The Lord’s Day Evening
January 2, 2005
“Blood on the Altar”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you’ll open your Bibles to Leviticus chapter one. If you’ll look at chapter one, for instance, we studied there the burnt offering, the offering that is called the holocaust, that is entirely consumed in the fire. And when we studied Leviticus 1, we saw that that offering taught us about the importance about right worship to God. God is clearly concerned how we worship Him, because He spends all this time telling us how it is to be done, how we ought to approach Him, how we are not to approach Him, what our attitude is to be in approaching Him.
And we also said as we looked at chapter one, that this offering highlighted the principle that communion with God requires atonement, because we are sinners. And so if we are going to commune with the holy God, there must be a provision of atonement.
Then if you look at chapter two, we studied there in verses 1-16, the whole of the chapter, the grain offering. It’s also called the pledge, or the dedication offering. It was symbolic of the self-giving of the worshiper. The worshiper brings this uncooked or cooked grain, an indication of God’s provision of His daily bread, and gives it back to the Lord, not only acknowledging that God has provided everything that we need, but as a testimony, as a dedication, as a pledge of giving the whole of ourselves back to God in worship.
Then if you look at chapter three, we have recorded there the fellowship offering, or the sacrifice of peace. And we said that it finds its New Testament counterpart in the Lord’s Supper. It’s a meal that the worshiper shares with the living God. The living God invites the person from Israel making this fellowship offering to slide his knees up under the table of the Almighty and share fellowship, break bread, share a meal with Him. And it points forward to the New Testament glories of the Lord’s Supper.
Then, in chapters four and five we have instructions on the unintentional sin offering. All the way to the thirteenth verse of the fifth chapter, these instructions are found. And we said that this emphasizes just how seriously God takes sin.
And then the guilt offering, or the reparation offering, covers the remainder of chapter five to chapter six, verse seven. And Derek led us in this subject, and we’re coming back to that offering tonight, but now from the perspective of the priests. As we studied each of those in chapters one through six, it was from the perspective of the worshiper, the sacrificer, the one that is bringing the offering to the tabernacle.
Then, beginning in chapter six, verse eight, we started repeating each of those five great sacrifices, now from the standpoint of the responsibilities and the prerogatives of the priests. In chapter six, verses eight to thirteen we looked at the burnt offering, or the holocaust offering again, and we saw there that the demand that the priest keep the fire continuously burning reminded the Old Testament believer of the ongoing need that he had for provision for atonement.
And then, in verses fourteen to eighteen of chapter six, we looked again at the priests’ portion of the grain offering—God’s instructions on what was to be done with the priests’ portion of the grain offering. And we said that that priest’s portion was not so much priestly pay—although we’re going to look at an example of that very thing tonight—as it was an assurance for the worshiper. The reason that the priest was to eat of that grain offering in the temple courts was to assure the worshiper that his sacrifice was holy, was acceptable to the Lord, had in fact been accepted by the Lord, and therefore, that that worshiper was assured of the Lord’s acceptance and pardon.
Then in verses 19 to 23 of chapter six, we see again the grain offering from the perspective of the priest. And that passage emphasized the importance of the priest’s consecration, and again, the symbolic acts that are commanded of the priests there are to indicate God’s acceptance of the worshiper’s sacrifice, and therefore, of the worshiper.
Then finally, the last time we were together, at the end of November in the Book of Leviticus, we looked at the sin offering, or the purification offering, in verses 24 to 30. And again, that sacrifice pointed to the people’s need to know the Lord’s forgiveness and acceptance, as well as conveying the holiness of the atoning sacrifice. And that brings us to the passage that we’re going to look at tonight: the guilt offering, or the reparation offering, in chapter seven, verses one to ten.
Now before we read this passage, let me ask you to look at a few things in your Bible. First of all, notice the title of the section. You see it there in verse one: “This is the law of the guilt offering.” Notice that three times it is emphasized that it is holy: at the end of verse 1, “it is most holy”; and then at the end of verse six: “it shall be eaten in a holy place”; and then, “it is most holy.” So three times it is emphasized - the holiness of this sacrifice.
Notice in verse two how the burnt offering is to be offered in the same place as the guilt offering—or perhaps I should say it the other way around. The guilt offering is to be offered in the same place as the burnt offering.
