The Lord's Day Evening
November 28, 2004
“Slain Before the Lord: The Sin Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter six. Last week we were looking at Leviticus 6:19-23, and at the priestly grain offering. And we saw several things in that passage of note. First of all, the emphasis on consecration: the way that Aaron and his sons were to express, to visibly manifest their consecration of the whole of themselves to the Lord on the day of the high priest's ordination by the giving of this grain offering. That consecration through the giving of the grain was an act whereby they said, ‘Lord, this bread represents me. I am wholly Yours. I am giving myself to You.’ It was an offering of self-devotion, and it indicated the priest's giving himself in the entirety of himself to the Lord.
We also said that this priestly offering, like so many other offerings that we have already seen, was given to emphasize the assurance of God's people of the acceptance of the Lord. It was offered up as a soothing aroma to the Lord, and we said that the very sight of that smoke going up to the Lord, the whole offering being consumed by fire, was a sign to God's people of their acceptance by God. It assured them that God had heard their cries, and had forgiven their sins.
And we also said that that priestly grain offering spoke of the reconciliation that was necessary for communion with God. It was a permanent ordinance offered entirely up in smoke before the Lord. It was to be burned entirely and not eaten. This reminded us, of course, that priests were sinful and they needed forgiveness, too. And the daily offering of this by the priests indicated that the restored communion which the people of God desired required forgiveness. We also said that the very repetition of this grain offering raised the question of who will mediate for the mediators. And we pointed to Jesus Christ as the only One who could offer a perfect mediation on our behalf.
Well, this week we turn to the sin offering, or the purification offering, again. We looked at this from the standpoint of the people of God offering it, in Leviticus 4. Now we’ll look at it from the standpoint of the priestly role in receiving this offering of the people of God. And before we look at this passage and hear it read and proclaimed, let's turn to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We thank You for the way You manifest Your love and care for Your people in Your word, even in these intricate, detailed rituals commanded by You through Your servant Moses for Your old covenant people. We pray that as your new covenant people we would learn of Your purposes for us in Jesus Christ, even as we study these old covenant rituals. We ask that You would cause us to behold wonderful things in Your law. We ask especially that as we see our sin, as we see the need for atonement, we will see also our Savior and the fullness of the atoning offering which He has offered up on our behalf, and that we would be thereby assured of salvation in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Hear God's word in Leviticus six, beginning in verse twenty-four.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering: in the place where the burnt offering is slain the sin offering shall be slain before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting. Anyone who touches its flesh shall become consecrated; and when any of its blood splashes on a garment, in a holy place you shall wash what was splashed on. Also the earthenware vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken; and if it was boiled in a bronze vessel, then it shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering of which any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place shall be eaten it shall be burned with fire.’’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant and authoritative word. May He add His blessing to it.
There are three things in this passage tonight that I want to draw to your attention. The first has to do, again, with assurance. And in verses 25-26, Moses gives us again God's instructions about the sin offering in order to show that God had provided for His people's assurance.
Secondly, I want you to see something of the holiness of an atoning sacrifice. In verses 27-28, there is an emphasis here on the holiness of this sacrifice and of its blood.
And then finally, I want you to see something of the sin and purification offerings for the whole congregation and the priests. If you look at verse 30, you’ll notice that they are to be entirely offered to the Lord. And I want you to see what this says about our restored fellowship with God.
I. The need to know of our forgiveness and the Lord's acceptance.
Let's walk through this passage together, then, first looking at verses 25-26. Here Moses speaks to Aaron. The Lord has given him this instruction, saying,
“‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying “This is the law of the sin offering: in the place where the burnt offering is slain the sin offering shall b slain before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting.’”
Throughout these offerings we have seen Moses stress the need of the people of God to know that the offering which they have made for their sins has been accepted by God, because one of the purposes of worship is to come before the Lord and to experience the blessing, the benefit, of knowing that our sin-wrecked fellowship has been restored with Him through the atoning sacrifice.
And so there were various devices established within the ritual ceremonial law designed to assure the worshipper that his offering of atonement had indeed been accepted by God, that he had been accepted by God. The Lord knows our need of forgiveness and our need to know that God's forgiveness has been extended to us, that we have been accepted.
And there are several things in verses 25-26 that the Lord commands in order that the worshipper who has brought this sin offering would know that his forgiveness has been extended. Look at three or four of them.
First of all, in verse25 we're told that the sacrifice is to be brought before the Lord. Forgiveness comes from the Lord, and so the sacrifice is to be brought before the Lord. It's to be brought into His presence, into the ritual precincts of the tent of meeting, because forgiveness comes from the Lord. And so the very place that it is brought is designed to assure the worshipper that the sacrifice is going to be accepted of God.
And then, secondly, notice that the death penalty is enacted upon the sacrifice. The sacrifice is slain before the Lord. In fact, in verse 25 this is emphasized twice:
‘…in the place where the burnt offering is slain, the sin offering shall be slain before the Lord. It is most holy.”
