Reflection for Vayikra

“Sacrifice of Praise”

Romans 8:1-13
Hebrews 10:1-14; 13:10-16


by Mark Huey

This week with Passover steadily approaching, Torah students now turn their attention to the Book of Leviticus or Vayikra. In Leviticus we see an emphasis on the specific duties of the Levitical priesthood in their service as intermediaries between God and the Ancient Israelites. This first parashah from Leviticus, Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26[6:7]), deals primarily with the various types of sacrificial burnt offerings that the priests are commanded to offer to the Holy One. While reading through the text, it should be noted that specific emphasis is made regarding the need for the different blood offerings to atone for the transgressions of the people. The transference of guilt to the special animals results in a blood sacrifice, while grain offerings of praise are presented to give thanks to the Lord.

During the desert sojourn of Israel these sacrifices were offered before the Tent of Meeting on the altars that were built with the materials donated by the people (cf. Exodus 35:21). Centuries later when Solomon’s Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Temple sacrifices became a focal point of worship for followers of Israel’s God—and the Temple worship was intended to attract outsiders to Him as well (cf. 1 Kings 8:41-43). Following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the deportation to Babylon, and upon the return of the Jewish exiles—the rebuilding of the Temple and reestablishment of the sacrificial system was of paramount importance. During the period of the Maccabees, and the defilement of the Second Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, cleansing the Temple and restoring it to its splendor was an important rallying cry.[1] Even during the ministry of Yeshua, the Second Temple (now having been refurbished by Herod the Great) served as an important place for Him to teach and instruct people.

Today in the Twenty-First Century, we often consider animal sacrifices to be strange or weird, not realizing that even during the time of the Messiah—neither the Jewish people nor their pagan neighbors looked at animal sacrifices as being taboo. All major religions and cultures of the Biblical period sacrificed animals. With those who followed the Levitical sacrificial system, I would submit that the need for a more permanent blood sacrifice to atone for human sin was imbedded within the culture of Israel, who had been especially called out by the Holy One to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 42:6-7). The sacrificial system of Israel was not to be understood as just some provincial, parochial curiosity of a group of desert nomads turned nation builders, but was to serve as an important reminder that more was to be revealed in God’s plan via the agency of His holy nation to the nations.

When the Jewish Sages chose a Haftarah selection to meditate upon and discuss, they turned to Isaiah 43:21–44:23. The Prophet Isaiah might seem to be a little cavalier about sacrifices, in rebuking the people for not taking them as seriously as they should have, but he really was not. It is noted how the Lord was not pleased with what might have become a rote, external ritual—or worse, simply a ritual without any relation to the need for a heart recognition of the importance of the sacrifices:

“Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; but you have become weary of Me, Israel. You have not brought to Me the sheep of your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me not sweet cane with money, nor have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; Rather you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:22-25).

Even though the people have been offering empty sacrifices before God, what really has burdened Him has been the great amount of sin they have possessed. Fortunately, even though God is angry with the situation, He declares “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25, NIV).

Believers in Messiah Yeshua look to how His sacrifice at Golgotha (Calvary), accomplished the ultimate blood atonement for sin. It is upon this work of salvation that the Apostolic writers rest their case. They were empowered by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to take this life-changing message to the rest of the world. They were able to function as vessels of light to the nations, so that all might be reconciled with the Creator.

Reading through the Apostolic Scriptures, one can definitely detect how the significance of the Messiah event has changed some things in regard to the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system. Previously, faithful men and women of the Holy One of Israel had to look forward to the day when a permanent offering would be made for their sins. Following the sacrifice of Yeshua, Messiah followers can appreciate how the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system foreshadowed His ultimate offering. Appropriating the significance of Yeshua’s offering up of Himself, the redeemed are to acknowledge their deadness to sin and their being filled with the Holy Spirit. This enables them to fulfill the instructions of the Torah properly, and live the life that God has always wanted His people to embrace:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Messiah, he does not belong to Him. If Messiah is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Yeshua from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Messiah Yeshua from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:1-13).

It is a great blessing to know that there is no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah Yeshua! These are people who are to walk according to the Spirit, and set their hearts and minds on spiritual things. The Lord’s presence within us requires that we test ourselves on a regular basis (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5), so that we are no longer influenced by our previous, fleshly way of living.

The author of Hebrews elaborates upon the significant difference between the frequent offerings of bulls and goats, versus the permanent, single offering of the Messiah:

“For the Law, since it has…a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD”’ [Psalm 40:6-8]. After saying above, ‘SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them’ [Psalm 40:6] (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL’ [Psalm 40:7]. He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET [Psalm 110:1]. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:1-14).

Because a permanent act of atonement for human sin has now been accomplished, it should necessarily result in a continual offering up of praise to God for ages to come:

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:10-16).

When people come to recognize Yeshua the Messiah as Savior, and His atoning sacrifice as essential to be saved from eternal punishment—this should result in each of us continually presenting an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. Such thanksgiving should also be manifested in us accomplishing works of goodness and kindness to others, as we live forth the imperatives of the gospel. Then others will be able to see how significant Yeshua’s sacrifice is in changing lives and bringing fulfillment.

As living and active saints of the Most High, we should all be mindful that we have been called to be a part of a holy nation and kingdom of priests. We have been individually and collectively called to be a light unto the nations of the world, being representatives of the Creator to a world that desperately needs His love. I pray that we would each take this to heart as we read through Vayikra this week—responding to its words in a way that can empower us to not only be born from above, but be able witnesses of God upon this Earth.


NOTES

[1] If you are unfamiliar with this period in Jewish history, consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Winter Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey