting death. But instead of punishing them, God is extending them grace. He’s saying, “Okay, you’ve sinned, I will forgive you your sin. This is how you know that I have forgiven you your sins. Slaughter an animal sacrifice.
The animal bears the penalty in the place of the sinner. The animal becomes a substitution for the penalty. The animal give up its life as an atonement for the sinner. And the grace? It is God who provides the animal. So, already there in Israel, God is demonstrating his amazing grace by providing a means of forgiveness through the sacrificial, Substitutionary penal atonement for sin.
In this act of worship, the sinner feels total sorrow for sin. He desires to be right with God, he longs to turn away from sin, and to turn wholly toward God. Then, having confessed sin, having made the sacrifice, he receives the assurance, the tangible grace of God that fills his heart with joy. The hot, pouring out blood, communicates the vitality of the grace of God in accepting the sacrifice, it fills the sinner with gratitude, wonder, hope and admiration. The words of the Psalmist come to mind: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips (Psalm 63:5).
Now, let’s look a bit closer at a couple of things that are significant in this sacrifice. No, I haven’t forgotten to look at the connection between the sin offering and Jesus’ institution of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
First: the person who brings the sacrifice must put his hands on the animal so as to transfer the sin from the person to the animal. They are still touching the animal as it is slaughtered. They feel the life go out of the animal, as they watch it die. They know that their sins have caused its death.
Second: the sin offering is slaughtered before the Lord in the same place as the burnt offering. That is, on the north side of the altar.
Third, in the giving of the offering, God sets it apart, He makes it holy. It is so holy that whatever touches any of the flesh becomes holy.
Fourth, the priest who offers the sacrifice must eat it, in a holy place, in the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting, because it is holy, it must remain in a holy place.
Even the blood is precious. If during the animal’s death throes it gets splashed anywhere, it must be cleaned carefully. If the meat is cooked in a clay pot, the pot must be destroyed after the meal. If it is cooked in a bronze pot, that pot must be thoroughly cleaned.
Any male in a priest’s family may eat it; it is most holy. But was that sacrifice sufficient for atoning for sin?
Those über familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism immediately think of Q&A 14, which says, “Q Can another creature—any at all—pay this debt for us? A. No. To begin with, God will not punish another creature for what a human is guilty of. Besides, no mere creature can bear the weight of God's eternal anger against sin and release others from it.”
So, we know, and the Israelites knew that there was something better coming. Someone was going to offer a perfect sacrifice for sin, a sacrifice that will absorb God’s punishment for human guilt, a sacrifice capable of bearing God’s eternal anger against sin, a sacrifice that releases others from sin.
So listen to Isaiah 53:4-6 & 12, speaking about Christ: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds, we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Or how about, Matthew 26:28 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
And 2 Cor. 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
And finally, Hebrews 10:8-10 “First he 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). Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
So God was truly gracious to His people in Israel, by allowing their sins to be atoned, not through the blood of the animals, not through the offering of their bodies, but using that blood and those bodies to point to the blood and body of Christ. That’s what we symbolically drink and eat during communion. The perfect shed blood of the Son, the freely offered body of Christ, which purchased righteousness for us.
In the sin offering, the person confessing the sin brought the animal. The priest killed it while the sinners hand was still on the body. But it was only the priest who was permitted to eat the flesh. The blood was sprinkled on the altar.
Now Christ declares us a “royal priesthood, a chosen nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9). In communion, in the Lord’s Supper, all who touch the body of Christ, symbolically represented by the bread, not just the priests, not just the males, but everyone who touches the body of Christ, Christ’s flesh becomes holy. And the blood is not sprinkled on an external object. It is symbolically ingested. We are infused with the power of Christ’s precious blood.
We are wholly holy. That’s what Christ has done. He has purified us from all sin (John 1:7).
But look at what we’ve gained! Sin offerings had to be offered all the time. There were morning and evening sacrifices. There were fellowship offerings, guilt offerings burnt offerings, grain offerings, wave offerings.
We think we have it tough, having to come to worship once, twice a week. They had to do it twice every day. They had to make offerings, they had to pay money for their offerings, or they had to provide it from their own herds.
Imagine that for a moment. Sunday morning, you get up, go to your feedlot, select a perfect, blemish-free year-old bull. You bring your stock trailer up to the gate, load up the bull. Stop at the house, pick up the family, head out to church.
