What do you rely upon so that God will accept you? In the Old Testament, God instituted a system of worship through which his people could draw near to him. Central to this system was the ritual of sacrifices. The Israelite worshipper would draw near to God with an animal he or she had handpicked from home (Lev. 1:1–2).
The animal had to be without blemish (Lev. 1:3), a word often used in the Old Testament to describe the prerequisite for dwelling in God’s presence (Ps. 15:2). The picture was clear, the blameless animal would be a substitute for the worshipper. Through the animal, the worshipper ascended to God symbolically in the rising smoke of its burnt carcass, a pleasant aroma to Yahweh (Lev. 1:8–9).
How do we know the worshipper was identified with the animal? During the ritual ceremony, at one point the worshipper would place their hand on the head of the animal. “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4).
The Hebrew word “lay” signifies more of a leaning than it does a gentle touch. The worshipper pressed down on the animal, supporting himself with it in the same way an elderly man might support himself with a cane. The worshipper was, in effect saying, “I, the imperfect one, the sinner, approach God leaning on this blameless sacrifice.”
Every time an Israelite brought forward a burnt offering, they were reminded of God’s requirement of perfection. They had to inspect the animal from their herd prior to presenting it to the priest, ensuring that it would meet the sacrificial criteria. The priests too would make sure the animal was fit, and if they didn’t, God would punish them (Mal. 1:7ff.).
Imagine the stress of this scrutiny! When the inspection was complete, the Israelite worshipper could approach God through the blameless animal, and atonement would be made on his behalf.
Our approach to God today looks a lot different, but it’s still rooted in the ritual of sacrifice. We don’t offer bulls and goats on an altar in order to draw near to God, but that’s because we have a better sacrifice that has already been accomplished.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus offered up himself as a “burnt offering” and pleasing aroma in our place (Eph. 5:2). The Lamb without blemish purified us by his blood (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Just as the Israelite leaned on the lamb at the entryway to the tabernacle, relying on it; we lean on Jesus, supporting ourselves with the hand of faith pressed down upon his bloody brow.
Throughout the entire Bible, it’s as if God is saying to us, “You can’t make it in your own strength.” We’re not blameless before God, so God gives us blameless substitutes. The lamb in the Old Testament foreshadowed the Lamb in the New Testament, who through one sacrifice put an end to all sin-sacrifices saying, “Lean on me.” When we approach God the Father today, we come with hands pressed heavily upon Jesus, and through his spotless life, we ascend into God’s presence accepted.
What do you rely on to find peace with God? Many of us are leaning on ourselves. We press harder within and find that the deeper we dig the more we discover the sins which bar us from access to God.
So long as we lean on something other than Jesus, we’ll be confronted by all the reasons God shouldn’t accept us. God calls each of us to stop leaning on ourselves, and to press into Jesus, the spotless Lamb who made atonement for us. Because God accepted Christ as a sacrifice in your place, he accepts you when you approach him. Go to him today confident that he receives you—imperfect as you may be—because you have a perfect substitute. And not just a perfect substitute, but a perfect sacerdote (priest):
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)