For the week of April 10, 2010 / 26 Nisan 5770
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 - 7:17
The Basis of Acceptance
And Moses said, "This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you." Then Moses said to Aaron, "Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded." (Vayikra / Leviticus 9:6,7; ESV)
This section of this week's Torah portion describes the rituals that were to be performed as part of the commencement of the service of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). The Mishkan was the large tent-like structure that was to be the sole place where sacrifices were to be offered. Moses told the people what was to be done in preparation for an extraordinary manifestation of God. After everything was done as prescribed, we read
One of the striking aspects of the preparation is the person doing them - Aaron. We know why Aaron had a leadership role; God chose him for that. But it wasn't too long before the above passage that he was in the middle of misleading the people in the worship of a cow statue, which he claimed was the God who delivered them from Egypt. Should not such behavior disqualify him from being the Chief Priest? It could not be that God simply overlooked this. Many people died as a result of that sin. Was it that Aaron was given preferential treatment just because he was Moses' brother? There is no indication that this was the case. God makes himself clear that he doesn't treat people that way. So how could it be that such a person could continue to play such a crucial role in the service of God?
We are told how. Aaron had to make atonement for both himself and the people through certain sacrificial offerings. Acceptance by God depended on the poured out blood of these offerings.
Whenever I refer to biblical sacrifices, I am conscious of how such a concept is completely foreign to most contemporary societies. Many people find the slaughter of animals for any reason distasteful, not to mention doing so for some religious purpose. But what it really comes down to is that we don't understand the implications of sin. If we could only grasp God's original intention for the world and the devastating effect of sin upon it, then we might be more able to accept what it takes to deal with sin. The death of innocent, helpless animals served to dramatically illustrate the sacrifice of God himself. The shedding of the blood of animals as prescribed in the Torah foreshadowed the shedding of the blood of the Messiah, through which we can be made right with God.
Notice Aaron's acceptance by God was dependent on Aaron's personal involvement in the offering of the sacrifices. Aaron could not just offer sacrifices for the people without doing so for himself as well. True sacrifices require intimate identification with the sacrifice offered. This is why later on God would chastise the people for offering meaningless sacrifices. Unless a person grasps the seriousness of their sin and looks to God for mercy, humbly regarding that the animal is dying in place of their own life, the ritual would do them no good.
The same is true with regard to the Messiah's sacrifice. I get the impression that some people think that since Yeshua paid the price for our sins, that God now accepts all people and that our alienation from God only has to do with our ignorance regarding his acceptance. According to this view, the sharing of the Good News of the Messiah's coming is about informing people that they are already forgiven and accepted. But the Bible teaches no such thing. While what Yeshua did is sufficient for all people to be forgiven for their sins and be restored to right relationship with God, receiving the benefits of his sacrifice requires an acknowledgement of our sin and an acceptance of Yeshua's death as the substitute for our own.
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