This is now our fourth week in the book of Leviticus. Since some of you have missed the three previous studies, let me summarise what we’ve learned so far.
Firstly, we’ve seen that the book of Leviticus picks up where the book of Exodus left off. The book of Exodus ended with a report on how Moses and the Israelites followed the Lord’s instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle.
Then, when the Tabernacle was complete, the Lord’s glory-cloud — which had once covered the top of Mount Sinai — now covered the Tent of Meeting; and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Since the glory-cloud signified the presence of the Lord, this was to show how the Lord — who once dwelt on Mount Sinai — had come down to dwell among his people in the Tabernacle, which was really a special kind of tent. And, you see, the Tabernacle was to be his home. Just as the Israelites lived in tents at that time, so the Lord was going to dwell among them in his own special tent.
And that’s really how the book of Exodus ends. And when you we turn over the page to the beginning of Leviticus, we read that the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tabernacle. So, Exodus ends with the Lord, moving into the Tabernacle. And Leviticus begins with the Lord, calling to Moses from the Tabernacle in order to speak to him.
Purpose of Leviticus
And what did the Lord say to him? That’s what the book of Leviticus is all about. And you see, the book of Leviticus answers the question:
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
The Lord is holy: perfectly pure and good and set apart from all that is evil. So how can sinful men and women ever hope to come into his presence? How could the Israelites in the days of Moses ever hope to come before the Lord in the tabernacle to worship him and to seek his help? And how can people come before the Lord today to worship him and to seek his help? And how can we ever hope to come into his presence in glory? Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy presence?
That’s the question which the book of Leviticus is designed to answer, because the book of Leviticus shows us that the Lord is able to provide a way for his sinful, but chosen people, to dwell with him. He’s able to provide a way for sinners to ascend the hill of the Lord and to stand in his holy presence. And what we discover from the book of Leviticus is that what we need are sacrifices and a priest: through the work of the priest, who was set apart by God for this special work, and by means of the offering up of sacrifices, God’s people were able to come before.
And we looked briefly at the way the opening chapters are arranged, because the way they’re arranged makes this clear. At the beginning of Leviticus, Moses is standing outside the Tent of Meeting. And then, in the rest of chapter 1 and all the way to the end of chapter 7 we read about the different sacrifices they were to offer the Lord. And in chapter 8 the Lord gave instructions about how to ordain Aaron the priest and his sons.
And then in chapter 9 we read how the priests began their work and they offered sacrifices to the Lord. And this opening section culminates with verses 22 to 24 of chapter 9, where we read how Moses and Aaron — representing the people — were able at last to go into the Tent of Meeting. Before, because of God’s holiness, they had to remain outside. But now, after offering the sacrifices, they were able to go in to the presence of the Lord.
How can sinners ever hope to stand in God’s holy presence? By means of the work of priests and the offering of sacrifices.
Structure of Leviticus
So, the second thing we’ve learned so far is the purpose of this book: it’s designed to answer that question about how sinners can come into God’s holy presence. The third thing we learned was how the structure of the book of Leviticus underlines its purpose, because the chapters of Leviticus are arranged very carefully and at centre of the book is chapter 16 which contains instructions about the Great Day of Atonement. On that day a goat was killed and its blood was shed in place of the people in order to satisfy the justice of God and to make peace between God and his chosen, but sinful people. And there was another goat, which was kept alive. The priest placed his hands on that goat and confessed their sins over it; it was then sent away into the desert to signify how the guilt of their sins had been removed from them as far as the east is from the west.
Right at the centre of Leviticus are these instructions about the Day of Atonement, when God’s justice was satisfied, and the guilt of their sins was taken away from them in order that God’s sinful, but chosen people could dwell with him.
Points to Christ
Leviticus follows on from Exodus. It’s purpose is to answer the question of how sinners can dwell in God’s presence. The structure of Leviticus underlines its purpose, because the centre of the book is about atonement. Fourthly, we’ve learned that all of these sacrifices point forward to the work of Christ. He’s our Great High Priest who offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sins to bring us to God. All of the sacrifices we read about in Leviticus were for the time being only; they were to make do until the time came for the Eternal Son of God to come into the world as one of us in order to suffer and to die in our place. So, they all point forward to his work.
And, of course, there needed to be several sacrifices in the Old Testament, because none of them by itself was able to convey every aspect of the work of Christ and our response to it. There needed to be many sacrifices to symbolise everything that Christ’s death accomplished for us.
