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A Pleasing Aroma to the Lord

Back to all sermons Leviticus: You Must be Holy

Date: March 1, 2020

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Leviticus: You Must be Holy

Category: Biblical

Scripture: Leviticus 1

Big Idea: Being accepted by God requires coming to him on his terms. 

Outline: Two Essentials for Acceptance with God

1) An Approved Substitute

2) An Atoning Sacrifice



True or False? There are many paths to God.


At present there are over 4,000 recognized religions in the world. And all of them maintain that they know a path that gets you to God.


Are they correct?


Well, yes. But, there’s a catch. All ways do lead to God, but according to the Scriptures, only one brings you there. And this is what we are most concerned with.


Today we’ll consider this matter of how you and I can be accepted by God.


This first chapter deals with the burnt offering. The word for Burnt Offering means “ascend” or “offer up” so the reference is to what is offered up to God.


And the key is that it is accepted by him. Not only is the offering in his sight, but I mean to say that God actually approves of it. Three times in our passage we read of the offering being a pleasing aroma to the Lord (1:9, 13, and 17). This serves to engage another one of our senses to what it says in verse 3: “that he, that is the worshipper, might be accepted before the Lord.”


And what we see is this: Being accepted by God requires coming to him on his terms.


We will also see how this central truth is woven throughout the rest of the Scriptures, in particular through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, it is Jesus to whom all of these things ultimately point.


To do this we’ll be looking in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. And we’ll see two essentials for acceptance with God. First, an approved substitute, and second, an atoning sacrifice.


Let’s look first at an approved substitute.


(1) You Need an Approved Substitute


Before we think about how this passage applies to us we need to consider how the first recipients of the book of Leviticus received it. Along with the other four books of the Pentateuch (a word meaning five books), Leviticus was written by Moses. The first audience was those Israelites who were trudging through the desert on their way to the promised land.


Since they did not have their own land they did not yet have their temple. They had a tabernacle that moved with them as they traveled. We’ll talk more about this tabernacle as we progress in our study.


But for now you need to see how the book of Exodus ended. Look back one page at chapter 40:


Exodus 40:34–38 — 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.



This is a real issue. How can God’s people draw near to him? And do it safely? This is the issue that Leviticus is dealing with. How can sinful people draw near to a Holy God? And how can a holy God dwell among sinful people? To punctuate this fact, consider that there are only two narratives in this book, and they have something in common. Do you know what it is? It’s sobering. In chapters 10 and 24 people are put to death. Why? It’s because of their disregard for the holiness of God. Both of these narratives underscore the point that if you are going to draw near to God then you need to do it on his terms. It is not safe, and neither is it sane to do it otherwise.

We mustn’t be flippant or cavalier when dealing with the God of the Bible.


Well, then how can we come to God?


We see here that there must be an approved substitute. That is, someone in the place of the one drawing near. Why does there need to be a substitute? It is because humanity is sinful. We have broken God’s law. We naturally stand in a position of opposition to him. We have no merit on our own to come into his holy presence. In comparison to God himself we are not a fragrant and pleasing aroma. In reality, if you permit me to be blunt in the interest of truth, we are a spiritual stench in the nostrils of God.


If we were to pull up a manhole cover and climb down underneath the road we would find an intricate world of tunnels, plumbing, and a civilazation. If we walked around for a short time we’d likely see some creatures that inhabit that world. We would also be introduced to an aroma that is distinct to that realm. We would naturally cover our mouths, gag, and be overwhelmed. The smell of sewer, rats, gas, and other underground filth would have us running for the nearest exits. It’s not only unsafe down there, it’s unbearable. But the rats and other animals underground aren’t wearing masks or gagging. They live there. It’s home.


This is analogous to God’s holiness. God is perfectly holy. He is not only morally perfect he is completely different. And he cannot bear to breath in the air of iniquity or to have the scent of sin in his nostrils. He’s uttely intolerant of sin. His natural reaction to sin is wrath—that is the reaction of goodness to all that opposes him. Wrath is a holy reaction to all unholiness. God is too pure to behold iniquity. Holy and unholy cannot dwell together. Clean and unclean may not be together.


God is being gracious here. He is providing instructions as to how one may come into his presence. He is saying, if you want to draw near to me in a safe way, then you need a substitute. If you want to have a pleasing aroma in my nostrils, then you must do it my way.


Being accepted by God requires coming to him on his terms.


