You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord , and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord . (Leviticus 1:4-9 NIV)
I have been reading Leviticus this week. It is not a book that I find easy to read, and I’d much rather read one of the Gospels or Paul’s letters. The detailed and repetitive instructions on sacrifice and the law can be quite difficult to absorb and understand.
However, I have been struck this week by the incredible effort that it took for the Israelites to atone for their sin through altar sacrifices. The complex and brutal nature of the animal sacrifices in particular, highlight the cost of sin, not just in monetary terms by relinquishing livestock, but of time and energy to carry out the sacrifice.
Th e passage above from Leviticus gives us an idea of how gruesome the process was (or at least how gruesome it seems to us!) Killing the bull, splashing blood on the altar, skinning and cutting the bull to pieces, arranging the head, the fat and the other pieces, and washing the organs and legs in water!
In our modern and sanitised world we are not accustomed to killing animals for food with our own hands, let alone for sacrifice and burning. If you need a piece of meat, you either go to the butchers or the supermarket, and find a piece that has been cut to size and neatly wrapped. The thought of killing an animal to eat is repulsive to most people, unless hunting is their hobby, they work in an abattoir, or their life depends on it!
The people of the Old Testament really had to “earn” their forgiveness. No doubt they were more comfortable with slaughtering animals and dealing with blood, but nevertheless it would have been an ordeal to offer a sacrifice to God.
We don’t have to offer these sacrifices anymore, because Jesus was our sacrificial lamb and atoned for our sins once and for all on the cross. He shed his blood, so that we would not have to shed the blood of an animal. He placed himself on the altar of sacrifice, so that we would not have to slaughter an animal to be made right with God.
This is all too easy to take for granted. If I had to offer an animal sacrifice for all my sins, I wouldn’t get anything else done! It would take me all day just to muster the courage to kill a bull!
Although the books of the law are hard work to read, they are vital to understand, if we are to fully grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. The next time I get on my knees to ask forgiveness from my Lord and Saviour, I will remember that I have been saved from a gruesome ordeal and not ask so lightly. The next time I am faced with temptation and compromise, I will remember that Jesus’ sacrifice has saved me, not only for an eternity with Him, but from bondage to a costly and arduous path into His presence.