Holy Unto the Lord.
Leviticus 1-2, Luke 2
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, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. – Leviticus 1:3-4 ESV
Reading through book of Leviticus can be a formidable task. In fact, when most people attempt to read through the Bible, Leviticus is usually where they begin to bog down and even give up. They may even be tempted to simply skip this book altogether. But while Leviticus is full of mind-numbing details about sacrifices and ancient Hebrew rituals, there is much we can learn from its pages. All throughout the book, you will see references to clean and unclean, purification, holiness, and atonement. As in the verses above, you will see the repetitive use of the phrase, “accepted before the Lord.” Similarly, you will see references of offerings and sacrifices being offered “to the Lord” and providing “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” All throughout the pages of Leviticus you will see individuals, like you and me, bringing their offerings to the Tabernacle and sacrificing them unto the Lord. Their offerings were costly. They were required to bring the best of what they had. They could not bring a sick lamb or a defective bull. They were required to offer up to the Lord the very best. It was truly a sacrifice. And it was to be offered willingly and gladly, not begrudgingly. I am reminded of the words of Paul to us as believers, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV). As New Testament saints, we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices to the Lord, because Jesus Christ has offered Himself as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of man. But we are to give to God what Christ has died to redeem: Our lives. And it is costly to sacrifice our lives to Him. Paul goes on to tell us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). We are required to give up our allegiance to this world and our love affair with the things of this world.
That is the picture of Leviticus. As the people of God, the Israelites were being asked by God to set themselves apart from the rest of the world by following His requirements for them. The ritual laws and moral/ethical requirements were designed to set the people of God apart from the world around them. Holiness, purity, and acceptability are key themes in this book. Later on in the book, we will read the command of God, “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). That is a fairly sobering and scary statement. But lest we think it doesn’t apply to us as 21st -Century believers, we need to remember that these are the very words that Peter quoted: “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT). The theme of Leviticus is holiness – the holiness of God and His expectation of holiness among His people. The rituals and rules are merely a means to an end. They are the necessary requirements placed upon man by God that, if followed, will allow man access into His presence.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God is serious about holiness. He is deadly serious about sin. Sin had destroyed His creation and shattered the peace that had permeated the world He had made. It had damaged the relationship between man and God, separating them from one another and leaving man condemned to physical death and an eternal death marked by a permanent separation from the presence of God. In Leviticus we see God providing a means by which man could enjoy His presence once more. But in order for that to happen, sin had to be dealt with. God’s holiness had to be recognized. His transcendence or “otherness” had to be comprehended by men. They had to understand that God was nothing like them. He was sinless and righteous. He was all-powerful and holy. As sinful men, they couldn’t just walk into His presence or treat Him flippantly or carelessly. A big part of the goal of all the rituals and rules found in the book of Leviticus was that the people of God would recognize the true nature of their God. All of these sacrifices and offerings were to be a constant reminder of their sin and His holiness. Everything they were required to do was to be done “unto the Lord.” It was all for His glory and intended to make them acceptable in His presence.
What does this passage reveal about man?
All of these rules and requirements can come across to us as somewhat arbitrary and antiquated. They seem a bit over-the-top and overly bloody. But you can’t read the book of Leviticus and not understand that sin has a cost. Not only that, atonement for sin is equally costly. Every year, tens of thousands of animals were bled to death and sacrificed on the altar as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of man. When a man brought his bull or lamb to the Tabernacle as an offering unto the Lord, he had to bring his best animal, unblemished and spotless. Then he had to lay his hands on the head of the animal, designating it as his substitute or stand-in, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. Then that individual would kill the animal himself. He would take its life, shedding its blood “before the Lord” in order to “make atonement for him.” Then he had to skin the animal, cut it into pieces and watch as the priests laid the dismembered carcass on the fire of the altar. This bloody, messy ordeal would end with the sacrifice becoming “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” That was the goal. That was the whole point. That animal’s death and consumption by fire was accepted by God and, by proxy, made the one who made the offering acceptable and pleasing to God.
Over in the book of Luke, we have recorded the birth of Jesus. He was born into an obscure Jewish family and, like any Jew, was required to keep the rituals and rules placed upon the people of Israel by God. On the eighth day after His birth, Jesus was circumcised, according to God’s command. Days later, once His mother Mary had fulfilled the purification requirements spelled out in the Law (Leviticus 12:3-4), Jesus was brought to the Temple so that He could be offered as the firstborn. Ever since the Exodus, God had required that the Jews offer their firstborn male son as a sacrifice to Him. It was a ritualistic reminder of His killing of the firstborn in Egypt that led to their eventual release from captivity by Pharaoh. God told the people, “All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed” (Exodus 34:19-20 ESV). So when the time came, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, in keeping with the law of God. Everything about Jesus’ birth and life was in keeping with His Father’s law. Even Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). It was Jesus’ ability to keep God’s law perfectly and to live a human life without sin that made Him the acceptable sacrifice to God. He was able to do what no man had ever done – live in complete obedience to the law of God and without sin. And His death as our sinless sacrifice has made access into God’s presence possible for any who will accept the free gift of His substitutionary death on their behalf. Like the Israelite who was required to lay his hand on the head of that lamb and trust that God would accept find him acceptable and pleasing, we must, in essence lay our hands on the head of Jesus, and trust that His death in our place will make us pleasing and acceptable to God.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
So much of what God requires of me can seem daunting and impossible. I am to love my neighbor. I am to live sacrificially and count others as more important than myself. I am to die to myself daily. I am to live in submission to the Holy Spirit and bear fruit in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). I am to offer my body as a living sacrifice each and every day of my life. I am to live in unity with other believers, forgive those who hurt me, give to others without expecting anything in return. and keep myself unstained by the world’s influence. But those things are not what make me righteous and acceptable to God. It is the work of Christ on the cross that makes me holy. All of those things are the byproduct of my new relationship with God through Christ. I have a new capacity to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to guide me and the Word of God to teach me. Any offering or sacrifice I make to God is not done as some kind of penance or to act as some form of atonement. They are to be the expression of a grateful heart to a gracious God who has made me acceptable in His sight. When Peter quotes God and says, “You must be holy because I am holy,” he is not telling us to become something we are NOT. He is reminding us to live as what we ARE. We are holy. We belong to God. And our lives and actions should reflect our new nature and standing before God.
Father, Thank You that my relationship with You is not based on my ability to live in obedience to some set of standards. Thank You that the way to get right with You was not based on me trying to live a sinless life, because I could never have lived up to that standard. But while I was still a sinner, mired in my sinfulness, You sent Your Son to die in my place and to act as my atoning sacrifice. In essence, ll I had to do was place my hand on His head and believe that He would be my substitute, my stand-in and that You would accept Him in my place. And You did. For that I am eternally grateful. Now continue to help me live as what I am – Your child, holy and acceptable in Your sight. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men