Has there come a time in your life when the revelation of Jesus and His work on the cross became so real that you desired to yield yourself fully to His will? Perhaps you once recited the Lord’s Prayer with shallow platitudes and religious incantations, then the words began to take life within you. Your fleshly creed of “my kingdom come, my will be done” was replaced by the new cry, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” Even the act of water baptism took on a new meaning, outwardly demonstrating your heart’s desire to totally die to your sinful nature and walk in righteousness as a new person in Christ Jesus.
Again, this reality of the New Covenant was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. A prominent part of the tabernacle or temple was the Brazen Altar, or altar of burnt sacrifice. This altar was set in the outer section of the tabernacle or temple, and it was the first thing to confront a worshiper upon entering the courtyard. On this altar, the burnt offering was offered up to God. This became symbolic of a place of total submission and surrender.
This is a beautiful picture of Jesus’ total surrender to the will of the Father. He became our burnt offering on the cross so that we might become His living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). To have an obedient heart, in total submission to God’s will, is the highest form of worship.
Absolute Surrender, Absolute Delight
When the burnt offering is described in Leviticus, there is an intriguing use of the word “all” regarding the sacrificed animal:
…And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 1:9b)
…Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 1:13b)
A unique feature of this offering was its radical nature: when making a sacrifice from the herd, ALL of the animal was consumed by the fire of God. Absolutely nothing was exempt. The message was clear: We must give all of our heart and soul and mind and strength as a living sacrifice to Him (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Mark 12:28-34). The lordship of Jesus means nothing remains in us that is not consumed by His holy fire. Nothing remains that is not subject to His authority. It all belongs to Him, for He purchased it all on the cross.
It is crucial to understand the burnt offering if we are to build a firm foundation regarding the other pearls God has hidden for us in His Word. Leviticus 1:3 says, “If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord.”
The “male without blemish” phrase speaks of two primary things: First and foremost, it teaches that the Messiah, Jesus, would be a male “without blemish,” or without sin. He lived a perfect life, which was a necessary requisite for becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 2:17-18, Hebrews 4:14-15).
Many people today—even many professing Christians—fail to see the importance of Jesus’ sinlessness. “He was just a good man…an insightful teacher…or perhaps even a prophet,” they say. But such statements fall far short of what the Bible teaches about our glorious Lord Jesus. The truth of His sinless life is testified to throughout the New Testament, but was already foreshadowed in the burnt offerings described in Leviticus. As the sacrificial lambs were examined to see if they were flawed in any way, so was Jesus examined by His accusers. The result was Pilate’s threefold declaration: “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38, John 19:4, John 19:6).
Second, the “without blemish” phrase speaks to you and me. God wants our lives, through Jesus, to be without spot or blemish. He desires that we come before Him without false or impure motives, totally open and without guile. Peter tells us, “…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16, quoting Leviticus 11:44-45).
Verse 3 goes on to say that a person giving a burnt offering should do so “of his own free will.” Instead of just being an act of duty or compulsion, this offering is meant to spring from our free will—our heart of love and devotion to the Lord. Throughout history, and even in some animistic religions today, people have often offered sacrifices to their gods out of fear—as acts of appeasement. However, the Levitical offerings were fundamentally different. Stemming from free will, these offerings were acts of worship.
When we come before God with a willing heart, we are engaging in one of the highest forms of worship. Instead of being robots forced to worship our Creator, we have been given the privilege to passionately worship Him out of our own free will. Consider this: God is not looking for clones of modern-day Christianity, but for worshipers and imitators of Christ. Religious duty would make us clones, but true worship transforms us into the image of Christ. Even as Jesus yielded His will in total submission to the Father, so should we. This is more than duty; it is delight.
Leviticus 1:4 paints an intriguing picture of the choice Jesus had to face at the end of His ministry: “Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states that the Hebrew text for “put his hand on the head” signifies “pressing with vigor upon the animal’s head.” We do not know all the details of the sacrificial ritual, but the intent here was apparently to show a passionate transfer of sin. This was not a passive endeavor but clearly involved a tremendous expenditure of physical and mental energy.
When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see this same passion and energy. From His sacrificial life, to His struggle in the garden, to His obedience unto death—there was complete dedication and commitment to becoming a perfect sacrifice, in total submission to the Father’s will. Upon Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, there was a “pressing with vigor” of all eternity’s sin and rejection. In one pivotal moment of time, God “made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus became the fulfillment of the Levitical burnt sacrifices, exemplifying total surrender and obedience to the Father.
Of course, the lambs sacrificed under the Old Covenant had no choice in the matter. There was no way for them to protest, “Sorry guys, but I really don’t want to go through with this!” Jesus, on the other hand, made a conscious choice. He could have called 12 legions of angels to rescue Him, but He didn’t (Matthew 26:53). Jesus made it clear that no one was able to take His life from Him. Rather, He laid His life down voluntarily (John 10:17-18).
But there was a tremendous price associated with Jesus’ choice. Leviticus 1:5 shows the huge cost of Jesus’ choice—and, consequently, the choices we are called to make in His Name: “He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
The price? The blood of Jesus. The choice Jesus made required that blood be shed for sin, accompanied by all the agony and pain that came with it. Our stand for Christ may be painful and costly at times, but the end of the matter will always lead to resurrection and victory!
Have You Been ‘Skinned’?
The agony of Jesus’ sacrifice is reflected in Leviticus 1:6, where it says that the burnt offering had to be skinned: “And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces.” What does the word “skin” mean? In the King James Version, this same word is translated “flay.” Webster’s Dictionary provides three definitions for the word flay:
1. To tear or strip away the skin or the outer covering. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s movie about “The Passion of the Christ,” you realize the extent to which Jesus’ skin was stripped away by the Roman flogging. According to some traditions of church history, the apostle Thomas may have been martyred this way in India. This is the same use of the Hebrew word as we find it in Micah 3:3.
2. To strip of possessions or to fleece. Jesus was stripped of all His possessions and hung naked on a cross so that we might become rich in Him (2 Corinthians 8:9).
To criticize harshly or to scold. Hundreds of years prior to His death, it was prophesied about Jesus that He would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). The crowd, the soldiers, the thief on the cross all criticized Jesus with mocking, ridicule, and disdain.
In these three definitions we see the agony and pain Jesus endured on the cross as a result of His choice to lay down His life for us. Like the Old Testament burnt offerings, He was skinned (flayed) as a sacrifice for us. The scourgings which He endured literally took the skin off His back. He was criticized, reproved, ridiculed and scolded on our behalf. On the cross He lay totally exposed before the Lord and naked before the world, taking our sins upon Himself.
What does all this mean to us? It means that, through Jesus, we can come to a place of total submission to the Father’s will. When we make this choice, we must realize that at times the Lord will “flay” our flesh in order to expose every part of our lives before Him. He will skin us of guile and false motivations as we cry out to Him, “Lord, I surrender every part of my life to You. I lie before You open and exposed. You have the right to be Lord of every part of my life.”
Two things come to mind when we read Leviticus 1:9: “…but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn ALL on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord”:
Washing the “entrails and legs” speaks of the cleansing of sin from our innermost being when we choose to open ourselves up to the Lord and the sanctifying power of His Spirit. After David’s sin with Bathsheba was exposed, He cried out to the Lord for this inner cleansing:
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…Behold you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart… (Psalm 51:2, 6-7, 10)
Many people are concerned only with cleaning up their outward reputations, but David wanted something more. He wanted a cleansing that would bring God’s truth all the way to his “inward parts” and “hidden part”—the part of his heart only the Lord would see. While people often are content that their righteousness is merely “whiter than their neighbor’s,” David wanted a new heart that was “whiter than snow” (an objective standard). The use of the word “ALL” is significant here, because it conveys the notion that ALL is given to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Before all can be given to Him, all must be exposed. Every part of our innermost being is laid open before Him, that He might work His wondrous works in us. When this is done, we literally become a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet fragrance to the Lord. When an offering is consumed by the fire of God in the Bible, it means the offering has been accepted by God.
With God’s acceptance comes His anointing and presence. It is His desire that we would present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). He wants to consume us with His very presence, that we might be empowered to demonstrate His life.
All That We Have—But Not What We Don’t Have
Leviticus 1:14 introduces a new theme regarding burnt offerings: “And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the Lord is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons.” Note that different types of animals are allowed for use in these sacrifices: bullocks, sheep, goats, and now turtledoves and pigeons. The reason different types of animals are specified for sacrifice is that people had different economic situations. Some were not wealthy enough to own bullocks, sheep, or goats.
Remember the story of the “widow’s mite” in Luke 21:1-4? The widow didn’t have much, but she offered what she had. Jesus commented that she gave ALL she had. Consequently, her offering was counted acceptable, more valuable than all the riches being offered by those who were wealthy.
This is the kind of situation God is making provision for in Leviticus 1:14. He is giving people the opportunity to simply bring what they can afford. If they could not bring a bullock to the Brazen Altar, they were welcome to present their hearts before Him with something as simple as a pigeon! The real issue here is our willingness to give our ALL to the Lord. The issue has nothing to do with comparing our sacrifice to someone else’s. The sole question is whether we have given our ALL.
The issue is not our bank account but our heart. May we be able to say, “Lord, You have the right to every part of my life. I trust You with my life, finances, relationships, career—with everything. Lord, may my heart—my innermost being—always be open before You.”
Perfect Fulfillment by Jesus
Jesus, our perfect sacrifice, literally fulfilled every one of the points we have discussed so far, and much more. Every facet of the ritual of the burnt offering directs us to Jesus. Hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, the pages of the Old Testament testified about His glorious work on the cross.
Psalm 22 gives us a compelling picture of what Jesus endured on the cross, and it sheds further light on how some facets of the Levitical offerings were fulfilled by Him. Psalm 22 begins: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Yes, these are the very words of Jesus during His last living moments on the cross! (Matthew 27:46)
Do you remember when Jesus was beaten by the chief priests and elders? Matthew 26:67 says, “Then they spat on His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands.” The religious leaders, as representatives of the people, spit on Jesus and struck Him with the palms of their hands. In so doing, they illustrated the impartation of sin that Leviticus 1:4 described hundreds of years before. In effect, they were unwittingly fulfilling that Scripture, where the sinner laid his hands upon the sacrificial lamb in order to transfer his sin to the animal substitute. These leaders may have been the “strong bulls of Bashan” referenced prophetically in Psalm 22:12-13. The net result was to carry out God’s ultimate plan, as described in Isaiah 53:6b: “…And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Not A Bone Broken
Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Leviticus 1:17 all teach that the bones of the sacrificial animals were not to be broken as they were being sacrificed before the Lord. This is in contrast to the usual details of a crucifixion, for the person crucified often had his legs broken to speed his death, as he was no longer able to lift his torso to and inhale, thus hastening his suffocation. However, this was not done in Jesus’ case—so that the Scriptures could be fulfilled—because Jesus had already died (John 19:31-36). Instead, the soldiers pierced his side, releasing a flow of blood and water. This was also a fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture, Psalm 22:14-15, which states prophetically about Jesus’ crucifixion: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.”
When this passage says that Jesus would be “poured out like water,” it means that His body would dehydrate through the ordeal of the cross. Muscles and tendons are what hold our bones and joints in place. They are comprised of more than 70% water. When severe dehydration occurs, muscles and tendons break down, lose their elasticity, and are unable to properly support the skeletal structure. In other words, hanging on a cross would basically cause certain joints (especially the shoulders) to come out of socket.
This, of course, is why Psalm 22:14 prophetically points to Jesus when saying, “My bones are out of joint.” In effect, they were being divided or “split” (as Leviticus 1:17 teaches) through the dehydration process.
Morning, Evening, and Always!
While burnt offerings from the people were voluntary, in Exodus 29:36-46 God commands the priests of Israel to sacrifice two offerings daily on behalf of the people. These were to be burnt offerings, one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning sacrifice was presented on the third hour of the day (9 a.m.) and the evening sacrifice on the ninth hour of the day (3 p.m.).
The parallel? Jesus was hung on the cross on the third hour of the day (Mark 15:24-25), at the exact time as the priests were sacrificing the morning burnt offering in anticipation of Israel’s coming Messiah. Likewise, Jesus breathed His last breath on the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45-51). This was exactly the same time the priests were making their second burnt offering of the day, in prophetic type of His sacrifice for our sins. Yes, Jesus fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Law, and He also wants to fulfill every need and desire we have to honor and glorify Him.
What a wonderful Savior! Of His own free will, He died for us that we might have life. He was flayed for us, ripped apart for us, and offered in total surrender for us. He was ridiculed, mocked, scorned, and reproached by those He died for. He was our example through it all. Even at the moment of final testing, He prayed to the Father, “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
So what does so great an example mean for us, the sheep of His pasture? For one thing, we need to understand that Jesus’ passion for us was meant to produce a passion in us. This is not meant to be an experience of momentary goose bumps, but rather a continual reality. Look at this amazing principle regarding the burnt offering:
And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out (Leviticus 6:12-13).
Wow! God wants to light a fire in us that “shall never go out”! Yes, there were burnt offerings at two specific times of day, but the fire on the altar was not to be limited by that. The fire was to burn continuously. Too often, Christians live their spiritual lives on the basis of specific events, such as Sunday church services or other gatherings. While such events are wonderful, they are meant to just be part of a continual life of worship—a fire in our hearts that will never go out.
Are you ready to pray with me for a new breakthrough of God’s presence and power in our lives? Are you willing to be “flayed” in order to be laid wide open before the Father, saying, “Lord, You have the right to expose every element of my life before You. Not my will, but Your will be done”?
Are you ready to experience God’s fire? If so, join me in this passionate prayer: “Consume me with Your fire, and never let the fire of Your presence go out in my life. I desire my daily walk with You to be an act of continual worship. Oh, Lord, give me a clean heart, a right spirit, and a renewed mind. Show me, lead me, and teach me Your ways.”
If we are to make a substantial difference in this world, we must be consumed with the continual fire of God’s presence. May the glory of our Lord Jesus be manifested more powerfully than ever before through His bride, His church!
(taken from chapter 4 of the book, “Born To Die..that we may live” by Doug Stringer)