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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God Graciously Accepts the Sacrifices of His People
Text:Leviticus 1:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-08-06
Updated:2017-08-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 118:7,8                                                                                      

Ps 66:6,8                                                                                                        

Reading – Exodus 40:17-38; Romans 12:1-2

Ps 50:3,6,7,11

Sermon – Leviticus 1:1-17

Ps 51:6,7

Hy 26:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, have you ever come to a Bible book, and decided that you’d rather skip it? Maybe you were reading through Scripture in your personal devotions, or around the dinner table as a family. You finished Genesis, and plodded through the latter parts of Exodus, and finally came to Leviticus. What did you do? Did you skip it?

There’s no doubt that Leviticus presents a challenge. The title means “about the Levites.” That’s a good clue about why this book is sometimes found unappealing. It describes how that priestly family of the Levites should present right sacrifices to the LORD, and help the people maintain purity before Him. We wonder what all that regulation and ritual has to do with us.

There’s a lot of law here. But if you strip all that away, what’s the core issue of the entire book? What’s the fundamental reality that keeps on receiving attention in Leviticus? It is this: How can a sinful people dwell with the holy God? How can those who are impure have fellowship with the One who is most pure? And isn’t that still the central question for our life: What does it take for us to live with God, and enjoy covenant with Him?

We are starting to see that this book is for much more than just the Levites—it’s for everyone, also for us. What did God say to the Israelites in Exodus 19? He said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v 6). From the least of them to the greatest, they were priests: a people holy to God, devoted to his worship.

Yes, Jesus has come. He has fulfilled every word of this book. By his life and his death, He drew a line under Leviticus and He said, “It is finished.” But the God who is speaking in this book hasn’t changed at all. He’s still God of the covenant, in relationship with his people. He’s still the God who provides cleansing from sin through blood. And He still desires to be worshiped by his priestly people, with acceptable sacrifices and wholehearted offerings. Let’s then consider Leviticus 1, on this theme,

God graciously accepts whole burnt offerings from his people:

  1. at the tabernacle of meeting
  2. without blemish and complete
  3. as a sweet aroma to the LORD

 

1) at the tabernacle of meeting: You can’t really see it in our translation, but in Hebrew the book of Leviticus begins with the word “and.” Literally: “And the LORD called to Moses…” That little word tells us that Leviticus is part of an ongoing story. It’s not just a big lump of laws dropped in the middle of Exodus and Numbers, but it’s part of the same history.

A while ago, God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Since the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, they’ve been traveling through the wilderness on their way to Canaan. Right now they’re encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. One of the most significant events in Israel’s life as a nation has just happened: God gave his law. You can read that in Exodus, that God handed down the Ten Commandments. In Exodus He also stipulated how the tabernacle was to be built, and how the priests were to be clothed and consecrated. Moses and the people have carefully followed the LORD’s instructions, and right at the end of Exodus, the tabernacle is completed. Every piece of furniture, and all the utensils, and the ark of the covenant are placed where they should be, and the priests stand ready to begin their work.

Then Exodus 40:34 says, “The cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” You could say that the people are used to the LORD’s cloud by now, for by it God has been showing his presence. On this day it means that He’s accepted the tabernacle as his earthly home, as a worthy place for worship. Things are looking good.

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? It’s in Exodus 40:35, “And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it.” He can’t get any closer to God, because of God’s overwhelming glory. It’s like getting too close to the woodstove or the fireplace when the door is open: you have to step back, or you’ll get burned. Moses can’t approach the tabernacle; and if he—the great mediator between God and man—is not able, who is able? Who can dwell in the house of the LORD?

It’s a moment of crisis. How can anyone draw near? Even though the LORD is about to solve this problem, and He’s already spoken about the ministry of the priests and a few of the sacrifices that He wants, this moment shows us something: the way into God’s presence needs to be opened. Ever since Adam and Even were removed from the Garden, sinners have been shut out from Him. Interaction with the LORD has to be made possible.

Leviticus solves the crisis. The sequel to Exodus shows how unholy people can come near the holy God. This is good news! It starts happening already in 1:1. In this verse, take notice of all the words of speaking: “And the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying…” It can’t be more emphatic: salvation comes at the Lord’s Word! God is taking the initiative to resolve this fundamental problem. And when we read through Leviticus, we’ll see that almost the entire book is presented as God’s own words. All along He is speaking to Moses. The voice comes out to him from behind the curtain of the tabernacle, as Moses the mediator listens outside.

Just think for a moment about that name in verse 1, “tabernacle of meeting.” It’s easy to skim over that name and miss the miracle. But meet with whom? Meet with God! For the first time since Paradise, this will be a fixed place where people can encounter the LORD. At the tent of meeting, the Israelites had a visual cue, a powerful reminder: Here, God is present, in his house. As God says in Leviticus 26:12, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” So when the Israelites later leave Sinai and continue their journey, the tent is placed right at the centre whenever they camp: God dwelling in their midst!

And through Moses, God will explain exactly how his people should approach Him there. Before this, there wasn’t a structured set of sacrifices, and no official priesthood. What’s more, the Israelites’ knowledge of such things was lacking. For centuries they’d been slaves in Egypt, a land of many false gods. Their concept of worship was very distorted. Toward the end of Exodus we can see their stubborn attachment to heathen rituals when they worship the golden calf.

So they need to be taught. And the teaching begins with the basics. Verse 2: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock.’” God uses here a general word here for offerings; shortly He’s going to get into different kinds of offerings, like the whole burnt offering (in this chapter), or the grain offering (chapter 2). But here’s a basic principle for worship: the people are allowed to bring sacrifices to God. Some are voluntary, some required.

In a way, this was familiar. We just said they didn’t have a system of sacrifice, but God’s people have always wanted to present their gifts to Him. Recall Abel’s sacrifice to the LORD in Genesis 4. Or how after the Flood, Noah presented burnt offerings. Then it wasn’t commanded in any law, but done as a holy instinct: if you want to acknowledge the LORD’s goodness to you, then you’ll give back to Him. So God reminds the people about where their sacrifices go: “When any of you brings an offering to the LORD” (v 2). In Leviticus you find that last phrase again and again; every act of worship is described as being “to the LORD.”

That also comes across very clearly when the worshipers bring their gifts right to “the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (v 3). If you can picture it, the tabernacle had this screened off courtyard around it. The Israelites would come into this area with their gifts—and there, in the inner court, they would see the large altar of burnt offering, and a basin for washing the sacrifices. Here is where people presented their offerings to God.

It probably would’ve been intimidating to enter that courtyard—even Moses hadn’t been able to go further than this! But they could always remember: God had graciously taken the initiative, and He’d opened the way. Without his mercy, they would’ve been locked out forever. But they can approach him, and meet with Him! For worship, for blessing, to hear his Word.

Now think for a moment of the rich privilege that is ours, beloved. The letter to the Hebrews says we are allowed to enter God’s presence “by a new and living way.” Because of the sacrifice of Christ and his work as our great high priest, we can go through the veil. We can enter the holiest place, and we “can draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:19-22).

It’s an amazing gift that we can meet with God on the Lord’s day, it’s a gift that we can walk with God all week. The LORD is not distant from us, but He has allowed us to come near, to encounter Him, to interact with Him. He is a consuming fire, the holy God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and the Judge of all, but He has spoken to us. He has promised that He will be our God, and that we can be his people! There is no more crisis, but in Jesus we can meet with God.

 

2) without blemish and complete: The first six chapters of Leviticus are all about sacrifice. That’s because God didn’t have a “one size fits all” approach to offerings. A sacrifice was made for a number of reasons: for example, it could express a person’s gratitude to the LORD, or his devotion to God, or his desire to have sin forgiven.

Compare it to how different our prayers can be from day to day, and even within the same day, the same hour. We don’t ignore circumstances and repeat the same words without thinking; we approach God with thought and consideration, for a wide range of reasons. So it was for the Israelites in their worship before the LORD.

