One of the most difficult things for me on my recent mission trip to Bulgaria was the language. I am typically fairly good at languages, and when I go on mission trips I can usually speak some of the language by the time I get home. But this time in Bulgaria I wasn’t as successful — I’m afraid some of it may be age! — but I also think also some of it is that they have a different alphabet. They use the Cyrillic alphabet, in which some of the letters are the same as ours, some of the letters are the same as ours but mean something different, and some of the letters are different altogether. And I just never did get the hang of it. I was so relieved when we went to Philippi and I could read the signs, because they were in Greek!
So the alphabet is so important. That’s one of the first things our kids, and our grand kids, had to learn, to be able to read. The letters of the alphabet are the building blocks of reading, and all the big words and concepts in our language won’t make any sense to us until we learn the basic concepts of those A-B-C’s first.
As we come to Leviticus in our Old Testament reading, I know that a lot of people get “bogged down” in this book, reading about all the sacrifices and the laws of uncleanness. (By the way, that’s one reason why I’m glad we do the three different readings each day; if you have a difficult one like we did in Leviticus today, you still have a Psalm and Mark to get some more accessible spiritual “food” from for the day!).
But what we find here in Leviticus IS important, because here God was giving His people the building blocks; the “A-B-C’s” of faith. Before the people would be ready to hear the message of a Messiah who died for their sins, they first had to learn the “A-B-C’s” of theological language: they had to learn about sin, and sacrifice, and forgiveness. Once they had learned that, then later when Jesus came later and John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” people knew what sin was, and the forgiveness that the sacrifice of a lamb can bring. So in Leviticus God gave His people the “spiritual A-B-C’s”, that would help us understand what Jesus would later bring us when He came.
So this morning as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let’s look back at some of these “A-B-C’s” in Leviticus, and see what it teaches us about the sacrifice Jesus made, that brings about the forgiveness of our sins and satisfies God.
I. The Sacrifice:
Leviticus 1 begins 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 minute ago, God was 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: “Behold the LAMB OF GOD who takes away the sin of the world.” John was saying that all these lambs in all those sacrifices of Leviticus and elsewhere in the Old Testament were ultimately pointing to Jesus.
— Jesus was “the lamb of God”
— Jesus was the “male without defect” who would be offered as the sacrifice that would satisfy God for our sins.
This is something we can see, not only here in Leviticus, but as we read all through the Bible together, every book, even in the Old Testament, ultimately 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 continue to read through our Old Testament readings this year. Jesus is going to be on every page we read!
— In Numbers He’ll be the serpent on the pole, that whoever looks to Him will be saved.
— In Deuteronomy He’ll be “the prophet like me,” Moses, who said, to whom we all need to pay attention.
— In Joshua that name is literally “Yeshua,” which points forward to the ultimate “Joshua,” Jesus, who will bring us into the ultimate Promised Land, heaven.
And so it will be in every book of the Bible we read. Jesus will be there on every page. So look for Him! And here in Leviticus, these sacrifices point 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. But not long after he began giving, they came to him and said that he had a rare antibody in his blood which would be helpful in saving babies from illness and death. No one else they knew in Australia had this antibody. So Harrison gave blood every week for the past 60 years! They call him “The Man With The Golden Arm,” and they say that 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). 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! Only He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin,” Hebrews says. 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 claim that He is the only way because we’re trying to be bigoted or narrow-minded; no, we say that 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.
So these scriptures in Leviticus point to the sacrifice.
II. The Substitute
Beginning in Leviticus 1:4, and throughout this book, we see where God commands the person making the sacrifice to “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 sacrifice is taking place for ME, and for MY sins.
Leviticus is picturing for us the 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:
— In Genesis God provided a ram in the place of Abraham’s son; which foreshadows Jesus taking our place as our substitutionary atonement.
— In Exodus 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.
— Here in Leviticus when they laid their hand on the head of that sacrifice, and the animal died in their place, it was a picture of Jesus as our substitute.
So again, in virtually every book of the Old Testament, we’re seeing this idea of “substitution,” of someone taking the place for someone else. God is giving us these “A-B-C’s” to help us understand that Jesus was coming to die FOR US; as a substitute, in our place.
One of those scriptures is Isaiah 53, one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament which prophesies that the Messiah would be our substitute. Verses 4-5 of Isaiah 53 say:
— “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 see that “substitution” over and over in those verses: “OUR griefs/HE bore; “OUR sorrows/HE carried;” and so on. 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’ 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, who looked just like this other man, dressed himself as a clergyman, and went in to visit him. In the jail, he switched places with this man, sent him out instead, and went to the guillotine in his place. In the climactic scene, facing death in this man’s place, Sydney Carton utters what has become one of the most famous lines in all of history: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done.” And surely that was true for Sydney Carton. He had wasted most of his life with sinful living; he was indeed doing a far better thing than he had ever done before by dying as a substitute in this good man’s place.
But that 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 suddenly burst 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 of people by His blood. It was the “far, far” greatest thing that was ever been done, anywhere, any time, in all the history of the world, when Jesus became the Substitute for us at the cross.
And Leviticus introduces that idea, of Jesus being our Substitute, when it led the Israelites to put their hand on the head of the sacrifice, indicating, “This is for ME!” The question for YOU is: have you realized that Jesus did that for you? Do you realize that He took your place on the cross; He paid for your sin with His body; so that YOU don’t have to try to save yourself. Are you trusting what Jesus did — or are you still trying to somehow “earn” favor with God by your good deeds? If you’ve never done it before, put your trust in what Jesus did for you on the cross, as your Substitute.
III. The Satisfaction
Then beginning in Leviticus 1:4 and throughout this book, it says these offerings are brought “that he may be accepted before the Lord.” The Hebrew Bible word there means “to be pleased with,” “accepted favorably.” When the offering that God calls for is made the way He commanded, that sacrifice is “accepted;” it “pleases” God. It makes us right with Him.
This is so important because all through history, and all over the world, people have tried to 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 really take away sin.
— We read later on that the priests of Baal cut themselves and shed their own blood as a sacrifice, but that didn’t move God; it’s not what He wanted.
— 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. People keep trying to do more and more, because they know deep inside that their “sacrifices” are not acceptable to God; they are not making them right with Him; they are not giving them the access to God that they desire.
After the shooting of President James A. Garfield in 1881, the President languished with the bullet, unseen and inside. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, came by and visited Doctor Bliss, who was attending the President, with hopes that he could devise a machine which would indicate the location of the bullet. Before leaving, Bell turned to Brown and handed him a small gift for the President’s wife that he had carried on his lap from Boston. And then the doctor handed Bell something in return, something that he had given to only a very few people—a card that gave the bearer access to the White House at any time, day or night.”
(Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic, pp. 174-175)
That’s what we are all seeking — not just access to a President, but access to God. Our way to Him has been blocked by our sin, and all of our sacrifices and good efforts are not enough to give us access back to Him. But when Jesus died on the cross for us, He gave us, in essence, “the card that gives us access” to God. His sacrifice was enough.
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:
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ, I live.”
Did you catch 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, giving us access to Him both now, and forever.
But we need to realize that this access was not something that we bought for ourselves; no, we could never have done it. It was only bought for us by what Jesus did on the cross for us. That’s what these “A-B-C’s” of Leviticus are teaching us. “The male without defect” took our place as the sacrifice that satisfied God, to give us access back to Him.
So this morning, as we share together in this Lord’s Supper; we aren’t doing this as some “good deed,” hoping that it will satisfy God and bring us acceptance 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, and commit, and re-commit ourselves, to Him as we pray …