Dear God, we praise You for Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, our sacrifice, our substitute, our High Priest, and our atonement. Speak to us, Father. Speak to us about this Jesus, through Your Word, by Your Spirit, we pray. Amen.
This morning we come to the fifth and final sacrifice in the book of Leviticus. The first sacrifice was the burnt offering, in Hebrew olah, focused on atonement. The second was the grain offering, minhah, which focused on thanksgiving and commitment. You would offer it as an expression of gratitude or as dedication to the Lord. The third sacrifice was the peace offering, shelamim, you can hear the word shalom or peace. It focused on our fellowship with God vertically, fellowship with one another horizontally. It was a shared meal. The fourth sacrifice was the sin offering, the hatah, sometimes called the purification offering because it involved purifying the tabernacle. It focused on forgiveness for ongoing sin.
The burnt offering was the reconciling work, atoning sacrifice and then the sin offering was for our ongoing sins, because even as we are joined to God and forgiven we continue to sin.
Then this fifth sacrifice, as we’ll see in a moment, is the guilt offering, in Hebrew the asham, or reparation offering, or restitution offering because it focuses on making restitution, making payment, making amends for the harm caused by sin.
I hope you can see this pattern. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it because it makes such intuitive sense. What for a long time, if you read through Leviticus, just gets very confusing. What are all these offerings? Aren’t they doing all the same thing? Well, actually they are moving in a sequence quite deliberately. First we are reconciled to God by the substitution of the burnt offering, that’s the foundational sacrifice, then we dedicate ourselves, so grace leads to gratitude, and then we enjoy fellowship with God and with each other, all forgiven, enjoying peace with another. But of course that fellowship with God can be broken, can be interrupted by sin, so we must have forgiveness and cleansing from those ongoing sins.
Then finally, when we sin, we must do more than just confess, especially if it’s a serious sin. Sometimes words are not enough. We must, as the New Testament puts it, bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Okay, you’ve sinned, you can be forgiven for sin, but what are the consequences for your sin. How do you make amends when you commit a serious sin against someone? That’s the sequence.
Hopefully, you’re in Leviticus 5. If not, turn there now. Leviticus 5. We’ll be reading beginning at verse 14. The text envisions three different broad scenarios that would necessitate making a guilt offering and you can see that beginning at verse 14 because there are three paragraphs, 14 through 16, 17 through 19, and then chapter 6, 1 through 7. So we’re going to take each of those paragraphs at a time, explain what’s going on here, draw out some of the principles, and once we work our way through those texts, which will take most of our time, we’re going to connect the dots with two other passages in the New Testament.
So here’s the first scenario, beginning at verse 14: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “If,” so if is laying out something of a case law, here’s one set of circumstances that may require this guilt offering, “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.””
So here’s the first scenario envisioned that would require a guilt offering. It is a breach of faith related to God’s holy things. You see, hear the language, a breath of faith? So this is slightly more serious than the sins covered in the sin offering, though here it is called again an unintentional sin. You see that in verse 15 – “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally.” You might think of the word “inadvertent.” These are errors of ignorance or inadvertent mistakes or sins that were not premediated.
So often “unintentional” here means “I didn’t know that I did this,” as in this occasion, but sometimes “unintentional” may simply mean “I didn’t wake up this morning, this wasn’t a high-handed sin, I didn’t premeditatedly decide to do it. But I was ignorant, I made a mistake.” It was still a sin. This sin, you see, is with reference to the holy things of the Lord. You see that in the middle of verse 15.
What are the holy things of the Lord? Well, it’s a reference to the worship at the tabernacle, and later at the temple. So the worship at the tabernacle required all sorts of implements and utensils that had been set apart, sanctified, consecrated, for special use. You needed pots and pans, you needed special forks, knives that would deal with the sacrifices. You needed special basins to catch the meat or the blood. You needed forks. You needed all sorts of holy things. These were not to go in your kitchen cabinet that you use. These were the things that were for special occasions, for the service of God.
Some people still have the fine china and you have a china cabinet somewhere in your house. I don’t know if they still do that. It seems like maybe my generation was the last. My sister on her wedding registry asked for all of this china. I thought that was, you should have got some better stuff, I think, than that. But maybe she uses it and breaks it out for very important occasions. We have certain things that are set apart. We had that growing up. That was only if the pastor was over; I’m very fine with paper plates. Or the missionary came over or someone from another country, and you break out the fine china. It is set apart, not for ordinary use.