And so far, we’ve studied the Burnt Offering and the Grain Offering. In the Burnt Offering, the worshipper brought an animal or a bird to the Lord. It was a costly, perfect substitute for the worshipper; and it died in place of the worshipper as a ransom to pay for the guilt of his sins. And so, the Burnt Offering points us to Christ who died in our place as a ransom to pay for the guilt of our sins.
Then, after the Burnt Offering, the worshipper would bring a Grain Offering as a gift or tribute to give thanks to God for his grace and mercy. Part of it was burned on the altar; and the remainder was given to the priests for food. Well, this points forward to our grateful response to the Lord for his grace to us in Christ, because in the book of Hebrews, believers are now commanded to bring, not a grain offering, but a sacrifice of praise to God. Furthermore, the writer to the Hebrews commands us:
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
So, how do we respond to God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus? The Israelites brought the fruit of their labour to God; and they shared it with the priests. But we’re to respond to God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus by giving praise to the Lord, which is the fruit of our lips; and we’re to share what we have with one another.
That’s where we’ve got to so far in the book of Leviticus. Today we come to chapter 3 and the Fellowship Offering.
You’ll see from verse 1 and from verse 6 and from verse 12 that, for a Fellowship Offering, the worshipper could bring either a bull from the herd or a lamb from the flock or goat from the flock. Just to compare this for a moment with the Burnt Offering: for a Burnt Offering, you could bring an animal from the herd or flock, but you could also bring a bird. However, as we’ll see, a bird would not really be suitable for this type of offering. You’ll also see from verses 1 and 6 that the animal can be either male or female. That’s also different from the Burnt Offering, when the animal had to be a male. However, like the Burnt Offering, the animals for a Fellowship Offering had to be without defect or blemish. You see, this animal sacrifice was to symbolise the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for sins. Therefore, the animal had to be perfect too.
Then we read in verses 2 and 8 and 13 that the worshipper had to lay one of his hands on the head of the animal. We’ve seen before that laying one hand on the head of the animal was a way to to indicate that the worshipper was offering this animal in his place. By placing his hand on the animal, he was saying that this animal now represents me and it’s taking my place. And so: What happened to the animal who was taking the place of the worshipper? Well, it was slaughtered at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So, while the worshipper deserved to die, because of his many sins, this animal died in his place. Then you’ll see from verse 2 and verse 8 and verse 13 that Aaron’s sons the priests had to collect the blood of the animal and sprinkle it against the sides of the altar.
And then part of the animal was offered to the Lord by burning it on the altar. And we read in verses 3 and 4 that the priest was to burn all the fat of the bull that covers the inner parts or is connected to them; he was also to burn both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, as well as the covering of the liver which he will remove with the kidneys. There was a similar procedure in verses 9 to 10 for the lamb, with the addition of an extra instruction in verse 9 about its tail which was to be burned. And there was similar instructions in verses 14 to 15 for the goat.
The offering up to God of the fat was clearly important. That’s why a bird was not suitable for this sacrifice, because there’s very little fat on a bird. And the offering up of fat was important, because the fat was considered the best part of the animal. Perhaps you’re familiar with Psalm 63? The Psalmist says in verse 5:
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.
The fat of the animal was considered the best part; and that fat tail on the lamb was considered a great delicacy. Well, if the fat was the best part of the animal, then it was only fitting that the best portion was given to the Lord.
And why was it given to the Lord? Well, look at verse 11, where it says they were burned on the altar ‘as food’. Now, God doesn’t have a body like us; he can’t eat food the way we do; and he certainly doesn’t need food to sustain him. However, burning these pieces of the animal was a way of symbolising how they were given to God as his share of the fellowship meal which was about to take place.
You’re perhaps wondering where does it say anything about a fellowship meal? For that we need to turn to Leviticus 7. You see, the instructions about sacrifices in chapters 1 to 5 are repeated again in chapters 6 and 7, but with some additions. It’s thought that chapters 1 to 5 explain the sacrifices from the perspective of the worshipper; and chapters 6 and 7 explain the sacrifices from the perspective of the priests. In any case, chapter 7 contains more instructions about the Fellowship Offering.
You’ll see from verse 12 of chapter 7 that the Fellowship Offering can also include with the animal some cakes or wafers of bread. Then, according to verses 31 to 33 of chapter 7, the priests were allowed to take the breast and right thigh of the animal. And the worshipper and his friends and family were allowed to take the rest. Chapter 7 contains various instructions about when they’re to eat it; and in Deuteronomy 12 we read how the worshipper and his household were to eat this meal before the Lord their God. In other words, there were to sit down in the Tabernacle and enjoy a meal in the presence of the Lord.
