“For it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11, NKJV)
Whenever I read the opening chapters of Leviticus I am taken aback by all the different sacrificial offerings (burnt, peace, grain, guilt, sin), the frequency with which they are to be made, and the detail in which they are presented. I am much relieved to be ministering on this side of the cross.
Leviticus gives us an idea of the insidiousness and pervasiveness of sin. No one is untouched by it. Sin is a stain to life, our awareness brought to the fore in the presence of the holy God. As with Isaiah, the closer we draw near to God the more acutely aware we become of our sin and sinfulness, and of our abject helplessness to do anything about it (Isa. 6:5).
What particularly strikes me in the descriptions of these sacrifices is all the attention given to unintentional sins (Lev. 4-5), those sins of which we are unaware and may commit inadvertently or by omission. It brings to mind the expression that ignorance of the law is no excuse.
When it comes to sin in our lives, we tend to think of willful sins, those sins we commit or omit with intention. The psalmist has this in mind when he says, "Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression" (Psa. 19:13).
But the psalmist is also aware of hidden sins, hidden not to God of course, but hidden to others and even to self: "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults" (Psa. 19:12).
It is unnerving to think of the cancer of unintentional sin lurking undetected in our hearts and unrecognized on our account, because we know the capacity of sin to kill. Unintentional sin is akin to undiagnosed cancer infecting our entire being and leading to certain death.
But God does not only overwhelm us with our sin in Leviticus, He showcases His remedy for that sin. He establishes both sacrifice and priesthood to provide atonement.
Ultimately, these portrayals point us to Him would come in new covenant reality, who would be both the all-sufficient sacrifice and the perfect abiding priest (see Heb. 7:23-28). The writer of Hebrews sums it up by saying: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14).
Reading Leviticus acts to provide us with a scan of our souls by the penetrating light of our holy God. That scan reveals a heart diseased with sin that has metastasized to permeate our entire being and infect even the best of our intentions. It exposes to us sin we know about and sin we don’t, any of which left untreated will result in eternal death.
Along with that scan, Leviticus proclaims God’s gracious provision for the deadly malignancy it exposes, finding its ultimate and actual efficacy in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb without blemish, who bore our sins on the altar of the cross to reconcile us to the holy God.
We make the most of Leviticus when we recognize the relational presence of our holy God. His demands for purity pervade the book. His withering assessment of our sin weighs us down with guilt, shame, and dread. Yet Leviticus is a book of hope, not in running from God but in running to Him, where He redemptively points us to the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By His stripes we are healed.
REFLECTION: In Christ, our sin not in part but whole, known and unknown, is nailed to the cross and we bear it no more.
Unless noted otherwise, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.