Most likely the sin, though it could have been with some of these holy utensils, it was certainly with some of the holy food. Remember, there were sacrifices that were brought and some would go to the Lord and then the rest would be consecrated and set apart for the priest and his family to eat? Leviticus 22:14 says if anyone eats of a holy thing unintentionally, he shall add the fifth of its value to it and give the holy thing to the priest.
So the mistake here might have been I used this fork, I didn’t know that this was set aside, this was a tabernacle fork, or I went and started eating some of this meat, I didn’t know that this was set aside and this was supposed to be for the priest.
So when you sin unintentionally with the holy things of the worship of God, the sinner needs to do two things. You see it here. One, you must bring a ram, so a male lamb, for a sacrifice. They allowed for female animals with the sin offering, so this is a more costly sacrifice. It is a more serious sin.
Now you notice there isn’t much emphasis on the sacrifice itself, unlike some of the other sacrifices which go into great detail about how you skin it and how you filet it and what you do with it. You lay hands on it. You sprinkle blood to cleanse the tabernacle. There’s none of that ritual here. Later in chapter 7 the sacrifice is explained throwing blood against the sides of the altar, burning the fat, eating the food.
But the focus is not so much on the sacrifice and what takes place as upon the restitution.
Look at verse 16 – He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss.
So verse 15 says “he brings a ram,” and then you have this little note here, “valued in silver shekels.” You see that in the middle of verse 15? Valued in silver shekels. There’s a little footnote in the ESV, or flock or its equivalent. So what happens is sometimes it can be very hard to bring all of these things, so you have with certain sacrifices or certain vows, instead of bringing the thing itself, you’re allowed to substitute its equivalent with the silver shekel here, and it gives you a specific monetary unit because they don’t have a fixed dollar or gold standard, they have the silver of the sanctuary shekel. So you can have someone value this offering and you can bring the monetary amount instead. If you accidently then partake of these holy things, you must make restitution. So for your sin you bring a ram and then you must make up what you took plus a fifth, that is, another 20%.
We also read in Leviticus 14 that this guilt offering was the one that lepers would bring, and leper is a broad category, but lepers would bring, as a cleansing, and we read in Numbers 6 that if the Nazarite, remember this Nazarite vow? This is what Samson’s parents made, not cutting the hair, not drinking fine wine. You could make a Nazarite vow and if you broke that vow, then you had to do this guilt offering. So for lepers, for breaking a Nazarite vow. But here it envisions you accidently, inadvertently partake of some of the holy things.
The very last chapter in Leviticus, Leviticus 27, is a strange chapter. Just turn there for a moment just to see the heading. It says, “Laws About Vows.” Lord willing, we’ll get there a few months from now. The very last chapter. It outlines a system of redemption, not spiritual but monetary redemption, and valuation. It looks like an appendix to the book but it gives important instructions on what to do with vows.
See, here’s what would happen, the Spirit prompts you as a worshiper of Yahweh and you want to vow something, you want to make an extra gift, so you make a vow and you vow your son to the Lord, like with Samuel. You remember he was vowed to the Lord. Now he actually went and served with the priest. But you might vow a person, you might vow an animal. You might make a vow that this house is holy to the Lord, or this plot of land is holy to the Lord.
Well, you can’t always bring your animal to the Lord and everyone who wanted to vow someone in their family, the kids would be glad they don’t all have to go off and serve with the priest. What you could do instead, chapter 27 tells us, is you can find the valuation for those different people and things and you can give the monetary value instead.
But what would happen sometimes is you may vow something and then later you change your mind and you want it back. You vowed the whole house, and you come home, “Honey, in my prayer time, I was really feeling it and I just vowed this whole house to the Lord. I did it.” She says, “You did what? We gotta talk about this.” You say, “Oh, shouldn’t have done that. How do I get this back?”
Well, you pay the value plus 20%. Plus the fifth. Now why the fifth? Well, one of the reasons is when you have to get it back, plus 20%, it prevents you from just trying to make a grandiose expression of your generosity. See, if you just had to buy it back at cost, you know, everyone in the church would say, “Hear ye, hear ye. I want to gift this new 15-passenger van to the church. I want you to take it on your mission trips. It’s suitable for youth group or for a pastor’s family. There it is. You’ve got a…” and everyone says, “Wow! Thank you for that. That was amazing.” Then two weeks later he says behind the scenes, “Actually, can I buy that back?”
If you change your mind and you want it back, okay, but you’re going to have to pay +20% to get that back. That’s what Leviticus 27 is about. What happens if you give something and then you want to get it back.
Here with the guilt offering, instead of giving something and taking it back, you have inadvertently taken something and now you want to give it back. In both cases, you need to make full restitution for the thing plus you need to add 20%. So for example, you didn’t know that as you went to work in your field, you didn’t know that this was a holy shovel. This shovel had been consecrated for scooping out the ashes from the burnt offering. You didn’t know. You thought it was a regular shovel, but you took it.
Or you went and you saw all this delicious meat and you took it and you ate and you gave it to your family. You didn’t realize that this was food consecrated for the priest. So what do you do? Well, you need to bring a ram to atone for your sins, and you need to pay back what you took, you already ate the meat so you’re going to value that and give it in the shekel, maybe you can give the shovel back itself, but +20%.
So here’s the principle, which I hope you can see. Forgiveness does not always mean freedom from consequences. Forgiveness does not automatically mean freedom from consequences. You bring the ram, you’re forgiven. Great. “Can I keep the shovel?” “No. You have to give it back.” “Well, too late, I already ate the priest’s food, I’m really sorry for it. Forgive me.” “Okay, you can be forgiven, but you have to make restitution for what you took plus 20%.” You can’t simply say, “I’m really sorry” when you don’t then try to repair the harm that was caused by your sin.
Now this isn’t about revenge, this is about the rule of law. There are consequences for our actions. Sometimes good Christian people who want to be focused on grace and want to be about the Gospel and grace for all of our sins, sometimes they make the mistake of thinking, “Well, that ought to mean that there’s never any consequences for sin.” Well, we know that’s not true. Parents discipline their children even when they love them and forgive them. We know that the government can forgive or you can be forgiven for sins against the state and yet there are punishments, you may have fines, you may have imprisonment.
So this is about the consequence and you have to give back what you took plus 20%, because if you didn’t have that it might encourage people. “You know what? I’m just going to take the food. What’s the worst that could happen? I just have to pay it back. I’m going to take some of these holy things. What’s the worst that could happen? They find it in my garage. Oops. Sorry. I had the shovel and the wheelbarrow. It’s yours. Go ahead, have it back.” You get caught and you don’t lose anything, you just have to return it.
No, the plus a fifth, the +20%, means there are going to be consequences for this.
This is what we read in Matthew 3:8 – You must bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Now that verse does not lay down some impossible standard. Sometimes people sort of fold their hands and say, “I’m not going to trust him. I’m not going to trust her. It’s got to be their whole life. I need 50 years of fruit keeping with repentance.” Well, no, it’s not setting down an impossible standard, but it is giving a standard. It’s saying “I need to see more than just, I need to hear more than just your words. You have made a serious breach of faith.”
Here in Leviticus something has been taken. That’s the difference between these unintentional sins and those of the sin offering. These, something has been taken, some harm has been done. It’s sometimes called a reparation because this is meant to repair the breach that has been made.
Now it’s true, sometimes our sins cause such harm to persons, whether it’s physical harm or spiritual damage that it does to someone. Sometimes we cannot make up all the harm that we have done. We cannot give back all that our sin has done to affect someone’s life. It’s not always as simple as, “Oops, I took your food. Here, sorry, I took a special fork. I’ll give it back to you plus 20%.” So we understand that life is rarely this simple, but Leviticus is giving to us an important spiritual principle, that when you sin against someone it’s not enough to just say, “I’m really, really sorry.” You say, “I’m sorry and I will do whatever I can to make this right. How can I make this right?”
It’s not about groveling, it’s not about now I need to prove myself and earn something. It’s about fruit in keeping with repentance. See, when you repent, it’s saying, “I was a bad tree. I’m a good tree. I’m a good tree.” And a good tree bears good fruit, so let’s see this fruit. Not just “I’m sorry” but “What can I do to make this right? I want to pay restitution for the harm that I have done.” That’s the principle.
So Leviticus. Go back to chapter 5. Here’s the second scenario. Verse 17: ““If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then he realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord.””
It’s not entirely clear what this situation is referring to, because it seems like this is simply about general unintentional sins and wouldn’t those have been covered already in the sin offering? Many commentators figure we are still talking about holy things, tabernacle things, but that’s not explicitly stated. If we’re still talking about tabernacle things, why this second scenario? How is it any different from the first?
So as best as we can figure, this second scenario is dealing with situations where you aren’t sure if you’ve done something wrong. You’ve come to the conclusion in your own mind that you might have sinned in some way.
So first paragraph, first scenario, maybe was somebody, a neighbor, coming and saying, “Hey, buddy, you know that rack of lamb you’re enjoying? You know that was for the priest. That was dedicated to the priest. You know the fork that your wife’s been using as she prepares the meal? That was a tabernacle fork. How’d you get that?” You say, “I didn’t realize it. I didn’t know how this happened. I’m sorry. I’ll bring a ram. Let me pay for this plus 20%.” That’s the first paragraph.
This second paragraph seems to be no one has accused you of anything but your conscience is accusing you. That’s why verse 17 says “he shall bear his iniquity.” Can’t know for sure, but it seems that this is suggesting this is a person who’s weighed down by some guilt. He feels like, “I’m bearing the weight. I’ve done something wrong.” This would explain why you’ll notice in this paragraph there’s no restitution. There’s no restitution because there’s no evidence he’s taken anything. No one is claiming, no one is saying, “You took my stuff.”
So he can’t give the silver shekel plus 20% to anyone or to the priest, so there’s no restitution to make because there’s, no one’s claiming that he took something, but in his heart and mind he has a stricken conscience. He’s bearing iniquity. He’s wondering to himself, “Maybe, I can’t remember for sure, but I think that I wasn’t really careful in how I handled this and prepared this. I wasn’t really careful where this meat came from. I’m not sure but I think I actually have some of the priest’s garments here. I have some of the holy utensils here. No one’s claimed them from me, but I’m not sure and I feel guilty about it.”
Some of you are like that. There are some Christians, you can look them right in the face, and you say, “You see this shovel? See this shovel? That’s not yours. You took it from me.” Uhhh huuh, I like it. Nothing. No.
Other Christians out there, you wake up feeling guilty. You go to bed feeling guilty. Your conscience is always accusing you. You’re always ruminating. You’re playing through the day. How was it? I’m not sure. How did she take that? I didn’t mean it exactly but maybe she took it the wrong way. That e-mail, I don’t know. I used an exclamation point. I meant a happy exclamation point. They might have thought a mean exclamation point. I should have put an emoji, but I put an emoji last time and I thought I was like 7 years old. I don’t know how to do this.
You’re playing through and this second scenario shows us God is gracious to provide forgiveness. Not only for actual, observable sins, but for the times you feared you may have sinned.
Maybe a boyfriend and a girlfriend feeling like, “I don’t know. We didn’t have sex but I think we went too far last night.” Maybe you watched a movie this past week. It was rated PG-13. It didn’t have really bad stuff but you’re just feeling like, “I don’t know if I can really give thanks to Jesus for what I saw there.” Maybe you wandered off when you were looking through YouTube or Instagram or something-gram and you wandered off and you started looking at things or your heart started getting stirred up with envy or lust or pride or anger. Maybe you made an off-color joke this week. Maybe you were speaking to a friend rather sarcastically about someone else and now you think, “I probably went over the line there.”
What do you do with those sorts of sins? No one’s confronted you about them. No one’s called you out on them. But you feel weighed down. Brothers and sisters, we need to listen to our consciences. Now the conscience isn’t perfect. It can be over-sensitive. It can be under-sensitive. But we are not meant to go through life feeling weighed down by sin. No, don’t think, “I must be a good Christian because I feel bad all the time.” No. Feel conviction, come to Jesus, and feel forgiven. That’s the rhythm. We are meant to feel conviction then confess our sin and be cleansed. See our sin, feel our guilt, deal with it. We are not meant to be constantly weighed down by imperfections, weighed down by our past. No, humbled by our sin and then freed from our sin. This type of offering was for that sort of person, and I’m sure some of you are like that.
Now consider this offering took some humility. It’s one thing if your neighbor told you, “Look, you took the wrong meat.” “Ah, I did.” Everyone can see it, bring a ram or bring the shekel. But no one’s called you out on this. But there’s something in your heart that just isn’t quite right so you’re going to go and everyone can see. They don’t know what you did. You don’t have to publicly make known your own confession in your heart, but you have to go to the priest with your ram or the shekel equivalent, because you have some sin, you’re weighed down by something. It takes humility. When otherwise people would not know that you were weighed down by this sin, but you want more than your good reputation, you want a clean conscience. So you go before the Lord and you bring a ram. You say, “I’m sorry. If that was wrong, whatever I’ve done here, God, forgive me,” and He forgives you.
Here’s the third scenario. Look at the next paragraph. Chapter 6, verse 1: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found 5 or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.””
Notice again the language – this is a breach of faith. We saw that up in verse 15 – if anyone commits a breach of faith. Now chapter 6, verse 1, or 2, if anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord. Now the first paragraph was obviously against the Lord because it dealt with the worship of the Lord at the tabernacle. But this one is also a sin against the Lord but this time you’ve sinned against the Lord by sinning against your neighbor. If anyone commits a breach of faith against the Lord, how? By deceiving his neighbor. When you sin against your neighbor, when I sin against my neighbor, we sin against the Lord.
What follows then are four examples of deceiving your neighbor. These are not meant to be exhaustive. That’s why verse 3 says in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby. Not trying to list every type of sin you might make against your neighbor, but these are four categories of economic sins.
So first it says a matter of deposit or security. Somebody gave you something to take care of and you lost it or more likely here you told them that you lost it and you really didn’t. Or you promised that you would co-sign on a loan and then you didn’t come through on your promise. Or you promised that you would repay to them something and you would just borrow this for a time, but then you broke your promise, you’ve deceived your neighbor. A deposit or a security.
Second, robbery. We understand that. You take something that isn’t yours.
Third, oppression. If he has oppressed his neighbor. We use this as a very broad category, oppression refers to all sorts of things. But in the Bible oppression as an economic sin was usually a very specific kind of sin. This was the sin of oppression. It was quite specific. It was when you hired somebody to do a task and then you defrauded them of their wages.
Deuteronomy 24 talks about this. Or think about the laborer in the vineyard. You know that parable from Matthew 20? The master goes out and he hires people to work in his vineyard for the day and he promises them a denarius. The parable is about how can God’s lavish generosity, He gives to the one who worked one hour the same who works 12 hours.
But that gives an idea of how labor often worked in the ancient world. Many people just subsistence living. Somebody says, “You go work for me today.” All right. And they go and they work in your field. They get paid at the end of the day. Or they get paid at the end of the harvest. “Would you come and help me for the month of harvest?” They do it and then you say, “Oh, sorry. I’m all out of denari. I can’t pay you anymore.” Or, “You know what? I don’t that work was really all that I wanted you to do so I’m not going to pay you.” What recourse do you have? The person who hired you is probably rich and powerful and connected, and you’re poor and unconnected. That was the typical example of oppression.
James 5:4 depicts that. You defraud somebody their wages. They worked for you, you promised them a payment, and then because you can get away with it, you don’t do it. Oppression.
Then the fourth category, “or has found something lost and lied about it.” “Hey, have any of you seen my gold watch?” “Gold watch? Hmm, nope, nope, no gold watches here. I haven’t seen anything.” “What’s that on your wrist?” “Ah, nothing. A family heirloom.” You can understand people find something, I’m missing my $20, my $50, somebody found it and they won’t give it back. When something goes missing in our household, there are many explanations where this thing may have gone. The most like explanation is you misplaced it, but the most likely explanation in our household usually goes to who stole this from me? One of you, a nefarious sibling. Obviously the only logical explanation is you stole it.
Well, here it’s not stealing it, but it’s finding it and then lying about it. Never returning it. That’s why it says “swearing falsely.” “Promise me, do you have my stuff? Did you find my $20?” “I never found it.” Well, you lied about it. You either lied about it in person or you lied about it in court and in so doing you have violated the Lord’s name.
