Leviticus seems like a tough slog for many Christians, but a good understanding of the basics of the book gives us the background to understand all that Jesus did for us. This sermon hits the book’s highlights, and sheds light on many New Testament passages and ideas that many of us are already familiar with.
Leviticus: The Background
All these are references to Leviticus! Even the Liberty Bell quotes from Lev. 25:10.
Leviticus was written about 1400 years before Jesus. It was the first book studied by a Jewish child; yet is often among the last books of the Bible to be studied by a Christian.
If we want to appreciate Jesus, and understand what He really meant to the early Christians, and realize how outrageous His claims seemed to be, we have to understand Leviticus. It gives us the background to the cross of Christ!
Leviticus means “about the Levites,” the priests charged with taking care of the tabernacle.
Exodus ends with Moses in the tabernacle. Leviticus picks up right after that with God speaking to Moses about how He wanted worship to be conducted, how priests were to function, how God’s people were to handle issues of sin and forgiveness, clean and unclean foods and animals, lots of behavioral laws similar to our own laws, and feasts.
First part of the book is all about the various offerings. Why so many different kinds? God knew that sin kills. It damages the sinner and it prevents a true relationship with God. These sacrifices helped maintain a relationship with God.
Yet these sacrifices only COVERED sin–preventing God’s wrath from falling on sinners. Jesus would come and make one sacrifice that would wash sins away.
These offerings brought a great sensitivity to the issue of sin to the Israelites. You always had to be aware of how everything you did either damaged your relationship with God, or helped repair it, or even strengthen it. They brought a deep sense of sin and the need for forgiveness into the nation.
In chs. 8-10, Nadab and Abihu were consecrated as priests. But they offered “strange” or unauthorized fire into the sacrifices, and God judged them. We can’t be sure of what they did, but they didn’t honor God and disregarded His holiness. Lev. 10:3
How do we offer strange fire today? If we’re looking at your phone during a service, or reading something else, or mentally preparing your shopping list, we’re offering strange fire. What happened to Nadab and Abihu is a demonstration of how God feels about this.
Well, that was just for the priests, right? Well, I Peter 2:9 calls US priests!
The sacrifices culminated with THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (ch. 16), the holiest day of the year.. Annual atonement was made for the entire nation. It didn’t involve a regular priest, but the High Priest.
There were two main events. the high priest sacrificed a bull and sprinkled the ark of the covenant (in the Most Holy Place) with blood. 2000 years ago, that Most Holy Place was forever changed. Matthew 27:50-51. Hebrews 6:19 says this is where is current hope is!
The second half of the high priest’s activities was to put away the sins of the nation. He also took two goats and chose one to be the SCAPEGOAT. He laid his hands on the head of the goat, symbolically transferring the sins of the nation on the goat. Then the goat was sent away into the desert as a sign of God removing the sins from the nation. Hebrews 9:12-14.
Jesus and the New Testament writers didn’t have to do a lot of explaining about rituals, sacrifices, feasts and festivals because their audiences understood everything. Leviticus was THE BACKGROUND for understanding what Jesus accomplished on the cross!
In the middle of all these laws and rules and sacrifices, we have a scripture that few identify as being from Lev. 19:18. The word translated “neighbor” meant “fellow creature,” but over time the Israelites narrowed the meaning to just their fellow countrymen. Jesus blasted that meaning away in his parable about the Good Samaritan.
We can look at all these sacrifices and feasts and think, Wow, God is really picky. But all those prophetic symbols show how universal sin it, and we’re stained with it. By ourselves, it’s impossible to get the stains out. God wanted relationship with His people. So He created a worship system that reminded people constantly of their need for forgiveness and their need for a connection with God.
God made a way then, and it all pointed to the culmination, where God took care of things once and for all. We no longer have to sacrifice animals and make offerings. Jesus became the once-for-all sacrifice, which takes care of sin once, for all time, for everyone who receives Him by faith. He is the perfect High Priest, and His blood cleanses us from all sin. Once that curtain was torn, the way to God was open to everyone who believes.