************ Sermon on Leviticus 1 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 9, 2014

Leviticus 1
"The Burnt Offering"

About ten weeks after their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:1). There God declared His law and gave Moses the instructions for building the tabernacle. Moses erected the tabernacle nine or ten months later. However, once the tabernacle was ready for use, the priests needed instructions from God on how to offer the various sacrifices.

Leviticus is a kind of policy manual for priests. Even as a school must constantly refer students and parents to their handbook for appropriate behavior so the priests needed to refer to Leviticus in order to perform their sacrificial duties properly.

So far we have looked at the tabernacle and its furnishings. Last week we looked at the garments of the high priest. Today we begin to look at the duties of the priests.

Now, remember the three rules we have spelled out in our study of the tabernacle. First, worship is so important to God that He leaves nothing to the imagination and ingenuity of man. Second, what we have on earth is but a shadow of what happens in heaven. Third, everything about the tabernacle finds fulfilment in Christ.

I The Burnt Offering Rite
A "The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting" (Lev 1:1). Everything that follows comes from the Lord. All of the rituals were prescribed by the Lord. It is God Who determines the shape and content of His worship.

Later in Leviticus we discover that God instructed the priests to keep the fire burning on the altar, to remove the ashes from the altar, and then to take them to a clean place outside the camp (cf Lev 6:9-13). Because the ashes were holy, they couldn't be disposed of in the camp's garbage dump, but had to be taken to a place that was ceremonially clean.

The burnt offering was prescribed for the nation on a daily (Ex 29:38-42), weekly (Num 28:9-10), and monthly basis (Num 28:11-15). It was also prescribed for the annual festivals (cf Lev 23; Num 28-29). It could also be brought for and by individuals (Lev 14:12-20; 15:14-15).

It appears that God Himself originally lit the fire on the altar when the priests were dedicated and began their ministry. At that time fire came down from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown (cf Lev 9:24).

B The burnt offering – like all the other offerings listed in Exodus and Leviticus – followed a five-step pattern. The first step was the selection of the offering. The Israelite worshiper had three choices as to the kind of animal he offered: if he was rich enough, he could offer a bull from the herd (Lev 1:3); but if he could not afford a bull then he could offer from the flock (Lev 1:10); finally, if he was very poor and had no animals at all, then he could bring a dove or a pigeon (Lev 1:14).

There is a very important principle at stake here. God is indicating that He has made provision for everyone. Even the poorest can offer something as a burnt offering. You may remember the New Testament story of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the Temple on the eighth day to have Him circumcised. As part of the ceremony they had to offer a burnt offering. They were so poor that all they were able to offer was a pair of doves (Lk 2:24).

The second step was to present the animal "at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting." After inspection the worshiper laid his hand on the animal's head (vs 4). At this point a song was often sung and the worshiper said a prayer of repentance in which he confessed his shame and guilt to God.

In the third step the worshiper killed the animal in such a way that all the blood was drained out of the animal's body. The blood, in turn, was collected in a basin by the priest.

In the fourth step the blood was offered to God and splashed by the priest against the sides of the altar, not on top of it.

In the fifth step the worshiper cut up the animal and the priest burned it bit by bit on top of the altar, beginning with the head and the fat. While the priest was burning the head and the fat the worshiper prepared the other parts. He cut up the rest of the animal and washed away any traces of impurities or dirt. Then the priest burned everything on the altar, except for the hide of the animal or the crop of the bird (cf Lev 7:8).

II The Burnt Offering Purpose
A Try to imagine the worship scene during the offering: the song, the prayer, the bellowing of the bull or the bleating of the sheep as it senses death approaching, the death gurgle as the throat is cut, the dripping of blood, the splashing of blood, the roar of the fire, the smoke, the smell of blood and guts and burnt meat. It was noisy. It was messy. It was smelly. For the Old Testament believer the sacrifices were very moving occasions of worship. They make the most lively worship services today seem tame and dull by comparison. The ancient worshiper did not just listen to the minister and sing a few songs. He was actively involved in the worship. He had to choose the animal, bring it to the sanctuary, kill it and dismember it with his own hands, and then watch it go up in smoke before his very eyes. He knew in his heart that something significant, something important, was being accomplished; he knew that his relationship with God was profoundly affected by his sacrifice.

So what is happening? What is going on behind the scenes? What is the meaning of the burnt offering? What is its significance?

B The main function or purpose of the burnt offering was to atone for man's sin by removing God's wrath. To understand this, we need to take note of what Leviticus 1 says.

Did you catch the phrase that is repeated seven times? Seven times we hear either "to the Lord" or "before the Lord" (Lev 1:2,3,5,9,13,14,17). What happened at the altar wasn't between the worshiper and his conscience. What happened wasn't between the worshiper and the nation. What happened wasn't between the worship and the priest. What happened was between the offerer and the Lord.

When the worshiper presented his offering, the priest would examine the animal to be certain that it met certain characteristics. It had to be perfect, without spot, blemish, disease, or deformity (Lev 1:3,10). It had to be male (Lev 1:3,10). It had to be a yearling. It had to be ceremonially clean (Lev 11). It had to be usable for common food. It had to be domesticated (wild game could be eaten but not sacrificed). And, it had to be costly in relation to the wealth of the Israelite. Only the best is good enough for God. The prophet Malachi later speaks to those who offered second-rate animals:
(Mal 1:7-8) "You place defiled food on my altar" ... (8) When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty ... (13) ... "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. (14) "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.

