It’s often said that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. In the same way, Leviticus is the basis for Christmas. That’s right. Leviticus.
At the very heart of the Christmas story lies the all-important doctrine of the Atonement. How can sinful people, separated from God in their sin and selfishness, be reconciled to a Holy God? By atonement. Atonement is the process by which two (typically estranged) people or parties are made “at-one” or at peace with each other.
By sending Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God graciously provided a way for sinful people to live with Him forever.
There were five kinds of sacrifices in the book of Leviticus (Ch 1-7). The first two, grain and fellowship offerings, were ways of saying, “Thank you!” to God. The other three, sin, burnt, and restitution offerings, were ways of saying, “I’m sorry.” The Israelites would offer up the life blood of an animal while confessing to God what they had done. The animal symbolically died in their place and atones or “covers” their sin.
There are seven kinds of feasts/celebrations in Leviticus to help Israel remember the history of God’s faithfulness (Leviticus 23-27). The most important of these, the Day of Atonement, is at the center of the book of Leviticus in Chapter 16. Once a year, the High Priest was to take two goats. One of these was to be a purification offering to atone for the sins of the Israelites. The other was to be a scapegoat. The priest would confess all the sins of the people (their selfishness, wrongdoings, and rebellious acts) and symbolically place them on this goat and it would be cast out into the wilderness. This was a very powerful symbol or image of God’s desire to remove sin from His people so that God could live with them and they with God.
Unlike the other Jewish holidays, the Day of Atonement was no festive event. It was a day of national mourning and repentance. The Day of Atonement was a time for each Israelite, including the High Priest, to reflect on his own sinfulness, and to respond appropriately with mourning, confession of sin, and a sacrifice. Leviticus 16. The Day of Atonement was to cleanse, purify, and declare holy, the priests, the people, and even the place of the tabernacle where God dwelled among them. This was to be “a permanent statute to make atonement for the Israelites once a year,” year after year, “because of all their sins.”
Leviticus is the basis for Christmas because of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. The word “holy” is used 150 times in the book of Leviticus. As Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land after more than 400 years in Egypt and wandering for 40 more years in the desert, the priests who represented God to the people were given instructions for how all of Israel was to fulfill its covenant relationship with a Holy God.
In the Bible, holy means to be unique or set apart. God is unique in His perfection of all of his character and actions. Because God is holy, the people He created must be holy in order to be in His presence.
Leviticus 11:44–45 For I am the Lord your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy… For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy.
God has never missed the mark of perfect love, goodness, justice, truth, or righteousness. He is not selfish, arrogant, or foolish in anything He does.
Leviticus 4 begins to spell out specific ways where and how all humans sin, miss the mark of God’s holiness. The repeated phrase in Leviticus is “when someone sins…” in any of these ways, a sacrifice must be made to atone for their sins.
Leviticus is the basis for Christmas because of God’s loving-kindness and demand for justice. Peace with God was the goal of all sacrifices which satisfied God’s desire for love and His demand for justice. By presenting a sacrifice of an unblemished, whole, spotless animal in place of himself, the worshiper provided payment for sin that was a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Because of all these sacrifices, the Israelites were constantly reminded of God’s lovingkindness, but also His justice as a holy God who takes sin and its consequences seriously.
Leviticus 17:11 “The life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.”
Hebrews 9:22 “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” of sins.
Leviticus is the basis for Christmas because of God’s graciousness and our need of forgiveness. All of us have sinned. All of us have missed the mark of God’s holy standard. And, yet, because of the atoning sacrifice for our sin – because the payment for God’s justice has been payed – He forgives us. We are forgiven because another has given His life in our place.
Leviticus 16:30: “Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.”
The New Testament explains that Jesus came willingly, sent from the Father, to be the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice for His people.
Hebrews 10:3–5 “In the sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, as he was coming into the world, he said: ‘You did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me….’”
1 John 4:9-10 “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
It’s the birth of Jesus Christ that turns the mourning of the Day of Atonement into the rejoicing of Christmas morn.
Jesus is the Reason for the Season. In the same way, Leviticus is the basis for Christmas.
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!