There is a book of the Old Testament that mentions sin more than any other. One that contains more of God actually speaking than any other book of the Bible. One whose theme is holiness and worship.
Can you guess?
It's Leviticus. And along with Numbers and most of the prophets are among the most unread books of the Bible. Which may be why so many misunderstand what God teaches us in the New Testament. A college student once asked me why he was having such a hard time understanding Revelation. I asked him if he had read the other 65 books before it. He said no. Then I asked him how well he would understand any book if he just read the last chapter. But we do that all the time. Heck, I do it all the time.
So here's a look at just 3 verses:
Leviticus 1: 3 " 'If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. 4 He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. 5 He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting"
Goodness there is a lot of theology packed in there. One of the themes of Leviticus is God's holiness and how we are to relate to him as a sinful people. Sin causes problems. Big problems. It even defiles the place where it occurs! In order to have a relationship with God, something has to happen. And when sin is the problem, something has to die.
This is a model of what the Tabernacle could have looked like. We're just going to use it to see where things were placed:
Here are God's instructions to the Israelites for how to worship him. If you have cattle, this is what you are supposed to do. Take the best, a perfect male from the herd. You go into the front gate where priests stand to help in the sacrifice. In front of you is the Tent where the presence of God sits in a cloud. You cannot enter that tent, unless you want to die. Only the priests can enter. And into the presence of God? Not you. Because inside that tent is a room called the Holy of Holies where the Ark sits, atop of which is the mercy seat, where God chose to be present. And only the High Priest can go in. Once a year.
So look at that model. What's in between you and God?
An altar. Blood. A big basin to wash. Priests. A veil. The fire on the altar never went out. Heady incense is burning all the time. The smell of roasting meat and burning fat and burning grain mixes with the incense and the wood smoke and the sweet stench of freshly spilled blood. You hear the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep and goats. The swishing of robes and the muffled voices of the congregation. You feel the heat of the animal beneath your hands. It is full sensory experience.
You take your bull (if you are a man) and you walk into that gate. You place your hand upon the animal and you slit it's throat, the blood pouring onto your hand. The priest sprinkles the altar with blood. You are to skin the bull and cut it up into pieces. The priest places the animal on the altar and the fire consumes it.
In laying your hands on the bull you performed something called imputation, a transference of guilt. You transferred the guilt of your sin to that bull and you took it's life in place of your own. The priest then atoned for or satisfied God's holy demands on your behalf. It is an act of propitiation. A death occurs because one must occur to pay the ransom for your sin. It's you or the bull. You then leave the courtyard where the altar burns your bull but you cannot approach the LORD in his Holy Place. You have merely paid your debt to Him.
You have worshiped your God.
Christians don't have to do this. Do you do this? PETA would sue you into poverty if you tried.
Long after Leviticus was written, God sent the perfect Male. From our herd. He was acceptable to the Lord. He was the Lord. We (as a race) laid our hands upon him and we slaughtered him by nailing him to a cross. He looked down on those who killed him and said, "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do."
They were sacrificing. For all of us. But they didn't know that. They imputed, transferred sin to the perfect Lamb who was slain. His blood made it so that we needed no more bulls. No more goats or sheep or doves. At the death of the Lord of all creation the veil in the temple tore in two from top to bottom. It was finished.
We simply cannot understand what happened to Jesus and all that is taught in the New Testament without understanding what happened in the Old. Look at that model of the tabernacle. Christ has accomplished all that the tabernacle and the sacrificial system had to offer and we receive it all through faith in what he has done. For those who believe, there is no more altar of burnt offering. No more wash basin. No need to be made clean. No more priesthood. We have been made the priesthood, the Lord Jesus our high priest. No more need for atonement, imputation, propitiation. The temple, the tabernacle is no longer needed. We are the temple, filled with the Holy Spirit, the presence of God. Christ Jesus came and tabernacled among us. It's huge. The hugest thing that has ever happened. And it is finished. Once for all. No more veil between God and his people. We can approach the throne of grace, the mercy seat, the presence of God.
Now read this and think about how awesome, how wonderful, how marvelous is this truth:
Hebrews 4:14 "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Let's approach together. With confidence. Let us hold firm the faith we profess. We need help. And we will receive it.