“And the priest shall offer all of it, and offer it up in smoke on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.” – Lev. 1:9
I recently started a study of Leviticus in my personal Bible-study time. It wasn’t exactly by choice; I have been slowly and methodically working my way through the entire Bible for several years now. (Some folks do the Bible in a year – I am hoping to do it in a lifetime.) It was thus inevitable in the course of this study that I would come to Leviticus. If I am honest, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
But as is always the case, when I open Scripture and ask God to use it to shape me, He does. Dipping my toe into Leviticus has been no exception.
When you first open Leviticus, you see that Moses wastes no time in getting into the meat of the Law (no pun intended), diving immediately into the regulations governing the burnt offering. And you might be tempted to gloss over it. Some Christians tend to dismiss the section of Leviticus pertaining to sacrificial offerings, reasoning that Jesus did away with this system when He became the ultimate atoning sacrifice for all who believe. While that is true, we would be foolish to conclude we have nothing to gain from studying these verses. There is a lot in them that can shape our walk today. So lets take a closer look.
The Burnt Offering
The purpose of the burnt offering was both reconciliatory and dedicatory. It is reconciliatory in that the sacrifice was offered that the worshipper “may be accepted before the Lord” (Lev. 1:3) and that it might be received “to make atonement on his behalf.” Lev. 1:4 It is dedicatory in that it is offered fully to God. Studying this offering, therefore, we can make a few important observations.
First, as noted, the offering is fully dedicated to God. It is the only offering that is given completely to Him; nothing is held back. Leviticus 1:9 requires that the priest “offer up in smoke all of it on the altar.” Second, God allows for a number of acceptable forms of the offering, most likely to account for differing economic means among the Israelites. Not all could afford a bull for sacrifice, so sacrifices of sheep, goats and even doves and pigeons are permitted. Third, in every case, the sacrifice is accepted the same way; as a “soothing aroma to the Lord.” Lev. 1:9, 13, 17.
A Living Sacrifice
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” Rom. 12:1 In that sense, we are somewhat of a burnt offering ourselves. We are not only beneficiaries of the atoning sacrifice Jesus provided, but we are also called to be reflections of it. As Paul told the Ephesians, we are to be “imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Eph. 5:1-2
Our sacrifice is not to die on a cross as Jesus did (though that could be a consequence of our dedication to Him). Jesus became the complete and ultimate sacrifice for our sin; that work is done. In light of that, as beneficiaries of the ransom He paid for us, our sacrifice is to pour forth His love and His truth into one another and into the world. Our sacrifice is our dedication to Jesus lived out in our daily lives and expressed in our daily witness.
Dedicated to God
So if we take up this charge and consider it in light of what we have learned about God’s regulations for burnt offerings, a few things emerge about what it means to be dedicated to God.
First, we are to be all-in. We are to be wholly dedicated to Him. Unlike other sacrifices, where a portion is held back for the priests or the worshipper, the burnt offering – as a dedicatory offering – is given completely to God. It forces me to consider what parts of my life I am holding back from Him. I am not talking about tithing here, there were other sacrifices that honored God’s provision by returning a portion to Him. Rather, I am talking about making the conscious decision to dedicate all of your life to Him – to place it all on the altar.
Second, we see that the amount we bring to the table in living out our lives for God isn’t as important as the fact of actually bringing it. When we are tempted by Satan to believe that what we have to offer is too meager or unimportant to be of significance to God, we should remember those poor Israelites who could only afford to bring Him a pigeon. God knew of their circumstances and provided a way for them to give back. In the same way, He knows your circumstances, your giftings, and what you are able to do for Him. And it is enough.
Third, we should also note that the sacrificial animal was to be without defect. Lev. 1:3 In this sense, the animal represented the very best of what the worshipper had to offer. Only Jesus was the absolutely perfect sacrifice, the only One truly without defect. And even as we dedicate our lives to Him, we can’t be perfect like Him. But we can endeavor to bring the best of who we are to the altar. And if we do so with purity in our motivations – if we do so out of a deep sense of love and gratitude for what He has done for us – we will bring the best of ourselves before Him.
And finally, we glean from this offering the joy of knowing that no matter what we bring to the table, as long as it is complete and from a pure heart it pleases Him. The aromas of all forms of sacrifice – whether bull, sheep, goat or pigeon, were equally pleasing to God. Therefore, when our lives are lived out fully dedicated to Jesus Christ, when we have given ourselves whole-heartedly to God, no matter what form that takes, it is a pleasing aroma to Him.
Father in heaven, we praise and adore You for the very fact of our creation. Lord Jesus, we praise and adore you for the very fact of our redemption, made possible by Your sacrifice on the cross. God in heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may You lead us to live lives poured out fully to glorify Your name. May we be an aroma pleasing to You. Amen.