Living in God’s holy presence : through offerings (Lev. 1-7)

Publié le 20 février 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Vincent Bourrel

Reading: Lev.1:1-9

The book of Leviticus was written by Moses a year after the Israelites left Egypt (cf. Ex.40/17 and Nu.1/1). As the people camped at Mount Sinai, Moses was instructed by God. The phrase, « The Lord spoke to Moses » appears 56 times throughout the book. It is therefore the words of God Himself that Moses repeats to the people (cf 27:34: « These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. »)

The name of the book refers to the Levites, one of the 12 tribes of Israel Moses belongs to, who were in charge of leading the people to worship the Lord.
The book is the continuation of the book of Exodus. The first half of the book of Exodus teaches us how God redeemed the descendants of Abraham from slavery, and led them to the Promised Land (redemption in Egypt occurred through the blood of a lamb applied to the doorposts of the house).

The second part of the book of Exodus looks at the construction of the tabernacle because God wanted to dwell among his people, meet them, and show them His glory (Ex 29: 43-46). The book of Exodus ends with God’s glory that fills the tabernacle (Ex 40: 34-35). The book opens when the people are enslaved, mistreated, and know nothing about the God of Abraham. When it ends, the people are redeemed, freed, and they have discovered God through deliverance and the 10 commandments. God lives in the midst of his people and his glory is revealed in such a way that even Moses, his instrument, can’t dwell in the tabernacle in His presence. God is holy and the people, although redeemed, remain sinners.

Leviticus answers the question of how a holy God can relate to sinners. While Moses can’t enter the tabernacle to meet God, God calls him from the Tent of Meeting v.1. How can I enter into the presence of God and have fellowship with him? (Lev.9/23-24: « Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. » )

But what we read in Leviticus seems so far from what we know. We are no longer allowed to throw rice at newlyweds, but the Israelites sacrifice oxen, lambs, and turtledoves; they cut up the victims, burn them, sprinkle their blood… doing that in the open, in a specific garb, on specific days and throughout the year…

Ch 1-7 of the book give the prescriptions for animal sacrifices that the Jews no longer perform today. The obvious reason is that there has been no more temples or priests since Christ’s first coming (Heb.9/11-14: « But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the
blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works
to serve the living God? »)

So what’s the point of reading and studying these old recitations? What’s the use of such a book today? The law acts as a guide. It was meant for the people of Israel to lead them to Christ, and it is exactly the case for us today, that we understand what Jesus has done for us, and how we can be like him.

Central Point: The purpose of the book is to lead the Israelites to an appropriate response filled with obedient love for God, enabling them to reflect his character and pour out his blessings in the world. In particular, through offerings (ch 1-7)
The first part (ch 1-5) gives the rules that the worshiper who offers the sacrifices must comply with (Lev.1/2: « Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.' »)

The second part (ch 6-7) explains the rules concerning the priest who serves (Lev.6/1: « The LORD spoke to Moses, saying… »)
The sacrifices in Leviticus remind us of the price of sin Jesus died on the cross for us, paying for the penalty of our sins, utterly and forever. We no longer need to slaughter a lamb to regain fellowship with God. But we can end up minimizing our sin. The sacrifices remind us that sin is costly. Our walk with Christ and our attitude toward
sin depend on whether we acknowledge the cost of our sin.

Illustrations: Road safety campaigns are often very well done, and point out the truths that can positively influence our behavior on the road. Currently there’s one that shows lovers in bed, a father and daughter playing, friends laughing together, and then a slogan, « On the road, let’s never forget what really matters ». A former campaign showed violent images of traffic accidents and lifeless bodies, followed by shattering slogans: « You’ll tell his kids you really had to reply to that text message » or « On the road phones can kill ».

The sacrifices in Leviticus remind us a little bit of these 2 truths that can influence our behavior towards sin.
The first 3 sacrifices: burnt offerings, grain offerings and peace offerings are a pleasant smell to the Lord. They evoke the joy of communion with God, the happiness of the one who stands in his presence… so that we won’t forget what really matters.

The last 2 sacrifices: sin offerings and guilt offerings evoke the pain of separation and of death caused by sin so we remember that sin kills. This is what God had said from the beginning, in Gen. 2:16-17: « You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. »

Whether it is to enjoy the presence of God or to know his forgiveness, a victim is needed. This victim must be without bodily blemish (Lev.1/3). To restore the relationship between God and a sinner, it was necessary to offer a sacrifice that replaced a life of sin with a pure life. Throughout the Old Testament, animals (devoid of moral discernment and therefore free from all
responsibility and guilt) were used as substitute sacrifices to atone for sin.
The priest had to put his hand on the animal’s head (Lev. 1:4) thus showing that he identified with the victim. Then he had to cut the victim’s throat (Lev. 1:5) and the blood was shed. The sprinkled blood was a sign that a life had been taken away.

