The Burnt Offering

Leviticus 9:12-17 (text); Leviticus 1:1-11, 14; Hebrews 10:5-14
© August 18, 2013 (Pasig) • September 1, 2013 (Imus) • Download this PDF sermon

Beloved congregation of Christ: On October 16, 1555, Protestant Reformers Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake in Oxford, England. As he was being tied to the stake, Ridley prayed, “Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.” As the flames quickly rose, Latimer encouraged Ridley, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer being prepared for burning at the stake. Color print from circa 1850s.

Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer being prepared for burning at the stake. Color print from circa 1850s.

These two faithful martyrs figuratively offered themselves as burnt offerings to God.

But not so with the Canaanites in the Bible. Molech was one of their gods to which they offered their children as burnt sacrifices. God condemned this abomination, which is punishable by death (Lev. 20:2–5; Deut 12:31), but the Israelites adopted the pagan idols of the Canaanites. According to Jeremiah 7:31, God’s rebellious people offered their children to Molech as burnt offerings, just like the Canaanites, “And they have built the high places of Topheth … to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command” (see also Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20,21). Topheth may have meant “roasting place.” This idolatrous practice was one of the reasons why God punished Israel with the destruction of their city and temple and exile to foreign lands.

Child sacrifice, especially the firstborn, was known from Canaanite/Phoenician archaeological excavations. At Carthage, a Phoenician colony founded in the 8th century B.C., the charred remains of thousands of child sacrifices have been unearthed. The people of Carthage are the descendants of Canaanites. Ancient historians, including Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus mention child sacrifice. According to Diodorus, “There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire” (Bib. Hist. 20.14.6). To drown out the cries of the children, instruments were played. And to give the impression that the sacrifices were voluntary, the mothers stood by without crying.

Continuing our series on Israel’s first worship service in Leviticus 9, we will focus on the second of four sacrificial offerings: the burnt offering. This burnt offering is so much unlike the examples above: animal sacrifices were used instead of human sacrifices. Reformers Latimer and Ridley were offered by the Roman church to the god of a false gospel, the gospel of good works. Canaanites and Israelites offered their children as burnt sacrifices to their pagan god Molech.

In our text, God commands Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness to worship him with a sin offering first, then with a burnt offering, a peace offering, and finally, a grain offering. The sin offering was offered to atone for their sins. The burnt offering meant three things: first, it was a Substitutionary Atonement for their sins; second, it symbolized their Whole Consecration to the LORD; and third, the burnt offering was a Pleasing Aroma to God.

Substitutionary Atonement
When we read the detailed descriptions of the sin, burnt and peace offerings (not the grain offering), we must note two procedures common to them.

First, the offerer laid his hand on the head of the animal (Lev 1:4). This action means that the sinner identifies himself with the sacrifice. His sins are symbolically transferred to the sacrifice, and the animal suffers the punishment of death for the sins of the offerer. The worshiper acknowledges that he deserved death as the LORD’s just and righteous penalty against his sin (Gen 2:15-17; Rom 6:23). He also admits that his sins are really forgiven by God because he trusts in his promise that “it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev 1:4).

The offerer would then kill the sacrificial animal—a bull for the rich, a sheep or goats for the “middle class,” and a turtledove or pigeon for the poor. The animals must be without blemish. In case the offering is a bird, the priest, instead of the offerer, would wring off its head. By this action, he admits that he is willing to die if God required that he should die because he has broken God’s covenant laws.

The second procedure follows the killing of the sacrifice. The priests “shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Lev 1:5). Only by the sprinkling of the blood of the offering God’s wrath against the sinner be satisfied, for the holy and just God cannot forgive without punishing the sinner. Once His wrath is appeased by the sacrifice, he remembers the worshiper’s sins no more, accomplishing several things: redemption from sin, purification from uncleannesses, and righteousness before God. The worshiper can now draw near to God and fellowship with him.

But these burnt offerings in the Tabernacle and the Temple were only temporary in nature. They satisfied God’s wrath against covenant-breaking Israelites only under the old covenant (2 Chr 29:7–8). We learned this truth from last week’s sermon that the blood of bulls and goats is of no use for the forgiveness of sins (Heb 10:4). These offerings were only foreshadows of the once-for-all offering of the one Man, Jesus Christ, to fully atone for the sins of God’s people.

This is why his bloody sacrifice on the cross is called substitutionary atonement. Christ was our Substitute; instead of us dying and suffering eternal punishment in hell, he suffered the torments of hell for us. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). He was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28), and “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24; see Isa 53:12). This is also what Heidelberg Catechism 44 affirms: “Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors, which He suffered in His soul on the cross and before, has redeemed me from the anguish and torment of hell.”

Like the burnt offerings that must be male animals without blemish, Christ offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His unblemished righteousness is imputed to those who are born in sin and guilt, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). With his perfect sacrifice, he has reconciled us to God, so we now “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18), and “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7). Because of his offering, “we have fellowship with one another,” because “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Christ consecrated his whole life all the way to his atoning sacrifice on the cross to give eternal life to his people.

Whole Consecration
As in the sin offering, after the animal is killed, the priest takes over the proceedings of the burnt offering. The blood from the animal is drained and collected into a basin, and is “thrown” on the sides of the bronze altar at the door of the tent of meeting. Then the priest removes the skin from the animal and flays it. Next, he cleans the intestines and legs—since these are unclean— before the whole animal was placed on the bronze altar in a specific arrangement.

Click image to enlarge

The Tabernacle. Click image to enlarge.

Finally, the priest burns the whole animalon the altar. But unlike the sin offering and the peace offering, not only the fat, but the whole sacrifice was burned.

When the offering is burned by the priest, or when God himself sends fire from heaven and burns it, then it means that God accepts the sacrifice and he is now pleased with the worshiper. After Solomon finished his prayer of dedication of the Temple, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices on the altar, and the glory of the LORD filled the Temple. How did the people react when saw this and knew that God was pleased with them? Did they all burst into shouting, dancing and mirth? No, they bowed down and gave thanks to God (2 Chr 7:1-3).

Burnt offerings often symbolize whole consecration, as when Hezekiah restored true worship in the Temple after being neglected by several kings. He told the people, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The people obeyed the king, and “all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings” (2 Chr 29:31). Notice that those with a willing heart offered burnt offerings, giving to God the whole sacrifice. The burnt offering showed that complete consecration is necessary to become right with God. Jesus became for us that burnt offering, completely consecrating his life to God. On the cross, his whole body and soul was figuratively consumed by God’s wrath from heaven. This is why he prayed before his death, “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19).

Because of his substitutionary atonement, Christ satisfied God’s wrath on our sin, so that we would be pleasing and acceptable to him. He sprinkled his blood not before the veil of the sanctuary, but in the Most Holy Place in the heavens, before the throne of God (Heb 9:12-14). Now therefore, Christ exhorts us, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). His blood sprinkled on our sins has cleansed our hearts and purified our bodies from all unrighteousness. Obviously, this is an unmistakable reference to what water baptism signifies.

When Christ consecrated himself as a burnt offering for his people, his sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to God. In this sacrifice, God showed his love for us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How then must we respond to this great love? Paul again commands, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). Because of this fragrant offering, “we have now been justified by his blood … [and] saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:8, 9).

Pleasing Aroma
The burnt offering is also called “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Obviously, since God is Spirit, he does not get hungry and has no need of food. The offering is symbolically “consumed” by God when he sends fire from heaven, which means that God accepts the sacrifice for the reconciliation of the worshiper who brought the sacrifice to God.

What was Noah’s first order of business after the ark settled on land when the flood subsided? He offered burnt sacrifices to the LORD: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” The Bible also says that the smell of these burning animals ascended into heaven and he was pleased, “And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man’” (Gen 8:20-21). We know that the smell of burning flesh is not pleasant, but to God, Noah’s burnt sacrifices were a delightful aroma!

When Israel was carried away to Babylon as exiles, God still promised that he will restore them back from foreign lands, “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered” (Ezk 20:41). All sinners who are forgiven by God are a pleasing aroma to him. This is what Paul says about believers, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved … a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:15-16). Paul uses the Greek words for “aroma” and “fragrance” that are often used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to pleasing sacrifices.

Although this sacrifice is commonly translated “(whole) burnt offering,” the Hebrew word used is from the same root verb that also means “to ascend.” So it is also often called the “ascension offering.” This means that when the whole animal is burned as an offering to God, its smoke and aroma “ascends” to heaven. If the offering comes from a contrite heart of a believer wholly consecrated to God, the smell of the burnt offering becomes a “pleasing aroma” to him.

Burnt offerings therefore signify that whenever believers gather as God’s people during worship services, they ascend into the heavenly places by the Spirit through faith in Christ. Our offerings of prayers, songs and doxologies, and our vows of consecration to God ascend into heaven as a pleasing aroma to God. He lifts our hearts up into the heavenly Mount Zion (Psa 25:1), where we worship God together with a multitude of angels and saints in heaven and on earth. This is because Christ has sprinkled his own blood on the cross as a burnt offering pleasing to God, so we can now stand before God’s heavenly throne as we come to worship him (Heb 12:18-24).

Beloved friends, so far, we have studied two of four offerings in Israel’s worship service in Leviticus 9. The pattern of offerings is found in verse 22: “the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” The burnt offering usually includes the grain offering, “And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning” (verse 17). How do these offerings relate to ours?

God first calls his people to assemble for worship (Lev 9:1, 5), which is our Call to Worship and opening salutations, prayer and song.

Then the people offer animal sacrifices for their sin offerings for the atonement of their sins. In reading the commandments of God, we are made aware of our sins, and we confess our sins in repentance. But God assures us that he forgives us our sins on the basis of Jesus’ death as our Substitute, thereby cleansing us of all our uncleannesses.

Afterwards, the congregation offer their burnt offerings to signify their desire to consecrate their whole life to the LORD. Their vow of consecration is based on the Word of God that they have heard from the priest, the mediator between them and the LORD. God speaks to us in the reading and preaching of his Word, which the Spirit uses as the means to change our hearts, enabling us to wholly consecrate our lives to him. The Spirit also lifts us up to God’s heavenly throne of grace (Psa 25:1)—he “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6)—where we offer to him our Mediator our vows, songs and prayers.

What kind of life must you then live as consecrated people? Paul commands us, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Holiness before God is your response to his Word. But your response is not only about being righteous before God; it also means good works before your neighbor, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb 13:7-16). Paul commends the generosity of the church in Philippi, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself offered the perfect sacrifice for you, because his whole life was a life of holiness to his Father who sent him, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired … in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Heb 10:5-7).

In all of these, then, your worship of God is acceptable only when you offer them with contrite hearts; when your whole lives—heart, mind, word and deed—are consecrated to God; when you do good and share with your brethren in Christ. This is why the Scripture warns us, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22).

 

Related Articles: