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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Paying Sin's Cost
Text:Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 99:1,2,5,6                                                                          

Ps 65:1,2                                                                                                        

Reading – Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7; Isaiah 53

Ps 25:3,4,5

Sermon – Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7

Hy 25:1,3,6

Hy 35:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, sometimes just one sin can have enormous effects. Maybe you remember a sinful choice that someone made—or that you made—and how it had so many consequences, widespread and lasting. Maybe that sin ripped apart the relationships within a family, and it meant that a person was put under discipline, and it also led that person to lose his job. One sin, so much consequence.

Not every sin we commit leads to family strife or church discipline or public shame—and we’re thankful for that. It’s the protecting mercy of God that He doesn’t allow us to ruin our lives through sin. But when we do break God’s law, there are still a number of ways that our sin has serious effects.

Compare it to looking at a cut diamond. When a diamond has been found in the earth, it will be carefully cut so that people can appreciate its size and colour and clarity. Then when you hold up a diamond to the light, and turn it around, you see the different facets of the stone, the light reflecting off the different surfaces. Our sin is like that: not precious like a diamond, but our sin is multi-faceted, with many aspects.

First, whenever we sin, we incur guilt with God, which is deserving of death. When we sin, we also cause hostility with God, because sin wrecks our fellowship with him. When we sin, we bring on impurity before God too, because sin makes us unclean. And when we sin, we put ourselves in debt to God, because we owe Him obedience, and we haven’t given it. Our sin means guilt, hostility, impurity, and debt—so much misery, from even just one sin.

I realize that this isn’t the most cheerful introduction. But when we spin that dark diamond to consider all its aspects, we see not only how serious is our sin, but also how rich is God’s gift of salvation. Because for every dimension of our misery, Christ provides the solution: pardon for guilt, reconciliation for hostility, cleansing for impurity, and full payment for debt.

Today we consider one aspect of sin, and that is its cost. We said that sin puts us into debt, not only with God, but sometimes also with other people. The sacrifice that is described in Leviticus 5-6 touches on this. It’s called the “trespass offering,” but it could also be translated the reparation offering, or the offering for compensation. It’s a sacrifice that seeks to make a payment, to cover the cost of what is owed. This is our theme, 

The LORD requires compensation for his people’s sin:

  1. the occasions for this offering
  2. the compensations in this offering
  3. the culmination of this offering


1) the occasions for this offering: The LORD has a new declaration for Moses, starting at verse 14. The trespass offering is the final kind of sacrifice to be explained in God’s law in Leviticus, after the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, and the sin offering.

When we take apart our text, it falls into three sections: three different kind of occasions when this trespass offering needed to be made. For the first section, look at 5:14-15, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the LORD...’”

The key phrase here is “sins against… the holy things of the LORD.” What is this? It is God’s sacred property, those things that are uniquely his. Now, you’d be right to say that everything belongs to God—whatever we possess is really the sacred property of God, whether it’s your car, your home, your smartphone, or your favourite doll. It’s all His. But according to the law, certain things belonged especially to the LORD, those things that the people had dedicated to Him.

For example, in Leviticus we can learn that sacrifices were brought to the tabernacle, and the priests were allowed to eat portions of them. In that time before the animal was eaten, it was considered “a holy offering.” This was God’s sacred property, and no one but the priests and their households were allowed to eat it.

There were other things that belonged especially to God. In Leviticus 27, there’s a list of the kind of possessions that a person might devote to the LORD. These were gifts that people had promised with a vow to give to God. Maybe it was an animal, a house, a section of land, a portion of harvest—and it could even be a person that was dedicated to God; think of Hannah, who promised to give her son Samuel. For when an Israelite was in distress, he could promise to give something valuable, if the LORD would just answer his prayer. A person might pray, “If you will deliver me, O LORD, then I’ll give you this very field that I’m kneeling on today.”

Later on, a person might have second thoughts, and he might want to keep the property that he had vowed. Depending on what that property was, sometimes it was possible to pay a price in order to redeem it, or buy it back. But until the price was paid, that dedicated property was God’s. It had been committed to Him—it was a holy gift, and no one could take it.