The Lord was given his share to enjoy. The priests were given their share to enjoy. The worshipper and his family were given their share to enjoy. That’s why this sacrifice was called the ‘Fellowship Offering’, because after the offering was made, the Lord, the priests and the people enjoyed a fellowship meal together. It’s also called the ‘Peace Offering’, because the fellowship meal was a celebration of the fact that there was peace between the Lord and his people. Though the people were sinners, who deserved to be condemned by the Lord, the Lord accepted the death of the animal in their place, and was prepared to pardon their sins and to accept them as his people and to invite them into his presence to enjoy a meal together and fellowship with one another. Instead of treating them as their sins deserve, instead of repaying them according to their iniquity, he pardoned their sins and brought them near.
This fellowship meal which the Lord and his people enjoyed together in the Tabernacle points forward to the great heavenly meal which we read about in Revelation 19, where it’s called ‘the wedding supper of the Lamb’, when all the members of the church triumphant will sit down in heaven to enjoy a heavenly banquet with our Saviour, the Lamb of God who was slain for us and for our forgiveness. And the book of Revelation pictures this meal as a time of joy and gladness and a time of blessing on all who are invited to this heavenly banquet. And for ever and for ever, the Lord’s people will celebrate before the Lord; and we’ll enjoy the peace which Christ has established between us; and we’ll enjoyed fellowship with the Lord in whose presence we will live for ever and for ever.
The Lord’s Supper
And between the fellowship meal which the Israelites enjoyed in the Tabernacle and the great banquet which we’ll enjoy in the new heaven and earth, there’s another meal, isn’t there? There’s another fellowship meal which the Lord’s people get to enjoy. And it’s the Lord’s Supper, isn’t it? But, of course, this meal which believers enjoy in church is not designed to nourish our bodies; we’re only given a little bit of bread to eat and a small cupful to drink. It’s not designed to nourish our bodies. Instead it’s designed to nourish our souls, because by taking the bread and cup which speak to us of Christ’s body and blood, we’re reminded of the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards us and his willingness to pardon us for the sake of Christ who died for us.
He’s the true sacrifice, who took our place when he died on the cross to pay for our sins and to satisfy God’s justice and wrath. And now God is pleased to look on him, and his death on the cross, and to pardon us. So, for the sake of Christ who died for us, there is peace with God. And so, instead of being sent away from his presence — which is what we deserve because of our sins — he invites us to come to his table, and to sit in his presence, and to enjoy this fellowship meal together. And while we enjoy this meal, we remember the Saviour who died for us; and we give thanks to God for him; and we look forward to that heavenly banquet, when the symbols will have disappeared, so that instead of having to make do with bread and a cup, we’ll have the real thing: Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who was slain for us and for our salvation.
And so, the Fellowship Offering which we read about in Leviticus points us to the Lord who died so that we can have peace with God; and it points us to the Lord’s Supper which we’re able to enjoy in church; and it points us as well to the heavenly banquet which we will enjoy for ever and for ever in the new heaven and earth.
But there’s one last thing to notice and it’s very significant. In verse 20 of Leviticus 7 there’s a warning for the Israelites. It says:
if anyone who is unclean eats any meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the Lord, that person must be cut off from the people.
It was a warning to the people to examine themselves before coming to the fellowship meal. They were to examine them to see if they had done anything to make them ceremonially unclean, because anyone who was ceremonially unclean must not share in that holy meal.
In the same way, believers today are warned to examine themselves before coming to the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. We’re to examine ourselves to see whether we understand what the sacrament is for and what it represents. And we’re to examine ourselves to see if there is anything wrong in our lives which we need to confess and put right. Is there any sin which we’re holding on to which we need to give up? Have I been unkind and unloving towards anyone and now I need to go and put that right? What about those unkind and thoughtless words, those complaints and criticisms which I had no right to make? Do I need to go and confess those things and ask for forgiveness?
On Sunday, we’re to come and enjoy fellowship with one another in the presence of the Lord. But have I done anything or said anything which has spoiled the fellowship of God’s people and the peace of this church? We’re to examine ourselves and we’re to ask ourselves those types of questions in order to prepare for the Lord’s Supper. And having examined ourselves, you have between now and Sunday to put it right. And only when you have put it right do you have the right to come to the table of the Lord.