And then, notice in verse seven how the guilt offering is like the sin offering, in that the priest has a right to a portion of that offering. Now that fact is emphasized four times in verses seven to ten. Look at the end of verse seven: “The priest who makes atonement with it shall have it.” The end of verse eight: “The priest shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has presented.” The end of verse nine: “Everything prepared in a pan or griddle shall belong to the priest who presents it.” And the end of verse ten: “Every grain offering mixed with oil, or dry, shall belong to the all the sons of Aaron, to all alike.” And so it’s emphasized that a portion of this offering is to belong to the priest.
Now, having given those words of explanation, let’s look to the Lord in prayer and ask His blessing on the reading and preaching of His word.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your mercies to us. We thank You for the mercy that You showed to old covenant believers in giving them this law which pointed to Your provision of grace. We thank You, O God, that this law not only pointed them to Your readiness to forgive, but it ultimately pointed them to the way in which You would forgive: in the atoning death of the mediator, the Messiah, Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we consider this passage tonight, then, as new covenant believers, we ask that you would help us to see Christ; that we would be refreshed again in the sense of blessedness which is ours because we have a Mediator who is at the right hand, who is very God, begotten, not created. And we pray, O Lord, that as we rest and trust in Him that You would give us a corresponding sense of peace and assurance, even as we study Your word tonight. These things we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word in Leviticus 7:1:
“Now this is the law of the guilt offering: it is most holy. In the place where they slay the burnt offering they are to slay the guilt offering, and he shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. Then he shall offer from it all its fat: the fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe on the liver he shall remove with the kidneys. And the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a guilt offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place; it is most holy. The guilt offering is like the sin offering, there is one law for them; the priest who makes atonement with it shall have it. Also the priest who presents any man’s burnt offering, that priest shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has presented. Likewise, every grain offering that is baked in the oven, and everything prepared in a pan or on a griddle, shall belong to the priest who presents it. And every grain offering mixed with oil, or dry, shall belong to all the sons of Aaron, to all alike.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
This passage divides in two parts. You’ll notice them in verses 1-5 and then in verses 6-8. Verses 1-5 covers—and you’ve seen this before, if you’ve been with us in our study of Leviticus 1-7—it covers the priestly actions which were to be done by those officiating these sacrifices; actions which were designed to assure the worshiper. The spreading of the blood on the altar, the burning and the lifting up of the smoke—all of these actions and more were designed to assure the worshiper, and so verses 1-5 remind the priest again of his responsibility, his role, in giving assurance to God’s people.
Then in verses 6-10, we see the rights of those officiating priests to parts of the animal sacrificed. But it’s important for you to remember the context of this offering. The one bringing this offering—a guilt offering, or a reparation offering—would have been someone who needed to make reparation or restitution for a sin. That sin might not be known to anyone else but the one against whom the sin was committed. It might have been a case of financially defrauding another person, or defaming a person in some way. This worshiper, under the conviction of sin, perhaps at the very urging of the priest, as the priest pressed home the obligation of the believer to live in accordance with God’s law towards his brother—not unlike Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying that if you are on your way to the temple to worship and you remember that your brother has something against you, first go be reconciled to your brother; then come to the temple to worship.
Perhaps the priest has pressed home the obligations of God’s word on this worshiper, and this worshiper is convicted of sin. And of his own voluntary, spontaneous response, he comes and he says to the priest, ‘I need to offer a guilt offering, a reparation offering, as well as doing restitution to the person whom I have wronged.’ And so you see joined in this ritual, this ceremonial offering, a heart which has been convicted of sin and which is responding to God in contrition and with a desire for restitution and reparation; and so, this sacrifice would have been brought when someone need to make reparation or restitution for sins.
I. the Lord repeats these types for a reason.
Now there are four or five things that I would like to say about this great passage tonight. And the first is simply this: notice that we have here again the Lord repeating the same kinds of assuring actions as we have seen in other sacrifices. Look through the first five verses of the passage with me. First of all, notice again that this offering is to be given in the same place where the burnt offering is slain. This offering’s blood is to be sprinkled around on the altar. The fat and the entrails of this offering are to be burned up in smoke on the altar. In all of these ways, the worshiper is assured that God has accepted his offering.
Now, you’ve seen that before, several times already in verses in chapters one through seven. Why is the Lord repeating these things over and over?
First of all, the Lord is a good teacher. And the first rule of teaching is repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat...so that it’s second nature. He’s repeating Himself so that we get the point and learn it, and can’t get it out of our minds.
Secondly, it demonstrates His wondrous love—that we have a God that is so concerned that we would be assured that over and over and over He repeats the responsibilities of the priests in the ceremony to extend to us assurance when we have come with a right heart to worship the Lord.
It also reminds us of the seriousness of sin, doesn’t it? –that the Lord has to go into this intricate detail in order to bring about a restoration of the believer with himself, or with his brothers whom he has wounded and wronged.
But finally, it points us to Christ. By repeating these things over and over, we are pointed to the unique ways in which Jesus Himself fulfills these rituals. And so, that’s the first thing that I want to make a point of tonight, is to say that the Lord repeats these requirements to the priests on purpose, because He’s a good teacher; in order to draw attention to his love for us; in order to remind us of the seriousness of sin; and, in order to point us to Christ.
II. Joyful involvement in the ceremonial worship of the OT necessarily entailed a sense of conviction of sin, and assurance of pardoning grace.
The second thing I want to draw your attention to is this: have you ever thought of it? Joyful involvement in this kind of worship—joyful involvement in this kind of ceremonial worship in the Old Testament—would have necessarily entailed a personal sense of conviction of sin, and of assurance of pardoning grace before you could have been joyful about this kind of worship.
Listen to this slightly edited version of Horatius
Bonar’s comments on this passage:
“None but a heavy-laden sinner could relish this never-varying exhibition of
blood to the eye of the worshiper. The pilgrims to Zion in later days must
often as they journeyed through the Valley of Bekaa, wondered what they were
going to see and hear in the courts of the Lord’s house, where the worshipers
were singing, “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts; my soul
longs and even yearns for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh sing
for joy to the living God; even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my
God. How blessed are those who dwell in their house.”
And when they arrived at that house, they saw in those courts—blood: Blood on the altar; blood in the bowls of the altar; blood on its four horns; blood on its sides; blood on the ground; blood meeting the eye at every turn. No one but a deeply convicted soul, no one but a soul really live to the guilt of a broken law, could enter into that song and cry with the worshipers, “How lovely are Your tabernacles, O Lord.”
This again points to the experiential aspect of this Old Testament ceremonial religion; and if that was the case with old covenant religion, how much more for those of us who gather Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, remembering Christ’s resurrection from the dead after the ultimate sacrifice of blood atonement.
III. Moral holiness is entailed in the ceremonial holiness of the OT ritual.
Thirdly, let me remind you that this passage points to the truth that moral holiness is entailed in the ceremonial holiness of the Old Testament ritual. This offering was one of the more significant offerings for spiritual life, and its performance was evidence of true repentance, because the guilty person who brought this sacrifice was also moved to repay what he had taken from another, even though reparation would cost him more than what was taken; sometimes, many times more than what was taken. And this shows us the moral holiness that was required alongside the ceremonial acts of holiness in the Old Testament ritual.
IV. The ritual acts are secondary to the supreme fact – death for sin.
Fourthly, we’re reminded again in this passage that these ritual acts that are described in such intricate detail in Leviticus 1-5, all of them are secondary to a supreme fact; and that supreme fact is the death of the animal. Notice that before any of these ritual actions can be occur, the animal has to die. And so, repeatedly the point is made: death for sin. Death for sin. It would have been second nature, when Paul said to Jewish Christians in Rome, “The wages of sin is death.” ‘Well, of course. We’ve read Leviticus, Paul. Of course the wages of sin is death.’
V. The priests were supported through the sacrificial offerings.
Finally, this passage reminds us that the priests themselves were supported through the sacrificial offerings. The priests had rights to certain parts of the sacrificial offerings, and they partook of them not only for the assurance of the believer, but for their own sustentation. In some of the sacrifices, they could keep the hide and use it for themselves, or sell it and use the proceeds of it. In other sacrifices they were allowed to share parts of the animal with their families, and to make provision for them. And do you remember that Paul will appeal to this very principle for the support of new covenant ministers in I Corinthians 9:13? Remember what he says?
“Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple? And those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar. So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”
And so Paul draws his principle for what we do to this very day, that is, support those who work full time in the work of the gospel through the offerings that are given to the church. He draws that principle right here from Leviticus 7 and from other parallel passages.
