The Lord's Day Evening
October 10, 2004
“The Sacrifice of Peace: The Fellowship Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter three. As we began our study of the Book of Leviticus, we observed a number of things about the structure of this book. The first half deals with the various sacrifices, the ordination of the priests, and culminates in chapter sixteen with the description of the sacrifice of atonement on the Day of Atonement.
The second half of the book gives us the consecration of the people of God in their fellowship with the living God. Especially we focused on chapters one through seven, saying that here we have the ritual voluntary, personal sacrifices described–five great sacrifices or offerings described from two perspectives.
First, each of these five offerings are described from the perspective of the offerer, the one who is to bring this offering, and the various stipulations that are attendant with these sacrifices.
Then those same five sacrifices are described again from the standpoint of the responsibility of the priest. And so we’ll have an opportunity to revisit and see other aspects of these sacrifices that we haven't seen as we work through them the first time. The very first word in Leviticus is “And.” It's probably translated appropriately and accurately in your translations as “Then”, but that And, that Then that connects Leviticus with everything that goes before it in the book of Exodus shows that Exodus, especially in the last ten or so chapters, focuses on the tabernacle, and so Leviticus describes the service of the tabernacle. If Exodus describes the building and the structure and the components of the tabernacle, then Leviticus describes the various aspects of the service of the tabernacle; and so it goes perfectly with the tabernacle narrative at the end of the Book of Exodus.
Last week we looked at Leviticus 2. And in Leviticus 2 we saw the grain offering described, and in that grain offering worshipers offered either cooked or uncooked meal as an offering to the Lord. Those ingredients symbolized God's lasting bounty, and they excluded certain elements that were capable of fermenting and thus represented corruption. And so these offerings demonstrate dedication to the Lord: a recognition that God provides that bounty; a recognition that as we offer that bounty back to the Lord, we are dedicating ourselves to His service.
Leviticus 2 broke down into two parts. There was the instruction of the meal offering in verses 1-10, and then there was a description of the distinctive ingredients of that meal offering in verses 11-16.
Now the chapter we're going to look at tonight is a little bit different. It comes in three parts. If you look at Leviticus 3, it deals with how cattle are to be offered as part of the fellowship, or peace offering, in verses 1-5. It comes back again and repeats the same ground showing how you are to do the fellowship, or peace offering if you use sheep instead in verses 6 through 11. And then it says, “Well, if you don't do it with cattle or with sheep, this is how you would do it if you were to use goats.” And so we're going to see some of the principles repeated three times in the passage. The nice thing about that is it lets you know exactly what God intended you to learn from the sacrifices. He repeats it three times. He's a good teacher, and over and over the same structure is repeated as He discusses cattle (vss 1-5); sheep (vss 6-11); and goats (vss 12-16).
Before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help.
Lord, we do need your help. We not only want to understand what You have set forth here in Your word as Moses explains it; we not only long to understand how these sacrifices functioned for Your old covenant people, we want to see what these sacrifices teach us about the Lord Jesus Christ and about our fellowship with You. And so we need spiritual eyes to discern spiritual truth. Help us to understand by Your Spirit. Apply Your truth to our hearts by Your Spirit. Help us to be diligent hearers, attentive listeners, longing to see and embrace the truth for ourselves. Hear our prayers. Give us aid. Get the glory for Yourself. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word in Leviticus 3.
Now if his offering is a sacrifice of peace offerings, if he is going to offer out of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without defect before the LORD. 'He shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and slay it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood around on the altar. 'From the sacrifice of the peace offerings he shall present an offering by fire to the LORD, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. 'ThenAaron's sons shall offer it up in smoke on the altar on the burnt offering, which is on the wood that is on the fire; it is an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. 'But if his offering for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD is from the flock, he shall offer it, male or female, without defect. 'If he is going to offer a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD, and he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and slay it before the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. 'From the sacrifice of peace offerings he shall bring as an offering by fire to the LORD, its fat, the entire fat tail which he shall remove close to the backbone, and the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. 'Then the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire to the LORD. 'Moreover, if his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the LORD, and he shall lay his hand on its head and slay it before the tent of meeting, and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. 'From it he shall present his offering as an offering by fire to the LORD, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. 'The priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire for a soothing aroma; all fat is the LORD'S. 'It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall not eat any fat or any blood.'”
And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now, we've already learned a number of great spiritual lessons in the Book of Leviticus over the last couple of weeks. We remember when we looked at Leviticus 1 and we saw detail not unlike the detail we've just read tonight about which parts are to be offered, and how it's to be done, in minute detail, we were reminded again in these very detailed instructions that God cares how we worship Him. You can't just worship God in any old way. He cares how we do it, and He makes that very clear in Leviticus 1.
We also were reminded of the truth that in true worship there is always a voluntary personal and spontaneous aspect. True worship is something that we desire to do, that we are willing to do, that we long to do, that we delight to do. It is personal. It is in the context of the gathering of God's people, but it engages the hearts of each one of God's people as they enter into that true worship, and it is spontaneous. These sacrifices are not the mandated festival sacrifices that are described elsewhere in the books of Moses. These are sacrifices which the worshiper is given the privilege of bringing when he desires to. There may be an instance in life that prompts a worshiper to want to come and bring the sacrifice of the fellowship offering, or of the peace offering. He's not commanded to come and do it at a particular time of year. It's not a repetitive sacrifice that must be done every year. He simply longs to do it, and we learn from that that there is in all true religion and all true worship something of a voluntary and personal and spontaneous aspect. That is not just the New Testament. That's the Old Testament. That's Bible worship. The heart must be engaged in worship, or it is not true worship. The heart must be willing, and desire to meet with God and to worship God, or it is not true worship.
We've also learned from Leviticus 1 and 2 already that the Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice. The very first sacrifice was the sacrifice of burnt offering, an offering that was wholly given to the Lord which established the worshiper's privilege of coming into the presence of God. And the Lord accepts those who come to Him, come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice. This principle was vital to the whole Levitical system, and of course it points forward to a tremendously important New Testament truth: that there is no way to come to God except by the once-for-all real sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We also saw, and we saw this even in chapter 1 of Leviticus, that every sacrifice should cost the offering something. In Leviticus 1 the olah, the burnt offering we often call the holocaust, could be offered with various types of material–animal or even birds–as the thing that was being sacrificed. Some of these things would have been quite expensive. To offer, for instance, from the herd a male without defect would have been completely beyond some people in Israel. They wouldn't have been wealthy enough to offer the head from the herd that was without defect. But doves could also be offered, so that whether you were rich or very poor there was something that you could offer to the Lord for the burnt offering if you so desired to make that offering. But it cost you something. If you were poor, it would have been a very significant thing to give those doves as an offering to the Lord. And if you were wealthy, it would have been something to give of the herd to the Lord. And so the principle is established that every sacrifice should cost the offerer something, and this constantly reminded the people of God of the costliness of fellowship with God. Ultimately, it would point to the cost God Himself would bear for us, rather than the cost to us of the object of sacrifice, because in the end the final sacrifice that was offered for our peace we did not offer, but God the Father offered–and it was the costliest sacrifice ever offered.
We also learned, and we saw this last week as we studied the grain offerings–and the grain offerings could be called or translated the pledge offerings–that these sacrifices, these offerings, are acts of dedication to the Lord. They acknowledge that God is Lord over all. That's why the grain offerings are called memorials. They remember that God has given us something–in this case, that God has given His people bounty. And so from that bounteous grain, some of it is given back to Him as an offering. And so, in acknowledging God as Lord over all, and in acknowledging God's kind provision, the worshiper dedicates himself to the Lord. He acknowledges that God owns the blessings which He has given to him, and that God owns him. That is, God owns the offering and the offerer. And so the sacrifice is a sacrifice of dedication whereby you say, ‘Lord, I'm giving You back part of what You gave me, but I know that You own me, too. And so accept this gift, a part of what You have given me, as if it were me giving myself to You.’ And we said that Paul's principle from Romans 12:1 builds on that idea that we are to give ourselves as a living sacrifice, he says, which is our acceptable worship.
Well, we've learned all of these things in our studies so far. And the fellowship offering teaches us something more. There are four or five things that I'd like you to see tonight from our study of the fellowship offering.
I. Fellowship/communion with God is experienced only by the shedding of the blood of a perfect substitutionary sacrifice.
The first thing I want you to see is this. God makes is clear in Leviticus 3 that our fellowship with God, our communion with God, is experienced only by the shedding of the blood of a perfect substitutionary sacrifice. This is, again, a blood sacrifice. And look at what we read in verses 1-2:
“If his offering is a sacrifice of peace offerings, if he is going to offer out of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without defect before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the offering and slay it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle the blood around on the altar.”
This fellowship offering is an offering that is given to the Lord in thanksgiving for the peace which He has established when there's been some estrangement between the worshiper and his Lord. We don't know exactly what circumstances that would have been done in, but perhaps the person had committed a sin, and he had offered up an atoning sacrifice for that sin. The fellowship offering would follow that offering of guilt, or of atonement, as an expression of thanksgiving that the relationship between the worshiper and God had been healed, and that fellowship had been restored and renewed.
I have an outline for you in the Worship Guide that explains a little bit about how these offerings work together. This comes out of either the New American Standard Study Bible, or the NIV Study Bible. There are many study Bibles that have good charts of the various sacrifices, but just in case you didn't have access to them, we got permission to include those in the Worship Guide, just so you could see how these offerings relate to one another.
And so this fellowship offering typically, if you look at the bottom, followed another offering–a sin offering, or a guilt offering–to express restored fellowship or communion with God. But the very act of doing this fellowship offering reminded the worshiper that the only way he had been able to come back into the fullness, the sweetness, the joy of fellowship and communion with God, was through the blood of a perfect substitutionary sacrifice. And you see how that's repeated three times in this passage, in the sacrifice from the herd, then the sacrifice from the flock, and then the sacrifice from the goats is described. If you look at verses one and two, and also in verses six through eight, and verses twelve through thirteen that same principle is repeated. All of the effects of the atoning substitutionary sacrifice tell the worshiper that he or she is at peace with God again. And so the worshiper is being taught even in the offering of the sacrifice that communion with God is experienced by us sinners only through the shed blood of a perfect substitutionary sacrifice.
II. Fellowship/communion with God involves surrender to God and testimony to His mercy.
There's a second thing we learn. Look at verses three and four. There we're reminded that fellowship, or communion with God, involves a surrender to God as well as a testimony to His mercy. Now where do I get that? Let's look at what verses three and four say. “(3) From the sacrifice of peace offerings, he shall present an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, (4) and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the love of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys.”
Now, what is being said there is that a specific part of this animal that is being sacrificed is to be given wholly and only to the Lord. Part of this animal will be given to the priest to eat. Part of this animal will be given back to the one who brought the sacrifice to eat in the communion of saints at the tabernacle on the day that the offering is made. But part of this sacrifice is to be only given to the Lord; it belongs to God alone. And this in and of itself reminds the worshiper that there are some things that are to be surrendered to God as His alone; and that in and of itself points to the importance of surrendering the whole of our lives to Him, giving Him the best that we have of ourselves.
All of these parts that are given to God are inward parts of the animal. It required the killing of the animal. You couldn't get to any of these parts without the sacrifice of the animal. But once the animal was sacrificed, these parts were reserved for the Lord. That's why you have the statement in verse 17 that “it's a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall not eat any fat or any blood.” That's referring to this offering, because this offering is a meal.
It's a communion meal. You don't pick that up as much from chapter three. It will be elaborated on when we see this from the perspective of the priests later on, as we look at it in chapter seven. But what is happening here is that part of the animal is offered up to God as a burnt offering; part of it is given to the priest to eat; the rest is part of a great feast–a party, if you will–which is commanded of God to be held on the day that the sacrifice is offered, with the rest of those of His people who are gathered at the Tent of Meeting. And so God commands this communion meal to be enjoyed, but part of the sacrifices is reserved for Him. And so the worshiper learns that worshiping God means surrendering our lives to Him, giving Him the best we have.
And this offering also involves a testimony of thanksgiving to God. While the offering is being made and before the communal meal was partaken of, the worshiper would often give testimony in the midst of the people of God to how God had restored fellowship with him, in spite of his sin. We see an example of the testimony in Psalm 107. Turn with me there.
Psalm 107:22 — where the psalmist calls on us to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and to tell of His works with joyful singing. So the people of God are to offer this sacrifice of peace, this sacrifice of thanksgiving, this sacrifice of fellowship–and they are to tell of His works with joyful singing.
You know one person in the Old Testament who did this–Hannah. You remember Hannah? She was a barren woman. She had no child. She longed for a child, and the Lord gave her a child: Samuel. And she devoted him to the service of the Lord. And do you know what the Old Testament tells us she did? When she had Samuel, she came into the temple with a fellowship offering for the Lord. She brought three animals from the herd! She must have had a very wealthy husband! Three animals from the herd, an ephah of flour–she brought an extravagant fellowship and grain offering and poured it out before the Lord. And then what did she do? She gave testimony that the Lord had answered her prayers and had shown her favor, and that she was here to give thanksgiving to the Lord.
And you know, her words would become the foundation for the words of Mary when she gave thanks that the Lord had called upon her to be the bearer of the Lord Jesus Christ, who would save the world.
Now that came from a thank offering. That's Hannah showing her heart for the Lord pouring out in thanks at the fellowship offering, at the thanks offering before the Lord. And so this fellowship offering involves the surrender of ourselves to God and a testimony to His mercy.
III. God delights in fellowship/communion with His people.
But there's a third thing I want you to see. You’ll see this especially in verses 5, 11, and 16. The fellowship offering teaches us that God delights in fellowship, in communion with His people. Look at what's said in verse 5: after “Aaron's sons… offer up in smoke on the altar on the burnt offering, which is on the wood that is on the fire; …” it is described as “an offering by fire of soothing aroma to the Lord.” An offering by fire to the Lord, in verse 11, and then in verse 16 “an offering by fire for a soothing aroma….” That's Moses’ way of saying God delights in the communion He shares with His people in this sacrifice. The devout believer sees every gift of God as an occasion to worship Him in communion with other believers. That's expressed in this sacrifice of fellowship and peace, and Moses goes out of his way three times to tell you God likes it. To put it crassly, it smells good to the Lord. He delights in His people's communing with Him in this sacrifice of peace, and fellowship and thanksgiving. And so we learn this from the peace offerings of Leviticus 3
IV. We experience peace with God/restored communion/fellowship with God, through Christ's shed blood/justification by faith.
But we also learn something else, and this is a New Testament truth. We learn that we experience peace with God, we experience restored communion and fellowship with God through Christ's shed blood. Turn with me to Romans 5 and listen to what Paul says. He's been talking to you about justification by faith, and he says this (Romans 5:1):
“(1) Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
What's Paul telling you there? He's telling you that the peace offering of the Old Testament was simply a foreshadowing of the real offering that established peace. Jesus’ atoning work established the grounds for peace between an offended, holy but loving God, and His sinful but contrite people. Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement is the basis of our peace. Therefore having been justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is pointing back to this story of Leviticus 3, and he's showing you the fulfillment of the peace offering in Jesus Christ.
V. NT counterpart to fellowship offering meal is found in the Lord's Supper.
And that, of course, teaches us another New Testament truth from Leviticus 3, and that is that the New Testament counterpart to the meal of the fellowship offering, or the peace offering, can be found in the Lord's Supper. And like the Old Testament sacrifice, this food represents the real atoning sacrifice in prophetic form. It's not described in detail in Leviticus 3, but we’ll see it better when we get to Leviticus 7. But this is essentially a meal. This sacrifice entails a communing meal, and the substance of that meal, the thing that is taken into the mouths of those who share in this communing meal with one another and with God is the sacrifice which represents the basis of restored peace with God.
Well, think of what Jesus says at the Lord's Supper: “This is My body…this is My blood.” Jesus says that the constituent parts of the Lord's Supper represent Himself as a sacrifice offered to the Lord. So as the Old Testament fellowship offering entailed eating a sacrifice that pointed to the atoning work of God, so the Lord's Supper entails eating elements which point to the reality of Jesus’ shed blood in prophetic form. And so it is true that the Passover meal points to the reality of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament; so does the fellowship offering meal. And that's why it's so beautiful that on this, a communion Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, that we could be in Leviticus 3, because the Old Testament worshiper experienced in the fellowship offering something of the culminating hope of every worshiper.
What is the point of trusting in God? How did Moses put it over and over? He wanted to see God, and to see God's glory. In other words, he wanted to be in His presence and he wanted to fellowship with Him. The goal of redemption was communion with God. Well, what is set forth in the fellowship meal, in the fellowship offering? The obtaining of communing with God, where God says, ‘Children, slide your knees up under My table and have a meal with Me. Enter into restored fellowship with Me.”
Experience what it is to have a clean conscience, to be accepted by a holy and righteous and perfect God; to enjoy shared life with Him. You see, this is the desire of every worshiper: to know that kind of communion with God. And the fellowship meal, as part of this peace offering, beautifully foreshadowed that. We enjoy that same reality foreshadowed every time we come to the Lord's Table. And one day, just as we sang of it in How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place, we shall enjoy that fellowship in the marriage feast of the Lamb, and it will be just the beginning of an eternity of that communion.
May God bless His word. Let's pray.
Lord God, thank You for Your word, and thank You that You want fellowship with Your people, that You delight in the offerings of Your people; and, more than that, that You delight in communion with Your people. We find it hard to believe, Lord, that You would want to commune with the likes of us. It is one of the most extravagant graces that You bestow, when You tell us that You do want to be with us. You do want to talk with us; You do want to sup with us; You do want to be near to us and to delight in conversation and in fellowship with us. We bless You for this truth from Moses’ words in Leviticus, and we ask that You would receive our thanks and praise, and that You would only increase our thankful hearts and our desires to come before You in worship with the people of God to commune with You, even as we contemplate the truth of Your word. We ask these things through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.