Read Leviticus 1
Focus on verse 4
Many years ago – in another lifetime – when I was young enough to play ice hockey, I actually enjoyed this aspect to winter… (growing up in Canada it was more or less expected that one learned how to play hockey…it was part of being Canadian in my world) If you are familiar with hockey, you understand the players don’t typically play the entire game on the ice. Most teams have around twenty players dressed and ready to play even though each team can only have a maximum of six on the ice at any given time. The idea being that if they substitute on and of every three or four minutes so that they have a chance to catch their breath in between shifts. The result is typically a very fast paced game. The game also has a system of penalties where by a player who commits an infraction of the rules is confined to the penalty box for two or more minutes while his team plays short-handed. Interestingly, if the goal tender commits an infraction, one of the other players is required to serve the penalty for the goal tender.
In today’s reading Moses records for us the rules and rationale of the sacrificial system which God required the Israelites to initiate in the tabernacle. It was a system by which the people would bring sacrifices of animals, birds, and grain and oil to the priests, who would burn these offerings on the alter before God to atone for their sins.
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (v. 4)
The principle of the burnt offering was that when the person placed their hand on the head of the animal that was to be sacrificed, the sin of the person was symbolically transferred to the animal, which would then die in the place of the person. The theological term for this is called “substitutionary atonement”. This system of animal sacrifice was a symbolic foreshadowing of God’s ultimate plan of atonement for humanity through the final sacrifice that Jesus Christ made when He died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of all humanity so that we, by choosing to believe that He did this for us, could be set free from the guilt of our sin once and for all.
So going back to the hockey game metaphor, in essence what Jesus did for me is that he volunteered to serve all the penalties I committed in my place so that I could continue to play the game, except that in reality it is much more serious than a game. In reality is is more like I had a sentence of death that I was convicted of and Jesus stepped in and chose to take the death penalty for me so that I can live for ever with Him in heaven. This offer of eternal life in Jesus Christ is available to anyone who will choose to admit their guilt and ask for God’s forgiveness. It is quite simply choosing to accept the gift of eternal life that God has offered us.