The Sin Offering


Leviticus 9:1-11 (text); Leviticus 4:1-5:13; Hebrews 9:11-22

© August 11 & 18, 2013 • Download this PDF sermon

Dear congregation of Christ: As a Reformed church, our public worship is different from the run-of-the-mill evangelical worship. Their worship liturgy is sing-a-lot, pray-a-little, read-a-verse-or-two, and here comes the pastor with his little rah-rah pep talk. Reformed worship liturgy has these elements as well. But our singing is congregational and often from the Psalms, not by a worship team singing repetitious ditties. Our prayers are well-thought, Biblical and also congregational, not the spontaneous babbling commonly called “led by the Spirit.” Our sermons are Christ-centered Bible expositions of law and grace, not moralistic, self-help “how-to’s.”

And much more than this, our worship service consists of elements that are as ancient as the Old Testament. The pattern of our worship follows from the worship of God throughout redemptive history: from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to Israel at Mount Sinai, to King Solomon at the First Temple, to the apostolic church, and to the heavenly worship service in the book of Revelation.

The worship in Eden was simple. Adam and Eve heard the Word of God, and if they responded with faith and obedience, they will partake of the Tree of Life. Instead, they heard the word of the serpent, responded with faith and obedience to the devil, and partook of the Tree of Death. To cover their shame and nakedness after they sinned, God slaughtered an animal to use its skin as covering. From that day of our first parents’ fall into sin, forgiveness of sin was only through bloody sacrifices.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness, from the 1890 Holman Bible (click picture to enlarge)
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness; illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (click picture to enlarge)

At Mount Sinai, the worship service of the Israelites was described in Exodus 24. First, the LORD called them to worship (Exo 24:1-3). Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (Exo 24:4-6). Moses then read the Book of the Covenant to the people (Exo 24:7), and the people responded with a vow of faith and obedience (Ex 24:7-8). Finally, Moses, Aaron and the 70 elders partook of the peace offerings in God’s presence (Exo 24:9-11).

We will consider the other worship services in Scriptures mentioned above later. But from the two services described above, we see a pattern of worship. God first calls his people to worship. Bloody sacrifices are then offered to God for the removal of sins before they can enter into his presence. God then speaks to his people through his Word, calling them to faith and obedience. The people then respond with vows of faith and obedience. Finally, the worship service concludes with a covenant meal—God’s people partake of the sacrifice—before they go forth in joy and peace.

Does this pattern sound familiar? Indeed, for this is the pattern of our worship service every Lord’s Day! It is the pattern of Biblical worship. We gather together because God calls us to worship him. But notice that the first part of our worship is the Confession of Sin. Instead of offering bloody animal sacrifices for forgiveness of sins, we confess our sins to God. Why this change? Because Christ has already offered his broken body and shed blood for all his people “once for all” as a complete, perfect sacrifice for all our sins.

Pagans, because they know there is a Creator but have no written Word of God, create their own gods. Usually, pagans imagine gods who have to be pleased by a bloody sacrifice whenever death or disaster strikes. For example, when the Americans arrived in the Philippines, they heard first-hand accounts of human sacrifices by the Bagobos in Mindanao. They were usually done in secret because it was declared illegal by the Spanish missionaries. The occasions that called for human sacrifices include before and after planting crops, weddings, disease, and death.

In Leviticus 9, Moses outlines in detail Israel’s first worship service after the Tabernacle in the wilderness was completed and the priests ordained to their ministry. A sin offering is offered first, then follows two more sacrifices to be performed: a burnt offering, and finally a peace offering.

Today we will study the first of these three offerings—“This Sin Offering”—under three headings: first, What are Its Results?; second, For Whom is It Offered? and third, How is It Offered?

What are Its Results?
The book title “Leviticus” comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint or LXX), Leyitikon, which means “things concerning the Levites.” But Leviticus is not only about priestly duties, but about the whole of the worship of God by his people. It is about the holiness of God and his demand that his people be holy. This holiness must be shown both in private behavior and in public as members of God’s covenant people. Much of the book speaks of God’s commandments to his people about maintaining the holiness of the public worship in the tabernacle led by the priests.

In addition to forgiveness of sin (Lev 4:2; Heb 9:7), some of the other reasons why sin offerings were offered were purification after childbirth (Lev 12:6-8; Lk 2:24); cleansing from infectious diseases (Lev 14:13-31; Mk 1:44); and even cleansing from a bodily discharge (Lev 15:15, 30).

Some of the significant occasions when sin offerings were made were: the ordination of Aaron and his sons (Lev 8:14-17); on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1-34); during Josiah’s and Hezekiah’s reforms (2Kgs 12:16; 2Chr 29:21-24); at the dedication of the rebuilt temple (Ezr 6:17); after the exiles returned (Ezr 8:35); and in Ezekiel’s vision of restored temple worship (Ezk 40:39; 42:13).