So what’s an example of sin against “God’s holy things”? Maybe when a person ate some of that holy food, and took what belonged to the priests and their families. Or, perhaps someone failed to keep his vow: he might’ve promised to give an extra ten percent of his harvest to God, but when the crops come in later that year, it completely slipped his mind. Really, it was God’s holy property, but he treated it like his own.

In cases like this, a person had violated the boundary of holiness. And treating something holy in a careless way is extremely serious. Even so, notice that this law is about a sin committed by accident. Someone wasn’t aware that that food belonged to the priests, and they thought it was for the taking. Or someone simply forgot to pay their vow. It’s unintentional, but it’s still sin, and they owe God something—it’s going to need a sacrifice in order to compensate.

That should make us think again about how we treat our material things. We just said that everything we own is God’s sacred property. Every dollar, every toy, every piece of jewellery, and every investment: how do we handle these treasures? Have we committed them to the LORD? Do we acknowledge and show that He’s the true owner?

For the second scenario for the trespass offering, look at 5:17, “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity.” This one is a bit more difficult. In the first scenario, the offense becomes known: maybe someone reminds the forgetful person about his vow, or the priest taps a person on the shoulder when he’s eating. Here, the offender doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, and he won’t find out.

Call it a case of uneasy conscience. This person suspects that he’s transgressed against the Lord’s holy things, but he’s not sure. His conscience is pricking him, prompting him that he has sinned. He fears the worst, because he might’ve taken something that belongs to God! And the problem is made worse in 5:17, “He does not know it.” Unlike with the unintentional sins in chapter 4, for this one it’s not said that it “becomes known.” He thinks he might’ve sinned, but there’s no way of knowing for certain.

That’d be something to keep a person up at night: Did I sin? Didn’t I? It can still be something that troubles us: when we fear that we’ve done wrong, we wish we’d done differently, or we wonder if God even considers it evil. So the LORD says that a trespass offering can be made—the anxious heart of his child can be calmed.

The third scenario for the trespass offering is at the beginning of chapter 6. It relates to a person and his neighbour. And unlike the first two, it’s about an intentional sin. “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely” (6:2-3).

These verses describe a theft—not outright robbery, but something that happens in a more roundabout way. Say a person entrusted a precious gold ring to his neighbour to keep safe while he goes to visit family in Jerusalem. When he returns, his neighbour says that he’d been broken into, and the ring is now gone! It sounds suspicious... When the neighbour is challenged, he swears before God that it’s true. Making an oath like this was allowed. When other evidence was lacking, people made an oath to try and establish the truth.

But in this case, the person has sworn “falsely” (6:3). He’s abused the oath, and he has taken God’s name in vain. He’s even made God his accomplice in defrauding someone. The LORD’s holiness has been transgressed, and God says that a trespass offering is required.

Reading this, we wonder if the person is let off too lightly. Didn’t God command that a person who blasphemed be put to death, and isn’t this almost the same? A false oath is serious thing! So probably this offering could be made only when there had been repentance. A person had made an oath about safe-guarding some object, or about finding something that was lost, and he was trying to deceive—but then he comes to realize his sin. He confesses it, and he says he wants to put things right with God and his neighbour. God in his grace says that things can be put right, if this person will make the offering.


2) the compensations in this offering: Let’s return to the fellow in 5:14 who sinned accidently against the LORD’s holy things. This is what he had to do: “He shall bring to the LORD as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks” (5:15), and “he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and [he] shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest” (5:16).

There’s three parts to this. First, he has to make an offering of a ram. This is what’s required for all the trespass offerings; a ram was a valuable gift, because the offense was serious. Now, the ritual for sacrificing the ram is described much more briefly than with the other sacrifices, so it’s hard to be sure of the exact procedure. This could be because the animal’s value was the focus: this ram will be a literal payment for sin. And if the person wasn’t able to bring a ram, then he had to bring an equivalent amount of silver.

