Sacrifice lies at the heart of the Old Testament because it would lie at the heart of the New Testament. At the very centre of their lives was the sacrificial system – God’s provision for dealing with their sin. Leviticus, the book that causes us to give up when trying to read through the Bible and the book most ridiculed for being obscure and of no connection to our world, was the instruction manual for the sacrifices. Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament with its Tent of Meeting and then the more permanent Temple leaves us in no doubt how important these sacrifices were.
The book of Leviticus begins with instructions for the 5 main sacrifices: The burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering. They seem, at first glance, eminently obscure until, that is, you look closer. We know enough about God’s Word to know that each detail is important. Things aren’t left to chance. Everything was carefully chosen. So, encouraged to look closer, and think about the detail of each of these sacrifices, you discover something amazing: each of these sacrifices is a picture of a different aspect of the sacrifice of Jesus. Once you discover that Leviticus comes alive with meaning and purpose as we discover it all prepares the way, and points the way, to Jesus.
Let me illustrate this with the grain offering (Leviticus 2). These were the main ingredients of this offering: fine flour, oil, incense (frankincense) and salt.
Fine flour was very costly. It was flour that had been ground again and again until it was completely pure. They would not use fine flour for everyday purposes. Here then was an offering of something costly and pure.
Oil was often used as the symbol of the Holy Spirit resting on somebody’s life. That’s why Samuel used oil to anoint the first kings of Israel. Here was an offering that involved the divine. God’s presence was somehow part of the sacrifice.
Incense only gave of its aroma when it was crushed and bruised. By being crushed and broken it released something beautiful.
Salt was used as a preservative. Its presence enabled something to last and not fade or spoil.
What do we have here then? Is this a sacrifice of something pure, that involved the divine, that when crushed releases something beautiful, the effects of which will go on forever? Does it remind you of anything?
Jesus was pure:
Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.
Jesus was the divine:
John 1:1 (NIV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Jesus when crushed gave off a beautiful aroma:
Luke 23:34 (NIV)
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Not to mention the beautiful aroma of healing and salvation that his death gave off for the world:
1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus achieved something that would last forever:
John 3:16 (NIV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
When you realize that the never-ending sacrifices of the Old Testament all point to Jesus, God’s apparent obsession with it makes perfect sense. This is too important to miss, too central to forget, too fundamental to leave to chance. So, like a high level advertising campaign, God put pictures of it everywhere.
So the very first words spoken to describe Jesus in the gospels remind us that he is the one who fulfills the whole sacrificial system. In one sentence John the Baptist takes us right back to Leviticus chapter 1 and says here is the one that it was all about:
John 1:29 (NIV)
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”