Friday, February 13, 2009

Oh what a bloody act! Oh what immeasurable grace!

14 ‘And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the LORD is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out at the side of the altar. 16 And he shall remove its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar on the east side, into the place for ashes. 17 Then he shall split it at its wings, but shall not divide it completely; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. (Leviticus 1:14-17)

I have not heard sermons preached from the book of Leviticus in recent years. I heard many in my earlier years as a Christian, but not in recent years. Yet, the Book of Leviticus is one of the most important books of the Bible for us to understand the heart of God.

In this passage we have a little bird, which has its neck wrung, its blood drained and splattered all around, its bones disjointed and its body burned completely; and all this bloody violence is "a sweet aroma to the LORD." To the modern, greenie-indoctrinated mind, the violence and wanton destruction of this picture is intolerable, yet in reality it is a picture of inestimable love.

We must begin with God to be able to understand this passage. God is Holy, and in Him is no shadow of darkness, no hint of wrong-doing, no speck of any suggestion of evil; He is perfectly just and good and righteous. God cannot allow any sin to approach His holiness, because sin is a contagion, it is contagious, it spreads like the Black Plague and takes over like cancer. Sin is a malicious, wilful, deceptive ugliness; sin is exceeding sinful. God's only good and right and proper response to sin is extreme violence towards the sin and the carrier of the sin. The wages of sin is death to the sinner; violent death; total destruction. God must not do anything less, or He cannot remain God; He cannot exist in His state of perfection with even a suggestion of evil in His holy presence.

But God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. And while He was waiting for the fullness of time, God instituted the regular sacrifices. These ceremonial butcheries of animals, the wringing of necks, the cutting of throats, the dismembering of bodies, the draining and sprinkling of blood, the separating of the fat, the burning of the body and the scattering of the ashes were all ceremonial enactments of the ultimate sacrifice to come -- Jesus Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, taking upon Himself the full culpability for all the sins of God's elect, from all nations, from all locations, from all time (extending from the creation of the world to the consummative return of the Son of God).

The very creation itself has been infected with the sin of our first father, Adam. The whole creation groans under the weight of sin and its consequences, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. The word picture painted for us in the passage above clearly illustrates to us God's attitude towards the sinner and his sin: "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11). This, of course, in our modern age of "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin" heresy, is an abhorrent thought. But the picture of the mutilated bird is a vivid picture of God's necessary attitude towards the sinner and his sin.

And so the love and grace and mercy of God, who vented this vengeful anger against His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and declared that Jesus has received the just punishment for sin, so that all who put their trust in Jesus are justified; that is, judicially declared to be as if they had never sinned, and therefore, declared to be a saint and wholly clean and able to freely enter the presence of a Holy God; not on the basis of their own righteousness, but on the basis of the righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ and Him alone, as the sinless Son of God.

Oh that we may hate sin as God hates sin. May we recognise sin for what it truly is, not a mistake, but a wilful, evil rebellion against a Holy God. Oh that we may understand our deserved end: we should have our necks wrung, we should be drained of blood, we should be dismembered limb by limb, we should be burned with fire, we should have our ashes scattered across the universe, and justly and rightly so, because we were conceived as sinners, sinned from the moment we were born, and left to ourselves our full propensity is only evil all the time. Yet the love of God laid our sin upon His Son, and He died that we may live. He rose again that we might rise with Him in newness of life, no longer to live for sin, self and Satan, but to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God as an expression of our appreciation for His undeserved grace and mercy.

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