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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:Present to God a Holy Sacrifice
Text:Leviticus 22:17-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,5                                                                                         

Ps 66:6,8

Reading – Leviticus 22; Romans 11:33-12:8

Ps 51:1,6,7

Sermon – Leviticus 22:17-32

Ps 118:1,7,8

Hy 60:1,3,5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation, have you ever come to a Bible book, and decided that you’d rather skip it? Maybe you were reading through Scripture in your personal devotions, or around the supper table as a family, and you’d finished Genesis, and slogged through the latter parts of Exodus, and finally came to Leviticus. What did you do? Did you skip it?

            Leviticus presents a challenge. The title of the book means “about the Levites.” And that may give a clue as to why the book is found unappealing. In large part, it describes how that priestly family of the Levites should present right sacrifices to the LORD.

There’s much law here. But keep in mind this: that all of it is presented as part of a wider story, that story of God and his people. Having been delivered from Egypt, the Israelites are in the wilderness, now encamped at Mt. Sinai. And Leviticus picks up where Exodus left off. For right at the end of Exodus, the tabernacle was completed according to God’s instructions, and then was filled by the glory of the LORD.

            Leviticus begins then, with God summoning Moses to come to the tabernacle. He’s going to explain exactly how his covenant people should approach Him in worship! And this was vital, because before Sinai, God’s glory had never “formally” resided in Israel’s midst in a central place like the tabernacle. There wasn’t a structured set of sacrifices, and no official priesthood. What’s more, the Israelites’ own knowledge of such things was sorely lacking. For centuries they’d been slaves in Egypt, a land of many gods. Their concept of worship and a godly life had become severely distorted. We can see their stubborn attachment to pagan ritual when they worship the golden calf.

So now God will give much needed instruction. Simply put, He’ll tell his people how to

properly live in covenant with Him. What vital matters these are! And we begin to see this book is for much more than just the Levites—it’s for everyone. For what did God say to the Israelites, back in Exodus 19, even before He gave any of the sacrificial laws? He said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v 6). From the least of them to the greatest, they were priests: a people holy to God, devoted to his worship.

            Here we also sense how this book is still relevant today. For has the God speaking in Leviticus really changed? He’s still the God of the covenant—a God in relationship with his people. He’s still a God who graciously provides atonement for sin through blood. He’s still a holy God, who calls his children to be holy too. And He still desires to be worshiped by his priestly people, with acceptable sacrifice and offering. This is what we see in our text,

            The LORD instructs his people about holy sacrifices:

1)     the LORD to whom they’re offered

2)     the guidelines by which they’re offered

3)     the spirit in which they’re offered

1)     the LORD to whom they’re offered: The passage we focus on comes in the latter half of chapter 22; one Study Bible entitles this section, “Offerings Accepted and Not Accepted.” That’s what this section is about: offerings.

            Now, in one way this was a familiar practice for the people of God. They might not have had a fully regulated system of sacrifice before this, but those in fellowship with God have always wanted to present Him with their gifts. Recall those offerings of Cain and Abel, already way back in Genesis 4. It wasn’t commanded in any law, it was just done, as if by instinct: to acknowledge the goodness of the LORD. Leviticus is built on that same assumption, that God’s covenant people will gladly bring Him their offerings.

We need to view these sacrifices in the right way. Because Israel definitely wasn’t the only nation who made offerings; it was a practice in many cultures and religions. A common idea of bringing gifts to the gods was that these were basically bribes, given to get what you wanted. But the LORD wanted his people to take a different perspective. These offerings were under the umbrella of an existing relationship (the covenant of grace); and they were part of that continuing story (the history of redemption).

            So God addresses this particular section not just to the priests (the Levites), but to everyone in Israel: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, and to all the children of Israel’” (vv 17-18). We see it again, that proper worship is to be the concern of all God’s covenant people.

            And to impress on them its importance, Moses reminds them of where it’s directed: “Whatever man of the house of Israel… who offers his sacrifice for any of his vows or for any of his freewill offerings… [these] they offer to the LORD” (v 18). When you read Leviticus, you find that last phrase again and again; every act of worship is described as being “to the LORD.” Tradition and habit being what they are, the Israelites probably forgot this sometimes—just as we might. That as we lift up our prayers of praise, or our songs of worship, or our material gifts, or even the best of our talents and time, they are offered to God. Consciously, reverently, thoughtfully: to the LORD!

The people of Israel had a visual cue for this in the tabernacle. That’s where God showed his presence; whenever they came to the tent of meeting, they could be reminded: Here, God is present, in the house of the LORD. Why, that was the greatest of God’s blessings, that He was in their midst. Listen to the gospel from Leviticus 26:12, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.”

            That truth gave a powerful incentive for offering worship that was in every way true and holy. Think of whose presence you approach, whose face you seek. Thus we find verse 31 as another oft-repeated theme in Leviticus, “Therefore you shall keep My commandments, and perform them: I am the LORD.” In a way, that’s all He needs to say: “I am the LORD.” Let this wondrous reality move them—let it move us—to revere His Name.

            The same thought is taken a little further in the last two verses of our text. It’s first put negatively, “You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel” (v 32). That, unfortunately, is the inclination of humans when worshiping: to treat as trivial something holy. We’ll see that in the next point, in a few minutes.

            But first God puts it more positively, “I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD” (vv 32-33). If you’re keeping track, God there says it two more times, “I am the LORD.” And hear how God describes Himself: He is the God who sanctifies his people. And He is the God “who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Israel is pointed to that defining moment of their history: the deliverance from oppression, the redemption from slavery.

            This is the LORD to whom they present their offerings: the God who saved them in his sovereign grace! It’s like God reminded them, every time they heard the Ten Commandments, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 20:2). Humble reverence, dedicated obedience, and holy gifts are reserved for such a God as this: He is a faithful, compassionate, and Almighty God.

            All in all, Leviticus presents us with a glorious picture of God’s character—a picture broadened and deepened in the New Testament. There we see these same characteristics revealed: the love of God, the holiness of God, the justice and mercy of God. And we see all these things more deliberately displayed in Jesus Christ, who came to reveal the Father. As both high priest and holy sacrifice, He offered Himself to God, so his precious blood could atone for all our sin.

            Maybe that makes us wonder again what to do with Leviticus. For hasn’t Jesus closed this book by his death, declared that “it is finished?” Even if we do read it, how does it apply to our lives, all this ritual and regulation? The answer is that we can look—and we ought to look—for the precious truth that still remains: the truths about our God that have not changed; the principles for his people that are still in effect. We look, not to be bound by all the particular rules of Leviticus, but to receive good and faithful direction from God’s own mouth, recorded in this book, and passed down to us.

For in a way, our duty as a priestly people is even greater than it was for Israel. We know the Name above every name, Jesus Christ. We know the incredibly high price that He paid, to clear away our sin and secure our salvation. Our motive for sacrifice has been multiplied greatly!

Just listen to the words of Romans 12, “I beseech you therefore… by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God” (v 1). Notice what Paul says in that passage. He knew that the age of temple worship was completely finished at the death of Christ. But see how God still calls us—believers in Jesus—to a life of sacrifice: everything we are, everything we have, presented to the LORD. And we do this, Paul says, “by the mercies of God.” We’re moved by his mercy in Jesus Christ, we’re stirred up by his sacrifice, eager to present our offerings, acceptable to God.

2) the guidelines by which they’re offered: Out of the book of Leviticus, or out of all the law of God, there’s probably one principle that stands above the rest. We find it in the LORD’s word in 11:44, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Because of the LORD’s perfect separateness and moral purity, He expects that his people be holy too. He is “set apart” from all stain of sin, and so we ought to be as well.

The LORD showed the Israelites just how complete this holiness needed to be. The many laws in Leviticus, together with those in Exodus and in Deuteronomy, give the outline of an entire life of purity: purity with reference to bodily health, daily food, personal relationships and conduct—and of course, purity in connection to official worship.

