Summary: An explanation of the sin offering described in Leviticus 4 & 5 and how this relates to the role of Christ as the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice.
In Romans 7:23, the Apostle Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That’s the take-home message of this sermon.
If you have to leave early, or if talking about blood makes you squeamish, or if the Levitical details of the sacrificial system make your eyes glaze over, write this down now. This is the take-home message: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, formed them into a people chosen to be a blessing to the world, and gave them the law, he also gave them instructions concerning four types of sacrificial offerings.
The most general was the burnt offering, in which the whole animal was burned. Though a burnt offering carried some aspects of atonement for sin, it was mostly an act of worship—an expression of devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God. The burnt offering was voluntary.
The grain offering was another act of worship and devotion—acknowledging God’s goodness and provision. The grain offering was voluntary.
The fellowship offering was also an act of worship—expressing especially thanksgiving and symbolizing peace, communion, and fellowship among the one offering the sacrifice, the priest mediating the sacrifice, and God, who received the sacrifice. The fellowship offering was voluntary.
The fourth type of sacrifice was the sin offering. (There was also the guilt offering, but it was basically a variation of the sin offering.) Unlike the other three types of sacrifices, the sin offering was more an act of preparation for worship. Unlike the other three types of sacrifices, the sin offering was mandatory. Whenever an individual or the community as a whole became aware of having committed a sin, a sin offering was required.
You know, I never much liked reading Leviticus. In fact, I don’t know too many people who would list Leviticus among their favorite books of the Bible. It used to be that if I thought about Leviticus much at all, I would mutter to myself something like this: “I’m sure God had some reason for including Leviticus in the canon, but I sure don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it. What’s with all the focus on blood, anyway? And sacrifices! Why would a gracious, loving God—the God I know from the rest of the Bible, the God I know in Jesus Christ—require sacrifices?”
Leviticus chapters 4 and 5, along with the rest of the Bible, suggest at least two answers to that question.
1. Sin is a deadly serious matter. Genesis makes clear that when sin entered creation, so did death. Sin breaks in between the holy God of creation who gives life, and his creatures who are dependent on him for life, resulting in alienation…and death. Only when a substitute for the sinner gives its life, can the sinner be reconciled to God, and his life in God be restored.
I suppose God, being God, could choose to forgive without the giving of a life as the cost of redemption, but that would be like saying the brokenness caused by sin doesn’t matter to him. That would be like saying that, not only does he love us despite our brokenness (which he does), but he is willing to let us remain in our brokenness (which he isn’t). God loves us more than that. God wants us back—and he wants us back whole, unbroken by the sin that separated us from him in the first place.
God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt to be his chosen people, chosen by him to be a vehicle of his self-revelation to the world. He wanted them to know the seriousness of sin. And he wanted them to have a provisional way to be redeemed from their sin, until the coming of Christ made all other sacrifice unnecessary. The elaborate ritual of the sin offering described in Leviticus 4 and 5 reflected the seriousness of sin and provided a provisional redemption from sin. When individuals placed their hands upon the animal to be sacrificed, the animal symbolically became their substitute, and its blood was shed for their forgiveness.
Sin is a deadly serious matter.
2. With the sin offering, God also did something more—he provided a model, a type, a pre-figuration of Christ’s act upon the cross. When Christ died, he served as both the priest and the sacrifice.
When Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Supper, he said to them, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ blood is enough to cover the sin of every person who comes to God through him. Without the sin offering that came before, it would be difficult for us to grasp this aspect of the depth of meaning of the cross of Christ.