Pleasing Sacrifice to the Lord – Leviticus 1-3

Leviticus Banner Image (showing loaves in an oven)

Leviticus opens by describing how to offer a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, with no other introduction or preamble! But it would be a huge mistake to treat it as a book on its own.

Leviticus isn’t an end product; it’s like a 2D drawing of a 3D reality that’s much, much bigger and better. We’re going to be looking the blueprints of the universe – as God sees it! We’ll take in some detail, but we’re always keeping an eye on what the 3D reality is. We first need to get our run-up right, then Chapters 1-3. These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. For a full list of our online sermons, see our Sermon Index.

You’re naturally far, far from God

Leviticus doesn’t stand alone, obviously. The first 5 books of the Bible form an integrated whole. Often called the Torah (“law”), sometimes called the Pentateuch (“Penta” for 5). The Torah begins with God creating the heavens and the earth – just by the power of his voice! A 7-day cycle!

And the highlight of that Creation was humanity, and in particular God dwelling on the earth in Eden with humanity. But when Adam chose his own rule rather than to obey God in love, he was rejected and expelled. Adam had become a sinner, a law-breaker. All humanity then cursed by toil, pain, and death. Separated from God, unable to re-enter Eden ever again.

The highpoint of Creation – God dwelling on earth with people – was gone. And so God dwells beyond the heavens, in the highest heaven. And we’re grounded; on the earth, of the earth. Dust to dust. You can’t go to him. No tower or rocket will take you there. Even if it could, you’d still be excluded by your sin. You’re too sinful – you’d be burned up as surely as if you flew to the sun.

God himself reaches down

If you’re ever to enjoy God, he must reach down to you.

If you’re ever to enjoy God, he must reach down to you. In Exodus, at Mt Sinai, God did reach down. His glory descended and covered the mountaintop – and no-one could approach and live – it was terrifying!

  • But God gave instructions to Moses to build a Tabernacle – a “tent Temple”. 7 times we read “The LORD said to Moses” to give the design.
  • And in the build, 7 times we read “As the LORD commanded Moses”
  • The construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus is a deliberate echo of the Creation of the Universe in Genesis. In fact, it’s a model of the universe!
  • God dwells beyond reach in the Most Holy Place; the Holy Place is the heavens – remote, but accessible. The courtyard is the world, where worshippers come – and beyond the courtyard is outer darkness.
  • The Tabernacle is a model of the Universe, and a reconstruction of Eden – to approach the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle is to approach God – a picture of approaching him in the highest heaven!

How may sinners enter God’s presence?

Exodus finishes with the glory of the LORD descending as at Mt Sinai, filling the Tabernacle – no-one could go in! The book of Numbers (next) begins with Moses and Aaron entering the Tent.

So here in Leviticus we have the Eden expulsion reversed! Here we discover how sinful humanity can be restored to the presence of God! And it’s a picture of cosmic reality. And it is God himself who declares it – read v1.

So you are naturally far, far from God. But he himself calls out to you with the way to come into his presence – sinful though you are! Leviticus begins by giving details of five major sacrifices across the first 5 chapters, with a bit more detail later on.

We’re going to look at the first three here.

Wholly Devoted – the burnt offering

The first is in Chapter 1, and it’s the most prominent in the OT: The burnt offering.

It was a costly thing to do: You were to bring a bull if you could – that’s the price of a small car. If you couldn’t afford that, you could bring a sheep or a goat, or even a bird if you were really poor. But it was costly in that the whole animal was burnt up.

And it was voluntary. You reared your herd, chose the specific animal, presented it at the Tabernacle, then killed it yourself – and then even cut it up yourself. OT worship was more involving than sitting in church! Above all, you’re in it throughout because it’s about you and God, even if priests are required as mediators.

As a sacrifice, the burnt sacrifice was pivotal. Verse 4 (CSB): “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

  • Atonement means two things in the Old Testament: Paying a ransom (appeasing God’s wrath; propitiation), and wiping clean (removing the stain of guilt and sin; expiation).
  • The burnt offering is very much about paying a ransom, of making an aroma pleasing to the LORD (the 4th & 5th sacrifices are all about wiping clean the sinner).

Transformed and transferred

This is because the burnt offering is essentially God-ward, denoting a whole self presented and wholly devoted to God. In fact, your whole self is represented by the animal (more on that next week), and the entire animal (representing you) is burnt up – every last bit. It is transformed (from its earth-bound imperfection) and it’s transferred from the earth to the heavens. And laying your hand on the animal you say “This is me.” Inasmuch as the animal is you, the burnt offering is a way that you can be transformed (released from a body of sin) and transferred (to God’s presence in the heavens).

But this is only the 2D image, the blueprint. Because the reality has come! No more cattle – Jesus is the one sacrifice for us all. He really did give himself, gave his life. And he really has gone right through death and now entered the presence of God as our glorious burnt offering. And Christians have union with Christ. You were crucified with Christ; the life you now live is him living in you. No need to identify with a sacrificed animal – you have mystic union with Jesus himself!

And, in Christ, you are now expected to make a different kind of sacrifice! We’ll come to that in a moment:

Reverently obedient – the grain offering

The second offering is quite different, but very often accompanied the first. It’s known as the grain offering, but can also be translated as the “tribute” offering. Again, this was a voluntary offering that you’d bring to God in the Tabernacle – very much a gift from you to God. It had no atonement value; it didn’t deal with your sin in any way (not least because there was no blood!). You’d bring it as a voluntary declaration of your dedication and consecration to God.

It was a recognition of God as your king, lord, ruler. There was to be no yeast or honey in the grain offering, but you absolutely had to make sure there was salt. Salt was a regular covenant marker in the Ancient Near East. Salt doesn’t decay – in a suitably dry place salt will remain unchanged forever. That makes it a smashing symbol of covenant faithfulness.

Salt was always added to the grain offering specifically to remember the covenant relationship between the worshipper and God. So the grain offering is tribute, a reverently obedient subject’s gift to the king – and a reminder of the king’s covenant care over his subjects. And, like the burnt offering, this was essentially God-ward. In fact, all three offerings here were specifically designed to be a “pleasing aroma to the LORD.”

Our “sacrifices” to our king

It’s worth noting that only part of the offering was burnt to the LORD here – the remainder was for the priests. They had no other income. God’s provision for his ministers has always come through his people’s gifts (as it still is, of course).

Again, Christ is our one sacrifice. He is now exalted and our king. And so our response – in him – is to offer ourselves to our king as living sacrifices every day. The pleasing sacrifice to the Lord of praise and good works, not to earn our salvation but to express it as Christ has earned it for us by his great sacrifice.

  • Read Hebrews 13:15 
  • Read Romans 12:1

And so Christ is our great sacrifice to God, and we are united to him in death and life (the burnt offering), and so we now live to serve him as king (grain offering). But still, the real goal remains unreached: God to dwell on the earth with his people:

Gratefully included – the peace offering

Of the 5 big sacrifices in these chapters, the order of presentation isn’t the order they’d be conducted. The peace offering was last – because the peace offering is the goal!

Again, it’s voluntary. Again, it’s not atoning (no sin is dealt with). As with the burnt offering, you’d bring a perfect animal and slaughter it. But unlike the burnt offering, it wasn’t wholly burnt.

  • The best and inner parts were burnt up as a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
  • Other specific parts were given to the priests for their food.
  • And the worshipper himself would also sit down to eat – remembering that meat was an expensive luxury, so this was a happy occasion!

A worshipper might bring a peace offering when giving thanks to God for something, or making vows to God about something (like Hannah vowing to to give her son to the LORD, if she got one). This, for the worshipper and priest, is a meal in God’s presence. (Not a meal with God, but certainly a fellowship experience.) It was very important that no blood be consumed – no black puddings allowed. 

Another meal with the Lord

We’ll think it through in more detail next time, but essentially the life of the animal was in the blood – and you weren’t to consume it. But, within these strict constraints, it was a beautiful meal.

  • As Christians, we are also permitted a meal with the Lord.
  • As we gather around the Lord’s table, he attends with us.
  • And we are to consume the blood (wine)!
  • Because Christ has given his life, and the life you live is Christ living in you.

And with Christ in you by his Holy Spirit, and with Christ in us as we gather around his table, the goal of God dwelling among his people is secured – though still not yet finalised.

These three sacrifices in Tabernacle worship are the blueprint of true worship of the living God through Christ now:

  • We have union with him; he is the whole burnt offering ascended to God – and you are with God in Christ.
  • He is our king, and a grain offering of a life of worship in praise and good works is due to Christ our covenant Lord.
  • And he is Immanuel, God with us, who permits fellowship with him in his Table and his presence every day.
  • And even with these cosmic realities – the best is yet to come! God will dwell among his people on the earth!

The problem of sin remains

For now, though, you need to notice you still have a problem. These three sacrifices have been God-ward, the aroma of pleasing sacrifices to the LORD. But they have come from tainted, sinful hands. None of these does anything to deal with your sin. Which is where the last two sacrifices come in: Because the wages of sin is death. Either yours, or a substitute on your behalf. Thanks be for Christ’s death.

Above all, remember that “The LORD called to Moses from the Tabernacle and said to him…” – and hear God’s call to you today.