You may be dreading this book. Leviticus is where many Bible-reading plans go to die. When we set out to read through the Bible, we oftentimes are faithful through Genesis and Exodus. We love the narratives – the stories of Noah, and of Abraham and his sons, and of Moses and the people of Israel.
And then we get bogged down in Leviticus. We get lost in the Law.
So I hope we can make this something that is beneficial to all of us. My goal is not to explain every little detail of the Law. Frankly, I’m not capable of that, and there are other places you can go to seek out all of those answers. But I think my goal will be to explain some of the major elements of each chapter, especially those that relate most directly to our lives in Christ.
Because that’s what the Book of Leviticus points us toward – Jesus Christ, the slain sacrifice for the atonement of our sins.
We definitely see that here in Chapter 1, which describes the way burnt sacrifices were to be made for the sins of the people. It appears that the exact animal that was offered depended on the economic circumstances of the offerer – from steers to sheep, goats, and birds. Perhaps the wealthy brought cattle and the poor brought birds. But anyone could come. That’s important to know about God and his way with humanity. He is open to all who would come in faith.
The sacrificial scene is graphic if you let yourself spend some time with it. The person offering the animal would place his hand on its head. That animal was going to die in place of the one offering it. In order to come into the presence of the most holy God, an atonement for sin was necessary. To put one’s hand on the head of the animal was a moment in which that person associated himself with the animal. The animal was the substitute. This also is important to know – because this sacrifice points us to the cross.
Then the worshipper would cut the animal’s throat, and the animal presumably would fall lifelessly to the ground. It was dead. It had died in the worshipper’s place. The worshipper, by all rights, should be on the ground dead. But God had made a way. This also is important to know.
Then the priests would take some blood from the animal and splash it against the sides of the altar. The cost of atonement was visible to everyone present. Sin is not cheap.
The animal would be burned. Every bit of it would go up in smoke. It symbolized the life of the worshipper, totally given over to God. And the smoke went up to God – a picture of humanity’s desire to interact with our Creator, to come to Him.
To fully appreciate the Book of Leviticus, and the entirety of the Old Testament and the nation of Israel and Jesus himself, we have to come to appreciate the sacrificial system. We need to understand why these things were done and what they must have meant to the person who performed them.
The most important thing to know, of course, is that God is holy, and sinful humans cannot come to him in their sinfulness. Atonement must be made. There is a cost to sin. And these sacrifices “please” God. They demonstrate to him that the heart of the worshipper is fully given over to God. The worshipper is dedicated to Him.
And Jesus fulfilled the Law. As Christians, we don’t make sacrifices like these any longer because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He was the sacrifice to end, or fulfill, this sacrificial system.
The apostle Peter wrote that we have been ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
Peter went on to write, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:22).
Jesus is our substitute.
This, of course, is important to think about today – the day before Good Friday, when we remember the cross of Christ.