Diagnosis: Sacrifice-Deficient (Leviticus 1:1-9)
Topic: One Lord: What is Man? Passage: Leviticus 1:1–1:9
(One Lord: What is Man?)
August 20th, 2017
I. The Doctor's Diagnosis
A deficiency can be a diagnosis, right? If you go to the doctor because you don't feel well, and he or she runs tests, you might find out that you have an iron-deficiency, or some kind of vitamin-deficiency, or a protein c deficiency, or a magnesium deficiency.
But if there is unhealthiness in your relationship with God, what kind of diagnosis would the Divine Doctor, the Great Physician give you? Well, if we looked for that diagnosis in the first seven chapters of Leviticus, we would discover that human beings have a sacrifice-deficiency.
Did you know that? Did you know you have that kind of condition? All of us do.
Let's turn to Leviticus 1 and see what can be done for people like us.
II. The Passage: "To Make Atonement for Him" (1:1-9)
You may remember from our introduction last time that the book of Leviticus is about how to live with God in the midst. And you may also remember the book was given one year after Israel's exodus from Egypt under Moses. After that deliverance God had commanded the Israelites to build Him a tent, a temple in which He could dwell with them. But as an unholy people, how could they live in the presence of the fire of God's holiness?
The answer was Leviticus. The restrictions, regulations, and rituals described in this book were the path along which God's people were to walk in order to commune with, and not be consumed by, the One who had redeemed them from slavery.
As God's people today, Leviticus still teaches us about a life with God in the midst. What should it look like when God dwells in our midst as a church family? What should it look like if God dwells in the midst of your life?
Well the first answer Leviticus gives us is that a life with God in the midst is a life of sacrifice.
Look with me at the first nine verses of Leviticus 1. Listen to what God revealed to Israel about what they were lacking, about this idea of sacrifice. Chapter 1, verse 1...
The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.”
In verse 3, God continues by describing the specifics of what do with this offering. We read:
 “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.  He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.  Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces,  and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.  And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar;  but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
For us today, this has to be a strange scene. Think about it. If you went out hiking or riding horses or quads and stumbled on a tent in the middle of the desert where animals were being killed and dismembered, where blood was being thrown, and where everything was then being burned on a golden altar, I think you would call the police, right?
So what exactly are we supposed to take from this disturbing scene? Well consider what it teaches us about this idea of sacrifice. We learn that...
1. [Sacifice is about] A Price Being Paid (vs. 2, 5a)
Meat was a luxury in ancient Israel. To bring a bull as an offering was truly a financial sacrifice for most. And if you look down at the rest of chapter 1, you'll see that God made provision for those who did not own or could not afford a bull. They could bring a sheep or goat, or even birds. Whatever they brought, a price was still being paid. Game animals, animals you hunt could not be offered as sacrifice. They were not costly. This kind of sacrificial giving is at the heart of true worship. As King David declared when land was offered to him as a gift...
But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. (II Samuel 24:24)
But as we see from verse 5, an even higher price is being paid here. This animal, this bull is losing his life. Now for some, especially hamburger and steak lovers, that's not a big deal. It happens all the time. But remember the context here. The death of this animal matters. If it didn't, this sacrifice wouldn't matter.
But looking back to the one who brings the animal, did you also see the second price the worshiper pays? He must kill the animal himself. He must get his hands dirty. There is no 'phoning this in'? There is no virtual version of this sacrifice, where you sit at home in your PJs watching a live stream.
No, the one who brings the burnt offering, must kill the animal, then (v. 6) skin and dismember the animal, and then (v. 9) wash the entrails and the legs, specifically the hind legs of the animal (probably to make sure there was no excrement in the offering). No one could walk away from this kind of offering without having bloody hands. But notice what else we learn here about the animal and the worshiper. We learn that...
2. [Sacrifice is about] A Life Being Saved (v. 4a)
Before the animal is killed, did you see what the worshiper, what the offerer has to do according to verse 4? He must lay his hands on the head of the bull.
Now the 'laying on of hands' is a very common practice all throughout the Bible. But what does it mean, especially here in Leviticus? Are there any verses that can help us? Well, there is one verse in this book that might give us some insight about this symbolic act. Listen to chapter 16, verse 21...
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness...
This ritual of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement seems to show that the laying on of hands was about symbolic transference or identification. The sins of the people are symbolically transferred to the goat, which in turn is cast out. Sin is removed from the people.
So when the one who brings the burnt offering to the Tent of Meeting, when he lays his hands on the animal's head, he is identifying himself with the animal. His guilt is symbolically transferred to the animal. The animal takes his place. And so the sacrifice dies instead of the one making the sacrifice.
But that symbolic act speaks to a bigger issue. It's our third point. We learn here that...
3. [Sacrifice is about] A Verdict Being Stayed (vs. 3, 4b, 5b, 9)
Look again at the entirety of verse 4: He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
Why is a death required? Because as the Apostle Paul would later state in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. This man's sin requires punishment, and God's verdict is death. But as we see here, God has provided a means by which this animal can “make atonement for him”.
When it comes to offerings, the book of Leviticus describes many kinds of sacrifices. But it begins with this “burnt offering” because this offering was the most common of all offerings. It was practice by patriarchs like Noah and Abraham, and it was practiced by Moses and the Israelites, even before the regulations and rituals of Leviticus were revealed.
