Scripture Reading: Leviticus 1 - 3 ...
You know the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Well, it's not exactly true. A picture is nice and can be filled with meaning, but if the one who painted the picture doesn't reveal the thought behind it or what it means, the picture is subject to anyone's interpretation. God gives many pictures in the Old Testament of past, present and future realities, but He does not leave us to wonder what they mean - He tells us! So it is with the offerings that God required the people of Israel to make, first at the tabernacle and later at the temple.
The tabernacle itself was a constant reminder that the people could not approach God without bringing an offering. The first generation to come out of Egypt had a clear picture in their minds from Mt. Sinai, when the trumpets sounded and the earth shook and the people were told that they could not even touch the mountain or they would die - because GOD was there. God's "separateness" from sinful people pointed to His holiness and was made clear to the people of Israel from the beginning. NO ONE could come to God without bringing an offering. But what kind of offering? Many today think they can offer their own works and be received by God, but what does GOD say?
God made it clear that the offering must be of a particular kind – it must be PERFECT! "If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect" (1:3). "If the offering is a burnt offering from the flock, from either the sheep or the goats, he is to offer a male without defect" (1:10; 3:1). And the worshiper could not bring the offering themselves. Only the priest could offer it to God. The priests stood between the worshiper and God. The blood first had to be removed from the offering and sprinkled against the altar. Then the offering had to be washed with water. Only then could it be offered "as an aroma pleasing to the LORD" (1:9, 13,17; 2:9; 3:5).
Why such strict guidelines concerning the burnt offerings and the fellowship offerings? Because they were pictures of something greater, something so amazing that the people in the days of Moses could not possibly imagine or understand it ... it wasn't time yet. This was the Mosaic Covenant that God made specifically with Israel. This is the "old covenant" that Jeremiah writes about in Jeremiah 31:32 ... the covenant they broke over and over again by breaking God's commandments. We have broken that covenant, too ... so if Israel was guilty, so are we!
This is what God means when He says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). There is no one who is righteous ... not even ONE! But there was another covenant established before God's covenant with Moses and Israel. God had made a covenant with Abraham whereby righteousness was "credited" to Abraham when he believed God's promise. "Righteousness by faith" was the basis of God's covenant of grace with Abraham and all who would come after him who would believe. But who would believe? Who would confess their sin? Who would look for a Savior? Who would be “washed by the blood?”
First, people had to be made aware of their sin ... so the law, so the commandments, so the offerings and the tabernacle and the priests ... and so the shedding of blood! The worshipers were told by Moses in Leviticus 1 that the one who brought the offering needed "to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him" (1:4). "Atonement" = "payment." Atonement meant that the debt of perfect obedience owed to God was considered "PAID" as the worshiper brought the offerings in faith, believing God’s promise of a Savior who would be the perfect offering for sin.
But remember, this is only a picture. Centuries later, after Jesus had come and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, the writer of Hebrews would explain: "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. 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. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins; because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:1-4).
He then goes on to explain that Jesus offered Himself as the PERFECT sacrifice, "once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). Listen again to the contrast between the old covenant and the new: "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. BUT when THIS priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, HE sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:11-14).
We'll learn more about atonement and sacrifices and payment as we look at the sacrifices and ceremonies throughout the book of Leviticus, but it is in the words of Peter that we find these things tied together in such a simple way that even a child can understand: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (I Peter 1:18-19).
Thank God for the pictures of the old covenant and for their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb, who was offered once on the cross and who shed HIS blood to make the payment for your sin and mine! Through Him we can now approach God without fear and enter into the Most Holy Place by the blood of our Savior, Jesus. HIS blood is the "aroma pleasing to the LORD," and by faith HIS righteousness is "credited" to our account ... making us perfect in God's sight. Praise God for His marvelous grace!!
"My Father and my God, in the pictures of the old covenant I see Your holiness and my sin. I confess my sin before You and rejoice in the salvation You promised to those who believe in Your Son Jesus Christ. Through His blood and through Your grace alone I draw near to Your throne with confidence, KNOWING my sin has been forgiven and I stand perfect before You. Let my life be an offering of thanksgiving and my prayers be a sweet-smelling aroma to You, my Savior and my God. In Jesus' name, Amen"