Summary: Christ jumps out at us from almost every page of Leviticus - and when Christ jumps out at you it will change your life! This sermon provides an overview of the sacrifical system in Leviticus and its meaning for Christians in the light of Easter.
One of the most famous Christians in the world would have to be Billy Graham. He is a great preacher who has spoken about Jesus to many millions of people all over the world during the past 50 years or so; he has been a personal adviser and pastor to Presidents; a rarity among American evangelists in he is one man who is universally regarded as someone of the highest moral character.
Yet his reputation has had a black spot put onto it recently after the release of some audio tapes from the office of the President in the early 1970’s. Among the hundreds of hours of conversations in those tapes are some in which Billy Graham is heard to agree with statements that Nixon made that are racially prejudiced against Jewish people.
Billy Graham responded to these tapes a few weeks ago, sincerely apologising for the comments, saying they were wrong and that he honestly does not believe they reflect his true feelings towards Jewish people, then, since or now. He asks the Jewish community to reflect on his actions on behalf of Jews over the years that, he says, contradict his words in the Oval Office that day.
His statement concludes with the following words:
" ... we all need God’s forgiveness. I take daily comfort in the Psalmist’s words in the Old Testament: "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). Every year during their High Holy Days, the Jewish community reminds us all of our need for repentance and forgiveness. God’s mercy and grace give me hope -- for myself, and for our world."
It is quite a powerful statement, expressing sincere humility and repentance for a wrong done. It also reminds us that our roots as Christians go deep into the history and culture and religion of the Jewish people. I was impressed by his final comment about the way the Jewish High Holy Days remind us of our need for repentance and forgiveness.
Next weekend we celebrate the “high holy days” of the Christian church – Good Friday and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate God’s once and for all provision of mercy and grace for all the world – God’s sacrifice of His own Son, which brought to fulfilment the sacrifices of Old Testament times. No longer is there any need for sacrifices to be made over and over again, because the sacrifice God has provided in Christ is perfect and complete.
In order to fully understand the sacrifice of Christ, it is helpful for us to understand those old practices that were done away by what He did that first Easter weekend. Tonight we are going to spend a few minutes looking at the OT sacrificial system, in order to gain a greater appreciation of how perfect and complete Jesus’ sacrifice was and why Easter is something to celebrate. Turn with me to the 3rd book of the Bible, Leviticus.
Leviticus is probably not the first book many of you would turn to if you wanted some inspiring pre-Easter reading. It does seem a little dry and repetitive. However, when you read Leviticus with “New Testament coloured glasses” Jesus jumps out at us from every page.
And when Jesus jumps out at you it is a life changing experience.
The Sacrificial System in Practice
The first thing you notice when you read Leviticus is that there was not just one sacrifice. There is a whole system of sacrifices, each with a different purpose. The early chapters describe 5 types of sacrifice, and then in chapter 16 there is an additional, extra special annual sacrifice on The Day of the Atonement. We are going to concentrate tonight on the regular sacrifices, the 5 described in the early chapters.
These 5 sacrifices are discussed several times in the early chapters of the book, each time in a different order. The order I will follow is the one in Chapter 9, when we see the sacrificial system in practice. However, the detail of each comes from chapters 1 – 6.
The first sacrifice – sin offering (Lev 4)
This was a sacrifice that had to be offered by everyone in the community – including the priests and rulers as well as ordinary people. For the person offering the sacrifice it achieved forgiveness for sins committed in ignorance or unintentionally. The important part of this sacrifice is the blood of the animal that is offered up – in fact the flesh was cut away and served as food for the priests, and only the innards were actually burnt.
One of the things Jesus said as he hung on the cross was, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus is our sin offering, the one whose death pays the penalty for all the things that we have done because of our fallen human nature. We like to kid ourselves that we have free will, but the Bible teaches us that it is impossible for human beings to choose anything but to sin – that is our nature, from the time we are conceived in our mother’s wombs. Think of Romans 5, where the apostle Paul talks about us as being by nature God’s enemies, of being ungodly and helpless to do anything about it.