So, first the ram. Second, the sinner has to make restitution—he has to pay for what was missing. God and his priests had been deprived of something that was theirs. This wrong needs to be amended; so the food that was eaten, or the tithe that was not presented, or whatever devoted property was taken, this must yet be restored.

Third, the sinner has to give an additional twenty percent of the value: “he shall add one-fifth to it, and give it to the priest” (5:16). This is making reparation for the loss, giving compensation. It showed that the sinner wanted to mend what was broken.

That was the first scenario—what about our friend with the uneasy conscience? He thinks that he might’ve sinned against God’s holy things, but he can’t be certain. He feels like he owes God something, but it’s not clear what or how much. So God allows him to bring a trespass offering; he too can bring a ram without blemish to the priest (5:18).

Notice that this time there’s no restitution or adding one-fifth. This is because nothing certain is known about that stealing of divine property. You could say that this is an offering to pacify the person’s conscience. He can bring the ram to the LORD, and then he can rest easy. If anything had been done wrong, then this has put it right.

This law reveals something wonderful about the LORD’s mercies. God has given to each of us a conscience, where we have something like a built-in understanding of what is pleasing to Him. His law is written on our hearts, and so our hearts sometimes approve of what we’re doing, and sometimes they condemn what we’re doing. For us, that’s helpful.

Our conscience can be wrong, of course. For example, the Bible says that our conscience can be twisted when we sin again and again without repenting—after a while, a person can lose touch with what’s really wrong, and why it’s wrong. Other times, our conscience can be too sensitive, when we call something sin when it really isn’t sin. Our conscience means that we can even live with a false guilt, feeling bad for something that wasn’t our fault. Like the Israelite at the end of chapter 5, we think we sinned, but we didn’t, or at least we don’t know for sure.

But God is merciful. We can come before the Father, and we can acknowledge that we don’t know all the ways that we’ve sinned. We can acknowledge to Him when we have guilt feelings for something, even if we’re not sure that we’re at fault. We can say, “Lord, I fear that I sinned against you in this way, or that way. I don’t know that I have, but if I have, please forgive me.” And God will.

Then the third scenario, that fellow who swore a false oath in order to steal. He brings a ram as a trespass offering to atone for sin. And then he too, has to restore what was taken. But he has to restore it to his neighbour: “what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found” (6:4). Just like when someone sinned against God’s holy things, this time too, the full value is restored, then: “add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs” (6:5).

If you compare this with other parts of the law, you notice the low level of compensation for the one who had his property stolen. In Exodus 22, describing similar offenses, double restitution is the standard. If you steal one sheep, then you have to give it back, plus another sheep! That’s 200% compensation, versus 120% in our text. Why the difference? In Exodus, the person is convicted on the evidence. But in Leviticus, we said, it appears the culprit has freely confessed his guilt. Making a lower penalty would encourage people to confess voluntarily.

For each of these three scenarios, the thing we’ve highlighted is the compensation that is paid. The sinner makes amends for his wrong: presenting a sacrifice, giving back what he’d taken, and then adding one-fifth to it. As we said, this payment showed that a person was sincere about fixing what he’d broken. He didn’t want God or the priests to miss out on anything that was theirs, or for his neighbour to be inconvenienced, so he was willing to be generous. He made his offering, he restored what was missing, and then he added to it.

This idea of making compensation for our wrongs is good for us to think about, and also to work with. Now, it's true that all the money in the world is worthless to buy forgiveness with God, or even to buy forgiveness from other people. We also know that even our best good works don’t merit anything with the LORD. Yet, the principle seen here is important: God forgave his people when they brought their trespass offering, but then He also expected them to put right any wrongs that they committed, to try and pay things back. They had to be peace-makers and bridge-builders. That’s still true today: if we’ve hurt and damaged others, then God calls us to make amends where and how we can.

Think of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. This corrupt tax-collector was greatly changed when he met the Lord Jesus, and he resolved to pay back four-fold anything that he had taken wrongly. Being forgiven by Christ didn’t mean that he left the past in the past, and that he simply carried on with a clear conscience. As far as it depended on him, he would fix the mess that he’d left behind him after years of stealing.