It was pedagogical. Imagine yourself back then. To know that my sin would result in the death of an innocent animal could make me think twice before slacking off. Beside, the sacrifice was not accomplished far away from me in a slaughterhouse, and it wasn’t an animal I didn’t care about. But the animal was mine, one I had raised and that was going to die on my account. It was my hand on its head, it was I who was holding the knife, and it was I who was taking his

Sin is costly indeed. Strictly speaking, the slaughtered animal did not take sin away; it only symbolized the One who would achieve that goal (Heb.10:4-10: « For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, « Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book. » When he said above, « You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings » (these are offered according to the law), then he added, « Behold, I have come to do your will. » He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. »)

But we get used to this truth and it ends up no longer touching us, which is why we need a book like Leviticus to warn us again about the cost of sin, and marvel again at Jesus Christ and at his work on the cross.
The sacrifices of Leviticus recall the character of God Laws reflect the values of the legislator. We can see that with our own laws. We can see an indicator of the value the legislator places on intrauterine life or family life through the laws enacted.
In Leviticus, the Lord commands the Israelites to leave a part of the harvest to the needy and to strangers Lev.19:10 (this is well illustrated in the book of Ruth) because God values compassion for the unfortunate much more than maximum profit, and work much more than assistance. It helps us understand God’s character and what it means to live as a people of God even though the particular law no longer applies.

Through the laws of sacrifices, we learn that God is holy and stands apart. You don’t enter his presence as you like. He’s the One who sets the rules. When some people tell me that they do not fear God and that they will make arrangements with Him the day they see Him, I am scared for them. They don’t know the God of the Bible.

The people of Israel sang this aspect of the divine character when they came out of Egypt after seeing all the Egyptian gods struck by the Lord (each of the 10 plagues was aimed at an Egyptian deity), after seeing the sea open before them, after crossing the Red Sea with walls of
water on both sides, and after seeing the walls of water come swiftly and swallow up Pharaoh’s army: « Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in Holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. « You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. » (Ex 15:11-17).

God stands apart. He is holy. He is awesome. The nations tremble. These sacrifices remind us that God is holy. The tabernacle itself was a holy place, separate, closed, with a white linen wall. As soon as one approached, one came upon the altar of sacrifices where the fire was continually burning. Sacrifices were always offered to make atonement. The sacrifices were « very holy things » (Lev.2:3; 6:10, 18, 22; 7:1, 6). To take part in the sacrifice sanctified the participant (Lev.6:11, 20), but whoever took part in sacrifices while unclean (Lev.5:2-3: touching the corpse of an animal or other things related to death as we will see in ch 11-15) would be cut off from his people, put to death (Lev.7:20, 21, 25, 27).

Holiness is mentioned 152 times in Leviticus. The repetitions in this book that may sometimes make it tedious to read are certainly meant to engrave God’s holy character in our hearts. We want a holy God and at the same time we shudder at this thought because we are not. But at the same time the sacrifices point out that God is a merciful God who makes Himself accessible despite His holiness. « And he shall be forgiven » (Lev.4:26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18,
26) offers a wonderful refrain.

The sacrifices in Leviticus remind us of God’s great plan for us. As I already mentioned in the introduction, it is very important to note the place of Leviticus in
the history of redemption. In the history of Israel, the law does not come before, but after redemption. The law begins in Ex.20 with the 10 commandments and goes on throughout Leviticus. It is not given to the Israelites so that they may be saved. It is rather a gift from God to guide them in their lives.

Obedience stems from grace, it cannot buy grace. Unless we understand that we will become moralists, « Do this and don’t do that, and you will please God ». We will only please Him with faith in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

On the other hand, God’s plan did not end with the Red Sea crossing. God wants to have fellowship with his redeemed people and he wants to make them like himself and lead them « to the abode of his holiness »: « You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands
have established » as the Song of Moses I’ve just read says.

The purpose of the book is to guide the Israelites to respond to the great deliverance that they have experienced. Because they have been redeemed, they should now live a life of obedience to their King, so that they reflect his character and pour out his blessings in the world.

Jesus does not just save us from hell, from eternal condemnation, he also calls us to a new life with him. He calls us to respond to his redemptive grace in all aspects of our lives; he calls us to be this kingdom of priests, this holy nation, to look like him. Lev.11:45: « For I am the LORD who
brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. »

This plan is accomplished through the work of redemption at the cross, and our walk with God, always based on the work of Christ that is effective to keep us in communion with him (1John 1:6-
7: « If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”). All 5 offerings in Leviticus point to the
cross of Christ. Their purpose is to keep us in a relationship with God by faith. They remind us that Christ’s sacrifice delivers us from hell and enables us to live a life that reflects the character of Christ, in communion with God.

God’s love for us through Jesus is so great that the only appropriate response is grateful and loving obedience to him, like that of Christ.

All these offerings/sacrifices marked the daily life of the Israelites. They took time, they cost something, and the people had to be personally involved. They could not send someone to make an offering for them, whether it be gratitude or atonement. How do we show our gratitude to God for his grace towards us, for the gift of his Son, for his blessings towards us? (Heb.13:15-16: « Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. ») These are the acts of love.