Feasting with God #17
A Sacrifice with a Pleasing Aroma
Text: Leviticus 1:3-9
3If [a man’s] 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. 4He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
This reading from Leviticus makes it sound as though, to appease an angry God, the people of Israel had to throw him a barbeque, so that he would smell the sweet meat as it cooked and not be angry anymore. But that’s not quite what this burnt offering means.
The first fact to realize is that God is an angry God. But that’s not a fault in him: mankind, from the very first human beings to walk the planet, made our God angry. Rather than obey his guidelines for a peaceful and wonderful paradise, from the very beginning we have all tried to destroy that harmony, taking the wrecking ball of our selfishness, our ignorance, and our sinfulness to God’s perfect creation. God established a pristine paradise, and we do nothing but daily throw mud on it.
To demonstrate what our sins meant, God told the ancient Israelites to begin making various sacrifices, and this burnt offering was one sort of sacrifice that they were to make. For our sins, we deserve to be destroyed in fire as this bull was. We deserve to be slaughtered, have our blood strewn about, be flayed and chopped in pieces. So the sacrifice of a young bull in this way serves as a gruesome – but accurate – picture of what our sins earn us.
And yet it is more than this. This sacrifice, as all sacrifices made in ancient Israel, served as a picture of something greater. The key to this understanding comes in verse 4, where it says, “and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” This bull is sacrificed in place of the man making the sacrifice. Because this bull was sacrificed, it’s as though the payment for this man’s sacrifice was paid. And the blood of the bull that is thrown against the sides of the altar should make us think of the blood of the lamb that was thrown against the doorposts in ancient Egypt – of that blood God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:13).
Sin demands to be paid for, and it must be paid in blood. The lamb’s blood stood as a sign that the payment had been made, so the angel of death would not harm the firstborn of those houses. The bull’s blood stood as a sign that the payment of the man who made the sacrifice had been made, so that his sins were forgiven and he was atoned for. And just as the lamb and the bull to be sacrificed was to be “without blemish,” this will direct our eyes to the greatest sacrifice of blood that was made, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, lived his perfect life, unblemished, and then died and shed his blood on the ground. Jesus’ blood now stands on the doorposts of the whole world, on the altar of the cross, so that once and for all has atonement been made for all humanity.
When God says that the offering would have a pleasing aroma, he means that it will be acceptable to him. The pleasant smell of the burning meat would direct the ancient Israelites to that understanding, so that as they found the aroma sweet, they knew that they were giving that up to God, who himself would forgive them on account of that sacrifice. If a bull without blemish would be sweet and acceptable to God, how much more isn’t the One without blemish, the very Son of God who was perfect and sinless, who gave himself of his own free will to pay for all mankind’s sins? Be certain that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God, so that all our sins have now been paid for.
Dear Lord, we have sinned against you, in countless ways and at countless times. For all these offenses we deserve your wrath and eternal punishment, but we thank you that out of your grace you yourself have made the payment for our sins, offering your own Son up as a sacrifice of blood. Now that all our sins have been paid for, O Lord, guide us in our lives now to live as people who are thankful to you. In the name of your Son, that One who was slain for us, we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.