Again in verse 26, we're told that the priest who has assisted in the offering of this sacrifice is to eat it in that place: “The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it.” This portion of this sin sacrifice is eaten by the priest, again, to assure the worshipper that the offering is acceptable according to God's commands and that it has been accepted. The worshipper has been accepted by God.
And furthermore, notice that it is to be eaten in the precincts of the tent of meeting, a holy place (verse 26): “It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting.” The very precincts, the very place where the offering is to be eaten is again designed to assure the worshipper of its acceptance.
Now, Moses’ seriousness about these particular charges, these commands to the priests designed to assure the people of God, is brought into bold relief when we turn just a few chapters ahead to Leviticus, chapter ten. Now, many of you will know Leviticus 10. It may be one of the two most familiar chapters in the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus 16, the atonement chapter, is a familiar chapter to most, even if we're not overly familiar with the Book of Leviticus, but Leviticus 10 is the chapter where we have the story of Nadab and Abihu recorded, which is one of the most famous stories from Leviticus.
But if you’ll look past that story and look all the way down to verse 16, you’ll find this very interesting piece of history recorded:
Leviticus 10:16 — “Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up!”
Let me just pause there and say this sin offering had been brought in, and instead of being eaten by the officiating priest, the whole of this goat had been burned up. And so, we're told in verse 16,
“…So he was angry with Aaron's surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place/ For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.’”
Moses is angry with the priests! Why? Because they have not eaten their portion of this sin offering, and thereby they have robbed the congregation from the sense of assurance that God wanted them to have by seeing the priests eating that offering in the holy, the consecrated, place, there in the tent of meeting.
But you notice in verse 19 Aaron responds to Moses by saying,
“Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the Lord?”
What's Aaron talking about? He's talking about the death of his sons. He's saying, ‘Moses, my sons died today! And you want me to sit down and eat the remains of this portion of the sin offering as a sign of restored fellowship before the Lord of the people of God? I'm not in any kind of shape to do that!’
And notice Moses’ response: “…when Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight.” There was a relenting on Moses’ part. But you see how serious God was about assuring His people of the forgiveness of sins? He's ready to say to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Look, you failed to do something that was designed to assure My people, even though your brothers and your sons died today.’ That's how serious God was with His mediators about conveying to the people of God the assurance of their acceptance by God, the assurance of their forgiveness of sins.
And this commitment on God's part is no less in the new covenant. We have signs that God has given to us in the new covenant, that we have been accepted, that the offering for sin on our behalf has been accepted. We could give many answers to this, but let me just point to one. Turn with me in your Bibles to Hebrews, chapter ten. In Hebrews 10, a passage that we've looked at before, look at verses 11-12. We looked at this when we were considering the priests’ daily offering of this grain offering, but listen to verses 11-12:
“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, [that is, speaking of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…He, Jesus Christ] …having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.”
You see what the author of Hebrews is saying: that the sign, the evidence, the witness that God has given to you of the once-for-all efficacy of Jesus Christ's offering for His atoning sacrifice is that He sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
Turn back to Hebrews 8:1,2 where this is emphasized again:
“Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.”
In other words, again the author of Hebrews is saying, ‘Here's the sign that God has given to you that you have been forgiven of your sins as you trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has ascended on high, and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. That is the sign to you, that's God's witness to you, that your sins have been forgiven. As Jesus’ disciples see Him ascending into glory, one of the things that they are seeing is a visible, tangible manifestation that God has forgiven the sins of all those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
As God was serious about His people being assured of the forgiveness of their sins under the old covenant through this ritual, even to the point of being angry with Aaron and Eleazar and Ithamar, even on the day of their brothers and sons, so also God has in the resurrection and ascension and heavenly session of Jesus Christ given you a witness that your sins have been forgiven. That's how serious God is about giving His people assurance.
II. The need to convey the holiness of the atoning sacrifice.
Secondly, turn back with me to Leviticus 6 and look especially at verses 27-28. We see something of the sinfulness of sin and the necessity of atonement in these verses. In verses 27-28, the instructions that are given emphasize the need for the priests to convey to the people of God the holiness of these atoning sacrifices. What a holy thing it is, to bring an atoning sacrifice before the Lord. And there are five things in these two little verses, verses 27-28, which emphasize the holiness of these sacrifices.
One: Notice that anyone who touches these sacrifices, simply by touching them becomes ritually holy; becomes consecrated. Look at verse 27: “Anyone who touches its flesh shall become consecrated….” What's the point? An atoning sacrifice, a sacrifice for sin is a holy thing.
Secondly, notice again in verse 27, if any of the blood of the sacrifice incidentally or accidentally splatters the garments of the officiating priest, that garment not only has to be cleaned, it has to be cleaned in holy precincts. It can't be taken to the nearby Hebrew laundry. It's got to be cleaned right there, on holy ground, in the tent of meeting. That's how holy this sacrifice for sin is that's being offered on behalf of God's people.
Then look at verse 28. If a clay vessel is used to boil and to convey part of this sacrifice, after that clay vessel has performed its duty, it is to be destroyed. It's to be broken, because it can't be cleansed, and it's touched something which has conveyed a holy atoning sacrifice; and so, the only thing to do with it is to destroy it.
