I’ve always joked that if I was ever asked to teach a lesson from the book of Leviticus, I would focus on the evils of shellfish. I’m allergic to shellfish – did any of you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? And after another one of his disastrous dates where he eats some shrimp and his face gets all puffy and swollen and they have to go to the drugstore and buy a bottle of Benadryl? That’s what happens to me, I was going to bring in some shrimp gumbo and teach a lesson that would be unforgettable and maybe end in a hospital visit.
Well, we’re studying Leviticus this week, but, for some reason, the Holy Spirit didn’t lead me to do any shellfish experiments. That’s a good thing for all of us, I think. Turns out there’s a more meaningful lesson in Leviticus today.
One of the best investors of the last fifty years was a nice Jewish fellow named Bernard. His clientele was hand-picked; you practically had to be invited to invest with him. He was always generous and never lost money. His background on Wall Street was impeccable, and investors bragged about how well their investments were performing. By September 2009, there was $36 billion invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.
I’m sure you know the name by now. Of that $36 billion, Bernie Madoff reported that he had grown their investments to $65 billion, but he hadn’t. In fact, he had spent or lost half of it. A lot of this money was stolen from Jewish charities like Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Yeshiva University, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation. Thousands of people who thought they had a great retirement invested with Bernie Madoff found their entire savings gone.
If you had given your money to somebody to invest for you – you give them $100 because they promised to make it grow to $200 and give it back to you – but instead you found they invested it in a nice dinner at Perry’s Steakhouse and ate it, how would you feel?
If the court system said that out of the $100 you invested, you can have $50 back but you have to give $30 to your lawyer, would you feel justice was served?
What if the court made the scammer give back your $100 in full, would that make everything right? Would the scammer then be guilt-free?
As Christians, we are saved by the grace of God, and all of our sins are forgiven, paid by the penalty on the cross. And as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that doesn’t mean we have no sin. And even though we are forgiven, solid Christian living and the gracious forgiveness we receive from God does not mean we do not have obligations and repercussion because of our sin. Today we’re going to see what God asks us to do when we have sinned because it’s the right thing to do.
II. Atonement for Sin
Throughout first half of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions for how to lead His people and how to maintain a relationship with the Lord. The concept of sacrifice was established, where the innocent could pay the price of the guilty or as a method of worship. There are several types of sacrifices for which God provided instructions.
Let’s look at the types of sins and the sacrifices that go with them.
Leviticus 1 describes the Burnt Offering. Leviticus 1:3-4,
If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
What is atonement? Sometimes it’s spelled At-One-Ment. We are sinful people, inherited separation from God because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Atonement is making peace with God, asking for forgiveness. It’s our reconciliation, that we may still have a relationship with the Almighty God even though there is sin in us that He cannot abide.
This burnt offering provides a one-ment with God. The burnt offering required a blood sacrifice of an innocent animal. This offering was not shared by the priests; the offering was completely consumed, completely dedicated to the Lord. Verse1:17 says this aroma was pleasing to the Lord; the Lord is pleased, not for the death but for the reconciliation.
Today, we no longer sacrifice burnt offerings. We now have eternal reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is misunderstood by many of those outside the Christian faith – the sacrifice of the Son of God is not what pleases Him. It is the reconciliation with His children that pleases the Lord.
III. An Offering of Gratitude
God’s desire to have a relationship with us, especially considering throughout history how we have rejected the Lord, should fill us with gratitude that the Lord pursues us until we turn from sin and turn to Him. The offering described in Leviticus 2 is the grain offering and is offer to express our gratitude, our faithfulness to God, our commitment to a life that is pleasing to the One who created us.
If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.
So our gratitude to the Lord is shown by our willingness to give to God the best of what we have, our firstfruits. And again, when this offering is burned by the priest, verse 9 says the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. Unlike the burnt offering that was totally consumed in dedication to the Lord for our sins, this offering belongs to the Lord and for the use by Aaron and his sons, the Levitical priesthood.
Today, we don’t bring grain offerings, but we still offer our firstfruits in gratitude to the Lord. Today, this is our tithe. Where God has blessed us, we acknowledge our thanks that all things are provided by the Lord, we give thanks for allowing us to be good stewards of His gifts by returning the best of what we have, the best of which already belongs to the Lord.
IV. An Offering of Fellowship
The next offering is one of peace and fellowship. Leviticus 3:5 says the offering should be an unblemished animal from the flock that is burned on the alter as food, and the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. The food is to be shared by all the people, including the priests, and a portion is to be set aside for the Lord.
Our fellowship, one with another, is why we’re here. We learn to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. We learn how to be gracious and giving, as the Lord has been gracious and giving toward us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves in celebration of the Lord’s love for us.
Our relationship with each other is so very important to the Lord. Matthew 5:23-24 says,
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Our relationship with each other is so important that if we are at odds, God wants us to forgive each other far more than He wants our offering. Why is this?
I believe there are several reasons for this. A rift between brothers and sisters is like a wound or a sore in the body of Christ. It keeps the church from functioning well, and it keeps us from showing the light of Christ in our lives to others. If we are at odds with one another, it shows that we truly don’t understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died for us, not because we’re basically good people and we deserve a good sacrifice once in a while. He died for us while we were yet sinners.
V. The Sin Offering
We’ve had three offerings so far – the burnt offering for atonement, the grain offering of thankfulness, and then the barbecue, the offering of fellowship. These are essentially offerings of worship for our communion with God and with one another. All three of these were offered on the altar in the compound of the Tabernacle.
The fourth offering is similar to the offering of atonement, but it’s not made so much in worship but in payment for our sins. And like Jesus, who paid for our sins on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, this offering is made outside of the camp. Leviticus 4 describes the offering in payment for our sins.
The common word throughout this chapter is the word “unintentional.” This offering assumes the follower has the right heart and is following the Lord’s commands, and the sins he commits are unintentional. While the Lord will not look upon sin, this indicates that not all sin is viewed the same way. The unintentional sin can be atoned by a sacrifice to the Lord as payment. The defiant, intentional sin is different. Look at the book of Numbers, chapter 15 for a moment. Numbers 15 also addresses offerings made to the Lord, and Numbers 15:22 also addresses offers for unintentional sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says,
But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.
We talk about sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is something we do. Lying, cheating, stealing are sins of commission. And then there is the sin of omission – something we should have done, but didn’t. We should have tithed, we should have shared Christ, we should have offered help to our neighbor. Unintentional sins can be either be by omission or commission.
There is no offering prescribed for a defiant sin. One cannot praise the Lord with all his heart, yet at the same time thumb his nose at the Lord’s commands. His guilt remains on him; how awful, how terrible, to pay the price for one’s own sin, for Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. A defiant sin acts like a wedge between us and the Lord and drives us away from His love and compassion. Romans 1:21 talks about defiant sin; it says that while wicked men knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but instead claimed to be wise and instead made themselves foolish. God therefore gave them over to their own sinful desires.
God doesn’t force us to love us. In fact, God gives us exactly what we want. If we want an eternity in the presence of Jesus, we can have it simply by confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior. And if we do not want God’s influence in our lives, He will make that part of our eternity instead. Defiant sin is a terrible thing. But the unintentional sin of the Christian is paid for by the blood of Christ.
VI. The Guilt Offering
The last offering described by Moses is the guilt offering. This is repayment of the harm caused by the sin. While many times sin can be against another person, sin is always against the will of God. Leviticus 5 says that if one sins, one must make full restitution.
Leviticus 5:1-5 mentions several ways one could sin; verse 1 talks about keeping silent when he should speak, perhaps of witnessing a crime but choosing not to do anything about it. Verse 2 and 3 talk about our actions, of doing things that offend the Lord. And verse 4 talks about the sins of the tongue, of cussing and swearing and breaking oaths. Look at the last part of verse 4 –
even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.
When does a sin become a sin? When you commit the sin, or when you learn about the sin?
A couple of months ago, headed to work out Highway 59, I exited Williams Trace. I approached the intersection; the light was red but there was nobody in the intersection. After looking carefully, I turned right on red, a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas.
The red light camera thought different. They took not only a nice picture of my license plate but also a nice video and posted it on the web for me to see. And I watched the video and had no idea why they were sending me a ticket.
I didn’t come to a complete stop; while that camera has been there for years and I’ve worked there for years, I apparently had never approached that intersection on red with nobody in front of me. Since I didn’t come to a complete stop first before turning, I got a ticket. I was guilty. Was I guilty when I first received the ticket, or when I turned the corner on red without coming to a complete stop?
We are guilty of sin when we commits the sin, whether we realize we did it or whether we even knew it was a sin. But when we realize we have committed a sin, we are to confess the sin.
When I was growing up, apparently I was a boy. Boys can be trouble sometimes, so I’ve heard. But not me. When something bad happened around the house, when the lamp was broken or, say, you were five years old and tipped over 2 50 lb bags of dog food in the garage and ran over it with your tricycle, making wonderful little crunching noises until all the dog food was a fine powder that covered the entire garage… hypothetically, of course. My mother would line the three of us kids up, my sister, my brother, and me, and say, “If one of you don’t confess, all three of you will get a spanking!” And my sister would crack under the pressure and confess. Every time. So… she was really the guilty one, right?
My sister and I are close and we joke about this now, but I realize studying for this lesson that it’s a long ago sin, but I’m guilty. I’ve never made restitution, and I should leave my offering on the altar and make sure things are right with her after all these years. I would have apologized earlier, but it was all her fault I didn’t. No, no, I mean I confess my transgression and go make things right. It doesn’t matter when I knew it was wrong, it’s never the wrong time to go apologize and make things right.
When the sin is committed against another person, restitution must be paid more than in full. Look at Leviticus 5:16 –
He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven.
Bernie Madoff stole billions that he can never repay, and for his crime he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Remember the $100 that our so-called friend promised to invest for us but spent it at Perry’s steakhouse? If we discover that we have sinned against another and we have to make restitution, do more than what is expected to make up for it. Pay back $120 instead of the $100 borrowed. And if they want you to walk a mile for them, walk two. And if they strike you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek, too.
We talked about five offerings in Leviticus 1-5. An offering for the atonement of sin so that we may have fellowship and worship of the Lord. An offering of gratitude, to give to the Lord the best we have to offer. An offering of fellowship, of loving our neighbor as ourselves and a celebration of belonging to the body of Christ. And then an offering for our sins and an offering for our guilt and to make restitution and go over and above to make sure things are right between ourselves, the Lord, and between each other, no matter when we discover we have sinned.
And we can give thanks that God himself loved us so much that He provided the ultimate offering as payment for our sins, His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen