The Gospel in Leviticus — Vaneetha Risner
Do you get bogged down in Leviticus? Are you ever tempted to skip over it to get to more understandable passages?
For most of my life, Leviticus was just an Old Testament book I had to get through in my Bible reading plan. Part of my testimony even involves the book of Leviticus, spoken of in a non-flattering way. Shortly before I came to Christ, I’d been thumbing through the Bible and landed in Leviticus, reinforcing my view that the Bible wasn’t relevant.
This February, I started Leviticus as I do every year, somewhat dreading it. But when I read a few words of commentary from my new Spurgeon Study Bible, the Lord began opening my heart and mind to things I hadn’t noticed before. With Charles Spurgeon’s notes throughout the Bible, I began to see how Leviticus points to Jesus and our need for the gospel.
Leviticus begins with blood. It’s gory. Every sin, from the people, leaders or individuals, intentional or unintentional, major or minor, required killing a perfect animal sacrifice and spilling its blood. One of the priest’s jobs was slaughtering animals, splashing their blood, covering everything with it. I usually read mindlessly over those passages, and occasionally recoil if I picture what’s really happening.
If it’s horrifying to read and envision, it must have been overwhelming for people who entered the tabernacle or the temple. Blood was splattered everywhere. Even the white linen garments of the priest were drenched in blood. They were entering a slaughterhouse to worship God. The horror of the flowing blood would have been a vivid reminder of the seriousness of sin, their sin and the sin of others. Innocent and perfect animals killed because of what the people had done wrong. As they watched, they knew that the wages of their sins was death (Rom 6:23a) and that everything was purified by blood; without the shedding of blood, there would be no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:21)
Spurgeon said “when someone brought his bull, or his goat, or his lamb, and put his hand on it, knowing that the poor creature must die, he thus acknowledged that he, himself, deserved death. The victim fell in the dust, struggling, bleeding, dying. The offeror confessed that this was what he deserved… The person stood there and said, ‘That is me; that is the fate I deserve.’ And if the worshiper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’”
Spurgeon’s words helped me appreciate what was happening, and what it would have meant to those in the temple. They knew that no one, including the priests, could enter God’s presence without first being cleansed. This reinforces what we see throughout the Bible, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). There is no one who is righteous, not one (Rom 3:11). The only way to draw near to God is to be perfect or to accept a perfect sacrifice in our place.
Leviticus 16 helps us see how Christ’s death atoned for our sins and carried them away, allowing us to stand righteous before God with direct access to him (Rom 5:1-2). On the Day of Atonement, a bull was sacrificed for the sin of the priests and two goats for the sins of the people. One goat was killed, its blood a sacrifice for the sins of the people, making atonement for their sins. The other goat carried away their iniquities into a desolate land, so their sins were carried away into oblivion, remembered by God no more.
Jesus died for us so that his blood would cover our sin. And as we see from the scapegoat, our sin was carried far away. Not only that, but we also stand before God as righteous, just as Christ does.
Blood sacrifices from perfect animals were made repeatedly because like us, the people sinned repeatedly. Which is why God sent his son, to be a sin offering on our behalf, fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law (Rom 8:4). Christ’s blood would forever atone for the sins of anyone who chose to accept his sacrifice on their behalf. To accept the sacrifice, we must first acknowledge our sins and that we need a substitute’s blood to cover them. Just like the Israelites, who brought their perfect animals to atone for their sin, they first had to acknowledge what they’d done wrong and admit that their sin deserved death. It was an active process. And so it is with us.
Spurgeon said, “We should be horrified, for indeed sin is a thing to shudder at, and the death of Jesus is not a matter to be treated lightly. It was God’s intent to awaken in people a great disgust of sin by making them see that it could only be put away by suffering and death. In the tabernacle in the wilderness, almost everything was sanctified by blood. The blood was to be seen everywhere.”
The book of Hebrews draws so much from the book of Leviticus. From it we understand how Jesus is both our high priest, and the sacrifice for our sins. The priests’ blood-covered garments were not their own blood, but the blood of animals, as they interceded for their sin and the sin of others. But Jesus as our high priest has his very own blood all over his garments which secured our eternal redemption. His sacrifice was perfect and acceptable to God forever (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:12-14).
I’ve known the gospel for years and understood why Jesus had to die, but it has often felt more theoretical than personal. Few people want to talk about sin, even Christians, who would rather just focus on the love of God. While God sent Christ because of his deep love for us (John 3:16), without sin we wouldn’t need the cross.
Though most of my ministry is about suffering, I recognize that suffering is not our greatest threat. Sin is our greatest enemy, which is perhaps why before Jesus healed the paralytic, he said “your sins are forgiven.” Sin, not suffering, was this paralyzed man’s greatest problem.
Suffering on earth, no matter how horrible, is temporary. One day it will end and those who love Christ will spend eternity in unending joy. Anything we face on earth will be the worst thing we will have to endure. But for those who don’t know Jesus, who haven’t accepted his sacrifice for their sin, this life on earth, whether full of joy or sorrow, will be the best it will ever be. That is motivation to share the gospel.
It has been a wonderful and sobering thing to ponder Leviticus over this season of Lent. When we picture how heinous our sin is — we are shocked by the sacrifice that was needed for us and oh so grateful that Christ did it all.