Part III: The Rich Splendor of Christ's Sacrifice
C H A P T E R 11
What draws us to
Christ on the cross (Jn 12:32)? Like the Hope diamond, Christ's sacrifice
is rich in splendor. You cannot see the full beauty of a diamond by
viewing it from only one direction. The richness of its splendor is found
in the varieties of rainbow light reflected from its facets. Just so, you
must look at Christ's sacrifice from various angles to experience the full
magnificence of Christ's sacrifice explains why there were different kinds
of animal sacrifices at the Israelite sanctuary (Lev 1-7). It is true that
all of the ancient sacrifices pointed forward to Christ's sacrifice (Jn
1:29; Heb 9:25-28). But no single kind of animal sacrifice could possibly
express even the basic aspects of what Christ has done.
sacrifices lay out the meaning of Christ's sacrifice the way physiology
textbooks show organisms dissected into parts so that they might be
understood. Leviticus reads in some places like a handbook of veterinary
biology, with detailed instructions of what to do with animals. But when
we grasp the full picture, it explodes into our consciousness and etches
our Savior indelibly into our minds and hearts.
When we come to the
Hope diamond, we are drawn by its beauty. We gaze at it for a few minutes
and then move on to another fabulous gem in the Museum of Natural History.
We come and then go. There is no compelling reason to stay. But with
Christ on the cross it is different. Just as Scott O'Grady was drawn to a
helicopter because his life depended on it, Christ draws us so that He
might rescue our lives. The facets of His sacrifice are more than
beautiful; each of them reaches out and offers us life.
Israelite sacrifices emphasized various aspects of Christ's sacrifice. The
most important differences appeared in connection with the treatment of
blood and flesh. To what parts of an altar was the blood of an animal
applied and who received the flesh? The following chart summarizes the
major kinds of sacrifices with regard to the way in which blood and flesh
were handled. Italics indicate a feature that is unique to a given
sacrifice. For example, only in the burnt offering did all of the flesh go
to the Lord.
Blood on altar
Flesh went to:
Lev 3; 7:11-36
Lev 4-5:13; 6:24-30
Lev 5:14-19; 7:1-7
*except when the offerer is a priest (see for example Lev
We will investigate
these sacrifices in greater detail later, but here is a preview of how the
unique aspects of the animal sacrifices pointed to Christ.
The flesh of a burnt
offering went to the Lord when it was burned upon His altar. No person
could eat any of the flesh. Burnt offerings, which were wholly consumed,
pointed to the fact that Christ's offering of Himself completely consumed
offerings went to the Lord and to the priests, they obviously did not
involve blood or flesh at all. Nevertheless, they were sacrifices of basic
food that acknowledged the benefit of Christ's life-giving power for His
Part of the flesh of a
well-being offering (also translated "peace offering" or "fellowship
offering") was eaten by the offerer. This kind of offering foreshadowed
the benefit of Christ's life for those who accept it into their own lives.
In a sin offering (or
"purification offering") the blood was applied to the horns of the
outer altar (= altar of burnt offering) or of the altar of incense rather
than to the sides of the outer altar. So blood was elevated in
importance, emphasizing that Christ's blood ransoms our lives.
The blood of a guilt
offering was not applied to the horns of an altar as in a sin offering. A
guilt offering was preceded by literal payment of reparation/restitution
to God or man. This shows that sin creates debt that must be paid by
Christ's sacrifice even when we take care of our responsibility to make
wrongs right as best we can.
It is only when we
look at all of the sacrifices that we get a balanced picture of
Christ's sacrifice. The Bible makes it clear that Christ's sacrifice pays
a debt for sins that we have committed and also transforms our lives by
His power. Both kinds of benefits are essential for our salvation. To be
without one or the other is like losing a wheel on a mountain bike. You
don't go very far on that kind of an unbalanced unicycle!
Although the book of
Leviticus is packed with information about Christ's sacrifice, it is often
neglected. One reason for this is that many people naturally want to jump
straight to the New Testament and read about "the real thing." But if we
ignore the Old Testament textbook that teaches us about "the real thing,"
we will miss a lot. A medical student studies textbooks that explain the
human body with pictures and diagrams so that when he actually examines a
patient he understands what he is looking at.
Another reason why
Leviticus is neglected is because some modern readers are turned off by
all the blood and gore. Animal sacrifices are distressing to people like
myself who love animals. It is true that ancient Israelites would not be
as sensitive as we are because they slaughtered their own animals for
food. But if our loving God is concerned about every creature, even a
little sparrow (Lk 12:6), how could He command His people to kill so many
God is more sensitive
than we are. Every time an animal was slaughtered, God must have suffered.
But apparently there was no other adequately effective way to impress on
people the life and death consequences of their choices about God and sin.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). A sacrifice was God's "altar call"
to life through the death of His Son.
To wake people up to
long range consequences so that they might be saved, God is willing to use
means like sacrifices, which in the short run are drastic and even
painful. Another example of God's relentless mercy is the case of
Ezekiel's wife, who died at the Lord's hand as a sign to his people that
Jerusalem and the temple would be captured because of their sins (Ezek
24:15-27). No sermon that the prophet Ezekiel could have preached would
have had that kind of impact. The death of Ezekiel's wife is only
temporary, like sleep (compare Jn 11:11-14), and through her death, her
people had a better opportunity to be saved.
When we study animal
sacrifices, we should keep in mind that their suffering at slaughter was
kept to a minimum because their throats were slit and they quickly went
unconscious from loss of blood. This suffering was slight in comparison to
that of Jesus, to which the animal sacrifices pointed. In the Garden of
Gethsemane and on the cross Jesus endured incomparable mental and physical
agony. The stress was so great that His body was disintegrating from the
inside out: When a soldier pierced His body with a spear, water came out
with blood (Jn 19:34).
We come to Christ
lifted up on the cross because His beauty shines out in all directions.
But this is not outward beauty like the kind we find in the Hope diamond.
As the prophet Isaiah foresaw, the suffering of God's Servant was hideous
and gruesome. In outward physical terms, Christ was more likely to repel
than to attract.
Just as there were
many who were astonished at him – so marred was his appearance, beyond
human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals – so he shall startle
many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which
had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard
they shall contemplate. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom
has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a
young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty
that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should
desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and
acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he
was despised, and we held him of no account (Isa 52:14-53:3).
It is only when we
recognize Christ's self-sacrificing love for us that we see the glory. It
is not the awesome splendor that the Israelites saw at Sinai. It is not
the brilliant magnificence that the prophets saw in vision. But it is
glory, by which He glorified His Father by accomplishing His work. Just
before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He prayed:
"Father, the hour has
come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have
given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you
have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only
true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by
finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in
your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the
world existed" (Jn 17:1-5).
Here is glory brighter
than a thousand suns, glory that makes the Hope diamond look like a
C H A P T E R 12
Through animal sacrifices, the Israelites experienced
what Christ was going to do for them. These sacrifices were
not "the real thing." But although Christ had not yet died
for them, the people could embrace the promise of His
sacrifice as a firm reality, as if He had already died.
A burnt offering, in which all of the flesh was consumed
by fire (Lev 1), promised that Christ would allow His life to
be totally consumed for us. But before looking further into
the ways in which a burnt offering pointed to Christ's
sacrifice, we should pause to consider the meaning of a burnt
offering for an ancient Israelite. After all, Leviticus
wasn't written only for those of us who live after Christ's
death. It was originally written for Israelites. If we
understand their experience, we will be in a better position
to grasp what applies to us.
Let's begin by reading the directions for one burnt
offering ritual as they are recorded in Leviticus 1:3-9.
Remember that when we read Leviticus, we should distinguish
between two kinds of information: descriptions of physical
actions and indications regarding meanings that are attached
to those actions. To help us do this, I will quote Jacob
Milgrom's translation of Leviticus 1:3-9, with physical
actions identified by italics and meanings identified by bold
type. These verses give instructions for a burnt offering of
a large herd animal such as a bull. It is a private offering
of an individual Israelite and it is voluntary rather than
3 If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he
shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to
the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, for acceptance on
his behalf before the Lord. 4 He shall lean his hand
on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be
acceptable in his behalf, to expiate for him. 5 The
bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord, and Aaron's
sons, the priests, shall present the blood and dash the
blood against all sides of the altar which is at the
entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 6 The burnt offering
shall be flayed and quartered. 7 The sons of Aaron the
priest shall stoke the fire on the altar and lay out
wood upon the fire. 8 Then Aaron's sons, the
priests, shall lay out the quarters, with the
head and suet, on the wood that is on the fire
upon the altar. 9 Its entrails and shins shall be
washed with water, and the priest shall turn all
of it into smoke on the altar as a burnt
offering, a food gift of pleasing aroma to the
Lord. (Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16 [Anchor
Bible Series, New York: Doubleday, 1991], p.
Some explanations regarding Milgrom's translation
will be helpful:
In verses 3, 4 and 9, "the Lord" translates YHWH
(Yahweh), the personal name of Israel's God.
In verse 4, "to expiate" means "to make
In verse 6, "flayed" refers to removing the
animal's hide and "quartered" means cutting the animal
in pieces, without which it would have been difficult
to put a bull on the altar without a crane.
In verse 8, "suet" is hard fat.
In verse 9, "food gift" renders a Hebrew word
that is usually understood to mean "offering by fire."
The idea of "gift" or "food gift" is supported by
comparison with a related Ugaritic word that means
"gift," and it fits Hebrew usage in that the word
applies to sacrificial gifts of food to the Lord, such
as burnt offerings (Num 28:2) and well-being offerings
(Lev 3:11, 16). However, the word does not appear with
reference to sin offerings, which constituted token
payments of debt to the Lord, as we shall see later.
If the Hebrew word designated any offering of which at
least a part was burned in the fire on the altar, as
the translation "offering by fire" indicates, we would
expect it to apply to sin offerings, of which suet/fat
portions were burned on the altar (Lev 4:8-10, 19, 26,
For practical reasons, two activities must be
understood to take place in addition to the activities
explicitly mentioned in Leviticus 1:3-9. First, at the
moment of slaughter, when the throat of the animal was
slit, the priest would need to collect the blood in a
basin so that he could then present it at the altar
(compare 2 Chron 29:22). Second, after the fire was
tended and before the quarters, head, and suet/fat
were arranged on the altar, these parts would be
"presented" (brought) to the altar (compare Lev
Following are aspects of meaning that would have
been especially important for an ancient Israelite as
his/her sacrifice was offered.
The activities included in an activity system
contribute to a particular goal. The goal unifies the
system and determines what activities are included in
it. When your goal is to clean your teeth, you do what
is necessary to achieve that goal. Similarly, the
burnt offering was unified by its goal: It is a "food
gift" for the Lord. As we will see, the gift is a
token one that does not provide God with anything that
is not ultimately His. That a burnt offering is a form
of food is emphasized in Numbers 28:2, where God
refers to the regular morning and evening burnt
offering as "My offering, the food for my food gifts,
my pleasing aroma" (my translation).
To be a valid offering, the sacrifice must be
accepted by the Lord. To be accepted, it must be
acceptable, that is, performed correctly at the proper
location (see Lev 1:3-4).
What matters is not so much whether the offerer
can feel "ownership" of his form of worship but
whether the Lord accepts ownership of the offering.
Cain could relate to his offering because he grew it,
but God did not accept it (Gen 4:3-5). The Israelites
could relate to the golden calf, but God rejected the
glittering bovine because they denied His real
Presence among them by making this cold, hard, metal
substitute that could not even moo (Exod 32).
Are you offended by the possibility that God may
reject the worship you bring Him if it is not
according to His principles? Just as the Queen of
England has rules governing how you approach her, the
King of the Universe has the right to determine how
you approach Him!
The burnt offering was regarded as accomplishing
a transaction between two parties: the offerer and the
Lord. The benefit received by the offerer as a result
of giving a food gift to the Lord was the infinitely
greater gift of atonement (Lev 1:4). "Atonement" is an
English word that is made up of a combination of
words: at-one-ment. The idea is: making two parties
"at one" with each other by reconciling them. "Atone"
accurately captures the meaning of the Hebrew word it
God already owns all the animals in the world and
He does not need human food at all (Ps 50:10-13). So
animal sacrifices did not buy reconciliation with Him;
they were only tokens that expressed faith in the
Lord's free gift of atonement (compare Isa 55:1). It
is true that burnt offerings were gifts to God in the
sense that they were items of value that were
transferred to God. Animals were valuable to people
and so sacrifices involved cost. When Araunah offered
to give King David some oxen so that David could
sacrifice them to God, David replied: "No, but I will
buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt
offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing" (2
Sam 24:24). But God was already the ultimate owner of
the animals and He had given to the Israelites
everything they possessed. So they did not buy
anything when they returned to God some of what was
Burnt offerings that the Israelites gave to God
were similar to a Christmas present that I gave my
parents when I was seven years old. Our family was
poor. We had just moved to the United States so that
my father could attend graduate school. My mother used
to cry while she walked up and down the aisles in the
grocery store, looking at food that she could not buy.
Every penny counted. When Christmas came, I owned
almost nothing of value that I could give to my
parents. But they had given me a dime. So I wrapped
that dime and gave it to them as a Christmas present.
It was a gift that cost me something. But it simply
returned that which my parents had given to me. The
dime was important because it expressed love, but it
did not buy my parents' love. My gift was a response
that showed my acceptance of the love that my parents
had already given me.
Atonement may involve removing something such as
sin, which gets in the way of a relationship. When God
provides atonement for us, He separates us from our
sin in order to heal our relationship with Him. This
is the essence of Christ's ministry: to save us from
our sins (Matt 1:21), not in our sins. He accepts us
just as we are, but He doesn't leave us the way we
Reconciliation with God must involve removal of
our sins because sin is foreign to God. God's
character is love (1 Jn 4:8), but sin is selfishness.
The two are incompatible. In a sense we could say that
God is allergic to sin. If you want to have a
friendship with someone who is allergic to something
you have, what do you do if you are serious about the
relationship? You try to protect your friend from that
which causes the allergic reaction, even if it means
giving something up. I know a man who gave up a dog
because he had a close friend who was allergic to
dogs. Similarly, we need to give up our sins because
God is allergic to them. We may be as fond of our sins
as the man was attached to his dog, but we need to be
willing to give them up. It is a matter of priorities.
Which do we value mostour sins that lead to death or
our Friend who gives us life?
Preparation of food gift
Activities belonging to the burnt offering
activity system contributed to the achievement of its
goal. The roles of activities such as slaughter,
flaying, quartering, etc. are clear: These activities
were required to prepare a gift of food. Similar
activities would be necessary to obtain meat from an
animal even if it were not a sacrifice. The reason for
washing the entrails (including intestines) and shins
(hind legs) is almost as obvious: Washing removes the
dung that is in or on these parts (compare Lev
4:11-12). Dung is an unacceptable element in a food
Hand-laying = identification of transferring owner
Laying or leaning one hand on the head of the
animal identified the offerer as its owner, who was
transferring the animal to God and who would receive
the atoning benefit of that sacrifice. This meaning is
implied by the emphasis on the identity of the offerer
in Leviticus 1:4, which instructs: "He shall lean his
hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be
acceptable in his behalf, to expiate for him"
(Milgrom's translation; italics supplied).
When a sacrifice was a bird or a grain item,
either of which would be carried in the hand, no
hand-laying was required (Lev 1:14-15; compare 2:2, 8;
5:7-13), apparently because there could be no question
regarding the identity of the offerer in such a case.
Hand-laying was only required for herd or flock
animals, which in some cases would have been led into
the sanctuary courtyard by persons assisting offerers.
For example, an old man could bring his grandson to
manage a frisky animal. But when the grandfather
placed his hand on the head of the animal, it was
clear that the offering was on his behalf.
While hand-laying identified ownership, this
ownership was being transferred. Hand-laying was like
the signature that a modern vehicle owner puts on the
title to his vehicle when he sells it. Whenever a
sacrifice was performed, something was transferred to
God. If hand-laying was required for a particular
sacrifice, it played an important role in the
transfer. We will pursue this concept further in
connection with removal of sin from offerers when they
So far we have been talking about private
offerings, which were done when individuals chose to
do them. But there were also public offerings that had
to be performed at particular times according to the
calendar (for example Num 28-29). These sacrifices had
"appointments" with God and there would be no question
regarding the identity of their offerers. This seems
to be the reason why there is no evidence in the Bible
that calendric offerings required hand-laying.
Blood = ransom for life
Dashing blood against the sides of the altar (Lev
1:5) separated the blood from the flesh of the "food
gift" that was delivered to the Lord in the form of
smoke. The Lord's "food gift" was a kosher one, with
the blood drained out at the time of slaughter. In
this way the Lord showed respect for life, which is
represented in the blood (17:11). He also set an
example for human beings, whom He has never allowed to
eat meat from which the blood has not been drained at
the time of slaughter (Gen 9:4-6--for all people
before Israel existed; Lev 17:10, 12; Deut 12:16,
23-25; Acts 15:20, 29--for Gentile Christians).
In the Bible, God did not require people to get
rid of every drop of blood that remained in the blood
vessels of an animal by roasting or salting the meat.
He only commanded them to drain the blood when they
slaughtered an animal.
As the creator and controller of life, God alone
has the right to do with blood as He wishes, but in
sacrifices He practices what He preaches by
withholding from Himself the blood that we have no
right to utilize. Another divine example for us is
Jesus' baptism (Matt 3:13-17). Jesus was baptized even
though He did not need the cleansing from sin that
To keep the blood separate from the meat, it
would have been enough for the priest to simply pour
out the blood at the base of the altar (compare Lev
4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34). But the priest tossed the blood
on the sides of the altar. Applying the blood to the
altar contributed to providing atonement for the
offerer (Lev 1:4) by ransoming his/her life, as shown
by Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of the flesh is in
the blood; and I have given it to you for making
atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life,
it is the blood that makes atonement."
Notice the wording in Leviticus 17:11: "for
making atonement for your lives." In this context, the
Hebrew word for "making atonement" means "making
ransom" in the sense of making a payment that
substitutes for the taking of human life. As mentioned
earlier, the basic meaning of the Hebrew word for
"atone" is the idea of reconciling a relationship. But
"atonement" can emphasize various aspects of
reconciliation. To atone for somebody or something
from an evil such as sin or impurity means to purify,
cleanse, or make expiation for that person or thing
from the evil that disturbs the divine-human
relationship (Lev 5:6; 16:16). To atone for someone's
life, as in Leviticus 17:11, is to ransom that
person's life. Reinforcing this idea is the fact that
the Hebrew noun "ransom," referring to the price of a
life (Jb 33:24; Isa 43:3; compare Exod 30:12), comes
from the same root as the verb "to atone." So the
blood of a sacrifice paid a price that enabled the
offerer to live rather than die.
Ransoming life through sacrifice is a serious
reality. It is not simply a beautiful figure of speech
to inspire us while the choir sings, the pipe organ
plays, and the sun streams through stained-glass
windows. We learn the value of ransom for life when we
consider what happens when life is not ransomed. For
example, an Israelite murderer was not eligible for
ransom and therefore had to be put to death (Num
35:31). This did not necessarily mean that the
murderer was eternally lost. God forgave David and
Manasseh even though they were guilty of murder
because of their abuse of power (2 Sam 11-12; 2 Chron
33; compare 2 Ki 21, especially verse 16). But this
was mercy over and above the Israelite judicial
system, according to which a murderer had to die.
In Exodus 30, the Lord stipulated that when the
Israelites took a census to register them, "at
registration all of them shall give a ransom for their
lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon
them for being registered" (vs. 12). He said that the
function of the ransom was to atone for their lives
(verse 15). A plague for neglecting to pay ransom was
life-threatening, literally. In 2 Samuel 24 we see
what could happen when a plague of divine retributive
justice was unleashed on the Israelites. When King
David improperly took a census, 70,000 Israelites died
of a plague from the Lord (verse 15).
The concept of ransom was central to the
sacrificial system. In addition to the fact that all
sacrificial blood provided ransom (Lev 17:11), 2
Chronicles 3:1 tells us that Solomon's temple was
built on Mount Moriah at the threshing floor of Ornan
(called Araunah in 2 Sam 24). On Mount Moriah,
innocent Isaac was ransomed by a ram caught in a
thicket (Gen 22:13). On the same mountain, at the
threshing floor of Ornan/Araunah, guilty David was
ransomed by sacrifices when he offered to die in place
of the people of Jerusalem, who were about to be
destroyed by YHWH's angel of death along with the
70,000 who had already perished as a result of the
census (2 Sam 24:17-25; 1 Chron 21:16-27). Thus the
temple, the permanent place of sacrifice, was built on
a place of ransom, where the stories of Isaac and
David came together.
Hide/skin = "agent's commission" for the priest
The hide of a burnt offering animal was removed
by flaying. The hide was not burned, but rather
belonged to the priest who presented the animal parts
to the Lord at the altar (Lev 7:8). So although the
hide was part of the whole animal that was initially
transferred to the Lord (1:3), it was not kept by the
Lord. He gave it to His servant, the priest who
officiated the sacrifice. We can regard the hide as an
"agent's commission" for the priest (compare 7:34).
An agent's commission works basically the same in
modern times. When I was a part-time real estate
salesperson in California, my broker received the
entire commission from the sale of a house. Then she
gave me a percentage of the commission that I had
earned by contributing to the sale.
Before the Israelites built the sanctuary and
consecrated a special group of priests to officiate
for the people, patriarchs like Abraham offered their
own burnt offerings. But on one occasion Abraham gave
the Lord a gift of food literally rather than through
a ritual. When the Lord appeared to him as a traveler
with two companions, Abraham asked Sarah to make cakes
and gave a calf to his servant to prepare as meat.
Then he gave the food to the three "men," along with
curds and milk, and they ate (Gen 18:1-8).
Just as Abraham showed his friendship by offering
a meal, the Israelites showed their desire for a good
relationship with the Lord by giving Him sacrifices as
"food gifts." But sacrifices were more than
hospitality offered to the Lord and accepted by Him.
Sacrifices acted out the healing of the divine-human
relationship, which took place through blood on the
altar. The blood that truly makes us at one with God
is Christ's blood. The ultimate altar is the cross.
An animal sacrifice at the altar was a powerful
spiritual experience that affected the offerer's
relationship with God at the time when it was
performed. But the life and death consequences that
were graphically portrayed in such rituals reached
fulfilment in Christ's awesome sacrifice for all human
beings. Israelites had access to the benefits of the
cross through the altar.
C H A P T E R 13
My wife's parents love the people of Nepal. They lived
for a number of years in that country, where my father-in-law
worked as a physician. Recently they returned to Nepal, and
even though they were almost seventy years of age, they hiked
for eleven hours over the rugged foothills of the Himalaya
mountains to reach a remote village. There at a small clinic
they relieved some younger workers, who needed to get away
When the people of villages in the region heard that
there was a physician in the area, they flocked to the
clinic. Many were in pitiful condition, with serious
illnesses and injuries. My father-in-law has a kind heart, so
he worked day and night rather than turn people away. He
became seriously exhausted, but continued to treat patients
in spite of the fact that his work of mercy was consuming his
Christ's work of mercy completely consumed Him. This and
other meanings were expressed by the burnt offering
Except for the hide, which went to the officiating
priest (Lev 7:8), the body of the burnt offering was
completely consumed on the altar (1:8-9). This is a fitting
symbol of Christ, who offered Himself on the cross as a
sacrifice for us (see Heb 7:27).
John the Baptist introduced Jesus as "the Lamb of God"
(Jn 1:29). John could have referred to Christ as "the Bull of
God," the "Ram of God" or the "Goat of God." But John chose
the expression "Lamb of God." Why? For one thing, Isaiah had
prophesied that God's Servant, who would suffer for our sins
(Isa 53:5), would be "like a lamb that is led to the
slaughter" (verse 7). Also, the foundational sacrifice of the
Israelite sacrificial system was the regular burnt offering,
consisting of a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening
(Num 28:1-8). All other sacrifices were performed in addition
to this. By calling Jesus the Lamb, John implied that Jesus
is the basic sacrifice, as if to say: "Here is the One who
fulfills the role of the whole sacrificial system!"
Sin laid on Him
The first action of a private burnt offering was to lay
one hand on the head of the animal to identify the offerer
who was giving the sacrifice and who would receive atonement
as a result (Lev 1:4). The fact that the offerer laid his/her
hand on the animal points to the role of Christ that Isaiah
prophesied: "Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried
our diseases" (Isa 53:4). Christ atones for us by taking our
troubles upon Himself.
Leviticus 17:11 speaks of sacrificial blood making
atonement for the lives of the Israelites, that is, ransoming
their lives. Instead of dying, a person offered a sacrifice
in which blood, representing life, constituted payment of a
ransom. Since the blood represented Christ's blood, it is
clear that Christ's blood has the function of ransoming
sinful human beings, as explicitly indicated by the New
Testament (1 Pet 1:18-19; compare Matt 20:28; Mk 10:45; 1 Tim
A number of biblical passages use the terminology of
"redemption" with reference to what Christ and His blood
accomplished (for example Eph 1:7; 1 Cor 1:30). "Redemption"
is clearly a legal concept (compare Lev 25:25). So is the
idea of forgiving/releasing debt, which appears in the Lord's
Prayer as an expression of the forgiveness that God gives
through Christ's sacrifice (Matt 6:12). If you have any doubt
that debt is a legal matter, just read the fine print on your
His life for our lives
The ransom or redemption price that Christ paid was
Himself. He gave his perfect life for our sinful lives. Just
as animal sacrifices were to be physically unblemished (Lev
1:3; 22:17-25), Christ was morally unblemished in that He did
not sin (Heb 4:15). But by allowing Himself to be a
sacrificial victim, Christ died in place of sinners (Isa
King David offered to bear divine retribution in place
of those who had been numbered and were about to die as a
result of the census that he had ordered (2 Sam 24:17).
Christ not only offered, "he poured out himself to death, and
was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of
many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa
2 Corinthians 5:21 is even more powerful: God "made him
to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the
righteousness of God." Imagine that! In a sense, Christ
became sin! He bore every evil passion and selfish
degradation of the billions of people who have ever inhabited
our planet. With that overwhelming deluge of misery collected
upon Him and identified with Him as if He were the
personification of all evil, He gave Himself up for
destruction in order to wipe out all sin and all of its
Now we can understand what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "And
just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so
must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in
him may have eternal life" (Jn 3:14-15). Jesus was referring
to the time when the Israelites sinned and they were punished
by means of poisonous snakes, which bit them so that they
died. When they repented and Moses prayed for them, the Lord
directed him to make a statue of a snake and set it on a pole
so that those who were bitten could look at it, and by doing
so they would live (Num 21:8-9).
The snake statue did not heal anyone by itself. It was
not magic. God healed people who expressed faith by looking
to the symbol that He had provided. Symbol of what? By
identifying Himself with the snake statue, Jesus pointed to
Himself, lifted up on the cross, as the ultimate source of
life for sinners. He is not merely an antidote for
snake-bite. He gives life that is eternal.
Why should Jesus be represented as a snake, a symbol of
misery and death resulting from sin and a reminder of the
Satanic serpent that introduced sin to the human race (Gen
3)? Because Jesus allowed Himself to be identified with human
evil so that by dying He might destroy it (compare Heb 2:14)
and so that by looking we might live.
The Hebrew word translated "burnt offering" literally
means "ascending." The offering ascended to God in the form
of smoke as a pleasing aroma (Lev 1:9), as if it were
incense. Remember that the Hebrew word for turning sacrifices
to smoke on the altar is related to the word for "incense."
The fact that God received His sacrificial "food"
(compare Num 28:2) in the form of smoke showed that He did
not really need human food at all (Ps 50:12-13). So the food
gifts offered by Israelites were tokens of faith by which
they accepted God's infinitely greater gift of atonement.
Christ, to whom the animal sacrifices pointed (Jn 1:29), is
not a gift of human beings to God; rather, He is God's gift
to humanity (Jn 3:16). The Israelites were not buying their
salvation at all. Ephesians 2:8 was true in Old Testament
times: "For by grace you have been saved through faith..."
Ascending for divine acceptance
A burnt offering sent smoke ascending to God for His
acceptance (Lev 1:9). Similarly, Christ ascended to heaven to
receive acceptance from His Father. When Jesus appeared to
Mary Magdalene just after His resurrection, He said to her:
"Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the
Father" (Jn 20:17). This verse indicates that after appearing
to Mary, Jesus ascended to heaven that day like the smoke
from a sacrifice, after which He returned to earth and
appeared to His other disciples for several weeks before
ascending permanently. Christ's brief ascension on the day of
His resurrection was foreshadowed about 1,000 years earlier
when the "Angel of the Lord" ascended in the flame from
Manoah's sacrifice (Judg 13:20).
Now here is something astounding: Jesus appeared to Mary
Magdalene before He even went to heaven to have His sacrifice
accepted by his Father! Christ interrupted the ascending
offering of Himself, the most important event in human
history, to comfort one distraught, forgiven sinner: Mary.
Unlike Jesus' disciples, His own family, and the religious
leaders of His nation, Mary had understood that Christ's
mission to earth was to save sinners like her, the weakest of
the weak. And it was Mary, only Mary, who had anointed Him
ahead of time for His burial (Jn 12:1-8).
Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan. He didn't let His
rendezvous with destiny keep Him from turning aside to help
someone in need. After all, helping people was the reason for
His sacrifice in the first place. He didn't let His work of
providing atonement for the whole world, important as it was,
prevent Him from caring for Mary's feelings. What an
incredible example of priorities! Do you think He is
sensitive enough to care about your feelings?
Christ has proven that He is totally committed to your
salvation. If you ever doubt that God loves you, remember
what He has done.
C H A P T E R 14
If a soldier or airman had died attempting to rescue
O'Grady from Bosnia, we would say that he "sacrificed" his
life. We would not use this expression unless someone died.
But the apostle Paul appealed to his fellow Christians "to
present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom
12:1). A "living sacrifice"? Isn't that a contradiction? How
can someone living be a sacrifice? We will find the answer by
investigating grain offerings given to God at the Israelite
Grain offerings are found in Leviticus along with animal
sacrifices in spite of the fact that offerings of grain did
not involve death, flesh, or blood. The implication is that
grain offerings were sacrifices. This fits with the original
meaning of the English word "sacrifice," which comes from two
Latin words meaning "make sacred."
A sacrifice is something that is given over to the holy
realm, whether it dies or not. All offerings given to God
through ritual activity are sacrifices. Death or its absence
does not determine whether a ritual is a sacrifice. For
example, the so-called "scapegoat" (Lev 16:20-22) was not a
sacrifice. We cannot know this simply because it was not
slain. We know it because the goat was sent away from the
Lord rather than offered to Him.
It is true that in English translations of the Bible the
term "sacrifice" is used with reference to a particular class
of sacrifice, including the well-being offering, in which an
animal was slaughtered and the offerer ate some of the meat
(for example Lev 3:1, 3, 6, 9; 7:11, 15, 16). But we can also
apply the word "sacrifice," in the broader sense of an
offering to God, to other kinds of sacrifices, such as burnt
offerings and sin offerings. A sin offering could be an
animal, but for a poor person it could consist of grain,
which was not slaughtered (5:11-13). So we cannot determine
whether something was a sacrifice/offering or not on the
basis of whether or not it was slaughtered. It was a
sacrifice if it was given over to God in a special way.
In light of our understanding of "sacrifice," we now
realize that Paul was not uttering a contradiction when he
appealed to believers to present their bodies as a living
sacrifice. We can be living sacrifices by consecrating
ourselves to the Lord (compare Lev 20:7)! Not that we are
atoning sacrifices as Christ is. Our sacrifices mean that we
belong to God, but we cannot save ourselves or anyone else.
Giving ourselves as sacrifices to God is not a waste. We
do not waste ourselves. Rather, we have the privilege of
entering His service, just as the boy Samuel entered lifelong
service to God when his mother dedicated him to God at the
sanctuary (1 Sam 1).
Not only animals pointed forward to Christ. Bread could
also represent Him, as He indicated when He said, "I am the
bread of life" (Jn 6:48). The life that Christ gives is
eternal life and bread symbolizes His flesh (verse 51). Here
Jesus was talking about manna, the "bread" from heaven that
sustained the Israelites in the wilderness (verse 49; compare
Exod 16:14-18). A token sample of manna was kept inside the
ark of the covenant in the sanctuary (Exod 16:33; Heb 9:4).
The concept that Christ is the "bread of life" is behind
His words at the Last Supper, when He broke Passover bread.
He said, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt 26:26). By
incorporating His life into our own, we have eternal life. We
abide in Him and He abides in us (Jn 15:4).
By eating bread and drinking wine at Communion, we act
out our acceptance of Christ into our lives, the divine-human
interaction through which God transforms us by the life of
Christ (compare Gal 2:20). Thus we remember and internalize
our relationship with Him.
The idea that Christ is the bread of life also relates
to Israelite offerings of grain, the material from which
bread can be made. Grain offerings acknowledged that God kept
on sustaining the lives of His people even after He no longer
provided manna. In the ritual system of the sanctuary there
were different kinds of grain offerings that expressed
relationships with God through Christ, the "bread of life,"
in various ways:
Independent private grain offerings
The grain offerings for which instructions are given in
Leviticus 2 were private in the sense that they were offered
by individuals rather than by the entire community. These
offerings were independent in that they could be offered by
themselves rather than as accompaniments to other sacrifices.
They were simple gifts to God consisting of grain, which was
basic food. As with animal sacrifices, portions of grain
offerings were burned on the altar as a pleasing aroma for
the Lord (Lev 2:2).
That grain offerings were gifts is emphasized by the
Hebrew word translated "grain offering." This word has the
meaning of "gift." In other contexts, it can refer to
presents given to human beings (see for example Judg 3:15,
There is no indication in Leviticus 2 that the grain
offerings described here had to do with removal of sin.
Atonement is not mentioned in this chapter. These offerings
were expressions of a positive relationship with the Lord, a
way to show honor and love for the One who provided for them
their "daily bread" (compare Matt 6:11).
Accompanying grain offerings
Grain offerings and drink offerings were necessary
accompaniments to every burnt offering or "sacrifice" (Num
15:1-16). The word "sacrifice" here does not refer to
sacrifices in general, but to the class of sacrifices from
which offerers could eat the remainder after portions went to
God and to the priests. Examples of such "sacrifices" are
well-being offerings (= "peace" or "fellowship" offerings;
Lev 7:11-18) and the Passover lamb (Exod 12:8-11, 27).
Accompaniments of grain and drink made an offering to
the Lord a complete meal, just as human beings ate meals that
consisted of items other than meat. Compare Genesis 18:5-8,
where Abraham provided bread cakes, curds, and milk for his
guests along with meat from a calf. He did not immediately
recognize that his guests were of heavenly origin. His
hospitality meal turned out to be a sacrifice!
Poor person's sin offering
In Leviticus 5:11-13 a grain offering functions as a
poor person's sin offering. Although the sinner in this case
cannot afford the usual animal sacrifice, his/her sin can be
removed through a substitute offering of grain. The book of
Hebrews recognizes this case when it says that "under the law
almost everything is purified with blood..." (Heb 9:22).
"Almost" implies an exception to the rule that everything is
purified with blood. The poor person's grain offering is that
"Bread of the Presence"
A special grain offering was the "bread of the Presence"
(so-called "shewbread"), which was renewed each Sabbath on
the golden table inside the sanctuary before God's Presence
(Exod 25:30; Lev 24:5-9). The "bread of the Presence"
offering consisted of twelve loaves plus frankincense. It was
placed upon the table to acknowledge the dependence of the
twelve tribes of Israel upon God as their resident
Creator-Provider, who sustains His creatures (compare Ps
104:14-15; 145:15-16; Jb 12:10; Dan 5:23). Because He does
not need to consume food provided by human beings (Ps
50:12-13), the bread was eaten by the priests when it was
removed from God's table (Lev 24:9).
The "bread of the Presence" offering expressed a
covenant between God and the Israelites (Lev 24:8). In this
covenant relationship, God resided with His people and gave
them life. He called them to be for Him "a kingdom of priests
and a holy nation" (Exod 19:6; NASB). And He wants each of us
to give ourselves to Him as a "living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1).
We can do that now. We do not need to die in order to be
sacrifices for God.
C H A P T E R 15
Surviving for six days in Bosnia was tough for Scott
O'Grady. When he came down in a parachute he didn't bring
with him a shopping cart full of food and bottled water. Nor
could he go to the market and stock up or he would be caught.
Because crowds of people saw his parachute come down over a
main highway, he had to hide in the bushes immediately with
all his bare skin covered. He lay still while the enemy
looked for him and passed as close as three to five feet from
Each night O'Grady looked for safer cover. His top
priority was to avoid capture. But he also needed water to
drink and food to eat. What's the use of being free if you
die of hunger and thirst? So he caught rain water in Ziploc
plastic bags. He tried squeezing water from his wet woolen
socks, but that didn't work so well. He ate what was
available: leaves, grass, and ants. Needless to say, these
were not part of his normal diet. And he could not eat many
ants because they were hard to catch. So he was hungry. Since
he was outdoors in the rain night and day, he was also
shivering from the cold. (Time, June 19, 1995, pp. 22-23,
For six days O'Grady's well-being was in jeopardy. In
order to live and be free he needed important things like
cover, food, and water. He had barely enough of these to
What do you need to survive? Not in the short run but in
the long run. Not just your present life but eternal life.
What is essential to your ultimate well-being? The well-being
offering (Lev 3; 7:11-36) at the Israelite sanctuary gives us
The Hebrew word translated "well-being offering" (also
commonly translated as "peace" or "fellowship" offering) is
related to the Hebrew word for "peace." "Peace" in Hebrew
does not refer merely to the absence of conflict; it has the
fuller meaning of "well-being."
A well-being offering was performed like a burnt
offering, except that only the fat was burned on the altar.