You stop in front of the church, hitch the bull up to the railing. Church starts. Call to worship. Song. God’s Greeting, song, call to confession. Instead of the pastor praying a prayer of confession in Jesus’ name, you step outside, grab your bull, bring it up the aisle, while I grab my knife. You place your hands on the bull’s head. You confess your sin before God, and speak those sins onto the bull. I take my knife, and while you’re still holding onto the animal, I also grab hold of it, and slit it’s throat with a knife. The blood pours out of the jugular vein and I collect it in a bowl. You calmly return to your seat and we repeat it with the next person. How long do you think that kind of worship service might take?
Have you considered how easy we have it? Have you considered how hard we have it?
We no longer offer animal sacrifices because Jesus Christ offered the perfect sacrifice once and for all. We no longer offer daily morning and evening sacrifices every day. We no longer worship in just one part of one city.
All we’re required to do is what we as a church have covenanted to do. We gather together to worship God one day a week. One day, not seven. And yet even on that one day, we find it difficult to make time for a morning and evening sacrifice. No, not a morning and evening offering of an animal on an altar, a morning and evening offering or ourselves before God, in his house.
And we’re not even required to bring live animals to church. We’re only required to bring ourselves. And look at all the excuses we come up with to limit such a simple obligation! I’m taking the summer off. It’s just church. I don’t feel like going. I never get anything out of it. I don’t like so and so. His sermons are too long. His sermons are too short. It’s family day. It’s my day of rest, I’m not going to waste it driving to and from church, or spending time sitting with my family, but not really being able to speak to them.
But we’re required to do so much more than that.
We’re required not to give animal sacrifices, but to give ourselves as living sacrifices. Not just an hour or two on Sundays, but every minute of every day, is a living sacrifice of our lives for God.
That’s what this meal reminds us of. It reminds us that Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world. It reminds us that Jesus Christ gave up everything in order to be a living sacrifice. He surrendered the glory of heaven for a manger in a stable, a peasant life, obscurity, no earthly power or prestige, and instead of gaining temporary fame and fortune, received all power and authority in the universe.
What are we still clinging to? What are we still holding on to? What are we unwilling to give up?
Do we really believe that we will witness the gospel of Christ if we’re demonstrating that our goal in being Christians is to have health and wealth? That’s what the world pursues already! If that’s our goal, then all we’re doing is showing them a different way a different method to get what they want! Then we become just one method among many. Then there really is no difference between us and any religion in the world.
But that’s not what we sacrifice our earthly lives for. That’s not what Christ sacrificed his life for. Christ is not about health and wealth! He had all that in heaven before the incarnation! He had all that already!
That’s exactly what he gave up, what he sacrificed in order to become a living sacrifice for sin. That wasn’t the goal of his ministry on earth, and it is not the goal of our ministry either. Our goal, our focus, our treasure is Jesus Christ!
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Jesus sacrificed everything in order to gain the joy set before him. The joy of seeking and saving the lost. The joy of seeing you and me, before his throne, as part of his lovely bride, but even more than that he saw the joy of glorifying the Father and the Father glorifying Him. The Joy of hearing his Father say, “This is my Son, in him I am well pleased.”
So what are we sacrificing? What shame and scorn are we receiving? If we’re not receiving any shame and scorn from the world, perhaps we’re too much like the world and not enough like Christ. It’s not as though we need to go out there and be hypocritical jerks.
No, it is that we need to go out there and demonstrate that we hold Christ in highest regard. We demonstrate that we’ve given our lives as a living sacrifice to Christ. We’re not just giving 65 minutes a week, we’re not just giving money, and we’re not just spending a few minutes a day in devotions.
No, we’re deliberately shunning the desires of the world, and we are demonstrating a desire, a passion, a longing for the only true satisfaction in life, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour. Our goal is not more money, more fame, more friends, more fortune, more possessions; our goal is a life entirely in pursuit of Christ! Sin gets in the way, it puts up barriers to our pursuit of Christ, and it calls us to desire lesser things. So, we celebrated a sin offering this morning.
We demonstrated, hopefully, with all passion and fervour, our desire for God, for Christ, by symbolically, eating his body and drinking his blood. That’s what we’ve declared. He is the perfect sin offering. Through his atonement, we’re free from sin, free to live for Christ. Let’s demonstrate our gratitude, our love for Christ by how we live, by demonstrating that the stuff of this world, this life, has no hold on our hearts. Amen.