C Our text describes the sacrifice as "a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord" (vs 9, 13, 17). This phrase is found three times in this chapter and eight times in the first three chapters. Since God is spirit, He doesn't have a body, but physical terms are used in Scripture to depict God's actions and responses. In this case, God is pictured as smelling a fragrant aroma and being pleased with it.

We see an instance of this in the flood story. Before the flood we read this:
(Gen 6:5) The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
So the Lord decided to destroy mankind. After the flood Noah offered a sacrifice. Pay careful attention to what we read now:
(Gen 8:21) The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done."
Though man was unchanged in his sin and sinful inclination, God's attitude to man is altered, thanks to the burnt offering. The burnt offering does not remove sin or change man's sinful nature, but it does appease God wrath thereby making fellowship between sinful man and a holy God possible. God states that the sins of the worshiper were forgiven (Lev 4:20 et al); and He did this on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Heb 10:5-14).

The idea that a burnt offering appeases God's anger is found throughout Scripture. Think of David's decision to take a census. In His anger the Lord sent a plague upon all Israel and many died. The plague stopped when David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (2 Sam 24:25; cf 1 Chron 21:26). Think of Job offering a burnt offering every week for each of his seven sons. Job's reason for doing this? "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts" (Job 1:5). The burnt offering prevents God's displeasure with man's sin from being turned into punishment. The burnt offering protects the worshiper from God's wrath.

Underlying this, of course, is the teaching that our God is a holy God. He is a God Who hates sin. He is a God Who is angry about sin and punishes sin. He is a God Who demands that sinners pay for their sin.

In Deuteronomy 13 God lays out what is to happen when a city or town abandoned the one true God to worship idol gods. If the city was found guilty, the people and livestock in the city were to be killed. And, all the plunder of the city had to be offered as a burnt offering to the Lord. Telling us what? Telling us that when something is offered as a burnt offering it bears the wrath of God.

D In verse 4 we are told that the burnt offering makes "atonement" for the sinner. Here, the Hebrew word for "atonement" means "to pay a ransom." Today a ransom means a sum paid to terrorists to free innocent hostages. This past week I found the following statistics on the Internet:
An investigation by the New York Times found that Al Queada and its affiliates have taken at least $165 million in revenue from kidnapping for ransom since 2008.
In that time period France paid $58.1 Million; Qatar and Oman: $20.4 Million; Switzerland: $12.4 Million; Spain: $11 Million; Austria: $3.2 Million.
Publicly, most governments oppose the payment of any ransom money ever because it encourages kidnapping. But in the Old Testament the payment of a ransom was a very humane act. It allowed a guilty person to be punished with a lesser penalty than he deserved. For instance, if a man owned a dangerous ox and the ox got loose and killed someone, the owner was liable for the death penalty. But the court could decide to save his life if he paid a ransom (Ex 21:30). In the case of adultery the wronged husband was entitled to exact the death penalty on his faithless wife and her lover (Lev 20:10). He might choose to spare them, however, if a ransom was paid (Prov 6:35).

In Leviticus 1 we see that God in His mercy allowed sinful man to offer a ransom payment for sins, so that he escapes the death penalty demanded by the law or by God's holiness. That ransom payment, or atonement, is the burnt offering. It temporarily satisfied God's wrath.

E Finally, we notice in our text that the sinner is "to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering." "Lay" is a weak translation of the Hebrew. A more preferable word is "press." The sinner is to press his hand on the head of the burnt offering. This pressing establishes a close relationship between the worshiper and the offering. It signifies that the animal takes the place of the sinner and that the sins of the sinner are transferred to the animal. So when the animal is killed and burned in the burnt offering, it undergoes this in the sinner's place; it suffers the death penalty that God demands as punishment against sin. In essence, we have the concept of imputation. In laying their hands on the animals, worshipers declared that their sins would be on the animals, which died in their place.

III The New Testament Burnt Offering
A On this Lord's Supper Sunday I want to remind you of two things. First of all, the laws in Leviticus remind us of the seriousness of sin. As you all know or should know, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). All of us, everyone of us, deserves to die an eternal death. All of us have offended the holiness of a holy God. All of us deserve the death penalty.

B Second, I want to tell you that Jesus is the one true burnt offering Who dies in our place. He is the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29). Or, as Peter puts it,
(1 Pet 2:22-25) "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." (23) When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (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. (25) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

We look in the Bible and we see that He, like the Old Testament bulls and goats, is a costly sacrifice. The cost to God was the life of His one and only Son, the Son He loved, the Son with Whom He was pleased. You know what the Apostle John writes:
(Jn 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

We look in the Bible and we see that Jesus is also a fragrant offering Who appeases God's wrath. Again, listen to the words of Scripture:
(Eph 5:2) ... Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
His sacrifice upon the cross prevents God's displeasure with man's sin from being turned into punishment.

We look in the Bible and we see that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. He was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).

And, we look in the Bible and we see that Jesus makes atonement for us sinners by giving His life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). Because Jesus paid the ransom – His blood and His life – we don't get what we deserve.

Jesus is the burnt offering Who pays the perfect ransom price. He has borne the Father's wrath for us, just as the bulls and lambs in the Old Testament did, so that sinful men can enjoy the presence of God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page