In verse 3 we get into the first kind of sacrifice, the burnt offering, or the “whole burnt offering.” Why is this one first? Likely because this was the most common of all the sacrifices. It was performed every morning and evening, and more frequently on holy days.

In our chapter there are three varieties of burnt offerings, with the most valuable coming first. An Israelite might bring a sacrifice “of the herd” (v 3). This refers to larger cattle, such as a bull. A worshiper might also bring an offering “of the flocks” (v 10), a sheep or goat. Or if he was poor, someone might make an offering of a bird (v 14). For each of the three, the procedures are largely the same, but birds were handled a bit differently because they were so small.

Keep in mind that for an Israelite, the sacrifice of any of these animals was costly. A lot of us expect a serving of meat at every dinner time, but for the Israelites, meat was a rare luxury. They didn’t kill their animals so they could enjoy a sizzling steak or a tasty rack of lamb; they kept their animals for producing milk and wool and young ones. So how difficult it could be for them to see one of their animals being killed and burned at the tabernacle. They felt it: they were giving up something precious.

What’s more, for the different varieties of burnt offering, God insists that it be “a male without blemish” (v 3). We’ll see that with other sacrifices too. God requires that a male animal be brought, one that was more valuable. He also said that an animal should be without blemish: no broken bones, scabs, or skin diseases. What was the point of that? It’s because the quality of the offering can reveal the quality of the worshiper’s heart. For the Israelites, there was always the temptation to give something second-rate. Bring a wounded one—God still gets his animal, and it doesn’t cost you as much. But God sees through that, of course. He’s looking for a spirit of faith, a spirit of gratitude.

This is what David sings in Psalm 51, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (vv 16-17).

It’s not any different for us today. Listen to how Romans 12 puts it, “I beseech you therefore… by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (v 1). Notice how Paul still talks about sacrifices, even though temple worship ended with Christ’s death. Because we still have a duty as his priestly people. We know the incredibly high price that Jesus paid to open the way to God, so He calls us to a life of sacrifice: everything we are, everything we have, presented to the LORD.

And notice that our offerings too, must be “holy, acceptable to God.” For sometimes we too, are inclined to give God anything, as long as it’s something. So what if it’s second-rate, or whatever is left over? Have you ever given God whatever is left of your energy, after hours of work and leisure; whatever is left of your time, after another busy day; or have you given Him a bit of your money, once you’ve purchased all the things you wanted? I know that I have. But these are blemished offerings. Because you love God, give Him what is precious to you, not the things that you won’t really miss.

In Israel, an offering didn’t have to be expensive, by definition. In this passage, notice again the different possibilities for the people: a sacrifice to God could be a bull, or a lamb, or a goat—even some small birds. Nobody was discouraged from giving, as long as they gave in the real desire to worship his Name.

So what happens to these offerings of the people? When a person brought his animal to the tabernacle, he had to “put his hand on the head of the burnt offering” (v 4). The word “put” there is weak; the worshiper would actually lean on the head of the animal—holding it still with one hand, and pressing down with the other. This was a way for the worshiper to show his close relationship with the animal, to identify with it. He is showing that the animal is his substitute, that it’s going to take his place in the ritual before God. Instead of the sinful worshiper dying for his sin, this animal is going to die—and the worshiper will live.

Notice that the person who brings the animal does the killing, and the messier bits of the ritual. He removes the hide, and cuts up the animal in pieces for burning. The worshiper also needs to wash the intestines and inside of the legs, to remove any of the animal’s dung and uncleanness—the offering must be holy.

The worshiper is involved, but anything to do with the blood and the altar is the job of the priest. For instance, the blood is drained from the animal, and then the priest splashes it on the sides of the altar. Why do that? Because blood symbolizes life, and that life already belongs to God. By being splashed on the altar it is being returned at once to God, rather than being burned up as part of the gift.

The most notable feature of the burnt offering is that the whole animal was offered up to God. Apart from the blood and the skin, all of it was turned to smoke on the altar, and sent up before the LORD. Not just a portion, but everything was burned. Remember that the animal was standing in for the person worshiping—so this offering symbolizes that the person’s whole life is consecrated to God. This was a gift, given to show total dedication to the LORD.

