All on the Altar
A Pocket Paper
Before today’s message, I want to thank all of you who are standing by our church in your tithes and offerings during the summer months. For ever and ever, summertime has been difficult for churches in America. On the one hand, it’s a time of great opportunity with summer camp and Vacation Bible School and Kids’ Jamboree. On the other hand, people are out of pocket during the summer. We like to take vacations, long weekends, and camping trips. So our attendance is typically lower and so are our offerings. Well, right now, during this summer of 2004, we’re just squeaking by financially. So your faithfulness and your generosity are so very important.
But I don’t begrudge anyone their vacations. My wife and I enjoyed getting away, and I hope that all of you have a chance to take a few days off. We need it. I grew up in a family that took annual vacations. My parents were both schoolteachers, and they had the summers off. Now they worked hard during the summer, gardening and running our apple orchard. But we always took a week or two to go somewhere, and those are some of the best memories of my childhood. I’d look forward to our vacation just like Christmas. I could hardly wait.
But I remember one year, my dad announced we were going to Big Bend National Park in Texas. I said, “What’s there?” He said, “Absolutely nothing. That’s what’s so special about it. It’s just desolate and barren. It’s the least visited of all the National Parks. We’ll not have to worry much about crowds of people.” Well, I wasn’t too excited about that. I wanted to go back to the beach. But Big Bend it was, so it packed our bags and drove and drove and drove.
Finally we entered Big Bend National Park, and my dad was exactly right. It was desolate and barren, but it was breathtaking in its desolation. It must be one of the most beautiful places on earth in its own way. The rugged terrain, the towering mountains, the massive canyons, the twisting Rio Grande River—it was a phenomenal trip.
And it taught me a lesson. Sometimes things are not as boring as they seem to be, after you get into them. Let me repeat that: Sometimes things are not as boring as they seem to be, after you get into them.
Case in point: Leviticus. Last Sunday we began a series of summertime studies from this book which has the reputation of being the most boring section of Scripture. Many people think it is as confusing as Revelation, but at least Revelation is interesting! Well, Leviticus is rather bleak and difficult, but when you really get into it, it’s marvelous.
I’d like to review for just a moment from last week, and then we’ll plunge right into today’s material. The theme of Leviticus is urgently needed in our own day and age. The prevailing philosophy in our world right now is that there are no absolute moral standards. Our culture is committed to moral relativism. Right and wrong are not black and white; they are not really set in stone. They are fluid. We can adjust our morality. We can establish our own sense of right and wrong based on societal consensus. There’s an interesting phrase that the news media is using to describe this kind of relative morality, and it’s the phrase “politically correct.” That phrase seems to mean whatever corresponds to the prevailing liberal opinions regarding moral issues.
The book of Leviticus, more than any other book of the Bible, stresses that God is a holy God, that His holiness serves as the basis for moral absolutes in our universe, and that He expects His people who are called by His name to reflect His holiness.
Leviticus 10:3 says: By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy.
Leviticus 11:45 says: I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Leviticus 20:7-8 say: Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. And you shall keep My statutes and perform them: I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
Leviticus 20:26: And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.
This is the theme of Leviticus. The words “holy” and “holiness” occur nearly 100 times in this book. It serves as the central column in Scripture supporting the incredible doctrine of the holiness of God. Out of His holiness comes the moral absolutes that govern His universe, and He intends for His people to be representatives in this world of His holiness.
That was last Sunday morning’s message. Sunday night I showed you the incredible plan and outline for this book. At its very heart is Leviticus 16—the Day of Atonement. The chapters that precede this Day of Atonement (known as the Jews as Yom Kippur) tell us how to approach a holy God, through sacrifices and priests. The chapters that follow chapter 16 tell us how to live a holy life. This section is filled with regulations regarding the conduct of life. But this section also contains the descriptions of the Jewish feasts, telling us that a holy life is also joyful and celebratory.
Now against that background, I’d like to begin today at the beginning of Leviticus, looking at the five sacrifices that God prescribed for the ancient Israelites. Everything in Leviticus speaks of Christ. Its theme of holiness. Its Day of Atonement. Its feasts and festivals. Its system of the priesthood. Its sacrifices and offerings. All of them point toward Christ, and Leviticus is one of the most Messianic books in the Bible. Someone called it “The Gospel of Leviticus.”
The first seven chapters of Leviticus are devoted to describing the sacrifices and offerings of the ancient Israelites. These were the sacrifices to be offered on the altar just inside the gateway of the Tabernacle.
If you remember from our series of studies last year on the Tabernacle, that altar just inside the gate of the Tabernacle represented the cross of Christ. Every day, opportunity was given for the Israelites to come and, with the assistance of the priests, to offering sacrifices and burnt offerings on that altar near the entrance of the Tabernacle, and those sacrifices all represented the One who would later die on the cross.
There were five basic kinds of sacrifices, and they are described for us here in Leviticus 1-5. You have:
· The Burnt Offering in Leviticus 1
· The Grain Offering in Leviticus 2
· The Peace Offering in Leviticus 3
· The Sin Offering in Leviticus 4
· The Trespass Offering in Leviticus 5
In Leviticus 6-7, these five offerings are reviewed with some additional instructions given. That is the content of Leviticus 1-7. Do you see how important this is? Do you see how significant these offerings are? They were designed by God to teach us five different truths about the great coming One who would offer Himself on the cross for our sins. They are prophetic in nature. They are Messianic. They teach us about the sacrifice our Savior made for you and me.
Who would not want to study these offerings and thus learn of Christ?
So today let’s deal with the first two, beginning with the Burnt Offering in Leviticus 1:
Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd… --notice that: a burnt sacrifice, a burnt offering--let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the Tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
And the rest of chapter 1 tells us how the worshipper was to go about offering his burnt offering. It could be a bull from the herd, a sheep or a goat from the flock, or even a bird. But there was one thing that distinguished this offering from all others. It’s found in a little phrase in verse 9, and it is very important. Look at that verse with me:
And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
See the phrase all on the altar? That’s the key. This is the one and only sacrifice that was totally consumed in the flames. Some of the other sacrifices were very much like you and I experience when we cook out. Sometimes we think of these animal sacrifices as repugnant, and there was an element of that. God wanted us to understand that sin is repugnant and unpleasant, and that the cross of Jesus Christ was repugnant and unpleasant. But on the other hand, it wasn’t that much different than throwing some meat on the grill and barbecuing it. With the other sacrifices, there were parts that were eaten and enjoyed by either the priests or the worshippers or both. But in the case of the burnt offering, there was nothing eaten. There was nothing left. Everything was consumed in the flames and in the fire. It was a total sacrifice. That’s the distinction and meaning of the burnt offering.
What does it tell us about Christ? He was a male without blemish, without sin, who gave the last full measure of Himself for us.
The altar represents the cross, the fire underneath represents the holy judgment of God, and the Lord Jesus was a willing sacrifice who gave His last ounce of strength for you and me. He offered Himself completely. He was totally consumed on Calvary. He is our burnt offering. Where do see this in the New Testament? In Hebrews 10:1-10:
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore when He (Christ) came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.”
Now, look at that! Burnt offerings were not really what God desired. The burnt offering described in Leviticus 1 was only pointing toward something else. It was symbolic of something to come. Or rather, of someone to come. In the volume of the book of Leviticus was given us a prophecy through type regarding the coming Messiah.
Verse 8 continues:
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second.
In other words, Jesus Christ fulfilled the type in order to accomplish the reality.
By that will we be sanctified – made holy in God’s sight—through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
So the theme of Leviticus is that God is holy and those who approach Him must regard Him as holy and those who know Him must share in His holiness. But we can never do that on our own, for we are an unclean people. You and I are filled with uncleanness and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight. We need an offering and a sacrifice for sin, but it can’t be a partial thing. We need someone who will die in our place, shedding His blood and giving Himself wholly to be consumed for our sins. Jesus said, “I am the burnt offering. I am the sacrifice. A body has been prepared for Me, and I am giving Myself wholly to this task.”
