The propensity to sin is strong and the punishment for sin is severe for Christians. In this message on Leviticus 16, Pastor David Platt reminds Christians about the beauty of Christ’s atonement for us. Through the cross, we are counted as righteous because of Christ’s perfection.
- God is holy.
- Sin is deadly.
- Sacrifice is necessary.
- Jesus is worthy.
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Leviticus 16. I know that you are shocked that I’m not going to preach on Leviticus 15 or Leviticus 18 or a variety of other, somewhat, unusual passages in Leviticus that I’m going to totally avoid. You know, some people think and say that Leviticus is boring. I think we can safely disagree with that assertion. Yeah, there are a couple of points where you can get bogged down, but on the whole, Leviticus really keeps you on your toes as you’re reading through it, and there are points where it’s kind of a little too much information. Sometimes we ask, “Why is this in Scripture?” I want us to see why this is in Scripture.
So, before we dive into Leviticus 16, I want to step back for just a moment and think back about where we’ve gone over the last couple of months, how we’ve come to this point, and where we’re going to go over the next couple of months really leading up to Easter. Remember: why we’re reading through the Bible in a chronological way is because we want to see the whole story of Scripture, and so I want to constantly come back and show how each text we’re looking at fits into the overall story of redemption.
So, we started the beginning of this year with week 1: The “Prologue: Creation,” and we saw how Genesis 1-11 really sets the stage for everything else to come in the Bible, and everything else to come in this story really goes back to what happens in Genesis 1-11. So, we’ve got this foundation here in the very beginning, “Prologue,” and then we’re kind of looking at this as a story/book, basically, with chapters and parts.
Leviticus 16 is a Covenant Between God and His People
So, “Part 1: Redemption Promised to Covenant People,” and the reason I titled it that way is because I want us to see that God has chosen to relate to His people through covenants, and this is integral to understanding God’s relationship to His people. It’s what we’ve seen already when God says, and we’ll see it other times throughout the rest of Scripture, “I will be your God; you will be my people.” God is entering into a relationship with His people, and we’ve seen up to this point really four pictures of covenant.
It started with Adam: the covenant of creation. Now, the word “covenant” is not actually used there in Genesis 1, 2 and 3, but all the elements of covenant are there. God relating to His people through His promises for His purpose, and so we see that. The picture of God’s relationship with His people, Adam and Eve, and then we see that marred with the Fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3, but even there in Genesis 3:15, we see this promise of redemption. So, that’s the first picture. The second picture is with Noah: the covenant of preservation. This is the first time we see “covenant,” the word, mentioned in Scripture. God says it in Genesis 9 after the flood. He says, “I’m not going to do this again. I will not destroy the earth like this. I’m going to preserve a people for myself.” This language of covenant between God and Noah.
Then, you get to Genesis 12, 15, and 17 with Abraham: the covenant of promise. This is what we talked about. I was in India that week, and we walked through Genesis 12, 15, and 17. We saw God give promises to Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob, after him. “I’m going to bless you and bless your descendants. I’m going to bring you into a land, and you are going to be the channel of my blessing to all peoples.” This is the forming of the people of Israel. Remember, Jacob and Israel are interchangeable terms. So, we see that lead us up into Exodus where God comes to Moses, and we see this covenant, the covenant of law. That’s what we’ve read about and talked about the last couple of weeks when God brings His people to Mount Sinai, and He reveals His glory to them, and He gives them His law. It’s really what we’re unpacking even here in Leviticus because this happens at the foot of Mount Sinai.
So, we’ve seen four covenants. I want you to see this is how God is relating to His people, and I also want us to see that these covenants are building on one another. They’re not nullifying or negating one after the other. It’s not that, “Okay, now that God does this through Moses, that just is throwing everything He’s done with Abraham out the window.” It’s building on each other, and we’re going to see that. That’s important because every time we’re pointing to the New Testament and Christ in the new covenant, it’s not that Christ is coming on the scene and negating things that we’ve seen in the Old Testament. By the way, remember that testament/covenant/old covenant/new covenant are interchangeable terms for the same things. Instead, all these things in the Old Testament are progressing and developing toward this fulfillment that comes in Christ and what we see in the new creation. So, that’s where we’re headed, and I want us to see these covenants in that context. That’s “Part 1: Redemption Covenant Promised to a Covenant People.”
Leviticus 16 Aso Discusses the “Law of the Land”
Now, this week we’re going to begin to kind of shift in the story, and we’re not going to see any new covenant for a while. We’re going to see this picture of the Mosaic Covenant unfolding called “Part 2: The Law of The Land” because, really, there are two facets we’re going to see from now until Easter. First, the giving of the law, which is really what Leviticus is about here, the law of the priests, as well as Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is going to be remembering the law. Then, we’re going to see the journey into the land. We’re going to see God’s people taking a journey into the land that He has promised them, and just as a preview, they are not going to take the most direct route into the land, and really, those two are related because their obedience and/or disobedience to the law has everything to do with what their journey into the land looks like.
So, I want us to see this interaction between law and land over the next couple of weeks. Now, that starts with Leviticus, and what I want us to look at is, really, the theological center of Leviticus and the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. This word, “atonement,” is an important theological word. Picture it as “at-one-ment,”, that’s what the word means, what the concept represents. This is how God’s people are made one with Him, reconciled to a relationship with Him, and that’s the question that Exodus left us with. Leviticus is just a continuation of Exodus. In Exodus 40, we see this picture of God in His glory dwelling with His people, and it begs the question, “How is that possible? How can a sinful people dwell in the presence of God?”
Leviticus is going to help answer that question, and this is where I want us to realize that Leviticus has huge implications for your life because the same question is necessary to ask in your life, right where you are. How in the world can you, in your sin, be in a relationship with God who is holy? The answer that Leviticus gives has huge implications for how you, right where you are, can or cannot relate to the God of the universe because it brings this concept of atonement home to our lives. What I want to do is we’re going read through Leviticus 16, and it’s kind of long, and what I want to do is I want to read through it, and I want you to imagine these details, this picture, and do this: every time you see the word “atonement,” circle it or underline it. I want you to see how it is prevalent throughout this passage. So, circle or underline “atonement” whenever you see it.
The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is in the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot of Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel.
Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.
This Chapter Highlights 4 Truths
Okay, what just happened, and why is that significant? What I want to show you in Leviticus 16, and really in the whole book of Leviticus, are four truths that I believe Leviticus 16 and the whole book intend to ingrain in our hearts and our minds. These are four incredibly important truths. Number one, God is holy. Yahweh is holy. In the book of Leviticus, over 90 times holiness is mentioned. It’s all over the book. The holiness of God, how God’s people are intended to be a reflection of His holiness, the fact that, as we’ve talked about, He is perfectly pure, completely separate, utterly unique, other, and how He is infinitely good, infinitely holy, and infinitely honorable.
We see that from the very beginning here in Leviticus 16, when the context takes us back to when Aaron’s sons drew near before the Lord and died. Why? Because they did not treat God as holy. That’s why they died. Go back to Leviticus 10 real quick. That’s the story in Leviticus 10:1 where Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, go into the Most Holy Place, offer unauthorized fire, and listen to what happens. “[Now] Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron…” Listen to this; this is what the Lord says, “‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified…’” What that means is “I will be acknowledged as holy,” “‘…and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron [the father] held his peace.”
Here are some implications to the fact that God is holy. We cannot be casual with God. Because He is holy, His holiness evokes a reverent, healthy, awe-inspiring fear in us. When you come into the presence of God, Leviticus is saying, you come into the presence of the Holy One, and you do not come casually or lightly.
Now, I want to be really careful from here not to go directly to an application and us to think, “Okay, we’ve come into the presence of God, tonight, so we don’t need to come in casually,” because that’s really not the picture. We’re not coming into the Holy of Holies in the same way they were in the Old Testament. We talked about this last week, but the truth is far, far deeper and greater for us here because of the realities we talked about last week. The very holy presence of God is dwelling in you, brothers and sisters. Christians who possess the presence of a holy God do not treat His presence lightly or casually. This is an awe-inspiring thing. This is a healthy, fear-evoking reality that should overwhelm us, that we should never grow cold or callous to. We cannot be casual with God. We must be contrite before God.
Leviticus 16 Connects to the Beginning of Exodus
This is the point: in the meeting here in Leviticus 16, the Lord is saying to Moses, “Tell Aaron this is how he is to come into my presence,” and He prescribes that. Then, go to the end of Leviticus 16:29, when He’s summing up the whole Day of Atonement picture. Listen to what it says, “It shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month…” Listen to the language here. God says, “You shall afflict yourselves…” Afflict yourselves. It says the same thing down in verse 31, “It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves.” The word, literally, means “to oppress yourself or to humble yourself.” It’s the same word that’s used at the beginning of Exodus to describe how the people of God were under affliction in Egypt, and the reality is that the holiness of God causes you and I to be humble before God, broken before God, and acknowledging the reality that God is great. It’s the picture of Old Testament worship that we do see in other points. It’s Ezra on his face, hands spread before God saying, “You are too great. I’m ashamed and disgraced to even look toward you.” It’s Isaiah 6 when Isaiah says, “Woe is me. I don’t even deserve to be in your presence.”
I do think there’s a word for us here, both in our lives, as well as what it means for us to gather together in worship of this God, because the reality is in our day, in what we oftentimes associate with worship, we oftentimes have a lot of room for celebration and great songs where we were clapping, dancing, and singing, that kind of picture, which there is a place for that. At the same time, there is also a place for brokenness and humility and weeping over sin in the presence of a holy God that is foreign to us in our day; that we desperately need to recover because the reality is, if humility and brokenness do not have a place in our worship, then God does not have a place in our worship. God is holy. We cannot be casual with Him. We must be contrite before Him.
The second truth is, because God is holy, therefore, sin is deadly. Sin is deadly. Now, Aaron’s sons show us that pretty clearly. One time going in the presence of God unauthorized, and they are struck dead. Think about the whole picture of the book of Leviticus though, and think about, first of all, our propensity to sin is strong. Leviticus shows us this. Think about the way that it is structured. Up to this point in Leviticus 16, we have had chapter after chapter that describe sacrifices. It’s like a calendar, a schedule of sacrifices, and then right after this in Leviticus 17-27, what we see is a picture of God giving civic and moral laws to follow. Isn’t it interesting that before He even gives the laws, He gives them a bunch of sacrifices, because the reality is they’re going to break the laws. It’s a given. There is a propensity to sin, to disobey the law of God, and so there’s a necessity for over half of this book to be consumed with sacrifices, and the reality that Leviticus shows us is this picture of intentional and unintentional sins. Sin is not just something we do here or there. Sin is at the core of our being. We were born with a nature that rebels against God, that turns away from His law. All of us are. Our propensity is we are prone to sin. Don’t you hate that?
Leviticus 16 Shows us that we are Prone to Sin
Leviticus shows us we are prone to sin and not just our propensity to sin is strong, but Leviticus shows us very clearly that the punishment for sin is severe. Don’t we see this all over the book of Leviticus? It is not seen just in Aaron’s sons, but what about adultery;? What’s the payment for adultery in Leviticus? The payment is death. It starts a whole list: “the payment for this is death, death, death, death.” You get to Leviticus 24, and one man, one time blasphemes the name of the Lord. What do they do with him? They stone him. If you speak against or blaspheme the name of the Lord, they must stone him. God says stone him.
We read that, and we think, “Is that overly severe?” It’s not just here in Leviticus, it’s all over the Old Testament. Lot’s wife looks back and dies immediately. One backward glance, and she becomes a pillar of salt, just like that. When we get to Numbers in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to see a guy who is picking up sticks on the Sabbath one day, and he is stoned for it. Stoned for picking up sticks. Later in the Old Testament, we see the people of God transporting the ark of the covenant in a way they were not supposed to be, and it is about to fall, and so one man reaches out to grab it to keep it from falling, and when he touches it, he is immediately struck dead.
You say, “Yeah, those are some weird stories in the Old Testament.” It’s in the New Testament, too. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira are trying to be deceptive of the offering they give to the church, and they die. You may not say it out loud, but don’t you think, “Doesn’t that seem a little overly severe? Stoning for picking up sticks? Someone tells a lie, and he is struck dead on the spot?” The reason we think that is overly severe is because we have a man-centered perspective of sin, and we think, “Well, if you were to speak something evil against me, you don’t deserve death for that,” and you don’t. If you were to disobey something someone told you to do, you don’t deserve death for that, but this is where we realize the severity of sin is not determined by the action in and of itself. The severity of sin is determined by the one who is sinned against. Think about it. If you sin against a rock, you’re not very guilty. If you sin against a man, you are guilty. If you sin against God, you are infinitely guilty of dishonor because He is infinitely honorable.
Think about it. That’s the story we’ve seen from the beginning. One sin in Genesis 3 and Romans 5 says, “Condemnation comes to all men.” One sin started the whole picture. All the moral and natural evil in the world all goes back to one sin. They ate a piece of fruit in their disobedience and pride, and as a result, world wars and holocausts and earthquakes and tsunamis and terrorism and disease and cancer, all from one sin, and you and I have committed thousands of them, and Leviticus is clear. The payment for one sin is, what? It’s death. Eternal death, infinite death because you have sinned against an infinitely holy God. God is holy. Sin is deadly. I pray that in this community of faith and the lives that are represented among Christians around the world that one of the fruits of reading through Leviticus, one of the fruits of even our time together would be that you and I walk away from this place hating sin more than when we got here and realizing the severity of sin more than when we got here.
Cornelius Plantinga wrote a book called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, and he wrote,
The awareness of sin, a deep awareness of disobedience, and painful confession of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin. They feared it. They fled from it. They grieved over it. Some of our forefathers agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder if he could still go to holy communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might wonder if this sin threatened her very salvation. That shadow has dimmed. Nowadays the accusation, “You have sinned,” is often said with a grin and with a tone that signals an inside joke. At one time, this accusation still had the power to jolt the people of God.
Leviticus 16 is a Reminder to Acknowledge the Deadly Nature of Sin
God, help us to realize the deadly nature of the smallest sin we are confronted and tempted with this week. God help us to hate it and to see that one sin deserves infinite wrath.
Now, that sets the stage for truth number three. If God is holy, and sin is deadly, and we are trying to see how a sinful man can dwell with a holy God, now truth number three makes sense: sacrifice is necessary. Sacrifice is necessary. Now, go over to Leviticus 17 with me real quick in verse 11. If this verse is not underlined in your Bible, let me encourage you to underline it because this is the key. When you have read through Leviticus in the past, have you not wondered why is there blood being splattered everywhere? “Sprinkle blood here, throw blood there.” Why? Leviticus 17:11 is the key to understanding why. Look at what it says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” So, blood represents life.
When a sacrifice is made, when blood is shed that, therefore, represents death. So, the picture is if sin is deadly and deserves death, and God is holy, for His holiness and His justice to reign, then the response to sin will always include death, and so the picture whenever we see blood in the book of Leviticus, is we see a picture of a sacrifice that shows that the payment of sin has been doled out. Death has occurred, and what it is, it’s a picture of a sacrifice who experiences death instead of the sinner.
So, that sets the stage for what the Day of Atonement is all about. The provision in the Old Testament here was an annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. In later Old Testament history, it is called simply, “the Day.” This is the day when it is made possible for God’s people to be in God’s presence. What happens on that day? A few elements: first, a priest entering an earthly sanctuary. The high priest is entering the tabernacle. Remember how the tabernacle was set up? You had the outer court, the holy place, then a veil, a curtain separated the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, and after what happened to Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, the people of Israel we were altogether fine with one person going into the Holy of Holies on the behalf of everybody else, and the high priest was altogether fine with doing it one time a year.
This Chapter Paints a Picture of the Day of Atonement
So, the picture was the high priest would put on these linen garments, simple garments, different even from normal high priestly garb and regular priest’s garb; what he put on to wear is a picture of humility in the presence of God. The clothes were very plain. “Take a good bath, get clean, put on the holy garments that reflect the holiness of God and go in humbly.” We find out later that they would put bells in the hem of the garment, and they would tie a rope around his ankle that stretched outside, so that when the high priest went into the Most Holy Place, as long as the bells were making music, then things were going well, but when the bells stopped, then clearly so had he, and if he stopped, the last thing you want to do is go in after him, and so you pull with the rope.
Can you imagine that scene? You’re standing outside the tent of meeting in total silence listening to the ringing of these bells, wondering if he is going to come out from the presence of God, reverence and awe at the holiness of God. So, the priest would go into the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies with, second element, the blood of a spotless animal. Really, three animals are involved here: a bull and two goats. The bull that would be sacrificed to atone for the priest’s sins because the priest is a sinner himself, and then the two goats, one of which will live, one of which will not, and the goat that is sacrificed would be taken into the Holy of Holies. So, the picture is the priest will go in with the blood of the bull for himself and the goat on behalf of all the people in the community of Israel, with incense filling the Holy of Holies, and the picture is you cannot gaze in the presence of God. Remember the ark of the testimony contains the law of God, and over it are the golden cherubim and the presence of God enthroned above His law between the cherubim.
So, the picture is he comes in with the blood of the bull and the goat, one for himself, and one for the people, and he is to sprinkle it over the lid, the atonement cover. It was called the mercy seat, but it’s really not a seat. You don’t sit down. The priest goes in and gets back out as quick as possible. You get in and out. So, he’s to go in and sprinkle blood over the mercy seat, the atonement cover, why?
Here’s the picture: the presence of God in His holiness is enthroned above His law. As the presence of God looks upon His law, it is broken by Israel. The people have not followed it. So, the picture is God saw the sins of Israel. Sin, as we talked about, deserves death. So, the picture is, in God’s holiness and justice, the law is broken and wrath is poured out on lawbreakers, and so the priest would sprinkle blood over the atonement cover as a picture of the fact that death occurred, and what happens in the whole picture of this thing is God seeing the sins of Israel, and instead of pouring out His wrath on His people, instead of them dying as a result of their sins, God was satisfied by the sacrifice of a substitute, and the animal is portrayed as dying instead of the community of faith, and in this way, God is both just toward sin and gracious toward sinners. This is how the priest makes atonement for the people; how the people are able to be reconciled to God.
Then, when he comes out, you’ve got the other goat standing there, and in verses 20-22, the priest puts his hands on the goat and confesses the sins of the community. This was a picture of the sins passing to the goat, and then the goat handler comes in and takes the goat away into the wilderness to be sent off never to return again. That which represents the guilt, the condemnation of the people’s sin taken to a place where it will never be seen again. That’s a great picture. Their sin is totally removed, never to return again. So, this is what happened on the Day of Atonement.
Atonement is not Sustainable Because of Our SInful Nature
The third element: it was a sacrifice that would need repeating. This is the only problem. Atonement would be made, but then in the next week, in the next month, they’re sinning again, and so, the next year atonement needs to be made, and the next year, and the next year, and on and on, atonement has to be made.
As a result, the effect, yes, it was a picture of God’s grace toward His people, but the effect was it served as a reminder of the people’s sin. It served to remind them, show them, day after day, or month after month, year after year, that they would still need this Day of Atonement. Once a year, they would need for the priest to go in and atone for their sins.
Go with me to Hebrews 10 towards the end of the New Testament. Look in Hebrews 10:1. This is what the New Testament says about the Day of Atonement. It was a reminder of the people’s sin. It showed that they were longing for permanent forgiveness, and the Day of Atonement was not bringing permanent forgiveness. Look in Hebrews 10:1. This is talking about the Day of Atonement and the sacrificial system, and it says,
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
They were constantly reminded that they were separated from God by sins and constantly in need of the Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 16 Points Us to the Greater Realities to Come
Now, remember, this is where the Old Testament is showing us and pointing us to the greater realities to come. We know that because God’s provision in the New Testament is a glorious picture in light of Leviticus 16. Instead of an annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, the New Testament gives us a picture of an abiding sacrifice in the death of Christ, and this is what the book of Hebrews is all about. Just as the tabernacle was a picture, a pattern, of a greater reality to come, so the Day of Atonement, and all we’re seeing in the book of Leviticus, is a pattern of a greater reality to come, an abiding sacrifice in the death of Christ.
Look at Hebrews 9. Go back one chapter in Hebrews 9:11. Listen to this,
[But] when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
So, here’s the picture. In the New Testament, it is not a priest entering into an earthly sanctuary; instead, it is a priest entering into a heavenly sanctuary. Here’s the significant difference. We talked about last week the tabernacle was a pattern, a copy of a greater reality, that which is true of a heavenly reality. So, when it comes to Christ and Him offering a sacrifice, He did not enter into a temple, a tabernacle made by hands. Look at Hebrews 9:23. Listen to this,
It was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Jesus, entering in, not to Holy of Holies in a tabernacle, but into the true, glorious, holy presence of God in humble garments. Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, He humbled Himself and became obedient, even to death on the cross. The priest entering a heavenly sanctuary. Not the blood of a spotless animal, but with the blood of a sinless man. You know, the priest had to offer the bull’s blood to cover over his own sins. Not so with Jesus. He had no sin in Him. It says this at the end of Hebrews 4 and the beginning of Hebrews 5. He had no sin in Him that needed to be atoned for, and so He goes in on our behalf, not with the blood of another but with His own blood, so that, in the same way that people in the Old Testament who looked to the blood of these sacrifices and entrusting the blood of these sacrifices, they would be reconciled to God and their sins atoned for.
God Sees the Sin in Our Lives but Chooses to Sacrifice His Son for Our Forgiveness
Now, the picture is with us, and God sees the sin in our lives. He sees in our lives that His law has been broken and the payment for our sin is eternal death. He sees the sin in our lives, and yet, when we trust in the blood of Christ sprinkled over our hearts, then when God sees the sin of our lives, instead of pouring out death on us, He is satisfied with the sacrifice of His Son, and the payment for sin is poured out in fullness on Him instead of you and me. His blood is what covers us from the wrath that is due us, and this is a sacrifice that would absolutely and totally not need repeating. It is a sacrifice that would last forever. Hebrews 10:11, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
He sat down at the right hand of God, symbolizing this sacrifice is complete now, waiting for that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet, for by a single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. It is a sacrifice that will last forever, and as a result, this is a sacrifice which affects the removal of all our sin. You can keep reading there in Hebrews 10:17, and it says, “‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Remember the scapegoat, the second goat? The sins were passed onto him, led out into the wilderness to never return again. Brothers and sisters, no matter how deep and dark or dirty your past is, when your sins have been put on Christ, they are removed as far as the east is from the west, never to be counted against you again.
Isaiah 43:25, God says, “I am the LORD, and I remember your sins no more.” It’s not that He just has a bad memory, and He forgets. It’s that God, in His grace, has chosen to take that sin. You changed everything in your life last year, five years ago or ten years ago, that thing that if you could go back in your life and redo that, or that, or this, or this, that thing that you just wish was completely gone, brothers and sisters, before the eyes of Almighty Holy God, it is gone. It’s gone. Our guilt is gone. His blood is sprinkled across our hearts, and you think of it, us and our sin, me and my sin, you and your sin, before a holy God by the blood of Christ, you are not guilty anymore.
Our guilt is gone, and our conscience is clear. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. So, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, when the Adversary seeks to put that weight of past sin around your neck from last week, or last year, or 20 years ago, and you still carry it around with you, brothers and sisters, don’t carry it around with you anymore. You are free, and your guilt is gone, and before God you are spotless and pure, and you have a position of holiness, because of the sacrifice of another it has been credited to you.
Leviticus 16 Points Us to a Beautiful Truth
The beauty here is what Leviticus is pointing us to. Yes, God is supremely holy, and sin is severely deadly, and sacrifice is, therefore, necessary. When we put all that together in the end of Leviticus, the cry is for a savior, and the point of Leviticus is the fourth truth: Jesus is worthy. We need Him. He is the center of our worship and the satisfaction of our souls. We have a high priest who will continually represent us. Let’s look at one more place in Hebrews. You’ve got to see this. Turn to Hebrews 7:23. You know, I think there are some of us, probably many of us at many, if not most times, when we think about Jesus dying on the cross, rising from the grave, ascending to the Father and seated at the right hand of the Father, that we think Jesus is just standing back and watching what’s going on. That is not true. Do you realize this? Hebrews 7:23, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
At this moment, Christian, Christ is at the right hand of the Father as an advocate on your behalf, living to intercede for you. What does that mean? It means that this week, when you are facing temptation to sin, you have a Savior on high who at that moment is ready to pour out everything you need to overcome that sin. When you face that trial this week that you’re not expecting at this moment, and when you get news this week that you had not expected to hear, know this: you have a Savior on high who is interceding on your behalf and is ready to pour out the strength and the sustenance that you need in the middle of that news, and every moment of every day, you have a high priest before the Father who is living to intercede for you. This is glorious truth and the reality is that when that day comes, and you breathe your last breath here, and you stand before a holy God, know this: you trust in Him, and His blood covers over your heart now. You can know that on that day you have an advocate, and you have no reason to fear.
I was with someone yesterday who was telling me about Joseph Stone. This is a brother who has trained pastors in persecution in Romania, and he did for years, and he would tell these men that he was training who would go into Romania and would almost certainly be martyred. He would tell them,
Brothers, do not ever forget that when you are martyred for your Lord, and you stand before your God in heaven, were He to ask why should I let you in, don’t think for a second that your answer will be because you were martyred. Know that your answer on that day will be the same answer that we all have. It will be I have nothing in me. I am trusting in His blood to cover over me.
So, Christian, live in this. Delight in the fact that your acceptance before God and your access to God is not based on your performance for God, but is based on the sacrifice of another.
You say, “Well, then, I’ll just live however I want.” No, absolutely not. This is where the truth of Leviticus 16 and Hebrews shows us that the idea that we can trust Jesus as our Savior but not follow Him as Lord is totally bogus and perfectly preposterous. Why? Because when we realize we have a high priest who is representing us, then we also realize we have a lamb who will eternally reign over us, and our lives are His. They belong to Him, and they delight in Him on a moment-by-moment basis, and the thought of sin in light of the sacrifice that has been made is unbearable, and we run from it by the power given to us by our Priest. That makes Leviticus totally worth reading.