We celebrate Easter soon and what a wonderful celebration it is each year—Jesus is alive! We are forgiven and free—the Law of sin and death has been vanquished—praise be to God!
We usually hear sermons during Passion week from the Gospels, and most certainly on Easter morning. But have we ever heard (or preached) an Easter sermon from Leviticus?
Leviticus? The book of “don’t eat shellfish,” (Lev. 11:9-12) and “how to heal skin infections” (Lev. 14)? The book that seems filled with archaic instructions about things we don’t deal with anymore? What does that have to do with Easter?
Leviticus at its heart is a book of worship and is thus filled with instructions for priests and congregation on how to worship. The way God instructed the Hebrew people was through sacrifice and offerings. He gave laws governing how to live with neighbor and with each other.
And right in the middle of the book is a beautiful chapter on why Easter and Holy Week is so important. It’s a chapter on the Day of Atonement.
God tells Moses and the priests how to make blood sacrifices of atonement for self, family, and the people. It’s from this chapter that we have our understanding of the scapegoat. The Hebrews are commanded to engage in this day annually. There are blood sacrifices in order to make atonement (or, to reconcile our relationship with God) for all of the sins.
But Isn’t Blood Atonement Crude?
We are told “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17.11). So rather than the biblical God having an unhealthy obsession with blood, he realistically recognizes blood as the symbol for life itself. In this way, there is an intimate connection between Jesus’ life and his death—both provide atonement for sins (Mark 10:45; 1 John 3:16).
So, atonement happens with blood. We are told, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22). Without blood, there is no cleansing; without blood there is no forgiveness (see also Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; Revelation 12:11).
So what Jesus accomplished for us on Good Friday is astounding! His blood was shed, not ours. He was the sacrifice, not us. By His blood, all sin is cleansed, all forgiveness happens—Hallelujah! We don’t have to wait for a certain day to approach our Savior. We are not restricted to one day to ask forgiveness or be reconciled. We have true life.
And when God resurrected Christ from the grave, the curse of sin and death was broken. But without understanding the commands and laws of Leviticus, we miss the depth of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Without Leviticus, the joy of what was accomplished for us in the miracle and wonder of Easter—a day of atonement is no longer needed—it is finished!
So as we wrap up our Lenten devotional reading this season, take a few moments to read Leviticus 16 in parallel with the Gospel accounts of the Passion week—and give thanks to God. He is risen indeed!