When is the last time you had a big fight with someone – and you were the one at fault? I don’t know about you, but those are some dark times. Not only have you done something terrible, you’ve hurt someone in the process. What can you do to fix the problem you’ve caused? How can you heal the hurt you inflicted? Apologizing, though deeply humbling, still seems too little. Will time heal the wound? Or will things never go back to the way they were?
Speaking of things changing, life has definitely changed for the Israelites in Leviticus. The tabernacle is finished, which means God is now closer than ever to His children. This means more long talks with God, more signs from Him, and more sacrifices to Him. This chapter starts a long series of descriptions of those very sacrifices. The first type of sacrifice God describes is the burnt sacrifices.
Burnt offerings were made with either a bull, a sheep, a goat, or a bird. If the animal was one of the first three, it needed to be a male without defect. Whatever the animal was, it needed to be killed and then completely burned up on the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The burnt offerings were made for atonement for sin (verse 4). I can promise you that no one was looking forward to these ceremonies, but the Israelites knew and Moses knew and God knew that they had to happen.
The Treasures Within:
I hear humanity as a whole was much healthier and smarter back in those days (processed foods really take it out of us, I guess), but I still wouldn’t be surprised if the priests had to bring notes with them as they performed some of those first burnt offerings. There was so much to remember! After killing the animal, its blood needed to be splashed on the side of the altar. The sacrifice needed to be skinned and cut into pieces. Those pieces needed to be arranged on the altar. The internal pieces and the legs needed to be washed and then burned with the rest of it. If the sacrifice was a bird, its feathers and crop needed to be removed and thrown on the east side of the altar with the ashes. Then it needed to be torn open, but not all the way. Finally, it was to be burned (verses 5-9. 17). There was so much to do, and it was all grisly and painful and awful. Why was there so much to think about? Why did this even have to take so long? I imagine that a quick death and simple burial would have gotten the point across a lot faster. Why do all this?
The fundamental answer to the question “why” is one we’ve studied before. God established these sacrifices – blood, gore and all – as a symbol. It was a ritual that pointed years into the future to the Son of God, to Jesus, and how he would die – brutally, slowly, and painfully – on the cross for our sins. Just like the innocent bird or bull or sheep, Jesus died for stuff He didn’t do at all. It was awful when He died and these sacrifices, slow and meditative and thorough, got that point across. As the priests and the Israelites went through these laborious, uncomfortable steps, they were forced to think about what they were doing, why they were doing it, and what it meant. It was probably excruciating, but still nothing compared to what their Savior would one day endure. And so in the midst of their pain, they felt gratitude.
But times are different now. We don’t have to sacrifice any animals or learn the different types of offerings or regularly present ourselves before priests because the true Lamb of God has already come and become the new example that shows us exactly what sin is capable of. But just as the way we repent for sin has changed, so have our feelings concerning our sin. It seems painless and simple to repent for our sins. After sinning and realizing what we’ve done, all we have to do is whisper “Forgive me” and just like that, we can move on. We talk about how easy it is to come to God, to ask for forgiveness, and to have our sins washed away, but when have we crossed the line between understanding how free salvation is and taking advantage of the supposedly simple process?
When was the last time you sinned? When was the last time you hurt God? When was the last time you ignored His instructions? When was the last time you acted as if He had no part in your life? What can be done to even begin to address that kind of wound, to heal that kind of pain? When we sin, do we stop and think about what we’ve done? Do we consider how much it hurts God? Do we think about what He did on the cross and how uncomfortable and brutal that was? Or do we quickly mumble “I’m sorry”, pause for just a moment to ask for forgiveness, or even worse, dismiss it with a wave of a hand and a “God knows my heart”? What if we slowed down like the Israelites did? What if we took the time out to ask for forgiveness with a focused heart, with true sorrow for what sin is? How would that change the way we thought about sin? How would that change our future decisions about sin? How would that change our relationship with God?
God’s Message To Us:
“The wages of sin is death.” Sin is serious. It’s not a joke. It’s no game. This is not good news, because we like the idea of having our fun and asking for forgiveness later. But the truth is that we literally cannot afford that. The sacrifices the Israelites had to offer made that clear. But despite even that, the Israelites continued to sin. If you thought the golden calf in Exodus was bad, wait till we get to Judges. This is no surprise to anyone, but sin is in our blood. It’s in our DNA. We’re wired to love it. And since the wages of sin is death, it means we’re practically programmed to die. Thankfully, the point of the animal sacrifices for the Israelites and Jesus’ death on the cross for us was not just to display how awful sin is – it was also to introduce hope. It was to make plain that there does exist Someone who will not only save us from our sin but keep us from sin. We don’t have to die if we don’t want to. And thanks to that truth, we can feel gratitude.
What do you think? What is repentance supposed to look like? What did God teach you from this chapter of the Bible?