Over 125 times in this book, the people are warned not to become ceremonially unclean, and they’re exhorted to use the means of purification that God has provided. And it all went back to God’s character: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

            As just one example of the need for holiness, we have these laws regarding offerings. In Israel, a sacrifice could be given for any number of different reasons: some spoke of the worshiper’s gratitude to the LORD, or the worshiper’s desire for fellowship with God, or for the worshiper’s need for atonement from sin. But whenever an offering was presented, for whatever occasion, it needed to meet these criteria.

            Earlier in Leviticus God speaks about this, but in our passage it’s made explicit: the worshiper was to be pure, and so his sacrifice was also to be pure. It’s stated repeatedly, beginning in verse 19, “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats.” Then a bit later, to explain what sort of blemish is meant, “Those that are blind or broken or maimed, or have an ulcer or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD” (v 22).

What was the point? In short, the quality of an offering reveals the quality of the heart, reveals whether it’s dedicated to the LORD, or not. So whenever a person brought his gift to the tabernacle, he was to bring an animal that had value to him; he was to give a gift he might’ve used himself. After all, it costs little to give away something that’s second-rate, or something you won’t really miss. But to give up the first and best portion, to give up what is useful—that’s a true sacrifice; it’s a holy sacrifice! By making this kind of offering, the people showed they wouldn’t withhold from God even that which was near and dear. By this, they’d show how much they valued being (and staying) in relationship with Him.

For the whole reason they could bring offerings in the first place was because of the LORD and his kindness. It was his land. It was his produce. It was his blessing and grace. All these sacrifices they brought—right from the finest cow, down to the best oil—everything flowed from that bounty, freely granted.

That was the question, then: Were they remembering the LORD in whose presence they stood, the God who’d mightily saved them, forgave them, and provided for them? An unblemished offering flowed out of something that’s always been most imperative to God: an attitude of reverence and awe, a spirit of true love and thankfulness.

            Sure, God knew a person could give an outwardly acceptable offering, even one that was top-rate, without really meaning it. That’s what Cain did so long ago—and God rejected his gift. But a sacrifice can easily err in the other direction too.

For example, in Malachi’s time the Israelites came to think God didn’t really care about the quality of offering, just as long as there was something on the altar. But listen to God’s Word through his prophet, “‘You bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?’ says the LORD; ‘But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—for I am a great King,’ says the LORD of hosts” (1:13-14). God challenges the people, “You wouldn’t give this to your earthly governor, a mere man—so how can you give it me?” A true offering is not to be poor, stingy, or deficient. For here is something that has never changed: the LORD God isn’t pleased with half-hearted service!

These are words for God’s people to consider, no matter the age we live in. For we too, out of habit or tradition, might be inclined to give God anything, as long as it’s something. But it could well end up being second-rate, or second-best. In reality, our gifts to God may end up being whatever is “left over.” Whatever is left of our energy, after hours of work and leisure; whatever is left of our time, after another busy day; or whatever is left of our money, once we’ve bought the things we wanted.

If only then we think of giving something back to God, if only then we get down to serving his Kingdom, or giving a bit of time to prayer and Bible study, then—let’s be honest—these are blemished offerings. “Leftovers and afterthoughts” for God are today’s equivalent to offerings that are blind, broken, and maimed; in truth, these things are covered with ulcers and eczema and scabs. Shall we offer to God only whatever we can’t use ourselves? Whatever time and money we won’t really miss? No, as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, God asks that we offer what is pure and what is precious.

It’s not that God needs x-number of hours per day in prayer, or needs the biggest cheque, or needs the fattest animal. Also in Israel, an offering didn’t have to be expensive, by definition. In this passage, just notice all the different allowances for people of different financial standing; a sacrifice could be a bull, or a lamb, or a goat—we know it could even be a couple small birds. The point is, nobody was discouraged from giving, as long as they gave in the real desire to worship his Name.

Today a person might say he’s not able to contribute anything of worth: “I’m just a student, so I can’t really give.” Or, “I’ll never be an office bearer, so there’s no place in the church for me to serve.” More excuses could be given—we probably all do it. But underlying this passage is the principle that every child of God can serve according to ability, and give according to blessing. For everyone has received something! Just remember how highly Jesus valued the widow’s offering of two small coins—it was more than all that the wealthy had presented, because she presented what she had, little though it was, in thanksgiving to God.

            These guidelines point us in another direction too; they show the excellency of the One who was coming. Christ was the ultimate offering to God, because He was a spotless, sinless man. Recall what took place at the cross, when the soldiers came to break his legs. Looking at him, it was clear Jesus was already dead. So they held back their heavy wooden rod. And at this moment, an ancient prophecy was being fulfilled. John points it out, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (v 36, NIV).

The reference is from Exodus 12, the chapter of Passover regulations. Speaking of the lamb that’d be killed for the Passover meal, God commanded, “Do not break any of the bones.” The Passover lamb had to be free from every physical defect and blemish. Like all the sacrifices that God wanted, this lamb had to be pure, the best of the lot, precious and holy. God would accept nothing less.

            And so not one of the Saviour’s bones were broken. It was as God wanted it: Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sins. He was the Lamb of God, accepted by the Father for the sin of the world. Which means there’s absolutely nothing weak or deficient or imperfect about Jesus Christ. Our Saviour is pure; our Saviour is strong; our Saviour is able. He’s the only grounds for our acceptance before God.

            In Christ we’ve been sanctified, set apart to God. Therefore the apostle Peter writes, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15). Notice how that’s the same, demanding, comprehensive truth we find in the book of Leviticus. Or think again of Romans 12, “Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God.”

This perspective in Christ negates any thought that we serve or contribute or worship to earn a little something with God. As Paul asks, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Rom 11:35). Being freed from the anxiety of trying to merit God’s love, we focus on showing gratitude for his undeserved gifts. Like the Israelites—that kingdom of priests—we’re called to offer ourselves to Him in heart, soul, mind, and strength!

3) the spirit in which they’re offered: By now it should be clear what sort of spirit had to be behind Israel’s offerings. First, in verse 19, “You shall offer of your own free will…” Then again in verse 29, “And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own free will.” As the people came before God, their attitude had to be sincere, their worship genuine. They had to do it, not because of custom or superstition, but because they wanted to! Because they loved God, and adored his grace.

            Now, someone might ask, “How could Israel’s worship be spontaneous and ‘free-willed,’ if it was all so carefully regulated? Or how can our official worship be genuine, if we have a strict order that we follow every Sunday?” But our text shows that when there’s a true focus on the LORD, a remembrance of his works, and a love of his glory, it is assured that any worship will abound with enthusiasm and life.

            Why, God has always intended that worship be a festive experience! Consider verse 30, speaking of those sacrifices, “On the same day it shall be eaten; you shall leave none of it until morning.” To us that may be seem odd: what does eating have to do with worship? But while some sacrifices were completely burned up before the LORD, portions of some were shared with the priests, and portions of other offerings were given back to the worshipers—given to the same people who’d brought them to the tabernacle, given back so they could eat it.

So around God’s holy sanctuary, besides everything else, there’d also be much feasting. Sure, the LORD wanted his people to acknowledge Him, and sacrifice to Him. But giving things up shouldn’t be a joyless act. For God also desired that they celebrate his rich generosity with eating and drinking. Let Israel physically enjoy how God had blessed them, and was at peace with them. No wonder the Scriptures always speak so highly of the worship of God, and the pleasure that it brings; just as the Psalmist declares, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere!” (84:10).

As God’s kingdom of priests and his holy nation, this is the joyful work we can be busy with, day by day—no matter our age, condition or standing. We’re called to be holy, just as He is holy; and we’re called to freely and joyfully offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, through our Saviour Jesus Christ. As Paul would say: “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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