Our little grandbaby girls are learning to read! But before they can actually understand the great concepts they can learn from reading, they must first master the “A-B-C’s.” The “A-B-C’s are the building blocks of reading, and all those big words and ideas won’t make any sense to them until they learn the basic concepts of those letters first.
As we come to Leviticus in our Old Testament reading, we read all these commands about lambs, and sacrifices, and blood —what is all this about? God was giving His people the building blocks; the “A-B-C’s” of faith. Before they would be ready to receive a Messiah who died for their sins, God first had to give us the basic theological alphabet of sin, and sacrifice, and forgiveness. When Jesus came later and John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” people would not have known what “sin” was, or the forgiveness that the sacrifice of a lamb brought, etc., unless God has first given His people the “spiritual A-B-C’s” in Leviticus, to help us understand what Jesus would later bring us.
So today as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper this morning, let’s look back at these “A-B-C’s” in Leviticus, and remember how it shows us that the sacrifice Jesus made brings about the forgiveness of our sins and satisfies God.
I. The Sacrifice:
Leviticus opens by talking about a sacrifice that would be made. It says:
:2 “of animals from the herd or from the flock”
:3 says specifically that it must be “a male without defect”
So God told His people that when they made sacrifices to Him, it had to be a sheep or calf, and specifically “a male without defect.”
As we said just a moment ago, God is giving His people the “A-B-C’s” of faith. He is pointing forward to the Perfect Lamb who would one day be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins: Jesus Christ.
The Book of Isaiah, predicting that the Messiah would come and die for our sins, said He would be like a lamb: “As a lamb that is led to slaughter, and a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
If you remember, when John the Baptist saw Jesus in John 1:29 he called out to all who saw Him: “Behold the LAMB OF GOD who takes away the sin of the world.” He was saying that all these lambs in all those sacrifices of Leviticus and elsewhere in the Old Testament were talking about Jesus.
— Jesus was “the lamb of God”
— Jesus was “a male without defect” who would be offered as the sacrifice that would satisfy God for our sins.
This is something we need to look for not only here in Leviticus, but as we read all through the Bible: every book, even in the Old Testament, points forward to Jesus:
— In Genesis Jesus is the One who said “Let there be light,” and made the heavens and the earth.
— In Exodus Jesus was the Passover Lamb whose blood was dabbed on the doorpost that caused the death angel to pass over God’s people.
— And now here in Leviticus, JESUS is the lamb of the sacrifice. HE is the “male without defect;” HE is “the lamb of God.” HE is the perfect sacrifice that takes away our sin.
Watch for this as we read through our Old Testament readings this year. Jesus is going to be on every page! And here as we start Leviticus, it points to Jesus as the One perfect sacrifice who can take away our sin.
One of the things Leviticus shows us is that you can’t just make “whatever” sacrifice you want to, and put it on the altar. It had to be what God required: the blood of perfect male without blemish — which again foreshadows Jesus. It was only that blood that would work.
In the 1950’s, there was a man in Australia by the name of James Harrison, who had surgery as a child and received some blood, so out of gratitude he began to donate blood back. Not long after he began giving, they came to him and said that he had a rare antibody in his blood which might be helpful in saving babies from illness and death. No one else they knew in Australia had this antibody. So Harrison has given blood every week for the past 60 years! They call him “The Man With The Golden Arm,” and they say his blood with that rare antibody has saved 2 MILLION Australian babies from sickness and death!
That is an amazing true story! Now someone might say: “I want to do that; I want to be like that man and give MY blood for those babies.” That is a good desire (and I think, by the way, that giving blood is one of the most Christlike things a person can do. Jesus gave His blood for us, and when we give our blood to others, we are being like Him. We are having a blood drive here Wednesday night, and there are still some signup spots on the bulletin board; I hope you’ll go sign up!) But as far as those babies in Australia, the truth is, not just anybody’s blood would work to save them. The blood had to have that rare antibody; and only that one man had it.