Here in Leviticus 9:7, the sin offering and burnt offering are to “make atonement” for sin. The word “atonement” is used many times in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament: in Romans 5:11 (KJV). The word “atonement” is unusual. Instead of having a Greek or Latin origin, it is derived from a compound English word, “at-one-ment.” So “atonement” suggests a unity or a dwelling-together of two things or persons. In the Bible, God and man formerly had a unity or a dwelling-together that was broken by man’s sin. This broken relationship can only be restored by a payment for the removal of the guilt and corruption of sin.

In Scripture, atonement has two theological ideas: expiation and propitiation. Expiation is the covering, hiding or blotting out of sin from God’s sight. Propitiation is a turning away of God’s righteous wrath from his sinful people. So when the priest performs a sin offering, it is for the purpose of atoning for a sin committed against God’s law.

In Leviticus 4-5, two kinds of sins are atoned for by the sin offering. In 4:2, the sins atoned for are those committed “unintentionally” (Lev 4:2). Unintentional sins are those committed in ignorance of the Law, by mistake, or by carelessness. These sins are different from “high-handed” sins committed by a member of God’s covenant people (Num 15:22–31), defiantly “shaking his fist” at the LORD. This person doesn’t care about God’s wrath that will befall him for his outright rebellion. A sinner who commits this sin is “cut off from the people,” which means death. But do not fear, the truly saved will not commit high-handed sins, even though they may commit sins intentionally.

Leviticus 5:1–13, on the other hand, explains how sins of omission—failing to do what was required by the Law—are atoned for. Christians often do not act on God’s commandments because of laziness, timidity, fear of ridicule, or insecurity. Perhaps we failed to help or encourage a brother or sister in Christ in need, or to tell the gospel of Jesus to a neighbor. These sins are harder to recognize, but nevertheless are sins, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas 4:17).

What are the end results of the sin offering? Verses 6 and 7 tells us of two outcomes. First, so “that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” When the Israelites worshipped at Mount Sinai, “the glory of the LORD dwelt [there]” (Exo 24:16). When the tabernacle in the wilderness was built, “the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exo 40:34). At the dedication of the temple, “As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chr 7:1). So the appearance of the glory of the LORD is a sign of his presence and pleasure with his people.

Second, the sin offering was performed so that the people can “draw near to the altar.” Without the sin offering, the people cannot come, because sinful people will be consumed by fire if they come close to the God who is most holy and most just. This is why the people at Mount Sinai were told not to come near the mountain, “lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish” (Exo 19:21). Only after they offered animal sacrifices for their sins were the elders of Israel able to come near the mountain without being consumed by God’s wrath on sin (Exo 24).

Brethren, your friends might see our worship service as unusual, even weird, because it is so different from all others. They might even think we’re like Roman Catholics because of our Confession of Sin. But the Confession of Sin is an element that fulfills the foreshadow, which is the sin offering. Notice also the repetition of the words, “as the Lord has commanded.” Worship that is acceptable to God is only what he has commanded, not adding to or taking from his commandments (Deu 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). We are forbidden to be creative in our worship because of our sinfulness. Our sin-infested minds are idol factories, according to John Calvin.

We don’t draw near to God flippantly dancing or shouting, but with reverence and awe, because we come as filthy sinners before a holy God. When we confess our sin, God hides them from his sight and his wrath against us is appeased, because of the blood of our perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ our Lord. His blood covers our sins; more than that, it reconciles us to God.

For Whom is It Offered?
The sin offering kind and ritual varies according to the offerer’s status among God’s people.

Click picture to enlarge
Click picture to enlarge

First, God commanded the priests, “Offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people” (Lev 9:7; 4:3). In the next chapter, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who are also priests, violated God’s commandment in using “unauthorized fire” for making incense. So God sent fire from heaven and the two priests were consumed (Lev 10:1-2). During the time of the prophets before the Babylonian exile, the prophets called Israel’s kings, priests and other leaders as wicked shepherds who deceived God’s people (Ezk 34).

Second, the sin offering was offered for the whole congregation, “bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them” (Lev 9:7; 4:14). When Hezekiah became king, he restored the Temple, its priesthood, and its worship after neglect by several of Israel’s kings before him. Hezekiah commanded the priests to offer sin offerings for all the people, so “the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel” (2 Chr 29:24).

Third, the leaders of God’s people also commit sin (Lev 4:22-23). Even Aaron and Miriam grumbled against Moses. The tribal leaders complained against Moses. In Numbers 16, the people joined Korah and other leaders of Israel, 250 of them, in rebellion against God’s prophet Moses, so God consumed the leaders with fire from heaven. And since the people joined the rebellion, over 14,000 of them died in a plague sent by God. Only incense taken by Aaron from the altar of incense stopped the plague of death.

Finally, the priest also atones for the sin of individuals: “If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally …” (Lev 4:27-35).

All human beings, including God’s covenant people individually and corporately, commit sins against God’s commandments. No one is exempted from sinning, from the greatest to the least of us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The only way out of this slavery to sin is “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:23-24), which is God’s gracious gift. It is only through the blood of Jesus, the Sin Offering for us, by which all sinners are forgiven of their sins.

And we see that the sins of the priests and the congregation weigh more heavily than the sin of leaders and individuals. Those “who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1), a sober warning to pastors and teachers not to deceive their congregations for shameful gain.

We also read about this difference in accountability in the manner that the sin offering is made, and in the animals used for the offering.

How is It Offered?
The sin offering ritual varies according to the sinner’s position before the Lord—the type of animal required, the ritual with the blood, and the disposition of the body of the sacrificial animals.

Leviticus 4:3-21 gives us the details of the sin offering ritual. The worshiper brings the sacrifice to the tabernacle, then lays his hand on its head, symbolically identifying himself with the offering. As he lays his hand on his offering, the worshiper might pray a confession of his sin before the LORD (Lev 5:5). He then kills the sacrifice.

At this point, the priest takes over the proceedings. He collects the blood from the animal and sprinkles the blood seven times in front of the veil of the sanctuary. This means that the offering is perfect and complete, and with this blood, the worshiper can now enter into God’s presence through the veil. The writer of Hebrews tells us that this veil is Jesus’ body broken on the cross, through which believers are now able to enter the heavenly places, “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” Through the sprinkling of his blood on the cross, “our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies [are] washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-22). There is unmistakable reference here to our baptism through sprinkling of water.

After this, the priest would smear the blood on the horns of the bronze altar. The horns symbolize the power of God, and with the blood of the sacrifice, God has power and authority to forgive sins. Since blood purifies the worshiper from sin, blood on the altar horns also signify the purification of the whole tabernacle. The rest of the blood is then poured out on the base of the altar, signifying that all the blood of the sin offering on the altar results in the forgiveness of sins.

Then the priest would dismember the bull and remove all its fat, and with some of the innards, burned them on the altar. These are the best parts, and when they are burned, they are a “pleasing aroma to the LORD” (Lev 4:31). They are “food offerings” to him (Lev 4:35). But whatever meat is not burned outside the camp, the priests and his sons are allowed to eat (Lev 6:26).

Depending on who the offerer is, there are slight variations in the proceedings. If the offerer was a priest, a tribal leader, or a common individual, the person performs the ritual up to the killing of the sacrifice. If the offering was for all the people, the whole congregation, the elders representing the people perform the ritual on their behalf.

Outside the Camp
Finally, the priest will take the rest of the bull “outside the camp” of God’s people, to a clean place, where there is already an ash heap from previous sacrifices. There, the bull will be burned up on a fire of wood (Lev 4:12). This then is the whole ritual for sin offerings.

What Animals are Offered?
There are also variations on the kinds of animals that are offered. Leviticus 4 tells us what animals atone for sins of commission: bulls for priests and the whole congregation; male goats for a leader of the people; and female goats or lambs for individuals. Note the descending order of value according to the responsibility of the offerer before God.

Leviticus 5:1-13 demands lighter sacrifices for sins of omission, according to the economic ability of the worshiper: lambs or goats; turtledoves or pigeons; or flour.

These are the variations in the kinds of sacrificial animals. But there is one thing common to all these offerings: they are to be “without blemish” (Lev 4:3, 23, 28, 32).

Friends, the sin offering is but a foreshadow of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses the believer from all sin (Heb. 9-10; 1Jn 1:7). However, you still commit sin, so you are commanded to confess your sins for God to forgive and cleanse you (1Jn 1:8, 9).

Animal sacrifices are never able to secure forgiveness, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Only Christ’s death is the ultimate sin offering, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3).

Unlike the tabernacle priest, who needed to offer sacrifices daily for the people and for his own sins, Christ’s made his sacrifice of his own body and blood “once for all when he offered up himself.” Why? Because he is “such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26-27), the one perfect sacrifice for all eternity. This is why the animal used for a sin offering must be perfect, because it anticipates Christ as the perfect sacrificial Lamb who takes away our sin: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21).

As the sinner laid his hand on the head of the sacrifice, God laid his hand on Christ the Passover Lamb as our Substitute: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1Pet 2:22-25).

"To Golgotha" by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click picture to enlarge)
"To Golgotha" by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click picture to enlarge)

At Golgotha where the garbage is thrown away, where lepers and other outcasts lived, and where the worst criminals are crucified, Jesus was led to and crucified. As the sacrificial animal was taken outside the camp of God’s people to be burned there, so Christ was forsaken by his Father in heaven to die for our sins (Mat 27:46).

As the sacrificial animal was burned outside the camp, so Christ also suffered and died outside the city, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb 13:12).

No one is exempt from sin, and all of you who have not placed your hand of faith upon the head of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins are condemned to eternal judgment. You will be sent “outside the camp” of God’s people to suffer in the camp of the devil, because you have rejected the one who was sent outside the camp to suffer for your sake.

But For those of you who have repented of your sin and placed your trust upon Christ, the command is true, “Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Heb 13:13). Go with him outside the confines of your worldly life of pleasure, and suffer for his kingdom and for the glory of his name.


NEXT: The Burnt Offering