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by Roy Gane

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 impact.

The multi-faceted 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.

The Israelite 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.

Differences between 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 1

Lev 2

Lev 3; 7:11-36

Lev 4-5:13; 6:24-30

Lev 5:14-19; 7:1-7







(no blood)




the Lord

(no flesh)




*except when the offerer is a priest (see for example Lev 4:11-12)

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 Him.

Although grain 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 people.

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 animals?

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 worthless pebble!

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 required.

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. 133).

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 atonement."

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, 31, 35).

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 9:12-14).

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!

Free atonement

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 translates.

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 already His.

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 were!

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 most‹our 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 gift.

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 received forgiveness.

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 baptism represented.

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 and rest.

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 health.

Christ's work of mercy completely consumed Him. This and other meanings were expressed by the burnt offering sacrifice.

Completely consumed

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).

Foundation sacrifice

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.

Ransom, redemption

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 2:6).

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 loan papers!

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 53:5, 10).

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 53:12).

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 consequences.

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.

God's gift

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 sanctuary.

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, 17, 18).

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 exception.

"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 him.

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, 25).

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 survive.

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 a clue.

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 sacrifice:

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 freewill offering.

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:

Blood emphasized

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 place.

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 have to.

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 forgiveness.

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 11:17-34).

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, 15:30).

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 Gen 3).

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 violated.

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 translations.

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 Mount:

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" (Rev 22:13).

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