Editor's Note: Pr. Ogrodowicz will be writing a series of articles on Leviticus for the Christian. This is the first, but please stay tuned for more.
—by Ryan Ogrodowicz
Leviticus can frustrate intentions of reading the Bible cover to cover. The minutiae are difficult to grasp. Strict civil punishments and the intricate sacrificial system seem counter to the New Testament message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But first impressions aside, Leviticus is still the Word of God to his people and sacred Scripture relevant in many ways to the baptized believer. In fact, it contains many themes and messages continued within and highlighted by the New Testament.
Just a cursory reading reveals Leviticus to be a highly structured and ordered book, a characteristic that speaks a message about our Lord and God: He is a God of order who cares about how his people live and worship. That it begins with the words “the LORD called Moses and spoke to him” (Lev 1:1) reminds us that God is speaking, and so the order within is divinely instituted. It may seem overly legalistic to the more free spirited minds of modern Christians, but order is not necessarily negative or legalistic. Take, for example, the order and instructions pertaining to sacrifices.
The word "sacrifice" conjures up notions of the sinner giving something to God. The sacrificial system of Leviticus certainly entails subjective giving, but it does not preclude the act of God giving objectively to his people. Lest we forget, the sacrificial system was instituted by God through his Word for the benefit of his people. The benefits imparted through sacrificial worship were God’s gifts to an underserving congregation. Ordered and detailed, yes, but with these various sacrifices the Israelite had the assurance of leaving worship as one right with God. Second, the sacrifice itself was provided by God who gives daily bread to all people. Finally, underlying Leviticus is the initial salvation worked by God alone. The levitical congregation was a group of people graciously saved from Egyptian tyranny and now bestowed the opportunity to offer up sacrifices as holy people redeemed by God and clinging to his Word and promises. It follows then that sacrifices were never intended to be disjointed from the initial act of God saving a people incapable of saving themselves. When the Israelite left after having had the privilege to bring an offering before the Lord, he left with the comfort of knowing he was accepted and right with the God he served in faith.
Yes, faith in Leviticus mattered. Sacrifices weren’t meant to be rote offerings given from hearts devoid of faith. They were intended precisely for a living congregation of believers. The same holds true in Leviticus as it does in the New Testament: faith produces works. The good tree bears good fruit. By faith the Israelite sacrificed rightly in accord with the very Word of God in which he or she believed. The Psalmist echoes this when he writes “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise . . . then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar” (Ps 51:17, 19).
Orderly worship centered on God giving to his people who respond accordingly. This theme in Leviticus continues into the New Testament. We worship the God revealed to us in his Word, just like the levitical Israelite. But there is one thing we have they didn’t. As their bloody sacrifices foreshadowed what was to come, we live knowing what God has accomplished—the sacrifice of his only begotten Son for the sins of the world. This is something the blood of bulls and goats can never achieve (Heb 10:4). Praise be to God for his sacrificial work for us.
The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.