The late teacher and theologian R.C. Sproul once told about an encounter he had with the holiness of God. He was in college and a recent convert to Christianity. One afternoon, he felt compelled to leave his dorm, brace icy weather, and make his way to the chapel. There he sank to his knees, speechless. Terror overcame him, which gave way to deep peace. He wanted to stay there forever, relishing in the presence of Almighty God. Sproul said of the experience, “It was like being converted, not merely to God the Son, but to God the Father, in His majesty and power.” How often do we realize just how holy and awesome the Maker of the Universe is?
The Israelites had a deep reverence for God’s holiness. The God who graciously elected the feeble nation was not to be thought of lightly. Aware of their sinfulness, how were they to commune with Holy God in their midst?
The sacrificial system outlined in the Old Testament book of Leviticus was designed to graciously provide a way for Holy God to reside in the middle of unholy Israel. There are five sacrifices explained in the first five to six chapters of Leviticus. The first of these was The Whole Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1).
The Whole Burnt Offering was designed to deal with Israel’s general sinfulness. It was not a sacrifice for any particular sin committed, but a general acknowledgment by the worshiper of his or her sinful nature and need for atonement.
The worshiper would bring an animal offering appropriate to their financial status. They would press their hand on the animal’s head, identifying the animal as their own and symbolically gesturing that their sin was being transferred to the animal. The animal would be slaughtered and butchered according to the Lord’s instructions. Then, the priest would burn the entire animal on the altar.
Such ritual may seem barbaric in our day and age. However, for the Israelite, it was the gracious means God provided. It allowed them to approach Holy God and enjoy his unfettered fellowship and blessings.
In a word, the Whole Burnt Offering represents “reconciliation”, reconciliation between God and Israel. This sacrifice foreshadowed a greater sacrifice and a greater reconciliation. The Apostle Peter said, “…you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed […], but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).” Praise God for Christ, the ultimate Whole Burnt Offering.