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Christ the Sin Offering
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them: If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering…And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him.” Leviticus 4:1-35
Why did the Lord Jesus Christ have to die upon the cursed tree to save his people from their sins? Leviticus 4 gives the answer to that question. This is the message of the sin offering given in this chapter. Blessed be his holy name, the God of Glory, the God against whom we have sinned, is a God who “delighteth in mercy.” He forgives sin. He forgives sin freely. He forgives sin fully. He forgives sin forever. Our God is a great forgiver! But the holy Lord God, just and true, cannot and will not forgive sin except through the merits of Christ’s shed blood as our great sin offering (1John 1:7 - 2:2). That is the message of Leviticus 4. That is what God taught Moses and the children of Israel when he gave them the law of the sin offering.
What joy ought to flood our hearts when we read in the Book of God that he “delighteth in mercy!” The holy Lord God against whom we have sinned delights in mercy and forgives sin (Psalm 130:3-8). He says, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
But the Scriptures speak of a specific sin of which we must be forgiven, a sin of which none are aware, or even suspicious, until they are born of God, a sin that must be acknowledged, confessed, atoned for, and forgiven — unknown sin. Leviticus 4 is all about atonement for unknown sin.
In the Old Testament everywhere we read the words “sin offering;” a more accurate translation would be “sin.” Our translators very properly translated the Hebrew word “sin offering” because the context is referring to an offering for sin. But God the Holy Ghost tells us plainly that these sin offerings represented the Lord Jesus Christ who was made sin for us. (Compare Isaiah 53:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:21). So, as we read this 4th chapter of Leviticus, when we come to the words “sin offering,” we should think “sin,” remembering that the sin offering is pointing to him who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. I want to simply declare to you the message of this chapter. This chapter is about Christ the sin offering.
The Sin Offering
The offering described in this chapter is specifically called “a sin offering,” not a trespass offering. This distinction is commonly overlooked, but it ought not be. There is a clear, unmistakable distinction made between the sacrifice for a sin offering and the sacrifice for a trespass offering. The sin offering is discussed in Leviticus 4:1-35. The trespass offering is discussed in Leviticus 5:1 - 6:7.
This distinction is made for a reason. It is ever the short-sighted tendency of human flesh to judge the character of a person by what he does. God judges the character of a person by what he is. He sees the sin that is in us and declares that that is what we are. The trespasses we commit are but the fruit of what we are. Sin is our nature, what we are. Trespasses are our deeds of evil, the fruits of our corrupt nature. Religion only deals with the fruits of sin, our trespasses. But God deals with both what we are and what we do. And he deals with what we are first. He first convinces us of what we are and then corrects what we do.
Therefore, as we read the 35 verses of Leviticus 4, we find no mention of any particular act of sin. We see the priest, the whole congregation, the ruler, and the common man all standing before God confessing themselves sinners; but no mention is made of any act of sin. In the trespass offering specific acts of sin are dealt with; but specific persons are not mentioned.
The Experience of Forgiveness
There are five distinct things involved in the experience of forgiveness. I stress the experience of forgiveness because the accomplishment of forgiveness and the experience of it are two separate, distinct things. Our sins were blotted out, put away and forgiven, when Christ died at Calvary as our Substitute. But we cannot know anything about the experience of forgiveness until God the Holy Ghost convinces us of the accomplishment of redemption by revealing Christ in us.
1. Sin must be made known. — “Come to his knowledge.” If there is no known need, there can be no sacrifice.
“When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.” (Leviticus 4:14)
This has reference to Holy Spirit conviction (John 16:8-11). Sin cannot be confessed and the experience of it cannot be known until we have been made to know our own sin, not just our sinful acts, but our very nature. We must see ourselves in the mirror of God’s holy law Luke 18:13; Romans 7:9).
2. Sin must be confessed. — “Lay his hand upon the bullock’s head.” (vv. 4, 24, 29, 33; Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9).
3. Sin must be judged. – “Kill the bullock.” The sinner must kill the sin offering with his own hands, identifying himself with the guilt of the Savior’s blood. Thereby he declared both his heart enmity toward God (He identified himself with the guilt of crucifying the Son of God!) and the justice of God in punishing him for sin.
4. Sin judged in Christ is sin atoned. — “The priest shall make atonement for him” (v. 26; Romans 5:10-11).
5. Sin confessed, judged, and atoned for is sin forgiven. — “It shall be forgiven him” (v. 26; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). This forgiveness of sin is instant, complete, unending, and assured forgiveness.
The Sacrifice Offered
Now, look at the sacrifice of the sin offering. Here we see the great work of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great sin offering, by whom our sins have been put away. Here, in the sacrificial sin offering, we see the glorious gospel doctrine of substitution. The Lord Jesus Christ was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Our Savior’s character is set before us in the requirements given for the sin offering. The sacrifice for the priest must be a bullock without blemish (v. 3). The sacrifice of the congregation must also be a young bullock without blemish (v. 14). The sacrifice of the ruler must be a kid of the goats without blemish (v. 23). The sacrifice of the common people must be a kid of the goats or a lamb of the sheep, a female, without blemish (v. 28).
The sin offering, unlike the burnt offering, the meat offering, and the trespass offering, was not optional. This sacrifice must be made. And the sacrifice must be without blemish before the Lord.
He who is our substitute must have no obligations of his own. He cannot pay my debt, if he owed anything for himself. The Lord Jesus Christ could not be our sin offering were he not the holy Lamb of God. He who redeemed us from the curse of the law died for us as “the Just for the unjust,” a perfect sacrifice, a mortal sacrifice, and a sacrifice of infinite worth
With each of these sacrifices, there was a ceremonial laying on of hands. The sinner laid his hands upon the head of the victim to be slain. As we have seen, this portrayed his own confession of sin; but it portrayed much, much more than that. The mere confession of sin cannot change anything. This ceremonial act portrayed the great, mysterious, glorious work of God in the transference of sin from the sinner to the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner’s Substitute (Isaiah 53:4-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
My countless sins transferred to Him,
Shall never more be found,
Lost in His blood’s atoning stream
Where every crime is drowned!
But there was no atonement made, no forgiveness granted, no blessing pronounced until the victim was slain (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29). As soon as sin was transferred, the victim was slain. I thank God for Christ incarnate. I delight to see our Lord living in righteousness as our representative, obeying the righteous precepts of God’s holy law for us. I endeavor to follow my Lord’s example. I rejoice in Christ glorious exaltation and sovereign dominion. But the message of God revealed in Holy Scripture is “Christ crucified!” — “It is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul!”
The whole work of atonement, once the animal was publicly slain, was done out of the view of the common man, “before the Lord.” It was a work done out of sight, a work performed by the priest within the tabernacle. This means three things.
1. Atonement is God’s work. — “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
2. Atonement is totally outside ourselves.
3. Atonement must be received by faith, by believing the Word of God.
The Symbolism of the Offering
This fourth chapter of Leviticus sets before us the glorious efficacy of Christ’s precious blood. That is beautifully symbolized in the sin offering. The precious blood of Christ is effectual, sin-atoning, justice satisfying blood.
As soon as the victim was slain, the priest carefully collected the blood. The animal was slain in the court of the Israelites. — Do you see it? There it lies at the foot of the brazen altar. The priest caught its blood in a bowl.
Then he goes into the court of the priests, goes by the golden altar of incense, which stood in the holy place, and proceeds to dip his finger in the bowl. His fingers dripping with blood, he sprinkles the blood seven times towards the veil which concealed the Holy of Holies. The veil, made of very expensive tapestry, over the years must have gradually come to look very much like a vesture dipped in blood. Seven times towards the veil the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled by the priest.
Why did he begin there? — It was to show that our approach to God, our acceptance with God, our communion with God is by blood. The veil, of course, was not then rent. It showed that the way of access to God was not then revealed. The sprinkling of the blood showed that the only thing that could open the way of access to God was the blood; that the blood, when perfectly offered, sprinkled seven times, would rend the veil.
The blood of Christ has fulfilled the type to the letter. When our Lord Jesus had sprinkled, as it were, seven times (perfectly) his own heart’s blood upon the veil, he cried, “It is finished,” and “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”
Through the perfect offering of our Savior’s precious blood, we have access with boldness into this grace wherein we stand (Romans 4:25 - 5:2). And we who have faith in that blood have intimate communion with the living God. We come near to the mercy seat and talk with him, who dwells between the cherubim, as a man talks with his friend.
Next, the priest backed away from the veil to the golden altar of incense, adorned with four horns of gold, pointing to the four corners of the earth from whence God’s elect must be gathered. Dipping his finger in the basin, he smeared each of the four horns of the altar until each glowed with crimson in the light of the golden candlestick.
The horn is indicative of strength. Why was the blood put upon horns of the altar? That altar of incense was typical of prayer, and especially of the intercession of Christ. The blood on the horn showed that the force and power of Christ’s all-prevailing intercession lies in the blood. Thank God for those blood smeared horns!
“The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One,
He cannot turn away
The presence of His Son!”
With the bowl of blood still in his hands, the priest continues to move backward, as it were, from God to the people, until he gets to the great brazen altar where the burnt offerings were consumed with fire. There he pours out all the rest of the blood before the people. What does that represent? — The only ground and basis of our acceptance before God is the shed blood of Christ.
Do you get the picture? Blood is everywhere. What a blessed sight! — Blood on the veil! — Blood on the golden altar! — Blood on the horns of the altar! — Blood poured out! — Blood all over the priest! – Hear what the blood speaks and rejoice: Expiation is made! Justice is satisfied! Sin is forgiven! The sinner is accepted!
One Peculiar Sin
The sacrifice of Christ, our sin offering, is one sacrifice for all our sins, one sacrifice by which all sin is forgiven. But here, in Leviticus 4, the sacrifice points to one peculiar sin, one sin that identifies the great crime of all the human race, a sin of which all are guilty and all are ignorant until they are born of God and taught of God. It is specifically identified in Leviticus 4 as a sin of ignorance, hidden from the one who is guilty of it.
Yet, it is the sin of the whole congregation, the sin of each individual, the sin of the priest, and the sin of the ruler against the commandment of God. What is this unknown sin? Our Savior tells us plainly. When the Spirit of God comes in the mighty, saving operations of his grace, he convinces chosen, redeemed sinners “Of sin because they believe not on me” (John 16:9). As soon as you are given faith in Christ, you are convinced, made aware of, and confess your unbelief, like the publican, crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And as soon as you confess your sin, offering to God his offering for sin, Christ Jesus, you are forgiven of all sin!
The Shame of the Ordeal
The sin offering sets before us something of the horrid shame our Lord Jesus Christ endured as our Substitute, when he was made sin for us and suffered all the hell and ignominy of God’s holy wrath for our sin. Look what had to be done with the carcass of the slain sacrifice. Once the fat was burned before the Lord, the carcass, with the dung, was carried forth without the camp and burned. We read in verses 10-12…
“As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering. And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung, Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt.”
The priest takes the carcass of the sacrifice and carries it without the camp, a procession of some four miles, to the place where the ashes were poured out; and there he burns the whole thing (not on the altar, but) on the ground. What a picture of utter humiliation, shame, and sorrow. What a picture this is of what Christ endured for us. I can almost hear the cry ascending up to heaven, reverberating throughout the camp of Israel, — “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
Perhaps our Lord Jesus was referring to this in Matthew 24:28. — “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Perhaps the carcass here refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was slain for our sins, and the eagles refer to chosen sinners like you and me who flee to him for salvation and life. If so, the lesson is this: Christ crucified is the great magnet by which God draws chosen sinners to himself.
