Leviticus/ Va-Yikra 1:1 - 5:19
For the week of March 28, 1998
1 Nisan 5758

Sacrifice - Why?

When any of you brings an offering…
(Leviticus/ Va-Yikra 1:2)

This week's portion begins the third book of the Torah. (The English title, Leviticus is derived from the Greek, referring to the priestly activities of the Levites. The Hebrew title Va-Yikra refers to the first word of the book, "And he [the Lord] called."

Va-Yikra deals with the various rituals of the priests, beginning with the instructions on sacrifice. There is very little explanation as to why the various sacrifices should be offered. Instead there is a general assumption that sacrifice was part of the Israeli culture. God told Moses that sacrifice should not be done just any old way, but rather according to a very careful set of instructions.

The concept of animal sacrifice is very foreign to much of the modern world, making these passages difficult to relate to. In fact it is not just animal sacrifice that is foreign to us, all forms of sacrifice run contrary to our present culture, which is so consumer oriented. Even charities draw donors today with incentives and contests. In our giving we tend to focus on what we get in return.

And yet giving is still a part of human life. Many of us know the joy of giving and would agree with Messiah when he says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35. Whatever our motives, we enjoy giving.

The first sacrifice we are presented with is the burnt offering. While some sacrifices provided food for the priests and others were shared by the one offering the sacrifice, this one was totally given to God. What was offered was not to be a something that the person didn't want or need anymore. If he was to give a burnt offering it had to be of value. The one offering this sacrifice got no immediate personal benefit. It was simply given to God.

This is so different from how many of understand giving. Why would anyone engage in such an act?

First, If there really is a God, then an act of giving to him is not useless. Through sacrifice we acknowledge God's existence and express to him our love and gratitude.

Second, God has also made a sacrifice:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

If God has given up so much for us, should we not do the same for him? Under the New Covenant, we do not offer animal sacrifices. Instead we give much more. We give our very selves:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).

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