A Thanksgiving of Sacrifice

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on November 24, 2019

Leviticus 7:11-15

This morning we’re turning to Leviticus chapter 7. That can be found on page 85 in the Bibles in the pew in front of you. We’re turning really to the heart of the Pentateuch, of the first five books of the Old Testament, and it’s focus on priesthood and the sacrifice and the worship of Old Testament Israel. We find in this passage that we read today discussions of the bread that was used for offering in these sacrifices.

I was reminded of a time not that long ago when I was, I went to buy some challah bread at Broadstreet, and it’s the braided, Jewish holiday bread. And I guess I got a little bit aggressive with the guttural sound at the beginning of that word, and so it came out with a thick, “challah,” and it sounded more like I was choking than ordering an item off the menu! It was a little embarrassing! But it was unfamiliar territory for me. I’m not used to ordering and pronouncing Hebrew words. 

Leviticus is unfamiliar territory for many of us. We are thousands of years away from these regulations. We’re not accustomed to grain and animal sacrifices and the cultural differences between this culture and our culture may seem like more than thousands of years. But my hope is from this passage as we think about the thanksgiving sacrifices that it would give us a fresh angle on Thanksgiving and it would teach us something of what it means to live a life of sacrifice and a life of thanksgiving. And so our two points to help us understand this passage will be “A Thankful Sacrifice” and “A Sacrificial Thanksgiving.”

With that in mind, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, we come before You with humility, seeking Your grace. We need Your help. We give You thanks that You have revealed Your Word to us. You have spoken to us of how You are to be worshiped, that You can be worshiped, and that You can be approached, that we can come into Your presence with joy and boldness in the name of Jesus Christ. And so we ask that You would give us Your Spirit now to understand Your Word, to apply it to our lives, and that we would glorify You in all that we do. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leviticus 7. We’ll start in verse 11:

“And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

A Thankful Sacrifice 

These verses are about a particular type of peace offering that could be offered as an act of thanksgiving. It’s what verse 12 calls, “the thanksgiving sacrifice.” But there’s actually a lot more going on in the thanksgiving sacrifice than what we’re told in these verses. Erik Larson, the writer, was writing a book on the hurricane that destroyed Galveston Bay in 1900. And what he did to research that book was he looked at captains’ logs of ships that were at sea at that time to see if there was any information about the storm that was coming that could help him as he wrote his book. He said that what he found was actually that the captains’ logs were very dry and they contained nothing but the bare facts about the boat or about the direction of the wind. He had to look between the lines, beyond the bare facts that were in the captains’ logs to find out what was actually happening when that hurricane approached.

Well that can be something of what it’s like to approach Leviticus chapter 7. These are the bare facts, but this sacrifice has a history. And this sacrifice and all of the sacrifices in Leviticus are connected to the larger narrative that’s being told to us in the first five books of the Bible – that God has chosen Abraham, that He has made a great nation out of Abraham’s offspring, He has delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and He is leading them to take possession of the land that He has promised to them back in the book of Genesis. He is their God and they are His people. But in order for them to enjoy that relationship with God, to enjoy the benefit of God’s presence in their land, they need God’s Law. They need God’s Law to order their worship, to order their life together as God’s people in the land. And so within this narrative we’re given five major offerings in the book of Leviticus – the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. And the sacrifices, what they did was they served to be a reminder or a visible demonstration of what is required in order to enjoy that relationship with God. What is it first and foremost? It’s that sin must be dealt with. There needs to be an atonement for sin; a covering for our sin is required.

I believe at least two things would be clear from the sacrifices in the Old Testament. One is that the wages of sin is death, and two, a substitute is provided. In other words, as the worshipers approached the tabernacle and they saw the animals on the altar, they could see, they could recognize that blood was shed. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. But it was not their blood. It was the blood of an animal instead. And that was all part of the symbolism that took place at the tabernacle. One writer describes it this way. He says that, “The ritual drama performed by the high priest served to catechize Israel about the dire need for cleansing and the forgiveness of sin.” The sacrifices are a warning – a warning that the sinner and the unclean cannot approach God. The sinner and the unclean only deserve God’s wrath and judgment. There’s a warning here to recognize the danger of our sin and to lean and to rest in the grace and mercy of God.

And you see, one of the main themes of the book of Leviticus is, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” You see, their whole identity as God’s people is shaped by a the holy place and the holy sacrifices and the holy feast days that they might be holy people. So these sacrifices, they’re providing a rhythm to their life together, a rhythm of the days and the weeks and the months and the years. And yet within these sacrifices, there were different ones to serve different purposes, to represent different aspects of their life together in Israel. And we’re actually not given all that many details about the purpose or the function of each sacrifice. But it seems like the peace offering, the one that we read about in chapter 7, it expresses something of the blessing of peace with God and the blessing of peace with one another. 

The word for peace offering is related to the Hebrew word, “shalom.” And what does “shalom” mean? It’s more than just an absence of peace. “Shalom” is a wholeness or completeness. It’s an overall well-being; that one has an overall well-being with God and with his neighbor and with the world around him. And you see, the peace offering, it included an offering to God on the altar but it also included a meal together. This was the only sacrifice – that they would have enjoyed a meal together when they offered the sacrifice. Some commentators even think that this may have been the only time – at the peace offerings – the only time that the Israelites would have eaten meat together during the year. It was an occasion to celebrate. It was to celebrate peace with God, the provision of God, and fellowship with one another. 

And the thanksgiving sacrifice that we read in chapter 7, it’s just a part of that peace offering. If we were to go back to chapter 3 we would see more of the details of what was required and what was given at the peace offering. What happened was, the people would bring a bull or a sheep or a goat to the tabernacle and in each case the high priest would take the blood of the animal and sprinkle it on the altar and then take the fat of the animal. The fat was considered to be the best, the choice part of the sacrifice, and he would burn all of the fat up on the altar; it was sacrificed to the Lord. But the rest, the rest was eaten. It was eaten as a fellowship meal. And so this peace offering, it could include this bread that we read about and so it would be offered as a thanksgiving sacrifice. Verse 12 tells us about the unleavened loaves mixed with oil, the unleavened wafers smeared with oil, loaves of fine flour well-mixed with oil. Again, these are just the bare facts and the elements of this thanksgiving sacrifice, it actually reads more like a menu than it does a recipe. We’re not told about anything that goes into making these loaves and wafers. 

I found an article that was discussing an archeological find some years ago. The archeologists found some bread-like remains at this ancient site in northeast Jordan. And the writer says that the bread is thought to have been made from a process similar to the process of making modern, fine grain flour. And in the article, he’s discussing the ways that they would have made this fine grain flour and they would have made the loaves for the sacrifice here. He says that the grains were harvested and gathered in and they would have been ground down and all of the impurities – the chaff, the stalk, the stems – would have been removed from the wheat. And then on top of that it would have been sifted and milled and re-ground and then the flour would have been mixed with water to produce a dough. And that dough was placed in a stone or a mud oven. It all sounds, in some ways, very modern. It sounds a little hipster, doesn’t it! Here you have this hand milled, locally sourced, organic wheat flour! It’s a difficult process though, and that’s what the writer said. He says that “a significant amount of labor went into the development of the bread flour.” 

And that’s just the bread. That’s not including the oil. Think about the process of taking the olives, or whatever it may have been, and harvesting them, pressing them, skimming off the oil, storing them in a container. That’s just the bread and the oil. That’s not even thinking about the seed. We would have had to go back further than that to think about a seed was planted and a crop was tended and the crops, the fruit were harvested after months of waiting. You know, we’re so far removed, aren’t we, from the process and the work and the effort that it takes to get food onto the shelves at the grocery store or even a meal onto our table, that we may not appreciate at first glance all that went into the thanksgiving sacrifice.

I remember about a year ago I had a whim one Saturday morning to make cinnamon rolls for our breakfast. I found some yeast in the cabinet and I thought I’d make some cinnamon rolls for breakfast. We had them for lunch! It took a long time and it made a big mess. And you see here the unleavened loaves, the unleavened wafers, the loaves of fine flour along with the oil, that took planning and it took preparation; it took time and it took effort. It was costly. It was a sacrifice is that it was. And Ralph Davis says, commenting on the sacrifices in Leviticus, that “it’s God’s gift plus man’s labor equals man’s sacrifice,” or man’s offering. 

By the way, just as somewhat of an aside to that, remember where Israel is when they’re receiving this law. They’re not in the Promised Land where the crops are; they’re at Mount Sinai. And so they’re not yet in the land that will produce the fruit that will enable them to make the bread and the oil. And so we can very well say that the command is a promise. The command of God to His people is a promise to His people. He’s promising that He will provide for them what they need in order to sacrifice. And when God provides what they need, when they obey God’s Word, that’s an act of faith – that they’re trusting that the God who has provided will continue to provide for them.

And I think we could even say that that marks something of their costly faith. That they are in a sense risking their time and their resources, but they’re trusting that God’s worship and God’s blessing is far better than their time or their resources. There’s a lesson there, isn’t there, for our own giving and our own stewardship. That the sacrifice is worth it. That would have been true for Israel. 

Now all of that is basically background. That’s the background for the offering of the thanksgiving sacrifice. Verses 13 to 15 tell us about what happened. It tells us that a worshiper would come with the peace offering, with the animal, and he would bring with it unleavened loaves and unleavened wafers and loaves of fine flour. He would also have a loaf of leavened bread. He’d bring it to the tabernacle and give it to the priest and then he would give one loaf to the priest and he would keep one loaf to himself. The reason he gave it to the priest is because the priests depended upon the offerings of the people to provide for their food for their sustenance. People brought that to provide for the priests. And so he would give that and he would take the rest of the meat and the rest of the bread and the person would eat that together with his family, with his friends, at the tabernacle. You see, we’re told that all of the meal had to be eaten on the same day. Well one person couldn’t eat all of this. It was meant to be shared. It was meant for fellowship – to gather around and enjoy the blessings of God together in His presence and in fellowship with one another. It’s a beautiful picture. It’s a beautiful picture of a fellowship meal together in the presence of God and this was a special occasion for the people.

A Sacrificial Thanksgiving

That’s an outline of what the thanksgiving sacrifice was, and yet something is missing. Something’s not included in the instructions in Leviticus chapter 7. We have the priest and the worshiper, the animal and the loaves of bread; there’s the altar and the fire and the meal. There’s sacrifice, but there’s no thanksgiving. There are no words of thanksgiving that we’re told in this passage. There are no instructions about what the worshiper or the priest is supposed to say. There are no prayers or blessings that are commanded here. If everything was carried out just as Leviticus chapter 7 tells us, then the whole thing would be carried out in silence. And that’s true of all the sacrifices in Leviticus. Here’s what Gordon Wenham tells us in his commentary on Leviticus. He says, “Leviticus mentions only the act, but it is very unlikely that it was all done in silence. Most probably the worshiper explained why he was bringing the sacrifice. He may even have recited or sung a psalm.” 

The Psalms. The Psalms are the songs of God’s people. The Psalms are the prayers that God’s people used for worship and several of the sacrifices and offerings in Leviticus are mentioned in the Psalms. In fact, Psalm 100, it’s called “A psalm for giving thanks.” That same word for “giving thanks” is the same one that we have for the thanksgiving offering in Leviticus chapter 7. It’s “todah.” It’s a sacrifice of todah. It’s a song for todah. Listen to Psalm 100:

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

That’s a song of thanksgiving. That’s a song of praise. Or we could look to Psalm 107. It says, “Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. Let them tell his deeds in songs of joy.” Psalm 116, “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” You see, the sacrifice is not carried out in silence. The worshiper comes with songs of joy. He’s full of joy and praise and gladness and blessing and thanksgiving. “This is our great God, our Creator, our Redeemer! Look at all the great things He has done! He has saved us and blessed us and protected us and guided us and given us daily bread. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. He is good and His love endures forever!” You see, what would a sacrifice be without thanksgiving? The sacrifice calls for songs of praise to come forth from the lips of the worshiper. 

And we can say the same things, can’t we? We have done the same things this morning. We can say, “The Lord is good and His steadfast love endures forever,” that “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” We sang in the hymn, the Getty hymn in our bulletin, “My heart is filled with thankfulness, to Him who bore my pain. Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace and gave me life again. Who crushed my curse of sinfulness and clothed me in His light, and wrote His law of righteousness with power upon my heart.” Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving because Jesus is the sacrifice. Jesus is our substitute. It’s because His blood was shed on the cross that the penalty of our sin was paid. His sacrifice was the once and for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. He has atoned for our sins at Calvary’s cross, and by His resurrection, He has defeated sin and death. He has gained the victory. By His resurrection, Jesus declares that He is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed. He is the fulfillment of all of the promises of the Old Testament, and so through Jesus we can have peace with God. And He invites us into His presence to enjoy fellowship with Him. 

Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace with God and peace with one another. Fellowship together as adopted sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in Christ. And you know, we’ll come together – Billy announced it a little while ago – we’ll come together tonight again for worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to gather around the Lord’s Table. And it’s a picture of what Jesus has done for us on the cross in shedding His blood and His flesh being crucified on the cross in our place. In some ways it’s a picture of the thanksgiving sacrifice because it’s a meal in God’s presence and enjoying fellowship together as God’s people. And yet both of those are just merely a foretaste, merely a glimmer of the true feast, the true heavenly banquet, enjoying God’s glory together. Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” See, it’s the Lamb, it’s Jesus, it’s the One through whom all of the blessings of salvation are ours. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

What should that cause us to do? It should cause us to sing songs of praise, to rejoice, to bless His name, to give Him thanks. And that’s why we’re here today. We are here today to remember the goodness of God and to praise Him for it. And that’s why we set apart a day for thanksgiving. It’s to stop and to recount and to remember all the ways that God has blessed us, to show our gratitude to Him. As we come to a national holiday for thanksgiving, we oftentimes, surrounded with that, are crafts and decorations. You may have a decoration in your home where you’ve listed items that you are specifically thankful for. You may walk around the building and see in the classrooms student’s crafts where they have listed the things for which they are thankful. I saw one recently and it was a class bulletin board and it had the things for which the students were thankful. And there were the usual things – family and friends and teacher. And then one student was thankful for Terry Bradshaw and Archie Manning. I don’t know where that came from, but those are good things – to remember, to stop, and to make a list, to stop and to thank God, to recount His blessings, to count our blessings one by one, it is surprising what the Lord has done. 

And yet if you’re like me, we are all too likely to limit our thanksgiving to what we say. And too often our words of thanksgiving are not matched by actions of thanksgiving. We can and have said “thanks” and we’ve rejoiced and sung praises and worshiped God, and yet something is missing. There’s something not there. There’s thanksgiving but not sacrifice. There’s nothing costly. There’s nothing risked or given up as a gift to God. But what is thanksgiving without sacrifice? Paul writes in Romans chapter 12, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God; this is your spiritual act of worship.” The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to do good, to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Yes, Jesus has offered the once and for all sacrifice for our salvation. There’s nothing that we can contribute to earn God’s favor or to gain our salvation. It is received as a gift by faith alone. “The just shall live by faith and faith alone.” And yet, it’s gratitude for that good news, gratitude for what Jesus has done for us that leads us to give our whole lives to God and to do good and to share with others around us. One writer has said that the bridge between theology and ethics is thanksgiving. In other words, the way you get from good news to good works, the bridge is gratitude. It’s thanksgiving. Thanksgiving produces lives of costly and demanding sacrifice. And so we’re called, from grateful hearts, to be intentional and to even be inconvenienced for the sake of other people as a gift of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Listen again to the hymn we sang earlier. “My heart is filled with thankfulness, to Him who reigns above. Whose wisdom is my perfect peace, whose every thought is love. For every day I have on earth is given by the King, so I will give my life, my all to love and follow Him.” That’s a thanksgiving of sacrifice. A thanksgiving that leads us to obey God’s Word. A thanksgiving that leads us to serve others and to do good to them and to give generously, because we know the greatness of God’s love and the greatness of His salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. 

Do you remember the story, it’s from the end of 2 Samuel, and there’s a plague in the land of Israel. And David goes to the threshing floor of Araunah to build an altar. And Araunah wants to give to him freely as a gift the land, the property, and all the animals that would be needed for the sacrifice. And David says no. He says, “I will buy it for a price.” And he says, “I will not offer to God with that which costs me nothing.” That’s the question for us. Will we give thanks to God with that which costs us nothing? No, our thanksgiving should pour out of our mouths but it should also mark every detail of our lives of sacrifice and praise to God. And so can we commit to that? As we approach a national holiday, a holiday set aside for thanksgiving, can we commit that we would have a thankful sacrifice and a sacrificial thanksgiving? Let’s ask God to help us as we do that. Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You for the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the great reason we have for thanksgiving and gratitude. All of our ultimate needs, ultimate blessings – life, true life – is met for us in Christ Jesus. There’s nothing we lack because of what Jesus has done for us. So we ask that You would help us as Your Word calls us to do, to be thankful in all things, “in everything give thanks.” Whether it’s in times of suffering or trial or in times of blessing and prosperity, we ask that You would impress upon us the work of Christ, the good news of the Gospel, and the hope that we have of glory, that we can say that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We are thankful. Now help us, Father, to live lives of thankful sacrifice to Christ. And we pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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