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  The Sacrificial Law
Exodus is where God finally codified the laws for sacrifices and burnt offerings. He appointed priests to offer sacrifices for both Israel and themselves. As representatives of God, God wanted the priests to be pure. Aaron was to be God's first high priest under the law. Exodus 28:1; 29:1, 10 - 14, and 35 - 37 describe how the priests were to purify themselves before God, "...bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me ...  Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons ...  Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests to Me: take one young bull and two rams without blemish ... Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull.  And you shall slaughter the bull before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And you shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; and you shall pour out all the blood at the base of the altar. And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, and offer them up in smoke on the altar. But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering ...  And thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you; you shall ordain them through seven days. And each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it to consecrate it. For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy."

Isn't it interesting that even Aaron had to be purified? Historically, the Catholic church would have you believe that their head priest, the pope, is infallible (The Catholic church has clarified that the Pope is indeed fallible when representing himself, but is infallible when representing God, but few Catholics are aware of that fine distinction. Anyway, many consider that argument a copout that lets the Catholic church call the Pope infallible in general, but gives them something to point to when he errs.). This philosophy is unbiblical, as Aaron, the pope's precursor, proves. In Exodus 20:4, God told Moses, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I am a jealous God." In Exodus 24:1 - 3, Moses gives these and the other ordinances to Aaron, Aaron's sons and 70 elders, to which they replied, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" Then Moses went up on the mountain and stayed there for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18), "and when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, ...Come, make us a god who will go before us (Exodus 32:1)." And Aaron did it! Did he forget what he promised in Exodus 24:3? God apparently knew, because while Moses was on the mountain, and Aaron was breaking his promise to God, God was busy giving Moses detailed instructions on how to purify Aaron and his sons, so that he could serve as God's first high priest over Israel. To see the mercy of God, notice the sin that Aaron was to be purified for, making a graven image to worship! As sins go, this one's pretty bad. It just goes to show that God can (and does) anoint anyone He chooses, because we are all unworthy of serving Him.

The illustration above is a better illustration of Christianity than it is of legalistic Judaism. The reason I say this is because it illustrates someone who is in God's favor because he is forgiven, not because he is obedient. On one hand Aaron was obedient when he offered God his sacrifice. On the other hand, Aaron needed forgiveness because he was disobedient first. All the obedience in the world doesn't erase the event of disobedience. Furthermore, because disobedience never completely leaves one's life, we either need to say that Aaron will find himself alternately in and out of favor with God, or forgiveness through sacrifices enable him to remain in favor all the time. To show that Aaron did not fall in and out favor with God, but was given favor by God, independently of Aaron, even during his sin, God chose to tell Moses how Aaron could get forgiveness even while Aaron was forging the golden calf. In other words, God showed favor to Aaron during a time when a legalistic view would render Aaron to be out of God's favor.

After God showed how Aaron was to consecrate himself, He didn't stop there. In Leviticus 1 - 7, God went on to describe to Moses how all the children of Israel could receive forgiveness and favor in the face of disobedience. This is a description of the sacrificial laws, the laws that Christ came to fulfill. These are some of those laws that Christians don't obey explicitly. They are laws that we appear to have chosen not to follow.

Leviticus 1 - 3 describe the different things that could be sacrificed, and the general methods for offering them. Leviticus 4 - 6:7 describe reasons for offering sacrifices to God, and the difference between the sin offerings from different people. Finally Leviticus 6:8 - 7:38 give clarifications for offering sacrifices. An exhaustive study of these chapters is obviously beyond the scope of our study, but several points bear bringing out.

When you read through the first 7 chapters of Leviticus, you should notice the commonalities between all the methods of animal sacrifice for sin offerings. The animal is to be killed at the doorway of the tent of meeting. It's blood is drained there by the priests. Some is brought by the priest into the tent and sprinkled on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense, which is located in front of the veil in the tent (or temple). This veil separated an Israelite from the mercy seat of God, meaning this is as close as the blood - the object of redemption - ever got to God, symbolically speaking. Consider that a payment isn't a payment until it reaches the one you are trying to pay. If the blood is the payment (part of it anyway), and God is the one being paid, then unless the veil were removed, the blood of any sacrifice could never reach God, so could never truly cleanse an Israelite of his sin. However, this is what God commanded, even though the true reason for it was not made clear at the time.