When we sin too, it has a cost. Yes, it has an immense cost in the sight of God. But our sin can also have a cost with other people. Sin can damage our relationships through a loss of trust or a loss of respect. Maybe we’ve taken something that belongs to another person. Maybe we’ve hurt them, physically or emotionally. There’s been a cost.

And these are things that we should want to resolve. How can I fix the wrongs that I’ve left behind me? How can I try to restore what is broken between my sister and me, my brother and me? What can I do to put this right? God’s forgiveness in Christ means that we’re forgiven, fully, 100%. But God’s mercy doesn’t mean that we’re allowed to ignore the fallout of our sin, if there’s been fallout. When we’ve been forgiven, we’ve got work to do!


3) the culmination of this offering: I want to return to something from the introduction. We said that our sin is like this dark diamond that we can spin around to consider all its ugly aspects. Our sin means guilt, hostility, impurity, and debt—so much misery. But in the gospel of Jesus we see how God provides a solution to our sin that is comprehensive and full.

We see that same gospel when we look back on the different sacrifices that God has revealed to his people since Leviticus 1. The system of sacrifice presents different models to describe the effects of sin, and to show God's gracious way of dealing with our sins.

The burnt offering is the personal picture of sin. Man, the guilty sinner, deserves to die for his transgression. But the animal dies in his place, when it’s burnt up entirely on the altar. God accepts the animal as a personal ransom for the sinner, and he can live.

The peace offering is the relational model of sin. When a person sins, he disrupts his relationship with the LORD. Because of our rebellion, there is hostility, a lack of wholeness. But the peace offering restores fellowship, makes possible shalom with God.

The sin offering presents what we’d call the medical model. When we sin, we are polluted, made so dirty that the holy God cannot dwell with us. But the blood of the sin offering purifies sinners—it disinfects us—so that God can be present with his people once again.

Finally, the trespass offering, which we’ve considered today: the trespass offering displays the financial or commercial picture of our sin. Sin is a debt which we incur against God. Whenever we sin, we owe God payment. We’ve withheld obedience from him, and we need to pay that back. God makes it possible for this debt to be paid through the trespass offering.

Altogether, it’s a comprehensive picture of our sin, and it’s a total picture of our salvation. And here we see how Jesus is the culmination of every sacrifice of blood. We read Isaiah’s marvelous prophecy of the Saviour in chapter 53. Running throughout this chapter is the idea of the Saviour as substitute: “He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (vv 4-5). Like those Old Testament bulls and rams and goats, Jesus stood in our place and He was killed.

Then in verse 10, “It pleased the LORD to bruise him; He has put him to grief, when you make his soul an offering for sin.” What the prophet says there literally is that God makes his soul “a trespass offering.” It is finally the death of Christ that compensates for all the sins of the people. His death is payment for everything that we owed to God. We sinned against him, and owed a debt that was beyond anyone’s ability to even begin to pay. But God made Him a trespass offering—sent his Son to put all things right. His was the greatest act of reparation, of making amends, of gracious compensation.

Jesus frees us from the anxiety of being in debt. We don’t have to try and compensate God for all our failures. We don’t have to suffer and work hard and sacrifice in order to pay Him off, and then always worry if we’ve done enough. Our spiritual debts have all been written off in the one sacrifice of Christ! He’s paid our way, in full.

Beloved, it’s a wondrous thing. When we consider the death of Jesus on the cross, we see not only the perfect burnt offering, the perfect peace offering, and the perfect sin offering. But at the cross we also see the perfect trespass offering. Individually, not one of these sacrifices can exhaust the riches of our salvation. Collectively, they begin to give us some insight into the wonder of redemption though God’s Son.

It makes us marvel at God’s grace, and it makes us confident in his love. It also compels us to a different kind of life:

a life where our sins are forgiven,

a life where we want to forgive others for their sins,

a life where we aim to put our sin behind us,

and live in holy devotion to God our Saviour.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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