For God desires the whole person: heart, soul, mind, and strength. That has always been true, whether in Leviticus or in Romans. Consider how that means we ought to be totally dedicated to God.

As one example, think of the hours you have every day, and what you spend those hours on. Can we say that all our time is like a gift for God, wholly devoted to Him? From 9 to 5 we try to work for God’s glory. We try to study at school, for his honour. We want our mealtimes and devotions to be holy. But then what about the countless minutes and hours that are lost, because we’re doing nothing worthwhile? Leviticus 1 teaches that God desires our whole offerings, our total devotion, our complete day for Him. Not the minimum, not the leftovers, but give it all to Him!

The whole burnt offering was a costly sacrifice, we said. The cost reminded the people of the great cost of sin, that the wages of sin is death. The animal you brought to the tabernacle died, instead of you! And the fact that the burnt offering was repeated day after day showed the need for regular forgiveness: God forgives his sinful people, and He allows them to draw near, only through sacrifices that are whole and complete, day by day.

That links us again to Christ. We said earlier that Jesus fulfills every word of Leviticus. And the first instance of that is in the burnt offering. He was the ultimate offering to God, because He was a spotless, sinless man. Like all the sacrifices that God wanted to atone for sin, Jesus was pure, the best of the lot, precious and holy.

Not only that, but Jesus identified with us as a man of flesh and blood. He became our substitute—and the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all. “You were redeemed,” Peter says, “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19). Christ was offered wholly, and sacrificed completely—right to the bitter end, his entire life was dedicated to God. It’s through Him alone that we sinners are accepted by God, forgiven and renewed.

 

3) as a sweet aroma to the LORD: In our text we can picture the event, the interaction between the worshiper, the priest, and God. It was dramatic—one might even say that worship today is dull by comparison. For the worshiper was actively involved: selecting an animal, bringing it to the tabernacle, killing it, cutting it apart, washing it, then watching it burn and ascending as smoke. He had lots to do.

Still, these verses don’t capture everything that is going on. These are the standard steps, but there are other steps that are implied, or left to the priest and the worshiper. For example, the sacrifice described seems to take place silently. They just go about their different tasks until it was done. But instead of taking place in silence, it’s likely that when the worshiper brought the animal, he explained why he was bringing it to the LORD. It’s possible too, that the worship would have recited or sung a psalm. Finally, the priest would probably have said something to the worshiper, to assure him that his sacrifice was accepted.

You also have to read carefully to see the purpose of this ritual. Look at verse 4, “Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” This sacrifice is about atoning, or making peace. Remember again the crisis at the end of Exodus: how can any sinner approach the holy God? This is the way: through sacrifice. God makes it possible to have fellowship with Him!

And it worked! Look at verse 9, “And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.” You hear that three times in our chapter, that the smoke of those burning animals ascends as a good smell to the LORD. If you’ve ever put a slab of meat on the barbecue, you know that it can smell amazing, and even make you hungrier than you were before: a sweet aroma. God enjoyed the smell of sacrifice—not that God has a nose, and not that He’s enticed by the things we are.

But this is what gives him pleasure: how these sacrifices express the faith of his people, their adoration, their longing for mercy. The burning meat on the altar was a sweet aroma to Him, because it means that his people want to draw near. And God allows them to. He won’t chase them away, or kill them for their sin, but He’ll be gracious. He’ll forgive, and grant peace.

Christ has come, and He’s offered the one perfect and pleasing sacrifice. Listen to Ephesians 5:2, “Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Our Mediator was pleasing to God. In life He gave to God what He really wanted: perfect obedience. And by his death He endured God’s wrath against all our sin. It cost Jesus everything, and God accepted it. He received the sacrifice of Jesus as an offering, a sweet aroma, an acceptable gift.

Because God accepted Him, God accepts us—He accepts all who believe in Christ. Jesus opens the way for us to know God, to speak with God, to live with God. Such a great love makes us think of Romans 12:1 once again: In view of God’s rich mercies in Christ Jesus, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. This is your reasonable service.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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