The rest of the blood is poured onto base of the altar of the burnt offering, where the inner parts of the animal are burned. The burnt offering burns continuously just outside the tent (or temple), offering a soothing aroma to our Lord. Again, neither the blood nor the burnt insides of the animal actually reach God. However, obedience smells sweet to God. When our Lord later revealed more details of His redemptive plans, scripture would liken the messiah to a sacrifice (Isaiah 53:7 - 8) in a way that would sound similar to the ritualistic sacrifices practiced (on-and-off) by the Jews for almost 2,000 years (until 70 A.D, when the temple was burnt to the ground).

The outer flesh of the animal, and its entrails and waste products are burned as well, but not on the altar of the burnt offering. They are burned outside the camp, at the same location where the ashes of the burnt offering are dumped. It's interesting that in one place the offering of the insides and blood are described as a sin offering (4:21), and elsewhere the flesh and entrails are described as a sin offering (4:8). The reason is because both are part of the sin offering (4:32). Think about this parallel: As a Christian, your insides (your heart and spirit) were given to God when God accepted Christ's blood as your sacrifice. To support this parallel, recall the part of the ritual where the priest dipped his finger in the blood of the animal sacrifice and sprinkled it on the altar of incense before the veil in the tent of meeting (later, the temple). Well, at the annual Jewish Passover feast, Jews will dip their finger in wine, and dab it on their plate once for every action that God took in redeeming their ancestors from their bondage in Egypt. If Christ is our sacrifice, and His blood is what redeems us from our bondage to sin, then it's no wonder that He told us to liken the wine of the Passover feast to His own blood, the blood of our sacrifice.

If you are Jewish, then the next time you celebrate Passover, think of this when you are dabbing your plate with your wine: it is like you are dabbing the blood of your sacrifice on the alter of incense. However, because the blood is Christ's not an animal's, there is no veil in your way. Your payment has reached God. In fact, recall what happened when Jesus finally died. The veil in the temple tore in two (Matthew 27:51) so that the blood of our sacrifice could pass through our barrier to God, where He could finally accept it. Christ's blood passed on to God, where the blood of an animal could not.

Now, what of your flesh? Your outsides? Your sinful nature? They will get left behind with your ashes, as your fleshly body decays on earth (1 Corinthians 15:50). Your sins will be redeemed for all time. As each Israelite carried out the ritual sacrifices given to them by God, they were acting out what God was going to do for them, something they could not do themselves: they could not rid themselves of their sinful nature which could forever separate them from God. So, God decided on the action He'd take Himself to make them redeemable (i.e., sacrifice of Christ). But, in Leviticus, He gave them something to point them toward Christ in the meantime (i.e., representative sacrifices).

Let's look at some other parallels between the sacrificial law and Christ. For sin offerings, the priest offers a bull (4:3). So does the congregation (4:14). When a leader sins, he offers a goat (4:23). When a common person sins, he offers a female goat (4:28). See a pattern? As we go from most important to least (in the eyes of man), the sacrifice goes from more significant to least. As we go on, we see that while female goats seem preferred, a common person can offer a female lamb instead (4:32)). A lamb? Christ is likened to a lamb (Isaiah 53:7 - 9; Revelation 19:7). But of all the herded animals that can be sacrificed, the lamb is the least significant. Well, that's the one that Christ chose to identify Himself with. Obviously, the sacrifice of a lamb is not less significant to God than a Bull. It was merely an illustration. When Christ came on the scene, the Jews were looking for a Bull. They got a lamb. They wanted someone to be a king over them. What they got was someone who numbered Himself with the common man (Mark 2:16).

Notice that if someone couldn't afford a lamb, he could bring two turtledoves or pigeons. If he couldn't afford those, he could bring flour. Again, it was only the heart God was looking at. He was looking for the willingness to give a sacrifice, to express a truly repentant heart. He wasn't looking for the sacrifice to be a certain amount, just that it was a sacrifice, relative to the person's resources. God looked out for the poor when He made the law. Christ spent much of His time with the poor, more than he did with the rich. Since Jesus is the man who was 100% God, the messiah who would be the final sacrifice to fulfill the law we've been discussing, these lawful accommodations for the poor shouldn't surprise us.

Notice, finally, the grain offering in Leviticus 6:14 - 18. It was to be baked in unleavened cakes. They were a memorial offering to God, a soothing aroma, eaten in a holy place, without leaven (which is symbolic of sin), and is holy like the sin offering. For all generations, whoever touched it would become consecrated. Recall again the Passover feast where Christ likened Himself to the unleavened bread. By letting Christ into us, we become consecrated.

Christ likened Himself to the blood of the sacrifice, He was unblemished, likened Himself to a lamb and to the grain offering, and then became the final offering for us all.

The last thing I want to discuss about sacrifices is that you can be redeemed for unintentional sins (4:27) as well as intentional ones (6:2). This is extremely important. The heart of someone who sinned intentionally is of someone who knowingly pained his God's heart. Yet, laws were provided that allow him to be redeemed from such sins. That's good news for us, because we've all done things in our past intentionally that pain our Lord.

Since intentional sins are obviously a reflection of your heart, sin offerings in general are therefore offerings of the heart. In other words, sin comes from the heart. This was Jesus' point in Matthew 5:21 - 29. People think of this as a wholly Christian concept, but it is not. It is built into the law.

What about sinning unintentionally? There are laws for those, too. In fact, there are two kinds of unintentional sin that sacrifices redeem us for: 1) sinful actions that we didn't mean to do, and 2) actions that aren't sinful, but bring us into a sinful state regardless.

The first kinds seem pretty straightforward. Consider anger. Many of us have taken God's name in vain when we were angry. That's definitely a sin (Exodus 20:7). But, after we started walking right with God, we ultimately stop taking His name in vain. Alas, even people with strong walks still do it on occasion, and are hopefully repulsed to hear such words come out of their mouths. This is an important point, because when such a person avoids blasphemy, he probably does not necessarily avoid becoming angry. He just handles it in a more appropriate way. A person's ability to handle anger correctly versus sinfully is a reflection of where he is at with God at that moment. If God's the last thing on your mind, you'll slip and curse. If you've been praying to Him all day to relieve the stress of your frustrating situation, you'll only slip back into prayer. The difference isn't whether you get angry. The difference is in how you handle it. However, if your anger was not righteous, then the anger is still a sin, albeit unintentional. Therefore, becoming righteous may stop you from blaspheming, but it doesn't stop you from sinning. Such sins still require redemption. However, as you become more at peace with yourself and God, you will get angry less and less often. This is an obvious reflection of your heart. Therefore we see that even unintentional sins can still be sins of the heart, so it seems that sacrifices are still generally of the heart.

The other kind of unintentional sin is not a sin of the heart, but deals with cleanliness. Cleanliness is a metaphor for purity, or lack of sin. God deemed various things to be unclean. This list includes dead human bodies and the carcass of an unclean animal (Leviticus 5:2). The violation can even be unknowing, like if you stumble onto it. The violation can even include your duty to move it because it's not healthy for the children to have it around. Offerings for such violations do not require sin offerings per se, but rather guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:6). We live in a sinful world, and sin of any kind separates us from God, whether it be our own or someone else's. However, the sacrifices we offer to God cover it all. It's no wonder that Christ felt separated from His Father when He was dying on the cross (Matthew 27:46). In order for Jesus to bear all that sin, all that uncleanness, the Father could not touch the Son until He had conquered the sin He bore. This illustrates for us the concept of bearing guilt of a sin that was not one's fault, is not the result of anything sinful one did, and is not a reflection of any sin in one's heart. The fact that we can illustrate this with Christ should give validity as to why it is in the law. Furthermore, the fact that it is in the law should give validity to the fact that Christ experienced it Himself, since the purpose of the law is to point to Christ.

To be continued:
How the Law is fulfilled

 

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