The Inspired, infallible, irrelevant(?) Word of God
I heard it again today and it breaks my heart that such a huge and vital portion of the Word of God is so disdained and dismissed by so many believers. “The Old Testament is irrelevant to New Testament believers. It has nothing to do with us. We are free of its burdensome weight.” My friend, there is nothing in the Word of God correctly understood that is burdensome to us. And, though many of the Old Testament, if not in fact most, laws and sacrifices were either fulfilled or repealed by the New Covenant death of Jesus on the cross, the symbolism and the wisdom remains. The truth is that the apostle Paul said to Timothy, “ALL scripture is breathed by God and profitable……” There is no scripture to which Paul could have been referring EXCEPT the law and the prophets for there were no other scriptures at that time.
I have been preaching through the book of Leviticus for the past several weeks at our church and the richness of typology and symbolism is astounding. In fact, I find it difficult to imagine how anyone truly understands the atonement with solely a “new testament” view. I thought that my next few posts might just outline some of the rich truth that is contained in the law and prophets. The first I want to address is the subject of the five sacrifices of Leviticus, each one of which was fulfilled by the death of Jesus on the cross.
The first sacrifice described in Leviticus is the burnt offering, which illustrates the believer’s total surrender to the Father’s will. The true essence of worship is a heart that is in total submission to God.
And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. (Leviticus 1:9)
The burnt offering is a picture of Jesus’ heart of love and consecration to His heavenly Father. It is listed first among the Levitical sacrifices because of its foundational role in pointing to the example of Christ. His passion was the ultimate fulfillment of the first and greatest commandment: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might (Mark 12:28-34). His passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane should be our cry as well: “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
The burnt offering has profound implications for the meaning of discipleship. We try to make disciples by offering sermons, books, and classes, hoping that such resources will turn converts into fully devoted followers of Jesus. But, too often, we have left out the very first step in the discipleship process: dying to ourselves! Jesus couldn’t have been more pointed: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). We often give the impression that a person can follow Jesus without self-denial and embracing the cross! In fact, many today teach that you don’t have to do anything; simply change your mind about Jesus and receive His grace and blessings. Jesus could not have been more explicit in word or example.
The second sacrifice was the grain offering, which was also called the “meal offering.” The grain offering represents the obedience of sinless service (grain without leaven), which naturally flows out of a surrendered life. It also represents communion with God. Through Jesus’ sinless service He became our grain offering, so that we might freely commune with the Father.
The salt used in the grain offering points to Jesus as the salt of the earth, who came to cover and preserve us throughout eternity (Matthew 5:13). As Christ followers, we are called to be salt. In a world filled with decay and death, we are to be preservatives. In a world that is often lifeless and bland, we are to supply flavor and fragrance. In a world where hearts are cold and hard, we are to be agents of softening, tenderizing, melting. But the impact of salt is diminished when it becomes compromised and adulterated. Each level of “worldliness” we allow to creep into our lives diminishes the saltiness of our lives, making us less like Christ and more like the world.
The third sacrifice listed is the peace offering. The peace offering, also known as the fellowship offering, is a symbol of intimate friendship and reconciliation. It is a spontaneous offering which expresses one’s gratitude and commitment to the Lord. Our fellowship with God and with one another, depicted in this offering, becomes like a sweet aroma.
There were three types of peace offerings: the praise, the vow, and the freewill. These are all a picture of our Lord Jesus’ continuing fellowship with the Father, which we, too, can experience through the work of the cross. Not only does Jesus give us peace, He is our peace! (See Ephesians 2:14.) He has broken down the wall of separation between us and God, between us and each other.
The fourth sacrifice was the sin offering. It was a mandatory offering that typified Jesus as the guilt substitute for our sins. in the moment of His death Jesus became guilty of all of my sin and of yours. He was an offering given by the Father in payment for our sins. He paid the “redemptive price” such as would be paid in the slave market to redeem a man from slavery. He is our guilt-bearer. He is our sin offering. One time and for every man, Jesus took away our guilt and paid sin’s penalty, which is death (Romans 6:23).
Many Christians have only scratched the surface in their understanding of who they are in Christ because of His sin offering. Yes, we are forgiven, but that is only the beginning. He has also given us a new nature which is free to serve Him and not our former lusts! Paul shares this amazing news with the Corinthians: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Christ you have received not only forgiveness, but the very righteousness of God! This is the most fantastic revelation a man could ever receive. I am not only free of my guilt and shame, but I am given a nature which instead of seeking its own destructive lusts, now hungers and seeks after the things of God.
The fifth sacrifice that was offered in Leviticus was the trespass offering, or the guilt offering. This offering represents our need for Jesus to heal the damage done by sin. Sin always damages, everything. Lives, relationships, marriages, families – all destroyed by the power of sin. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is our Savior, our Healer, and our Deliverer. who came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). I John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is good news! As Isaiah 53:8 prophetically declared hundreds of years before Christ’s passion: “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.”
An interesting aspect of the trespass offering is that God expected the transgressor to make restitution whenever possible: “And he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him” (Leviticus 5:16).
In light of Jesus’ great grace in forgiving our sins, we may think this requirement for restitution is somewhat out of place. Isn’t Jesus’ blood the sole hope for our forgiveness? Indeed it is, but there is also an aspect of accountability for those who would bring a trespass offering. If we expect to be right with God, we must do whatever we can to make things right with any person we have wronged (Matthew 5:23-24). When we ask the Lord to forgive our trespasses, we should be sure that we have also forgiven those who have trespassed against us (Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:35-36, Matthew 18:21-35).
All of this is taken right out of the Law of God as recorded in the Book of Leviticus. Irrelevant, non applicable, no longer useful to healthy Christian life – please; it may be old covenant but it is pointing us toward and revealing to us in the marvelous technicolor which is the life of Israel, God’s chosen people, the power of God’s restorative, redemptive, atoning work through Jesus. To refuse to understand the work of God in the Sinai desert is to fail to understand the great work that was done on Golgotha.