While the offering as a whole was brought to the Lord (Lev
3:1, 6, 12) and the fat was burned for Him (verse 16), the
breast and thigh were allotted by God to the priests as their
commission (7:31-36) and the person who brought the offering
could eat the rest (7:15-21). So there was a three-way
distribution of the body of the animal among the Lord, the
priests, and the offerer.
Unlike other kinds of sacrifices, a well-being offering
was partly eaten by the person who offered it. What is the
meaning of eating part of your own offering? We have found
that according to the New Testament all of the Israelite
sacrifices represented Christ (Jn 1:29; Heb 9). So eating
part of a sacrificial animal represented partaking of Christ.
Jesus stunned His hearers when He said:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of
the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in
yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has
eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me,
and I in him" (Jn 6:53-56; NASB).
When Jesus explained this saying to His disciples, He
emphasized the idea of receiving life through His words
(verse 63). But when He said something similar in the
Communion service, He clearly spoke of Himself as a
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and
after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples,
and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a
cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying,
"Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:26-28).
Eating from a well-being offering fits with the New
Testament idea that Christ and His sacrifice provide
life-giving power that we can take into our own lives in
order to be spiritually transformed now. By accepting Christ
and His words, we receive His Spirit and are transformed (Jn
3:5-8; Titus 3:5-7) by taking into our hearts the crucial
element that is otherwise out of reach of sinful human
beings: love (Rom 5:5). In this way God brings us into
harmony with His own character of love (1 Jn 4:8) and with
His law (Rom 8:4), which is based on love (Matt 22:36-40).
Why is love so important? Because real, unselfish love
is the only basis on which intelligent beings with free
choice can live in harmony with each other and not destroy
each other. Love is as essential to the long-term survival of
the human race as food and water are to our short-term
survival. Ultimately we cannot live without love.
Because we are sinners who have rebelled against God's
law of love, we do not naturally have love. We cannot get it
through digging down into the secret chambers of our
subconscious minds. We cannot get it through transcendental
meditation or medication. We can only get it from the Source:
God, who is love (1 Jn 4:8). He offers love freely through
the sacrifice of His Son.
There is another dimension to the meaning of a
well-being offering. God and the offerer shared the
sacrifice, as if they ate a meal together to celebrate the
peace and fellowship between them. Through Christ's sacrifice
we can have a peaceful relationship with God (Rom 5:1) and
Christ invites us to fellowship with Him: "Listen! I am
standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open
the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you
with me" (Rev 3:20).
Hope for eternal life through Christ's sacrifice brings
joy and thankfulness. Similarly, ancient sacrifices could be
associated with thanksgiving and joy. We think of the
Israelite sacrifices as motivated by the need for
forgiveness, but there were other motivations as well. A kind
of well-being offering expressed thanks to God (Lev 7:12-15).
Some well-being offerings fulfilled vows to the Lord and
others were freewill offerings (7:16). If a person simply
felt like expressing love for God, he/she could offer such a
The sacrificial system was solemn, but it was not
morbid. It was dynamic and it could be joyful.
Well-being offerings show us that our fellowship with
God does not always need to focus on the negative side of
atonement/reconciliation, which has to do with getting rid of
sins that come between us and God. We can grow closer and
closer to God even at times when we do not sin and thus do
not need forgiveness. But we should remember that even the
positive side of atonement, including joyful praise and
thanksgiving to God and peaceful fellowship with Him, is
possible only because of Christ's sacrifice. Although
well-being offerings did not atone for sinful actions, their
blood nevertheless served to ransom the lives of those who
offered them (Lev 17:5-12).
God does not leave us to survive on our own. He knows
that we would certainly perish. We have no life apart from
Him. And we have no eternal life apart from Christ, lifted up
on the cross. No wonder we come!
C H A P T E R 16
If a downed American airman is captured, the United
States will try to gain his release. But it is not likely
that the enemy will simply let him go. They will want
something in return, just as a kidnapper demands a ransom.
The price may be high.
What if you are captured and the price for your release
is too high for yourself, your family, your friends, or even
your government to pay? To make matters worse, if nobody pays
the price, you will die.
Delete "What if." You are captured and the price is too
high and you will die unless someone pays the price. If you
are old enough to read this book, you have sinned. That goes
for everyone: "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory
of God" (Rom 3:23). The "wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23).
Not just death, but eternal death, from which there is no
return. You can run from it, but you can't hide. There is no
escaping it. Unless...
The Israelite sin offering (Lev 4-5:13; 6:24-30) points
to a way out of our dilemma. There is Someone who can pay the
price to ransom our lives.
As in a burnt offering or well-being offering, the
offerer of a sin offering laid one hand on the head of an
animal before slaughtering it. Some sin offerings for sin
also required spoken confession (Lev 5:5) in addition to the
silent confession expressed by actions involved in
transferring sacrifices to the Lord. However, whereas the
blood of a burnt or well-being offering was merely tossed on
the sides of the altar in the courtyard, the blood of a sin
offering was daubed on the horns of either the outer altar or
the altar of incense. As in a well-being offering, only the
fat of the animal was burned on the outer altar. But unlike
the well-being offering, only the priest could eat the meat
of a sin offering.
Notice that the sin offering animal for an ordinary
individual was a female goat or sheep (Lev 4:28, 32; 5:6; Num
15:27). I suppose you could call that equal opportunity
representation of Christ.
The following aspects of sin offerings are important for
comprehending their meaning:
Sin offerings emphasized blood. Putting blood on the
horns, which were the highest parts of an altar, highlighted
the significance of the blood.
The physical elevation of the blood corresponded to its
elevation in atoning power: The more prominent the blood, the
more powerful the atonement. We see this clearly in the two
basic kinds of sin offerings outlined in Leviticus 4. In the
first kind the blood was taken into the "holy place," the
outer room of the sanctuary. In the second kind, the blood
was put on the horns of the outer altar.
When the high priest or the whole congregation sinned,
the high priest took the blood of a sin offering into the
"holy place." There he sprinkled blood seven times "before
the veil" and then daubed blood on the horns of the incense
altar. When he had finished applying blood to the sanctuary,
the high priest disposed of the blood that remained by
pouring it out on the ground at the base of the outer altar
in the courtyard (Lev 4:6-7, 17-18).
When a ruler or common layperson sinned, a priest put
blood on the horns of the outer altar and then poured out the
remaining blood at the base of the altar (Lev 4:25, 30, 34).
The kind of sin offering that was required depended upon
the status of the sinner. If the sinner was the high priest,
who represented all Israelites before God, or if the "sinner"
was the community of all Israelites, the situation was more
serious than other cases. So the sacrifice involved not only
putting blood on the highest points of the incense altar, it
also required that blood be applied inside the sacred tent.
The blood was extended toward God in two directions:
vertically toward His heavenly dwelling and horizontally
toward His Presence enthroned above the ark in the most holy
The more serious the sin in terms of the prominence of
the sinner, the more emphasis was placed on blood. In other
words, the prominence of blood in the ritual was proportional
to the need for atonement.
Payment of ransom debt
A sin offering emphasized blood, which represented
ransom for life (Lev 17:11). Ransom is required. It is not
voluntary. People don't choose to pay ransom if they don't
Unlike the burnt, grain, and well-being offerings
prescribed in Leviticus 1-3, which were voluntary food gifts,
sin offerings were required when a person's sin or serious
ritual impurity (see below) brought him/her under obligation
to the Lord (Lev 4-5, 12, 15). A sin offering was not a token
food gift; it was a token payment of an obligation or debt.
But this does not mean that a sin offering bought atonement.
