The book of Leviticus opens up with a description of five different offerings for Old Covenant worship. These offerings are the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Three of these offerings relate in particular to sin and its effects. They highlight the different ways in which sin taints the worshipper, the place of worship, and the community. In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills these three types of sin-sacrifices in a way that highlights the different facets of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf.
The burnt offering is the first offering described in the book of Leviticus. What’s unique about this sacrifice is that the whole animal (sans skin) is offered on the bronze altar as a sweet smelling aroma to God. The worshiper identifies with the animal (through the laying on of hands), slaughters it, and then symbolically ascends to God in the smoke of the sacrifice. This highlights the peace or reconciliation made between God and the worshiper.
Jesus Christ is described as the one who reconciles us to God through his offering up of himself. The burnt offering was a soothing aroma in Yahweh’s nostrils, so too Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:2) Just as the animal for the burnt offering was required to be blameless, or without any blemish (Lev. 1:3), Jesus is described the lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:19) who has redeemed us by his precious blood.
The sin offering is described in Leviticus four, and the focus of this offering is on cleansing. The sacrificial animal wasn’t burned on the altar in its entirety, in fact, most of the animal was carried outside of the tabernacle premises and burned in a clean place outside of the camp. The unique thing about this sacrifice is that the sacrificial blood was used to cleanse the furniture in the tabernacle, signifying that our sin pollutes God's house. The priest who sinned would sprinkle the veil which separated the holy place from the holy of holies seven times, and he would also put blood on the horns of the altar of incense. Here we see that sin has far-reaching consequences. It doesn't just affect us, but it blemishes the sanctuary (or we might say the church).
God doesn't dwell in the tabernacle or temple today, instead, he has made our hearts the place of his residence. Sin tainted the temple of our hearts, and therefore we needed Jesus to "sprinkle our hearts," cleansing them from pollution (Heb. 10:22). Jesus is described as our sin offering in Hebrews 13:10-12, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Jesus was our priestly sacrifice who sprinkled the temple of our hearts with his blood, cleansing them for all time.
The guilt offering in Leviticus 5:14-6:7 focuses on yet another aspect of sins effects, the need for payment. This offering is sometimes referred to as the reparation offering because it highlights the need for payment when wrong has been done. Forgiveness was dependent upon the worshiper making amends, and the sacrificial animal was viewed as a restitution. The idea is that it’s not just enough to be forgiven, we need to make things right.
In the New Testament, Zacchaeus is a good example of this, paying back that which he had defrauded fourfold (Lk. 19:8). Jesus said, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:23-24) Sin often creates rifts between our brothers and sisters in Jesus, and as Christians, we're called to make peace with one another and restore that which has been broken or lost.
The debt we owe to God and those we have sinned against is greater than we can bear, therefore God sent his Son to be not only our perfect burnt, and sin offering; but also our perfect guilt offering. Isaiah the prophet said of Jesus, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days…” (Isa. 53:10) The word used for “offering for guilt” is the exact same word used in Leviticus 5:15 to describe the compensation or guilt offering made by the ancient worshiper. Jesus paid our debt, and now we must forgive as we have been forgiven.
Dear friends, we don’t come to God with any sacrificial offering for sin today, because Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant system of worship through his once-for-all sacrifice. His sacrifice cleanses you, satisfies the debt you owe, and gives you peace with God, allowing you to enter into the presence of the Holy One. If you’re burdened today by your failures, look up in faith to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain but is now standing (Rev. 5:6), and praying on your behalf (Heb. 7:25). He has perfectly provided for your sins so that you might offer to him not another sacrifice for sin, but the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Heb. 13:5).