Whether that is the teaching of this verse or not, I will not attempt to say; but it is the teaching of Holy Scripture (John 12:32; 1 Corinthians1:21-23). And that is clearly our Savior’s teaching in Luke 17:37, where he makes a similar statement. — “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Notice the use of the definite article. Our Lord said, “Wheresoever the body is (not wheresoever bodies are), thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Also, notice that he speaks of eagles (not buzzards) in the plural.
“The body” of the one slain is our Lord Jesus Christ. “The eagles” are God’s elect who are gathered to him in faith. This is clearly the teaching of Holy Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:8-12; Job 9:25-26) and the teaching of our Savior here. God’s elect are spoken of in the Scriptures as eagles. His church is given “the wings of the eagle, that great eagle,” and we gather to him. (Revelation 12:14). — “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
Wherever Christ crucified is set forth in the preaching of the gospel, wherever the crucified Christ is revealed to men by the power and grace of his Spirit through the preaching of the gospel, there his elect will be gathered unto him “in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
Christ’s eagles “gather” to him who is their food. He is the one upon whom we live. He is to us life eternal. The body of our slain Savior, Christ crucified, is the meeting-point of his elect. He is the great magnet drawing needy souls, like eagles to the carcass. He said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
God our Creator, in the Book of Job, says of the eagle, his creature, “She abideth upon the rock from thence she seeketh the prey; her eyes behold afar off… where the slain are, there is she.” God our Savior here tells us, “As the eagles gather round the body, so the souls of men, chosen, redeemed, and called by my grace, are gathered unto me.” Keen and swift as eagles for the prey are God’s elect for Christ crucified. These are the words of our blessed Savior. Let not one of them fall to the ground. — “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.”
The eagle is a bird of prey. In all birds of prey, we are told, there is great sense of smell. Added to its sense of smell, the eagle has a ravenous appetite. Compelled by hunger and its sense of smell, it flies quickly, at every opportunity, to its feast. But the eagle is not a vulture. It does not feed on dead things but living. And the crucified Christ, upon whom our souls feed, though once slain as our substitute, is alive for evermore.
If Christ has given us life in himself, if he has made us alive by his grace, he gives us a continually increasing appetite and hunger for himself. — Does he not? Do you not hunger for him, for his grace, for his embrace, for his face, for his righteousness, for his blood, for his presence? Hungering for him, his eagles fly to the place where he is, like famished birds hastening to the prey. They fly with eager anticipation to his house, his Word, his ordinances, and his throne of grace.
As David longed for the waters of Bethlehem when he was thirsty, oh, let our souls long for Christ. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks,” so he longed for his God. May the same be true of you and me. Oh, for grace to have our souls hungering for Christ crucified day and night! As the eagles gather together unto the prey, so should we be found feasting upon Christ crucified relentlessly. In him, in his glorious excellencies is everything our souls need. His name is our Salvation and High Tower. His blood is our atonement. His righteousness is our dress. His perfections are our delight. His promises are our meditation. His grace is our assurance. His visits are our sweet memories. His presence is our joy. His strength is our comfort. His glory is our ambition. His coming is our hope. His company forever is our heaven!
Crave him! Crave him! Like birds of prey crave their food, let us crave our Savior. If we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, let us feast upon him. May God give us an insatiable, constant, ever-increasing hunger for Christ, a hunger for everything he is, for everything he gives, for everything he has done, for everything that belongs to him, touches him, and smells of him, a hunger that graciously forces us ever to fly to him, like an eagle to the prey! Wherever Christ is, there will his people fly, as eagles to the prey and as doves to their windows (Isaiah 60:8).
God will have blood, either yours or Christ’s. Sin must be punished. Justice must be satisfied. But there is forgiveness with God! He “delighteth in mercy!” — “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin!”
How shall we who are now forgiven of all sin through the precious blood of Christ respond to this message? — Fly to him like eagles to the carcass!
“We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”
“Let us go forth unto him,” by faith. Let us go forth unto him alone, “without the camp, bearing his reproach,” by baptism identifying ourselves with him and his gospel. “Let us go forth unto him,” as pilgrims in this world seeking our home with him, offering the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving unto our God continually!