As we saw earlier, God already owns the animals and He does
not need human food (Ps 50:10-13). So sin offerings were only
tokens that expressed faith in the Lord's free gift of
atonement. They did not buy anything. However, they were
required tokens, as when a parent requires a child who has
misbehaved to give up his/her money "allowance" in order to
impress on the child the seriousness of wrong-doing and the
value of forgiveness. The forfeited allowance does not buy
Here is more evidence that a sin offering was a token
debt payment. The fat of a sin offering was never called a
"food gift." Contrast the fat of a well-being offering, which
constituted the "food gift" portion for the Lord (Lev 3:3-5).
This difference is explained by the fact that the well-being
offering was a voluntary gift to the Lord, but the sin
offering was a required token payment of "debt."
A person who brought a well-being offering could eat
part of his/her offering, but a person who brought a sin
offering could not. Only the priest was permitted to eat his
portion as an "agent's commission" (Lev 6:26, 29). If the
sacrifice was for sin (rather than ritual impurity), he bore
the "iniquity" that the offerer had carried (10:17; compare
5:1) as part of his priestly mediation. The Hebrew word
usually translated "iniquity" means here "liability to
punishment" or punishability. However, if a priest performed
a sin offering on his own behalf or on behalf of the entire
community, which included himself, he could not eat any of
the offering. In such a case the remainder of the animal was
incinerated outside the camp after the fat was offered to the
Lord (4:11-12, 21; 6:30; 9:11). The fact that a person could
not benefit from his/her own sin offering can be explained by
the principle that a debtor cannot pay and then take back
part of his/her payment.
When a sin offering and a burnt offering were performed
together as a pair, the sin offering was performed first (see
Lev 9:8-14, 15-16). Why? A debt (sin offering) must be paid
before a gift (burnt offering) is accepted. If you owe
someone $100 and you give that person $100, it is not a gift.
It is payment of your debt. But if you then give another
$100, it is a gift.
Sin offerings pointed to Christ's sacrifice as the
means by which God can answer our prayer: "... forgive us our
debts" (Matt 6:12). But the fact that the debt is paid by
blood shows that it is not just any debt. It is debt for
life, that is, ransom debt.
Christ is the only one who can pay the price to ransom
our lives, a price we can never pay. His blood is lifted up,
not on the highest points of a ritual altar, but on the
cross. The cross is His altar.
Ritual sacrifices could not provide automatic
forgiveness of sins. Leviticus 4:26 summarizes the result of
a sin offering: "Thus the priest shall make atonement on his
behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven" (compare verses
31, 35). The priest made atonement by performing the ritual,
but the verse does not state that the priest forgave the
sinner. It says of the sinner: "and he shall be forgiven."
Who forgave the sinner? If the priest could not forgive,
who could? Exodus 34:6-7 answers this question. The Lord
proclaimed to Moses: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and
gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and
faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth
generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..."
We are to forgive other people for what they have done
to us, just as God forgives us (Matt 6:12). But we cannot
wipe out their sins the way God can. Only God can forgive
sins and He has always done His forgiving directly. No human
being has ever had the right to forgive sins. That would be
blasphemy, as the people of Jesus' day recognized (Mk 2:7).
An Israelite priest carried out a sacrificial ritual
that was prerequisite to forgiveness by the Lord. God made
the decision. He could refuse to give forgiveness even if the
ritual was performed correctly. The ritual did not provide
forgiveness automatically the way a vending machine spits out
a candy bar when you insert coins in a slot.
Under what circumstances would God refuse to give
forgiveness when a proper sacrifice was performed? When the
sinner was a hypocrite who persisted in disobedience to God
even though he/she brought a sacrifice (Isa 1:11-20; 66:3;
compare 58:1-5). As Samuel told King Saul, the Lord values
obedience even more than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22).
Hypocritical ritual without heartfelt devotion or
obedience to the Lord was not simply worthless; it
constituted sin. God hates hypocritical ritual (see Isa
1:10-17). This applies to flippant or hypocritical
participation in Christian rituals such as Communion (1 Cor
Our essential transactions with God are carried out
directly with Him. Ritual does not by itself accomplish
spiritual transactions. But ritual is important insofar as it
expresses our spiritual interactions with God.
A college student told me that she did not need to be
baptized because baptism is symbolic and what is symbolic is
not real and what is not real is not important. That seemed
logical to her, but I suggested that she think about a
parallel situation: an engaged couple discussing their
marriage. He says to her: "I love you and want to spend my
life with you, but as for a wedding ceremony, that is
symbolic and therefore unreal and unimportant. Why don't we
just skip it?" How will that go over? If he doesn't want to
publicly affirm his commitment through the marriage ceremony,
how will she feel about his love for her?
A ceremony or ritual is symbolic, but the symbolism is
real and important, expressing a change in relationship that
is highly significant even though it is intangible. When it
comes to our marriage to Christ, we need not only the
transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we need to express our
new relationship with God through the symbolic water of
baptism. Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Very truly, I tell you, no
one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water
and Spirit" (Jn 3:5).
Sin offerings for ritual purification
English translations of the Bible use the term "sin
offering." Burnt offerings and guilt offerings also atoned
for sin. The "sin offering" gets its name from the fact that
the Hebrew word from which it is translated is the same as
one of the Hebrew words for "sin" (compare Lev 4:3, 14, 23,
26, 28, 35). The offering atoned for certain kinds of sins,
which were usually unintentional/inadvertent violations of
divine commands (Lev 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:1-4; Num 15:22-23).
However, the same sacrifice also atoned for serious ritual
impurities, which were not sins (Lev 12:6-8; 14:19, 22, 31,
An example of atonement for serious ritual impurity is
the case of a woman who had just given birth to a baby. She
was required to offer a sin offering (Lev 12:6-8). The
translation "sin offering" implies that she had sinned. But
she had not sinned by having a baby. She had only fulfilled
God's blessing: "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28). The
purpose of the sacrifice in her case was to remove ritual
impurity resulting from her flow of blood following
childbirth. This impurity was not a moral fault. It came from
a natural physical process of a mortal human being. We are
all mortal, subject to death, because of sin. Mortality is
our state of being that results from sin (Rom 6:23; compare
We will examine the nature of rituals impurities further
in a later chapter, but here we should point out the
fundamental distinction between sins and ritual impurities.
Sinning could be deliberate (Lev 19:20-21) or unintentional
(Lev 4:2). Becoming ritually impure could also be deliberate
(Lev 11:40) or unintentional (Num 6:9). But only violations
of divine commands were sins.
Unintentional violation of one of the Lord's
commandments was sin even though the sinner did not become
responsible until he/she knew that the action had broken
God's law (Lev 4:27-28). Such an unintentional sin was not
involuntary in the sense that physical functions, such as
blinking an eye, occur without any thought. In fact, the
sinner probably intended to do the action as such. But there
was an element of ignorance in that the sinner did not
realize that the action was a violation of a divine command.
The sin was unintentional because the person did not intend
to sin. For example, suppose an Israelite was working and
then remembered or was reminded that it was Sabbath. He had
meant to work and he knew that God had commanded His people
to rest on the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11; 31:12-17), but he had
forgotten that it was Sabbath. He would not have worked if he
had known which day it was. He had not sinned flagrantly (as
in Num 15:30-36), but unwittingly, without meaning to do so.
Ritual impurities are another matter. Becoming ritually
impure could be totally involuntary, without any thought at
all, as in cases of menstruation (Lev 15:19) and nocturnal
emission (Deut 23:10-11). So becoming impure could not be
regarded as disobedience to God's law in any sense. Even
deliberately becoming impure was permitted, as in cases of
sexual intercourse (Lev 15:18) and coming in contact with
dead persons (Num 19:11-12), unless God forbade such
defilement (Lev 18:19; 21:1-4, 11). Contracting a forbidden
defilement or neglecting purification for a ritual impurity
(Num 19:13, 20) was sin, not because ritual impurity was sin
but because God's command with regard to ritual impurity was
It is true that the Hebrew term rendered "sin offering"
looks the same as a word for "sin." However, the translation
"sin offering" is misleading in cases involving ritual
impurity, implying that impure persons had sinned when they
had not. Therefore, some scholars now refer to the sacrifice
as the "purification offering." This term covers both
purification from sins and purification from ritual impurity.