And that’s what Leviticus is trying to get us to understand. It’s not just any blood that will work as the sacrifice to make us right with God. It had to a perfect Lamb; it had to be “a male without defect;” and the only perfect “male without defect” that ever walked this earth was Jesus Christ! That’s why JESUS is the one and only sacrifice for sin.
That’s why Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus wasn’t just trying to be exclusive by saying that. As Jesus’ followers today we don’t say that He is the only way because we’re trying to be bigoted or narrow-minded; we do it because He really IS the only way. There is no other blood that will work to save us. That’s why when Jesus cried out before going to face the wrath of God at the cross: “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from Me,” God sent Him ahead to the cross: because there was no other blood that would work; there was no other lamb that would save. Jesus is the One and only Lamb of sacrifice. If you want to be saved today, and know that your sins are forgiven and that you will be in heaven with God forever, you must put your faith in Jesus. He is the only Lamb of sacrifice whose blood will save you.
II. The Substitution
:4“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf”
Here is a second important symbol of these Levitical sacrifices. When the person put their hand on the head of the lamb, God said that sacrifice was “accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” In other words, when you put your hand on that lamb, you were saying, this is for ME! The punishment that is coming on the lamb should have been coming to ME: this is happening for ME, and for MY sins.
Leviticus is picturing for us the great SUBSTITUTION that takes place in salvation: that Jesus, “the lamb of God,” as we have seen, takes our place and suffers and dies for us in our stead.
Again, we will see this idea of SUBSTITUTION pictured all through the Old Testament, and every time we do, we need to remember that it is Jesus who is the ultimate Substitute:
— When they laid their hand on the head of that sacrifice here in Leviticus, and the animal died in their place, it was a picture of Jesus as our substitute.
— When the Passover Lamb was killed to save the family’s firstborn, it was a picture of Jesus who died in our place to save us.
— It is interesting that in Genesis God provided a lamb in the place of Abraham’s son; and in the New Testament, God provides a Son, who takes the place of the lamb! He is our Substitute!
— Isaiah 53, one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament which prophesies what Jesus would do for us when He came, repeatedly emphasizes the “substitutionary” aspect of His suffering for us in :4-5:
— “Surely OUR griefs HE Himself bore”
— “And OUR sorrows HE carried”
— “HE was pierced through for OUR transgressions”
— “HE was crushed for OUR iniquities”
— “the chastening for OUR well-being fell upon HIM”
— “and by HIS stripes, WE are healed.”
— It goes on to say “All WE like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to His own way, but the Lord has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all.”
Do you hear that “substitution” over and over in those verses: “OUR griefs/HE bore; “OUR sorrows/HE carried; “WE … have gone astray/the Lord has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all.” At least SEVEN times there in those two verses in Isaiah 53 it emphasizes the SUBSTITUTIONARY nature of what Jesus would do on the cross. He did what He did, for US! Just like the lamb in Leviticus, HE took OUR place and died for us the cross.
One of the great stories of English literature is Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. At the end of it, a debauched lawyer by the name of Sydney Carton, takes the place of a good man, who had been unjustly condemned to die on the guillotine. Carton looked just like this other man, and dressed as a clergyman, he went in to visit him, switched places with him, and sent him out. In the climactic ending, facing death in this man’s place, Sydney Carton utters the famous line: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done.” And surely that was true for him. In the story he had wasted much of his life with alcohol; he was doing a far better thing than he had ever done before by dying as a substitute in this good man’s place.
But it is even more true for Jesus. Think of it: Jesus was the One who made all things in the beginning. He said “Let there be light,” and 200 billion galaxies flamed into existence! Jesus was the One who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and went before Israel and parted the Red Sea, and made it stand up like a wall on either side of them! Nothing like that had ever been done in all the history of the world! But at the cross, even Jesus, who had done all this, could say: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than ever I have done before.” Because in this once-and-for-all death on the cross, Jesus became our substitute, and bore all the sins of the world in His body at one time, and He saved multiplied millions by His blood. It was “far, far” the greatest thing that had ever been done, anywhere, any time, in all the history of the world, when Jesus became the Substitute for us at the cross.
III. The Satisfaction
Verse 3 says this offering is brought “that he may be accepted before the Lord.”
Verse 9 says that this substitutionary offering of the lamb is “an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord.” When it says “soothing aroma” it means it “smells good” to God; this is what He wants. It pleases Him; God is satisfied by it.
This is so important because all through history, and all over the world, people have tried to be “accepted,” and satisfy God with their offerings — but they have failed:
— We read in Genesis 4:4 that Cain offered “some of the fruit of the ground” but “the Lord had no regard for it.” It didn’t please Him.
— Israel offered these animal sacrifices in Leviticus but Hebrews 10:4 tells us the blood of bulls and goats never did take away sin.
— We read later on that the priests of Baal cut themselves and shed their own blood as a sacrifice.
— the followers of Molech went even further and offered their own children as burnt sacrifices, hoping to satisfy their god.
— people still today try to make “sacrifices” to put themselves right with God: they make big contributions to charity; they serve charitable organizations; they perform different religious rites — all in the search to justify themselves with God.
But NONE of these things really satisfies the justice and righteousness of God, and in our hearts we know that.
A couple of years ago a young man in Missouri was given a 30-day prison sentence for molesting a child, and people were in an uproar. It was not right; it did not satisfy justice.
But in the same way you sometimes hear people say, why did Jesus have to “die on the cross” for our sins; why can’t God “just skip over them” and forgive them. But He can’t do that. God is a holy God; He is a just God. He cannot do what is unjust. He can’t just “skip over” our sins; His justice must be satisfied. And that is the Divine Genius in what God did with Jesus. Jesus went to the cross and died as the sacrificial payment for our sins; so now God can forgive our sins because justice HAS been done. As Romans 3:26 says, through Jesus’ death on the cross, God can be “just and the justifier” of the one who has faith in Christ. It is not “unjust” for Him to forgive us; the price has been paid.
When Jesus died on the cross, He cried out: “It is finished.” The justice and wrath of God had been satisfied by His death. It’s just like the great new hymn “In Christ Alone” says:
“On the cross where Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ, I live.”
You hear that? “On the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” SATISFIED”! So now you don’t have to try to please God by covering up your own sins by doing good things or going to church or giving money — we should do these things because we’re grateful, but not to satisfy God; He’s already been satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross. His sacrifice on the cross was a “soothing aroma to the Lord” and satisfied God for the payment of our sins.
I post the text of my sermons each week on my blog at shawnethomas.com, and this week someone from Texas wrote to thank me for it. But she also had a question: she said my sermon indicated that a holy life is an indication of a person who knows the Lord. But she said, some of the people with the “cleanest” lifestyles she knows are Mormons — “what say you” about them?
I told her that there is a balance in these truths that we have to be careful to keep. Sometimes we need to emphasize one aspect of the truth or the other, depending on the group you are speaking to. Last Sunday I was speaking to Southern Baptists, who unfortunately are notorious for saying they know Jesus as their Savior, but not showing it by the way the live. The challenge many of these people need to hear is that if you really know Jesus, you are going to be serious about living a holy life.
But the other side of the coin is that there are also a lot of people like she was talking about — not only Mormons but many others as well — who are trying to live “clean” lives in the hope that they will somehow satisfy God and make themselves acceptable to Him. What these kinds of people need to hear is that you do not need to try to “satisfy” God by living a “clean” life. Maybe this is YOU. If so you need to understand that you can NEVER clean your life up enough to satisfy God. What you need to hear is that the wrath of God has already been satisfied by Jesus’ death on the cross. You just need to put your trust in what He has already done for you.
See, this morning, as we share together in this Lord’s Supper; we need to understand that we aren’t doing it so that we will satisfy God and be accepted before Him. No, we are taking this Lord’s Supper today in CELEBRATION — that the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood has already, totally, and perfectly satisfied God and made us acceptable to Him! Let’s thank Him for that …