These are just four examples of economic sins that happen in everyday life. So what you do is you confess your sin, you bring a ram, you make restitution plus a fifth.
Now here, not to the priest, when you sin with the tabernacle you make it to the priest. Here you make it to the person you sinned against.
Now I said that some people call this the reparation offering. If you hear the word “reparations” you wonder what is pastor going to talk about here. That is a live conversation, political issue in our day. But the guilt offering here is not about reparations for sins done centuries ago. It’s not talking about making restitution for sins based upon people who might be like you or look like you. Those are political questions, prudential questions that people can debate. That’s not what this is about.
Restitution here is a sin you committed against that person. So the debate in our country of reparations is something different and much more complicated, but I do want you to see the concept of restitution, or the concept of repairing when you sin against someone is certainly a biblical category.
Remember Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus actually went above and beyond what was required of him. Because here in Leviticus it says if you take something by economic fraud, you pay the person 120%. Exodus 22 says you pay a double restitution, 200%. Scholars say, “Well, why does Exodus say 200% and Leviticus says 120%?” It seems that the difference is in Exodus you were caught and in Leviticus you see the sin for yourself. So it encourages voluntary admission. Your payment is greater if you had no intention of paying it and somebody had to say, “I caught you red-handed, 200%.”
So Zacchaeus, if you remember the story from Luke 19, he was a tax collector. He had been cheating, swindling, oppressing people, defrauding people, taking more than was his due. You remember what he did? He said, “I will pay back fourfold.” So he does twice what would have been required of him in Exodus, 400%. Such was the renovation of his heart, he said I’m going to make this up fourfold.
The concept again is that when we sin against someone, there are consequences. We don’t simply say, “I’m sorry.” We don’t even, in this instance, say “I’m sorry, have it back,” but, “What can I do to make this right?” If all you had to do was return, well, it would encourage people to just see how much they could get away with. But when you have to return plus 20% plus a valuable ram for a sacrifice, it was meant to discourage these sort of sins and to lay out before the people how serious they were. Sin has consequences.
So here’s how I want to close. This will lead us to the table. Two closing thoughts from two passages in the New Testament. The first has to do with how we treat each other and the second has to do with how God treats us. Two passages quickly.
Look at Matthew chapter 5. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount. Many of you know it already. Mathew 5:21 through 24. Let’s just pick it up at verse 23. Jesus is talking about anger. Matthew 5:23:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
This is almost certainly thinking about the ram for the guilt offering. You’re coming, you’re bringing your ram to the altar, and Jesus says, “Okay, that’s good. You want to follow the law and you want to make a sacrifice for your sin, but I’m telling you even more important than that ram right there is that you actually go and make amends with your brother.” In other words, don’t just get the ritual correct. Your brother has something against you.
Let me just say as a parentheses, this surely means if your brother has something legitimate against you. I mean, if Jesus had to run around trying to be reconciled with everyone who was angry with Him, with no good reason, He wouldn’t have had any ministry. So this doesn’t mean everyone in your life who might possibly have an issue with you. Jesus had all sorts of people who had issues with Him. No, it’s talking about people who rightly, legitimately had a grievance against you.
Jesus says, “Don’t come looking to God for forgiveness when you have sins that you have not dealt with. Leave your gift at the altar. Forget about that for a moment. God can get by without another ram. He doesn’t need your ram, but you need to go make amends with your brother, your mom, your former best friend, your former church member, whom you sinned against.”
In our day, perhaps Jesus would say if you come to church and you raise your hands, or if you’re Presbyterian you clench them very reverently, and you sing loudly and you say amen during the sermon and you come every week in your best suit, in your best dress, and you have a smile on your face and you volunteer for the nursery and you put your tithe in the offering but you have not dealt with the sin against your brother, God is not impressed.
Do you hear how it would have been scandalous, as if God were saying, “It would be better for you to miss church for one week and go make things right with your brother. Go make restitution.”
See, the brilliant thing about the guilt offering is you literally had to put your money where your mouth was. You say you’re sorry, here’s a ram, God. Then you have to go and pay your brother plus 20% if you’ve cheated, if you’ve swindled, if you’ve slandered, if you’ve never made things right. It isn’t enough to just come to church and confess your sins before God. That’s good, but you have to try to make things right.
Perhaps their heart is hard and they won’t take it. Perhaps they won’t want anything to do, but you, leave your gift at the altar. Priority as a Christian, go make it right.
That’s what that New Testament tells us, relationship to each other.
Then one other passage. This one from the Old Testament, which speaks to God’s relationship with us, how he deals with us.
Turn to Isaiah 53 and here we’ll land on Isaiah 53, verse 10. Another familiar passage, the famous servant’s song, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Here’s what we read in verse 10: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,” same Hebrew word there that’s used back in Leviticus for the guilt offering. Now Jesus’ death encompasses in different ways all of the offerings, but here in verse 10 specifically saying Jesus’ death, because that’s what this is prophesying, the death of the suffering servant was a guilt offering, an offering for guilt, “he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
The word “asam” is used there is verse 10.
Substitution is a part of each of the five sacrifices. That’s the heart of the sacrificial system. But each sacrifice has a different nuance and especially the three that are explicitly for sin; that is, the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. To put in theological categories, you could say the burnt offering was for propitiation. Propitiation is how God has made propitious toward us, and if that’s the intimidating word, just take the first part of it, “pro.” How does God go from anti-us to pro-us, for us. That’s propitiation.
Well, the burnt offering reconciled us, turned away the anger of God.
Sin speaks of purification. Cleansing from defilement. Then the guilt offering is a restitution, repairing the covenant betrayal.
We see in the guilt offering that sin leave us with a penalty to be paid. Do you see all the layers here of sin and atonement? That sin is like God’s anger being turned away. That’s atonement. Atonement is also like a dirty person being cleansed. Atonement is also like an indebted person being redeemed.
We don’t need to compensate for our sins with God. Praise God, He doesn’t say here’s how you get right with Me, you need to pay up 120%, or if you get caught, 200%; or if you’re Zacchaeus, 400%. No, because we learn in Abraham, God has provided the ram. He’s provided the sacrifice. What Christ accomplished by His death is available for anyone who recognizes their need for it and grabs ahold of Christ in it.
So we don’t need to bring a ram. Instead, you plead the blood of the Lamb of God and you say, “God, You, your Son is my guilt offering. He has paid my debt. I want to have a clean conscience. I know I’m not right. I know I’m dirty. I know I’m in debt. How can I live with myself?” Here’s how.
You know what Satan does? Satan is an accuser. He’s an accuser of the brethren. Satan, if we’re indebted to God by our sins, Satan is the universe’s most persistent collection agency. He’s always calling you up. Don’t you owe God something? You owe Him, right? It’s the devil again, how are you going to make a payment for that sin? Yeah, you were forgiven this week. What about the sins from when you were in college? Remember those? What about the sins you haven’t even known to confess? What about those? How are you ever going to make amends? How will God ever forgive your debts?
And here’s what the guilt offering allows you to do. Hang up. Not to be cheeky about it. “I’m sorry, devil, you have a wrong number. My debt has been paid off by God Himself. I am so debt-free even Dave Ramsey is pleased with me. I have nothing, no spiritual credit cards, no mortgage, no car payment. I am free and clear. My spiritual mortgage, my spiritual student loans, my spiritual consumer debt, all accounted for. I am in the clear so I suggest in the name of Jesus you hang up and never call me again.”
Jesus lets you put the devil on heaven’s no-call list. He has no business calling you up if you are in Christ because your sins had been pain in full.
I’ll finish with this paragraph from one of the commentaries I was reading this week, Allen Ross, who puts it so perfectly. He says, “We are sinners who have defrauded God of His due and His service, who have committed sacrilege in the holy things. We are lepers who need to be restored. We are Nazarites with broken vows. We are the ones who have defrauded one another. When Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many, the fullest satisfaction was made to God. What Jesus paid on the cross was more than the penalty for sin. His death was sufficient to make reparation for all that had been defrauded by the human race and upon His offering for sin God the Father can say, “I have all back and more.”
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we come to You as we receive the Word audibly and now to receive the Word tangibly. We come to confess our sins. Almighty and merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the vices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Remember those who are penitent according to Your promises, declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord, and grant, O merciful Father, for His sake that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.