Another possibility would be to call it the "imperfection
offering." Because imperfection covers both ritual impurity
and moral faults, this idea adequately represents the scope
of the sacrifice. However, throughout the present book I have
used the term "sin offering" so that readers will not become
confused when they compare my explanations with their Bible
We have sinned and we are mortal, in a state leading to
death because of sin. But Christ's sacrifice ransoms us from
our sin and our mortality. Romans 6:23 begins: "For the wages
of sin is death..." Thanks be to God that the verse
continues: "but the free gift of God is eternal life in
Christ Jesus our Lord."
The price of our ransom is too high for us to pay. But
God has paid the price for us through Christ's sacrifice.
C H A P T E R 17
Bob Wright and Scott O'Grady were flying F-16 fighter
planes over Bosnia to enforce a United Nations no-fly zone.
An SA-6 surface-to-air missile fired from the ground hit the
underside of O'Grady's jet and blasted it in half.
Wright could see that O'Grady's cockpit had detached and
was out of the fireball as the rest of the plane
disintegrated, but the cockpit fell so quickly into the
clouds that he could not tell whether the pilot had managed
to eject. "When you lose your wingman, part of you goes with
him," he said later as he recalled that moment.
Wright did what he could: He marked the position where
O'Grady had gone down. But he did not know if he was still
alive. Even if he was alive, Wright could not land his F-16
in order to get his wingman out of Bosnia. (Time, June 19,
1995, p. 22).
It is frustrating when you do your best and it is not
enough. It is even worse when you have caused a problem that
you cannot solve. Then you feel guilty as well as frustrated.
If you have hurt someone by taking something from
him/her, you can and should do what you can to fix the
situation by restoring what you have taken, but there is a
sense in which you are still guilty for what you did. You can
restore something many times over, but it is a historical
fact that you have hurt another person. A problem remains
that you cannot resolve on your own. The solution is found in
the Israelite guilt offering (Lev 5:14-19; 7:1-7).
A guilt offering basically resembled the kind of sin
offering that was performed at the outer altar (Lev 7:1-7;
compare 4:22-35). However, unlike a sin offering, a guilt
offering was called a "food gift" (7:5). This is because the
offerer made a literal payment of debt for a specific amount
before performing the guilt offering itself. This earlier
reparation/restitution, including the amount of damage plus a
20% penalty, was made to the one whom the offerer had
wronged. This could be God, if the sinner had misused
something holy (5:16), or it could be another person whom the
sinner had wronged by means of a false oath (6:5).
Other kinds of sacrifices also atoned for guilt, but the
guilt offering dealt especially with guilt that involved
sacrilege, that is, misusing something holy. It atoned for
three related kinds of sins: Misusing something holy that
belonged to God (Lev 5:14-16), sin that the sinner could not
identify (verses 17-19), or fraud involving a false oath that
misused God's holy name (6:1-6).
It appears that unidentified sin (Lev 5:17-19) fits here
with sins of sacrilege because such a sin could possibly be
sacrilege, a serious offense requiring the sacrifice of a
ram, an expensive flock animal. A person who didn't know was
responsible for the maximum possible. This is like the time I
was driving to a meeting in Chicago with a colleague of mine,
and because we were talking about some deep subject I somehow
didn't see that I was supposed to pick up a ticket when I
entered a toll road. When I exited the toll road without a
ticket to indicate how far I had come, I was required to pay
the maximum amount.
The blood of a guilt offering was tossed on the sides of
the outer altar (Lev 7:2), as in a burnt offering or well
being offering, rather than daubed on the horns of the altar
as in a sin offering. The atoning significance of the blood
was less in a guilt offering because literal payment came
before the sacrifice. Sin offerings emphasized atonement to a
greater degree because they atoned for sins against God to
which no specific price could be attached. In such cases no
reparation could be made earlier by repaying with money or
objects similar to those which had been taken or misused.
Why were guilt offerings required in addition to literal
payment of debt? Because sin creates debt that must be paid
by Christ's sacrificial blood ransom even when we take care
of our earthly responsibility to make wrongs right as best we
can. We can never come up with enough to pay back what we
owe. Our restitutions are important, but they are puny and
insignificant in comparison with Christ's infinite sacrifice!
We must cooperate with God by fixing what we have broken to
the limited extent of our ability, but it is Christ's
sacrifice that provides forgiveness and salvation.
Suppose you break a priceless antique vase. You can pick
up the pieces and give them to the owner, but this does not
fix the vase. Only a master vase restorer can fix the vase.
He will charge a substantial fee for his skilled labor.
Unless you are wealthy, you cannot afford the fee. Even more
so, our sins break more than we can fix. We need Christ's
sacrifice. He can restore the brokenness that we cause and
its effects on others and on ourselves. He can make
everything and everyone completely whole again.
Guilt offerings reveal three principles that we can
apply today. First, we are responsible to God for our
treatment of holy things. If we misuse something holy, such
as tithes or offerings dedicated to God, we should restore
that which we have taken. But the Bible indicates that we
should do more than that. In addition to the principal amount
of the damage, an ancient Israelite was required to pay a 20%
penalty plus give God a ram, which was the most expensive
flock animal (Lev 5:15-16). In case we doubt the seriousness
of misappropriating something that belongs to God, we should
remember the case of Ananias and Sapphira, who died because
they dishonestly withheld some money that they had dedicated
to God (Acts 5:1-11).
Another principle is that we have a responsibility to
our fellow human beings. Leviticus 6:5-6 says that if a
person had wronged another person, he/she was obliged to make
reparation to the wronged person before offering a sacrifice
to God. Jesus applied this principle in His Sermon on the
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you
remember that your brother or sister has something
against you, leave your gift there before the altar and
go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and
then come and offer your gift (Matt 5:23-24).
We cannot expect God to forgive us for wronging someone
unless we do all in our power to put things right.
Forgiveness through Christ is not a "cheap grace" way to
declare bankruptcy on our obligations to other people.
Zacchaeus understood the need for restitution. He said:
"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor;
and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back
four times as much" (Lk 19:8).
A third principle is that we can give our guilt feelings
to Christ. Many people today are plagued by guilt, without
knowing why they feel guilty. These feelings eat away at
their confidence and drag them down into depression.
Leviticus 5:17-19 provided the Israelites with an answer to
this kind of problem: "If any of you sin without knowing
it... You shall bring to the priest a ram... and the priest
shall make atonement on your behalf for the error that you
committed unintentionally, and you shall be forgiven" (verses
17-18). Prior restitution was not required in this situation
because the amount to be restored was unknown. Even without
knowing how they had sinned, the Israelites could be freed
from their guilt by giving it over to God at His sanctuary!
The modern application is: If you don't know exactly
what you have done wrong, don't overburden yourself by trying
to figure it all out. Just turn your feelings over to Christ
and let His sacrifice take your guilt away!
You don't need to spend hours each day trying to recall
every detail of your life, as Martin Luther did before he
understood salvation by grace through faith. Nor do you need
Freudian psychoanalysis to bring your subconscious faults to
light. Working through your conscience, God's Holy Spirit
will reveal to you all you need to know about your sin
(compare Jn 16:8). Even if the Spirit doesn't identify your
sin for you, just give it all to Jesus!
When we do our best, we still have unfinished business
because we are weak and faulty. But Christ can bring our
unresolved problems to an end. He completes what He starts.
He is "the first and the last, the beginning and the end"