Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lessons from Leviticus- part III The Forgiveness of Sins

I imagine the twice daily offering of burnt sacrifices, not to mention the sin offerings required when made specifically aware of a sin, were enough to keep the Israelites’ guilt always before them. I’m always struck when reading through Leviticus how seriously God takes sin. Of course, the gravity of sin coupled with an awareness of the pervasiveness of our own sin nature would be quite hopeless in the absence of an understanding of forgiveness. That’s why I love the picture of forgiveness we get from the annual ceremony on the Day of Atonement.

“Then he (Aaron) must take two male goats and present them to the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be reserved as an offering to the Lord and which will carry the sins of the people to the wilderness of Azazel. Aaron will then present as a sin offering the goat chosen by lot for the Lord. The other goat, the scapegoat chosen by lot to be sent away, will be kept alive, standing before the Lord… When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people in Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specifically chosen for the task, will drive the goat into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.” Leviticus 16:7-10 & 20-22

The first part of this ceremony was quite familiar since it was a daily occurrence. The Israelites understood that their sin required death and that atonement for sins was only made possible by the shedding of blood. It’s the second part of the ceremony that must have been a sweet reminder of the forgiving God they served. I love this picture of the symbolic transfer of sins to the head of the goat and then rather than just letting the goat drift off or hang around the camp, they actually drove it far out into the wilderness, illustrating how far the Lord had removed their transgressions from them.

I think David may have had this ceremony in mind when he wrote the following words found in one of my favorite Psalms:

“He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us as we deserve. For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:10-12

Of course, the Day of Atonement wasn’t the only time the Israelites were reminded of God’s forgiveness. The annual celebration of Passover would also remind them of God’s passing over their sins and sparing their lives out of His great love and mercy. I just especially love the visual picture of the scapegoat being driven away from the camp carrying Israel’s sins away with him. Even more meaningful to me is that the scapegoat finds its fulfillment in Christ. Actually both goats offered on the Day of Atonement are types that are fulfilled in Christ.

“But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6

“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why when Christ came into the world, He said to God, ‘You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But You have given Me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do Your will, O God- as is written about me in the Scriptures.’’” Hebrews 10:1-7

Sometimes I wonder if we get the cart before the horse in our churches today- always stressing forgiveness and seldom dwelling on the severity of our sins. Both are true. I can only imagine the bliss felt by the Jewish believers in the early church when they realized Christ was the permanent answer to their sin problem. In this day and age of self-esteem parenting, I wonder if we do our children a disservice. I wonder if they can really appreciate what Christ’s sacrifice means without having a realistic view of the seriousness of their sin. Can any of us? Perhaps we should spend more time reflecting on our sins and confessing them to one another so that we can glory in the incredible forgiveness offered to us by God through Christ.

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.