What draws us to Christ on the cross (Jn 12:32)? Like the Hope diamond, Christ's sacrifice is rich in splendor. You cannot see the full beauty of a diamond by viewing it from only one direction. The richness of its splendor is found in the varieties of rainbow light reflected from its facets. Just so, you must look at Christ's sacrifice from various angles to experience the full impact.
The multi-faceted magnificence of Christ's sacrifice explains why there were different kinds of animal sacrifices at the Israelite sanctuary (Lev 1-7). It is true that all of the ancient sacrifices pointed forward to Christ's sacrifice (Jn 1:29; Heb 9:25-28). But no single kind of animal sacrifice could possibly express even the basic aspects of what Christ has done.
The Israelite sacrifices lay out the meaning of Christ's sacrifice the way physiology textbooks show organisms dissected into parts so that they might be understood. Leviticus reads in some places like a handbook of veterinary biology, with detailed instructions of what to do with animals. But when we grasp the full picture, it explodes into our consciousness and etches our Savior indelibly into our minds and hearts.
When we come to the Hope diamond, we are drawn by its beauty. We gaze at it for a few minutes and then move on to another fabulous gem in the Museum of Natural History. We come and then go. There is no compelling reason to stay. But with Christ on the cross it is different. Just as Scott O'Grady was drawn to a helicopter because his life depended on it, Christ draws us so that He might rescue our lives. The facets of His sacrifice are more than beautiful; each of them reaches out and offers us life.
Differences between Israelite sacrifices emphasized various aspects of Christ's sacrifice. The most important differences appeared in connection with the treatment of blood and flesh. To what parts of an altar was the blood of an animal applied and who received the flesh? The following chart summarizes the major kinds of sacrifices with regard to the way in which blood and flesh were handled. Italics indicate a feature that is unique to a given sacrifice. For example, only in the burnt offering did all of the flesh go to the Lord.
We will investigate these sacrifices in greater detail later, but here is a preview of how the unique aspects of the animal sacrifices pointed to Christ.
The flesh of a burnt offering went to the Lord when it was burned upon His altar. No person could eat any of the flesh. Burnt offerings, which were wholly consumed, pointed to the fact that Christ's offering of Himself completely consumed Him.
Although grain offerings went to the Lord and to the priests, they obviously did not involve blood or flesh at all. Nevertheless, they were sacrifices of basic food that acknowledged the benefit of Christ's life-giving power for His people.
Part of the flesh of a well-being offering (also translated "peace offering" or "fellowship offering") was eaten by the offerer. This kind of offering foreshadowed the benefit of Christ's life for those who accept it into their own lives.
In a sin offering (or "purification offering") the blood was applied to the horns of the outer altar (= altar of burnt offering) or of the altar of incense rather than to the sides of the outer altar. So blood was elevated in importance, emphasizing that Christ's blood ransoms our lives.
The blood of a guilt offering was not applied to the horns of an altar as in a sin offering. A guilt offering was preceded by literal payment of reparation/restitution to God or man. This shows that sin creates debt that must be paid by Christ's sacrifice even when we take care of our responsibility to make wrongs right as best we can.
It is only when we look at all of the sacrifices that we get a balanced picture of Christ's sacrifice. The Bible makes it clear that Christ's sacrifice pays a debt for sins that we have committed and also transforms our lives by His power. Both kinds of benefits are essential for our salvation. To be without one or the other is like losing a wheel on a mountain bike. You don't go very far on that kind of an unbalanced unicycle!
Although the book of Leviticus is packed with information about Christ's sacrifice, it is often neglected. One reason for this is that many people naturally want to jump straight to the New Testament and read about "the real thing." But if we ignore the Old Testament textbook that teaches us about "the real thing," we will miss a lot. A medical student studies textbooks that explain the human body with pictures and diagrams so that when he actually examines a patient he understands what he is looking at.
Another reason why Leviticus is neglected is because some modern readers are turned off by all the blood and gore. Animal sacrifices are distressing to people like myself who love animals. It is true that ancient Israelites would not be as sensitive as we are because they slaughtered their own animals for food. But if our loving God is concerned about every creature, even a little sparrow (Lk 12:6), how could He command His people to kill so many animals?
God is more sensitive than we are. Every time an animal was slaughtered, God must have suffered. But apparently there was no other adequately effective way to impress on people the life and death consequences of their choices about God and sin. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). A sacrifice was God's "altar call" to life through the death of His Son.
To wake people up to long range consequences so that they might be saved, God is willing to use means like sacrifices, which in the short run are drastic and even painful. Another example of God's relentless mercy is the case of Ezekiel's wife, who died at the Lord's hand as a sign to his people that Jerusalem and the temple would be captured because of their sins (Ezek 24:15-27). No sermon that the prophet Ezekiel could have preached would have had that kind of impact. The death of Ezekiel's wife is only temporary, like sleep (compare Jn 11:11-14), and through her death, her people had a better opportunity to be saved.
When we study animal sacrifices, we should keep in mind that their suffering at slaughter was kept to a minimum because their throats were slit and they quickly went unconscious from loss of blood. This suffering was slight in comparison to that of Jesus, to which the animal sacrifices pointed. In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross Jesus endured incomparable mental and physical agony. The stress was so great that His body was disintegrating from the inside out: When a soldier pierced His body with a spear, water came out with blood (Jn 19:34).
We come to Christ lifted up on the cross because His beauty shines out in all directions. But this is not outward beauty like the kind we find in the Hope diamond. As the prophet Isaiah foresaw, the suffering of God's Servant was hideous and gruesome. In outward physical terms, Christ was more likely to repel than to attract.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account (Isa 52:14-53:3).
It is only when we recognize Christ's self-sacrificing love for us that we see the glory. It is not the awesome splendor that the Israelites saw at Sinai. It is not the brilliant magnificence that the prophets saw in vision. But it is glory, by which He glorified His Father by accomplishing His work. Just before Jesus was arrested and crucified, He prayed:
"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed" (Jn 17:1-5).
Here is glory brighter than a thousand suns, glory that makes the Hope diamond look like a worthless pebble!