So what distinguishes it from the other offerings we will go on to learn about? Every bit of the offering was burned on the altar. All of it goes to God. And in a unique way, it averts the judgment of God against the sin of the worshiper. Listen to how Genesis describes it:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:20, 21)
“And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma...” Did you notice similar language in Leviticus 1. The very last phrase in verse 9. What is the “burnt offering”? It is a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
Why is it pleasing? Is God a consummate carnivore, or does God have a finicky sense of smell? No. It's a picture of God's justice being satisfied. Notice in verse 3 (also in v. 10) that the animal needed to be an unblemished male. Not only was this the most valuable animal, but it also represented the satisfaction of God's holy standard. God does not compromise or bend in terms of His righteousness.
This is why, according to Numbers 28, this kind of offering was to be offered daily, in fact, twice a day in the Tent of Meeting. It was one part of a regular ransom for the people of Israel. Animals dying so they could live. As we will go on to see in future studies, there were many other circumstances of sin or uncleanness which required this burnt offering.
This sacrifice was a price being paid, and therefore a life being saved, because a verdict was being stayed. (2x)
But please don't miss phrases like, Yahweh called (v. 1) and “Speak...and say” (v. 2). And in verse 3 it's clear there is a right way and wrong way to offer the sacrifice, if it is to be “accepted”. What do these words and phrases emphasize? That God has made this arrangement. That it works according to His principles. There is no magical law that makes a bull's blood effective at purging sin. The arrangement worked because in His mercy, God decreed it as acceptable in terms of His righteousness, His justice. Therefore, we see that...
Sacrifice is a gift of God's grace that enables sinners to enjoy the gift of God's presence.
III. If We Confess Our Sins (5b-9a)
In our first study we said that Leviticus was God's classroom to teach the Israelites the fundamentals of sin, sacrifice, and sanctification. If that's true, what were these opening verses teaching them? What are they teaching us?
It's hard to escape the brutality of this scene: the death and dismemberment of an animal, it's blood ritualistically splattered, and the burning of its carcass. No, this isn't a barbeque. No leather goods will be made from this animal. The bull, or the lamb, or the birds, are dying for one reason, and only one reason: because of your sin; because of my sin. Because we are me-centered rebels in a God-centered universe.
Just as those who worshiped at the Tent of Meeting, those who brought these sacrifices, [just as they] could not leave without blood on their hands, so too does the truth about sacrifice remind us of our responsibility.
In order for God to dwell among His people, the Israelites needed to accept the reality of their condition: they were sacrifice-deficient. But is that like an iron-deficiency? Is the solution simply regular supplements? Is the answer a steady stream of sacrifices? No, God's target has always been the heart. Turn to Psalm 51:15-17. Listen to what David said in his famous psalm of repentance...
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
You see, our sacrifice-deficiency comes from a far deeper deficiency: the unhealthiness in humanity's relationship with God flows from a lack of...humility. As David recognized, beyond the act of animal sacrifice, we need to be broken, that is, we need to be brought down from our prideful position of sinful self-sufficiency.
The sacrificial system was meant to nurture this blessed brokenness; to show the Israelites the costliness of their sin and the seriousness of God's standard. Your sin brings death; my sin leaves blood on my hands; our sin brings loss...and its only end is fire. Have we come to grips with this? Do we daily face this sobering reality?
Listen to how the Apostle John reminds Christians of these principles of sin and sacrifice:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness...[how do we find forgiveness and cleansing? The previous verse tells us...] 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. (I John 1:7-9)
There is one aspect of Leviticus 1 that we have not talked about. Noah, Abraham, and Moses all offered burnt offerings themselves. But in this new 'God-dwelling-among-us' classroom, one lesson of Leviticus is clear: we need a priest. Yes, the one who offered the burnt offering had to kill the animal himself. But only God's appointed priest could spread the blood and offer it on the altar.
God's graciously provided a pathway to the Israelites, that they could draw near to their Maker, who was dwelling among them. But today we can rejoice in the substance, not just a symbolic shadow. The classroom is always designed to lead us to graduation. That was true for the Israelites. Listen to what Hebrews 7:27 tells us about God's eternal priest:
He has no need, like those high priests, to offer [olah] sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Over and over again, the book of Leviticus points us to Jesus, as both perfect priest and perfect sacrifice. He is the fullness for which God's people were being prepared. Wonderfully, this book reminds us of the One who loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2) How could we not think of the Good News, the gospel story, and remember that His sacrifice was a price being paid, and therefore a life being saved, because a verdict was being stayed.
Brothers and sisters, God has graciously provided the sacrifice to address our deficiency. May God use the cross to nurture in us a renewed hatred of sin and a blessed brokenness; may He show us the costliness of our sin and the seriousness of His standard. And from new humility may we rejoice that God has provided the perfect pathway, so that we can draw near to Him; so that nothing can every separate us from His presence.
More in Living Leviticus
April 15, 2018Spirituality Before Sexuality (Leviticus 18:1-30)
April 8, 2018When and When Not to Drink Blood (Leviticus 17:1-16)
January 28, 2018Your Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)