You know, it’s very hard to always give yourself fully to something. Even professional athletes need coaches and team psychologists who will help them release their full potentials into a game. A player’s morale or frame of mind, or a team’s spirit often makes the whole difference. So a good coach tries to psych his players up for the game, getting them to play as though their very lives depended on it, trying to get them to give everything they have to the game, to be totally consumed.
But few people are able to play with that intensity all the time.
Former President Jimmy Carter has frequently spoken about one nerve-wracking interview he once had with Admiral Hyman Rickover. Rickover was an intense and intimidating man, and he personally interviewed every sailor who was assigned to the Navy’s nuclear program. He liked to make his interviewees sweat, and meeting him was something of a stress test.
Carter’s interview lasted two hours, and the former President later admitted to being covered in a cold sweat during the time. Finally Carter tried to gain some ground in the interview by telling the Admiral that he had graduated fifty-ninth out of his class of 820 at Annapolis. Rickover bore in on the young lieutenant, asking: “Did you always do your best?”
Carter had to admit that no, he had now always done his very best.
Admiral Rickover looked at him for long time, then swiveled around in his chair to signal the interview was over. But as he did so, he asked one final question: “Why not?” It was a defining moment in Jimmy Carter’s life, and his slogan when he ran for the White House was: “Why not the best?”
Well, none of us ever do our best all the time. Sometimes we only do well. Sometimes we do poorly. Sometimes we do badly. Sometimes we give ourselves to something with only a portion of our strength. Sometimes we commit ourselves to another person only partially. No one always does his or her best.
But Jesus did. He lay all on the altar. He held nothing back. He gave Himself fully and completely for you and me, for He loved us with all His heart, mind, soul, and body. And thus He loves you still.
Let me show you five verses in the New Testament that speak of this:
Galatians 1:4: …who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.
Ephesians 5:25: Husbands, love our lives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself to her.
1 Timothy 2:6: …who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Titus 2:14: …who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Five times this little phrase “gave Himself” occurs in the New Testament. Jesus gave Himself for our sins, for you and me. He loved the church and gave Himself for her. He gave Himself as a ransom for sins. He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify us—make us holy as He is holy. He gave Himself without reserve, retreat, or regret. He gave Himself fully. He came as a burnt offering and as a total sacrifice for our sins.
There are two responses we should have to all this. The first is thankful appreciation. How can we express our gratitude to Christ for what He has done for us?
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin,
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
The second response is one of total consecration. If Jesus makes Himself a burnt offering for me, should I not become a living sacrifice for Him? You may remember in our recent study of the book of Romans that Romans chapters 1-11 tell us, in essence how Christ became a burnt offering for us, totally consumed, a sacrifice of atonement that we might be justified by grace through faith.
Then chapter 12 begins with these words: I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your logical act of service.
Christ gave His all for us, and we should give Him our all, as well. He became our burnt offering that we might become His living sacrifices.
When they asked General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, why his ministry had been so successful, he replied, “God has had all there was of me to have.”
Exactly 100 years ago, in 1904, the Bible teacher, F. B. Meyer, was preaching in England, in the lakes’ district at the Keswick Conference. Here is a verbatim part of what he said that evening:
“I remember so well when He came to my heart and challenged me as to the keys of the fortress. I had them upon my bunch, and before I gave them to Him I put one small key in my pocket. Have not you done that, and handed to Him the bunch minus that key? He gave it back, and said He could not be King at all if He could not be King of everything. I put my hand in my pocket where I had hidden it, and said, ‘I cannot give it, but You may take it,’ and He took that tiny key. My King! I see Him now as He stood at the foot of the drawbridge of my heart. I see Him radiant as He stood then, for He is here now. He looked at me with those eyes which are as a flame of fire, and said, ‘Are all the keys there?’ I said, ‘All but this, and I cannot give it; but I am willing for Thee to take it’ and He took it at that. Then they were all His.”
Have you given Him all the keys to your life and heart and mind? Do you love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? He is our burnt offering. He sacrificed Himself fully on the altar of the cross, to be consumed by the judicial wrath of God and to make atonement to Him for our sins, that we might be clothed in His holiness and justified to appear before God as His children.
Come to Him with thankful appreciation. Come to Him in total consecration.
we never can know
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