In Leviticus 1 the substitute is an animal. (Don’t get hung up on how this applies to you yet. We’ll sort this out at the end.) You’ll notice that there are three different categories of animals. In verses 3-9 the offering is from the herd (that is animals for milk or meat—work animals, which were quite valuable). In verses 10-13 it is an animal from the flock, (that is a sheep or a goat). And in verses 14-17 there is an offering of birds (a turtledove or a pigeon). This is an offering that would allow those of lesser means to participate. If one could not afford or did not have a sheep or a bull, they could offer a particular bird.


What kind of animals? But notice that these substitutes must be without blemish. We see this in verse 3 and 10.


What does it mean that they are without blemish? It means that the animals must meet a particular standard. One of the priests’ main job was to inspect the sacrifices. They must meet the divine standard. There can be nothing wrong with it. It can’t be maimed, ill, or deformed. You can’t bring your mangy animal and give it to God. He doesn’t want your left overs or discard pile. God is not concerned with thrift-store worship. It must be what is perfect and best.


Why is this? There’s a two-fold answer: the animal must be of value to the worshipper. But also, it reminds the worshiper, and all who are involved, of the impeccable character of God. The worshiper must be reminded that in his offering that he is dealing with the perfect, unstained character of God.


Also, of note here is the fact that the bringing of the substitute is voluntary. We read in verse 2, if any one of you brings an offering to the LORD… The worshipper was to ‘bring their offering’ or offer their offering. The reasons may vary; it may be in light of childbirth, a vow, skin diseases, or other reasons. But, it was voluntary. It came from the individual’s own will and desire.


If there is to be acceptance with God, there must be a suitable sacrifice.

But now, we’ll see, there must also be an atoning sacrifice.


(2) You Need an Atoning Sacrifice


This sacrifice that is prescribed here actually does something. And this is where we see the purpose of the burnt offering. The burnt offering was for atonement for sin in a general sense and an expression of thanksgiving. Often in connection with prayers.


Atonement is an important word with broad usage in the Bible. It solves the problem of our sin and God’s holiness. The atonement covers sin, removes guilt, cleanses, and satisfies God’s wrath. It makes a way for an unholy people to be in the presence of God. There is an actual Day of Atonement (chapter 16) that especially deals with this issue. But the burnt offerings were to be offered in the morning and evening. They were always being burned.


Why were they always burned? They were always offered because they could never finally and fully take away sin. And because the people who offered them continued to sin and had need of offering another sacrifice. Atonement covers sin, removes guilt, cleanses, and satisfies God’s wrath.


What is going on here? Let’s think a little about what’s going on here in Leviticus 1.


We see in the first place that the offering was brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting.


Remember the basic layout of the tabernacle: it’s 45 feet long and 15 feet wide and inside is a 30 foot long room called the holy place. You walk into the tabernacle (or the the ‘tent of meeting’) you walk in and you’re in the holy place. On your right you’ve got the table of showbread with 12 loaves of bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel, on your left you’ve got the lamp stand which looks almost like a tree casting light on the table and room, and then in the front of the room right in front of an ornate curtain. And then there was the altar of incense on which incense ascends as a pleasing aroma to God.


Beyond that ornate curtain is a 15 foot long room (called the holy of holies or the most holy place) with only one piece of furniture in there and that’s the ark with the cherubim above it and it was in this room that God’s presence especially dwelt. Isaiah says, O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God. God is the king, the tabernacle is his dwelling place, and the holy of holies is where his presence particularly abides – he is enthroned above the cherubim.


That’s the tabernacle structure. Surrounding the tabernacle structure was a fence which created what was called the courtyard of the tabernacle. You entered this courtyard from the east and when you go in there’s the bronze altar of burnt offering and then the bronze basin where the priests would wash their hands before they went into the holy place. And it is here that the burnt offering would have been offered. That’s where the animal was killed, that’s where the blood was poured out.


Look at Leviticus 1:5 “he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting (that’s the bronze altar, often called the altar of burnt offering).


Then in verse 8, Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat on the wood that is on the fire on the altar (the bronze altar).


There is also a personal identification with the atoning sacrifice. The worshiper has a connection with the sacrifice. Did you notice that when you read through it? It’s not just that they provided the sacrifice from their flock or herd, but that they personally identify with it.


How do they do this?


Look at verse 4, He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.


At this point the animal is still alive and the worshiper brings the substitute forward. They lay their hands on the head of the offering. This is the worshiper not the priest. This is literally to lean heavy or press upon the animal, either with one or two hands.


Why do this? It is a vivid visual and theological message. It is establish identity between the worshiper and the non-blemished animal. It establishes a close relationship between the substitute and the sinner.


Symbolically it is the charging of the worshipper’s sin to the unblemished animal. This perfect animal becomes the living, vicarious substitute for the sinner. The worshipper is transferring his sin to it.


See the worshiper, standing with hands upon the animal, pressing upon the animal, believing the Word of God, feeling the life of the animal pulsing into his very hands, identifying by confessing sin. And spiritually the transfer takes place. Imputation happens.


But still he’s not done.


His personal identification must go even further. He must kill the animal. And notice, it’s the worshiper who kills the animal, not the priest. Look with me at verse 5: Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord.


Why must the animal die? The animal has done nothing wrong.


And why must the worshiper be the one to bring death to it?


Because the consequence of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)


Because the pathway to the presence of God is an atoning sacrifice. (Leviticus 1)


It may make us uncomfortable, it may be socially unacceptable, but nevertheless, the truth remains: being accepted by God requires coming to him on his terms.


Then the priests step in to do their job. Look with me again at verse 5: and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priests here apply the blood of the atoning sacrifice to the altar.


Blood is symbolic of life in the Bible. This animal lays dead but the priest is carrying ‘life’ in his basin. And what does he do as the worshipper stands by in this most moving of scenes? You could not stand there and not see your own due penalty. You could not stand there and not understand the principle of substitution and sacrifice.

Think about the original audience. Jewish worshipers who have the books of Genesis and Exodus behind them, looking ahead to the entrance of the promised land. They would no doubt look back to Genesis 22 when Isaac when he was arranged on the wood to be sacrificed. He was the son of the promise, the Abraham’s son whom he loved. And he as going to be sacrificed. He was affixed to the altar upon the wood. They were being trained to make a connection between the burnt offering and the promised atoning sacrifice.


Did you notice what became of the sacrifice? It was completely burnt. It was totally consumed. In verses 9 and 13 we see that the priest shall burn all of it on the altar. There is to be nothing left. The sacrifice of atonement and acceptance with God is completely consumed. Sin brings a need of a sacrifice.


If you want to come to God you need to come on his terms.


Then there is the great news of the passage. God accepts it. It pleases him. The result is that the Lord is pleased. The worshipper and the priests have tangibly shown their faithfulness and trust to the Word of God. They have demonstrated their regard for holiness and their sinfulness. They have sought restore the relationship. And God is pleased. In verses 9, 13, and 17 we read, the burnt offering pleased God: And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.


The bottom line is this: in order to come safely into God’s presence you need an approved substitute and an atoning sacrifice.




  • Christ as the true burnt offering


Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2)


Paul is showing us here that Jesus is the true and greater burnt offering. Jesus, motivated by love, is the burnt offering. And that word “for” before the word “us” indicates that Jesus is our substitute. He was offered for our sins or in our place. Furthermore, the atoning sacrifice pleased God. It was a fragrant offering to God.


As I mentioned, these sacrifices were offered repeatedly, every morning and evening. This communicates the fact that they cannot bring final resolution. It’s like a maintenance plan; a safe way to keep expressing faith in God and a desire to remove sin.


The Bible teaches us that these offerings, these sacrifices, look forward to an ultimate sacrifice that does remove sin. One substitute who is approved and offers a perfect atoning sacrifice that takes away all of our sin—once for all time!


I am talking about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross. He is the true burnt offering.


Let’s walk through the steps and see for ourselves.


The worshiper in Leviticus 1 was to bring the offering and it was to be of value to him. But in Jesus, it is the Lord himself who provides the offering, and he is of ultimate value. Hear again the words of God thundering from heaven: “and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:17) This is Jesus! And he is of infinite value to God, and therefore us.


The sacrifice was to be perfect and unblemished in Leviticus 1, but there was none more perfect than Jesus. The sinless Son of God is the perfect sacrifice. Listen to Peter pulling on this thread: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18–19) There is no blemish in Christ; he is altogether lovely, holy and pure.


In Leviticus the worshiper would have stood by the tent of meeting with his sacrifice. But with Jesus it was as if we were standing there with him. We are united to him in his death and raised in his resurrection (Romans 6). So, Christians, see yourself standing there, not at the tent of the meeting but at the cross, that gruesome hill outside the gate. He is your basis for acceptance, your basis for consecration to God. He is the one who provides atonement for your sin.


But the solidarity is tighter still.


In Leviticus 1, the worshiper would have pressed upon the sacrifice and had their sin imputed or charged to the animal. But with Christ, it was the Father who leaned upon Jesus charging our sins to his account. The Father in wrath leaned heavily upon Jesus and our sins were charged to him.


“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)


“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18)


“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46)



What’s the answer? The answer is that in that moment the Father is forsaking him. Why? It is because in that moment God is treating Jesus the way sinners like us deserve to be treated. So that he could treat us the way that Jesus deserved to be treated. Jesus took the curses so that we might get the blessings. Through his death he makes atonement. He removes guilt, satisfies wrath, cleanses sinners, making us holy, and paying our penalty. He makes us acceptable to God.


And do not overlook the fact the obvious connection between Jesus and the burnt offering. The substitute died. And it was sin that stayed him. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus died as a sacrifice of atonement in order to save his people. It was our sin that killed Christ. He died for us.


Furthermore, it was on the cross that Jesus was consumed with divine wrath. Just as the burnt offering was totally and completely consumed, so too Jesus, upon the cross, was fully consumed. He bore the unmitigated, full expression of God’s wrath. What was due all of his people he took. Hear him groaning and crying out in agony upon the cross, dying for our sin. He was consumed by wrath. All that was due his people, he took it. Once for all!


And finally, do not miss the result. Brothers and sisters, God was pleased. Christ pleased God. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was a fragrant offering, pleasing to the Lord. In the divine nostrils the doing and dying of Jesus on our behalf, pleased God. “…(Christ) gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2)


Do you see the beauty of Christ’s death, foretold in Leviticus 1? God is training people to anticipate the ultimate sacrifice by embedding him into the rhythms of everyday life.


Christ Jesus is our burnt offering. His atoning sacrifice is sufficient, once for all. Praise God! This should make us so grateful for Jesus Christ!


I wonder this morning if you’ve ever come to see your sin the way the Bible pictures it? We think often about our sin on a horizontal level. It’s relative. I don’t sin as bad as this person over here. We are always keeping score with the spiritual scorecard in our pocket. As long as I stay middle of the pack then I’m okay. All sin is evil before God. How evil is sin that Christ that had to bleed to cure it. I don’t think you can come to see Christ’s sacrifice as truly good for you until you see your sin as truly heinous in God’s sight.


So maybe you’ve never thought about your sin before like this. But Leviticus is forcing itself upon you. As it brings you down it forces you also to look up. And there you see Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins that we might safely come into God’s presence, accepted by him. Because the truth is, all paths do lead to God, he is the judge. There is, however, only one path that leads safely to God. There is one path where the judge is satisfied because he has treated Christ in our place. Won’t you turn from sin and trust him today?


  • Personally devotion to God (Ephesians 5:1-2; Romans 12:1-2).


The New Testament writers also apply the burnt offering to the life of the Christian. After showing that the sacrifice of Jesus was the true and better burnt offering, the believer is then charged to emulate some aspects of the offering in our lives (Ephesians 5:1-2). Reflect Jesus’ death, not by dying, but by living for the glory of God.


Remember, the point of the burnt offering is that the believer would have his sin dealt with properly in light of God’s wrath and then be consecrated or set apart to God.


Turn over to Romans 12. In Romans Paul has just unpacked the glories of the gospel, the work of Christ in giving himself as the offering for sinners like us. And then he appeals to believers to respond.


How so? Look at verses 1-2:  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


Most Bible teachers believe that Paul has the burnt offering in mind here. He is referring to an ongoing presentation of ourselves, our lives, as a living sacrifice to God, which is worship. Just as the fire on the altar for the burnt offering was not to flicker or go out, neither is the fire that burns the sacrifice of our lives. We are to continually be devoted to God, presenting ourselves to him as worshippers!


And what is the basis? It is the work of Christ.


Our response in holiness is an expression of your gratitude for and commitment to Jesus.


Does your life reflect a devotion to God in holiness? This holiness is an expression of gratitude to God for what he has done. Your holiness reflects your esteem for the sacrifice. Your holiness reflects your happiness in Christ. Holiness and happiness are connected.





True or False? There are many paths to God.


True - in one sense, God is judge and all will come to him eventually.

But, the only safe way into his presence is to come in the way he prescribes. Being accepted by God requires coming to him on his terms. This means you come to God by means of an approved substitute and an atoning sacrifice.


In other words, you can only come to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.