God is the prize – Leviticus 4-5

It’s easy to forget that, for Christians, God is the prize. We can get the wrong idea of what Christianity is about. A very simple version might be something like: 

“God is angry with your sin. Hell is the punishment. Jesus died on the cross to take your punishment. Trust in him, ask God’s forgiveness, and you will go to heaven instead!”

There’s nothing wrong with that! And yet, it does miss out something really important. In fact, it leaves out the best bit! Something Leviticus makes clear: The goal for a Christian isn’t heaven.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube.

Your sin is a life & death matter

Last time we looked at Leviticus 1-3, with the first 3 of the 5 big sacrifices in the Old Testament:

  • Burnt offering – wholly dedicated to God
  • Grain offering – a tribute gift to the king
  • Peace offering – a shared meal eaten in God’s presence

Today we look at the 4th & 5th sacrifices, the Sin offering and the Guilt offering. Both were animal sacrifices like the burnt and peace offerings. The process for all of them begins much the same but then changes once you get to the priests’ work. You choose your animal and present it at the tabernacle. You put your hand on it and then you slaughter it.

The sin offering

Then, for the sin offering, if you were the high priest, or an elder representing the nation:

  • You take some blook and sprinkle it 7 times right inside the holy place, right at the curtain to the most holy place.
  • You’d smear a little blood on the altar of incense too.
  • The rest of the blood you’d pour out around the big Altar for Burnt Offerings in the courtyard, where you’d also burn up the fat.
  • The rest of the animal would be taken outside the camp and burnt up like rubbish.

If you were an individual it would be similar, except that blood wouldn’t go to the curtain or altar of incense, and the remains of the animal would be food for the priests (not destroyed).

So what’s it all about? We need to bring out some key factors: Spotless | Identity | Lifeblood | Purification.

Key factors

The animal you choose had to be spotless – perfect; the same word when translated to speak about people is translated “blameless”. You would lay your hand on the animal – you’d press hard. You’re saying “You are me. I deserve to die for my sin, and you will die in my place.” Your identity is bound up with it. You kill it in a way that maximises bloodloss. The lifeblood of the animal pours out.

Why? Why all this blood? Leviticus 17:11 explains the prohibition on eating blood. It’s because the life of an animal is in its blood. As you pour out its lifeblood, it makes atonement for your life. (If you look it up, remember that the word for “soul” & “life” is the same word.) You deserve to die. The animal’s identity becomes you. The blameless, spotless blood is spilt instead of yours.

Your sin is a matter of life and death, and God permitted a spotless animal’s death to be acceptable in your place. And yet, by this identity and union with the sacrificed animal, “Your” blood goes West! “Your” life approaches the divine!

Life purifies and cleanses sin and death.

The aim of all this was purification. Life purifies and cleanses sin and death. Blood at the curtain, at the incense altar, at the burnt offering altar – the effect is to purify the sinner of your sin. And the sins of some reach higher (like the high priest, the nation’s elders) – and even the tabernacle needed purifying. Presidents and governments are held to account. The sin offering was life for life purification; a spotless animal dying so that you could be purified of your sin.

The Guilt (Reparation) Offering

Less is written about the fifth sacrifice than the others. The guilt offering is about reparation – making up for damage you have caused, whether offence to God or to others. You would be required to make an offering and add a fifth to its value to make up for the offence caused. Repentance is costly.

So when you put the 5 sacrifices together, you see they form a complete set: The first 3 were very much God-ward, sweet-smelling aromas to the LORD; the last 2 were about purification (expiation) – the removal of guilt from the sinner through an atoning sacrifice. The order they’re presented wouldn’t be the order you’d do them though, if you were to draw near to God (and you’d rarely do all them at the same time):

  • First there is cleansing from sin: The sin offering and/or guilt (reparation) offering
  • Next there’s approaching God: The burnt offering of whole-person dedication, and the grain offering of willing submission to the covenant king.
  • Finally there’s the Peace offering, a meal in God’s presence. And this is the goal: Fellowship with God.
    Everything else is a means to this one end: Reconciled fellowship with the holy God.

And without a substitutionary sacrifice of one punished in your place you’d have to die for your own sin. But God gave this system to invite sinners to draw near to him. And now he has given a single sacrifice to trump them all, and calls you still:

Jesus is your complete sacrifice

The whole Leviticus system is given to you as a 2D picture of the 3D reality of Christ’s sacrificial work at the cross. It’s given to help you understand what Christ has done for you. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for sinful people. He is the utter fulfilment of the whole Levitical system – because it’s a picture of what he has done.

Just think about those four words again:

  • The animal had to be spotless. Again, that word applied to people is translated blameless. Spotless in every aspect of moral thought, speech and conduct.
    • God make him who knew no sin to be sin.
    • He was tempted as we are, yet without sin.
    • You can hardly imagine how amazing that is.
  • Again, you identified with the animal. “This is me.”
  • Christ identifies with his people in every way, without ever sinning. He became human. The infinite deity took on flesh and blood.
    • And as you trust his sacrifice to be effective in your place, and as you turn and call out for forgiveness of sin, you are united to Jesus at a profound level.
    • He is in you, here. You are in him, there.
  • And his blood? “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured our for many.” He gave his life. And we drink the wine of communion to remember his covenant, his life, and to participate in him and be nourished by his presence.

All Five Sacrifices

He is your sin offering: Hebrews 13:11-12 is explicit 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. Purification of the sin offering.

Christ is your Guilt offering: Isaiah 53, so clearly about Christ as our substitutionary atoning sacrifice: 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin [lit. Guilt/reparation offering], he will have many descendants.

He’s your burnt offering: Ascended to the Father’s side.

Jesus is your Grain offering: That is, he is Lord and you come to him as your king.

In Christ you have fellowship with God. And that is the goal.

He’s your Peace offering: In Christ you have fellowship with God. And that is the goal.

Remember the purpose of the whole plan of God: To dwell on the earth with his people. Lost at Eden, pictured for us in the Peace offering, restored when you have fellowship with God. The goal of the Christian life isn’t heaven. The prize is to be with God as he communicates himself and fellowships with us in Christ. And if fellowship with God in Christ is the goal of your life, that ought to shape your life now:

Live with God as your prize

The sacrificial system had a lot of blood. There was a lot of death. It emphasised what it takes to approach God and the need for purification from sin. Your sin pollutes you and keeps you from God.

All that highlights the seriousness of sin. You think it’s not much. A bit of naughtiness on the side. No harm done. No-one notices, no-one minds. But that attitude of deciding to do wrong is your Godless rebellion. And it’s deadly serious. Christ died – shed his blood – in your place because of your sin.

You have union with him. You were crucified with Christ: Galatians 2:20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

You’re dead to sin. Which means you must put sin to death in yourself, not fiddle around with compromise. Walking in the light means avoiding even the shadows. The sin offering makes it clear that even unintentional sin is still sin: It’s no good to say, “I can’t help it, I’m just that way.”

  • Put sin to to death. Send it east, as you head west to God.
  • But these sacrifices also make it clear that you can come to God for forgiveness – it’s why he has given you his Son.
  • God calls you to come to him – some come and be forgiven!

It’s not easy

You might need to suffer for him: Hebrews 13:11-13 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.

You may need to make reparation for your sin. Repentance can be hard. Matthew 6:12 “…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” When you truly learn to forgive someone, when you truly absorb offence and cost, and accept them with a clean slate, then you’ve repented and understood forgiveness.

You may need to reflect on your relationship with the church. When a member of Christ’s body (this church) sins, it taints us all. Such sins required the blood of the guilt offering to reach the curtain to the most holy place – our corporate sin stinks to high heaven. The sins of leaders of God’s people (OT priests) likewise. Learn to love what Christ loves; love his church. That means love this church – these people. Love, forgive, accept.

Eyes on the prize

But above all, remember the goal, the prize, is fellowship with God. Better than the old system. Something like Eden restored. As if Adam could travel east to west, back into the very presence of God.

And you can: Hebrews 10:19-22.

19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

In Christ, you have assurance of entry into God’s presence. Guilty consciences cleansed and purified by his blood. United to Jesus in the heavenly realm with God. Our God is the end of the journey. Make him the goal of your life, shaping every day, every decision.