All five of these things—and we could say more—remind us again of the richness of these obscure, intricate, ceremonial commands, and how they point us not only to new covenant ministry, but ultimately to Jesus Christ.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We ask that as we come to You in prayer tonight and always, that we would be mindful that we come the blood-sprinkled way, and that our communion with You has been purchased at the dear cost of the atonement of Your only Son. But even as we remember that great cost, may we also remember, O God, that because of this we have a fuller assurance than our brothers and sisters under the old covenant ever could have attained in these rituals that had to be repeated day after day, and week after week, and year after year. For our Savior has died for us, once for all; and having done so, He has put away sin. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. We give You praise in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.
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A Guide to the Evening Service
Preparation for Worship
As you compose yourself for worship this evening, you may want to meditate on our first song or perhaps you’ll want to use this prayer for the New Year by John Calvin. “Grant, Almighty God, that as You have given us once for all Your only begotten Son to rule us, and have by Your good pleasure consecrated Him a King over us, that we may be perpetually safe and secure under His hand against all the attempts of the devil and of the whole world,—O grant, that we may submit ourselves to be ruled by His authority, and so conduct ourselves, that He may ever continue to watch for our safety: and as you have committed us to Him, that He may be the guardian of our salvation, so also permit us neither to turn aside nor fall, but preserve us ever in His service, until we at length be gathered into that blessed and everlasting kingdom, which has been procured for us by the blood of Your only Son. Amen.”
The Winter-Spring Sunday Evening Sermon
This first Sunday night of the new year, we will continue our evening worship service sermon series on Leviticus: A Quest for Holiness. Then, when Dr. Thomas returns from Britain, DV, he will return to his series on the Gospel of Mark (The Mark of a Christian) on Lord’s Day evenings, and our study in Leviticus will move to Wednesday night. Remember to invite friends and neighbors to attend our evening services.
The Call to Worship
The evening service “call” here at First Presbyterian Church, whenever Dr. Duncan is in the pulpit, comes from the great evening psalm of the Levites, Psalm 134. The psalm is one of the “Ascent Songs” and is both a call to worship (verses 1-2) and a blessing upon the worshipers (verse 3), thus comprehending in brief two important truths about worship. God Himself is to be the sole focus of our worship, and we never run an errand to His throne of grace without fetching back a blessing for ourselves.
The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
“O Worship the King” (based on Psalm 104)
Our sung response to God’s call is based on a psalm of praise. Though most of our congregation will recognize it as one of their favorite “hymns,” it is, in fact, a Robert Grant paraphrase of a portion of Psalm 104. Grant was a member of the British Parliament and an evangelical Anglican from Aberdeen, Scotland. This hymn was written the year before he was appointed Governor of Bombay. The Book of Psalms is God’s divinely inspired hymnbook, thus we always sing psalms along with scripturally sound hymns in all our services.
O Day of Rest and Gladness (RUF Tune)
This is a song of thanksgiving to God for the blessings of His special day: the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath. Wordsworth’s lyrics personify the Sabbath and address it directly in the first three stanzas. In God’s good providence, the first day of every week is a day of rest and gladness! It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and signals His victory over sin, death, and hell itself. Once a week we gather together as a community of God’s people to remember what He has done and to collectively give thanks. It is the “market day of the soul” when we receive “one blessing after another.” Every Christian longs for Sunday to come around again! This is a good song for the first Lord’s Day evening of the year.
Rock of Ages
As we study the old covenant blood rituals of atonement, it is important that we look to Christ. This great hymn will help. We’ll sing this old favorite to James Ward’s new tune. The text points to Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation. This hymn was sung at the funeral of William Gladstone in Westminster Abbey, London, England. Prince Albert of Britain asked it be sung to him as he lay dying. In Hymns That Have Helped, W. T. Stead stated: …when the London went down in the Bay of Biscay, January 11, 1866, the last thing which the last man who left the ship heard as the boat pushed off from the doomed vessel was the voices of the passengers singing “Rock of Ages.”
This ancient song of praise to the Triune God probably dates from the second century. It is simultaneously a bold assertion of the truth of the Trinity and a clear affirmation of the eternality of God. We sing it tonight in adoration of the sovereign God at the end of the service.