If a bronze vessel, fourthly (look at verse 28) is used, if some sort of a brazen vessel is used to boil and to convey this sin offering, then it is to be scoured and rinsed before it is used again.
And again in verse 28-29, only the male priests, only the males of the Aaron line, the priestly line are allowed to partake of the remains of the portion of this particular sacrifice. There were some sacrifices that were allowed to be used by the whole families of the priests, but there were some that were reserved for the priests only, in order to emphasize, to convey the holiness of the atoning sacrifice. And by conveying the holiness of this sacrifice, we get something of the sense of the gravity of sin. It's a serious thing to have to deal with sins, because sin is exceedingly serious in the eyes of God. The atonement is necessary, and the provision of God for the atonement of His people is holy.
Bonar says in his wonderful commentary on Leviticus,
“All these sacrifices were to be regarded with awful reverence, for it was as if the worshippers were standing at the cross where the Mary's stood and saw the Savior die; or, it was like the heavenly hosts, when they saw the disembodied soul of the Redeemer come in before the Father at the moment the last mite was paid, and He had cried, ‘It is finished!’ Was there ever such an hour in heaven? Or shall there ever be such an hour in heaven or earth? Even in the act of accepting the atonement made, how solemnly does the soul feel that receives it. See Isaiah, when the live coal touches his lips. What then must have been the hour when atonement itself was spread out complete? The hour when a lost sheep returns is solemn, but what is this to the hour when the Shepherd Himself returns?”
This ritual treatment of the holiness of the sin sacrifice points to the infinite holiness and value and purity of the One who was offered as a sacrifice for our sin.
III. Sin/purification offerings for the whole congregation or the priest, are to be entirely, completely burned with fire.
Thirdly and finally, if we look at verse 30 we notice that when the priest is offering up a sin or purification offering not for an individual worshipper, or for a ruler from the congregation, but for the priests or for the whole community including the priests, no part of that sin or purification offering is to be eaten. It is to be entirely, it is to be completely burned with fire. Look at verse 30:
“…no sin offering of which any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting…” and we know from Leviticus 4 that those were the offerings that were offered for the whole community, including the priests, or offered on behalf of the priests
“…no sin offering of which any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place shall be eaten. It shall be burned with fire.”
No part of those kinds of offerings is to be consumed by the priests, because in those kinds of offerings the priests themselves have an interest in, have a portion in the cleansing efficacy of those offerings. The priests themselves are involved in the provision of atonement. They have a need for the provision of atonement which is in view to being secured by the offering of those offerings. And this again reminds us of the dual standing of the priests. On the one hand, they’re mediators. And when they act as mediators in the sin offerings of individual Israelites or leaders of the Israelites, they eat a portion of this offering in order to assure the worshipper. But when they themselves stand in need of the forgiveness of sins, as sinners in need of forgiveness, they have no portion of this offering. It is entirely, it is wholly, it is completely offered up: burned with fire.
And this reminds us that different aspects of the sin and purification sacrifice highlight different truths. When the priest partakes of the offering, it indicates to us our restored fellowship with God, and so the offering functions to assure us of that restored fellowship as we see the priest eating it.
But when the priest does not partake of it and the offering is not completely offered up to the Lord, the entireness and the completeness of the congregational purification indicates to us the entireness of the Savior's work. The transfer of the offerer's guilt, especially when the whole community is involved…the transfer of the offerer's guilt to that sin-sacrifice is so complete that the whole victim is consumed. And this beautifully shows to us the entireness, or the completeness of the sacrifice necessary to restore fellowship between God and His people, when His people have violated all the terms of the relationship with Him.
We are reminded of Paul's words in II Corinthians 5:21, aren't we? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we in Him might become the righteousness of God.” This sin or purification offering points to the completeness of the congregational purification and the entirety of the Savior's work and in itself points to the limitations of the Old Testament ceremonial system that could only be fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Take your hymnals out and turn with me to No. 242. We sang about this earlier tonight, that wonderful rendering of Psalm 130 by Martin Luther. But you’ll see it again in hymn No. 242.
“Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.
My faith would lay her hand on that dear head of Thine,
When like a penitent I stand and there confess my sin.
My soul looked back to see the burdens Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursed tree
And knows her guilt was there.
Believing we rejoice to see the curse removed.
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.”
You see how Watts takes the symbol of the Jewish worshipper laying his hand on the sin offering, thus indicating the transfer of his guilt, the imputation of his guilt to the sin offering; and the sin offering offered up wholly and completely on his behalf to the Lord. And he transfers that picture to our faith, laying our hands on the Savior's head, and then looking back to the cross and seeing the whole of our Savior offered up completely and entirely to the Lord, and knowing that we have been accepted. The curse has been removed because of His bleeding love.
So this passage–it points to the way that God assures us of our acceptance by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and it points to the sinfulness of sin and to the holiness of the offering that the Lord has offered up on our behalf in Jesus Christ; and it points to the entireness and the completeness of the provision for sins which we have in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
May God enable us to believe and rest on Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. Let's pray.