The Day of Atonement: How Can a Sinner Approach the Holiness of God and Not Die? (Leviticus 16)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedAt the center . . . of the center . . . of the center . . . of the law of Moses, we do not find law but gospel. And what is the good news in the middle of the law of Moses? It is the promise in Leviticus 16:20–22 that your sins will be taken away, never to return.

Thus, the Day of Atonement offers the promise of a priest who can purify God’s house and remove all sin. Such a one-man job made it possible for God to dwell with Israel and Israel with God. And so instead of a bunch of rules for you to keep, Leviticus 16 offers the high point of Israel’s calendar (the Day of Atonement), as an annual day of atonement which would ultimately be fulfilled by Christ (see Hebrews 9).

If you want see this gospel message taken from the center of Leviticus, you can listen to this week’s sermon here. You can also listen to a chapter-by-chapter exposition of Leviticus here. We are currently looking at chapter 20. And finally, for those who can’t get enough of Leviticus, you can listen to the Bible Talk podcast where Jim Hamilton and Sam Emadi are currently talking through the whole book of Leviticus. 

Truly, when read with an eye toward Christ, Leviticus is a book filled with good news. And in this sermon and these other resources, you can begin to see how this book preaches the gospel to sinners in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Gospel Themes in the Book of Leviticus

Reading Leviticus can be heavy sledding, but once you get familiar with the terrain, it can be incredibly profitable and encouraging.

For instance, this morning I was reading about the Feasts recorded in Leviticus 23.  For New Testament Christians, you should be able to see how these feasts, which were a part of Israel’s yearly calendar, point the way to Jesus Christ.  He is the Passover Lamb and his death corresponds to the Passover; Jesus’ Resurrection corresponds to the Feast of the Firstfruits, and of course the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on the Day of Pentecost.  Clearly, God was giving his OT saints spatial-temporal events to help prepare the way for His Son.

These events just mentioned have all been historically fulfilled in Jesus Christ and recorded in the Gospels and Acts.  However, we still look forward to the fulfillment of others, like the Feast of Trumpets and Jubilee (Lev 23-25).  Reading the account of the way that Jubilee initiates rest in the land and commands the restoration of all things, provides a hope-giving vision of what will occur at the end of the age, all things will be reconciled by Jesus Christ, things on heaven and things on earth (Col. 1:20).

So reading Leviticus typologically and eschatologically (e.g. with an eye towards Christ and all that he has done and still will do) makes the book come alive.  Here are a few other themes to look for in this rich book:

  • God’s holiness and mercy.  Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy because I am holy.”  Repeated throughout the book is this refrain that God is holy and he expects his people to be holy.  If any book in the Bible teaches the utter need to be holy, Leviticus is it.  To a Western Church today that minimizes holiness and maximizes assumed relationship with God, Leviticus is a helpful antidote.  The holiness codes and endless bloodshed teaches us that God will not relinquish his demand for our holiness.  He is just and cannot turn his back on our sin–consider the story of Nadab and Abihu.  Nevertheless, his mercy meets the demands of his holiness,
    and the book of Leviticus tells us how he does that–through the sacrificial system. 
  • Man’s sinfulness.  In the light of God’s holiness and mercy, we see mankind’s sinfulness and selfishness.  Nowhere is this more colorfully painted than in the death of Nadab and Abihu, two priests who offer strange fire and are consumed because they fail to treat God as holy.  The testimony of their death in Leviticus 10 along with all the laws required in Leviticus, should teach us that we cannot live by keeping the law (Lev 18:1-5), but rather we live by trusting in the mercy and provisionary grace of God himself.  He is our life, and his provision of a sacrificial system is the means by which we may live and relate to Him.
  • Man’s fallen condition.  We also learn about our own human nature in Leviticus.  For instance, it is not just sin that separates us from God, but our own corrupted physical bodies.  Leviticus 13 explains that bodily discharges make us unclean and consequently unacceptable to God, that is we cannot enter his presence with our uncleanness.  For human beings preoccupied with self–and we all are–this should humble us greatly.  Bad breath, body odor, diarrhea, constipation, skin lesions, dandruff, eczema and all other forms of bodily disfunction should remind us of our fallen condition, our imperfection, and our uncleanness.  Under the OT law, these sort of things would keep us from God, whose holiness and cleanliness is absolute.  He is pure and we are not.  Apart from Christ, even our humanness in its fallen condition separates us from God.
  • Blood.  We also see that blood soaks the pages of Leviticus.  So gory is the book, that it should be impossible to read Leviticus without coming away with a greater sense of our sinfulness before God.  At the same time, we should be struck by the way that all these blood offerings, where the life of an animal is substituted for the life of a man, remind us of the ultimate sacrifice and the blood that speaks a better word than all OT sacrifices.  Because of our sin, God requires blood, and yet he has not abandoned us to our own demise.  He has provided a way of re-entry, and every sacrifice is a reminder that God has made a way to be reconciled to him, through the blood of a sacrifice.  What is pictured in Leviticus is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

 

If you are looking for more help with Leviticus, I encourage you to listen to Jay Sklar’s seven-week study on the book.  It is informative without being unnecessarily heady.  It will give you a greater appreciation for Leviticus, but even more than that, it will help you better understand the work of Jesus Christ and the gospel that is foretold in Leviticus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss