Even after years of being a Christian, most will recall their moments at the foot of the cross, where they confess their sins and receive forgiveness and cleansing from God, as their closest and most precious time spent with their Father.

This moment was symbolically portrayed daily in the outer court of the earthly sanctuary, when the sinner brought an unblemished animal before God and sacrificed it, transferring his sin to the sanctuary itself. The method may have changed since Christ has given Himself now as the Lamb, but the intense emotional moment should never be forgotten or unappreciated.

Memory Text: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” I Peter 1:18, 19 NASB

This week while focusing mostly on activity in the outer court of the sanctuary, we will see how the whole sanctuary was involved in dealing with sin. It didn’t stop with the killing of an innocent animal. There were steps in the rituals that we must explore, in order to understand the process of our own salvation.


Sunday: Sin and Mercy

Most of us, even after we’ve been a Christian for some time, don’t stop and think how sin separates us from God. Little sins, big sins–in God’s eyes they’re all harmful to our relationship with Him. But praise God, there is a way back; there’s a bridge called Mercy that carries us over that separating chasm we’ve created for ourselves.

Although all sin is undesirable, God mercifully does recognize different categories of sins, based on our awareness. And we see this through His own ritual requirements and the three categories of sin addressed in Leviticus 4:1-5:13.

  • inadvertent or unintentional sin
  • deliberate or intentional sin
  • rebellious sin

We notice in the above passage that an offering is prescribed for the first two offenses, for intentional and unintentional sins, but there is none mentioned for the third kind that would involve the most heinous crimes, referred to as “high-handed” sin or those done without regard for the rights, concerns, or feelings of others, including God. In most cases, God called for that individual to be cut off from the camp. It was understandably not safe for him to remain among God’s people.

An example of this occurred when a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath during their time in the wilderness. (Numbers 15:32-36) The people didn’t know what to do with this individual, but may have sensed his action was a blatant act of rebellion and brought him before Moses and the congregation. God told Moses that he was to be taken outside the camp and stoned. At first glance, we think he was stoned for simply gathering sticks on the Sabbath, but I’m sure his real offense of rebellion went much deeper and was a danger for all those in the camp.

But all hope isn’t lost for this third offense. God did offer forgiveness to wicked King Manasseh, when he humbled himself before God. See II Chronicles 33:12, 13. These stories in the Bible illustrate to us that we must not only trust in God’s mercy, but also in His justice.

Discussion Question: What examples of sinning would you group with the unintentional and the intentional varieties? Why are they differentiated so in the sacrificial system?

Monday: Laying On of Hands

There were differences, not only in the types of sins, but the types of sinners who came to the sanctuary. The procedures differed somewhat for the sins of individuals and the sins of a priest or the whole congregation.

These were the steps they had in common though:

  • recognition of sin
  • animal substitute
  • laying on of hands (transference of sin to the sacrifice)
  • death of the sin-bearing animal

In the laying on of hands, the sinner would himself lay hands on the head of the innocent animal and confess his sin. This was an acknowledgement that his sin would be transferred to the substitute. Then the killing of the animal would also be performed by the sinner himself.

Discussion Question: Why was the sinner the one who did the killing and not the priest? What significance was there in these steps and how do we apply them to our salvation today?

Tuesday: Transfer of Sin

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars.” Jeremiah 17:1

Although this text is referring to altars involved in idolatrous worship, we recognize part of the ritual where the priest daubs a portion of the blood on his finger and then transfers it to the horns of the altar. The horns being the highest part of the altar may symbolize that the blood is brought into the presence of God in heaven. For that part of the ritual, the sinner must look up. The priest then pours the remainder of the blood at the base of the altar, burns the fat or suet on the altar, and reserves the rest for his own consumption in a holy place.

For the sins of the priest or the congregation, the ritual differs somewhat. The priest, who has killed the animal, must transfer that blood to the Holy Place. He sprinkles some of it seven times in front of the inner veil, then daubs some of it on the horns of the altar of incense. He pours the remainder of the blood at the base of the outer altar, burns the suet on the altar, but instead of consuming the meat, it’s taken outside the camp and burned.

You may have wondered why the priest consumes the meat and at other times, he doesn’t. The answer is in the transference of guilt. The priest cannot become the carrier of his own guilt. When he is atoning for his own sin or a sin of the whole congregation, the blood must go directly into the sanctuary without the priest consuming the meat. Only when individuals brought a sin offering could it be dealt with in the outer court. The priest would later transfer that guilt when he made an atonement offering for himself or the people.

Discussion Questions: What is the function of blood in these rituals? What does it cleanse, and what does it defile? How can it do both?

Wednesday: Bearing Sin

By eating the meat of the offerings the priests were not just receiving payment for their services. It was a crucial part of the atonement, the transference of the guilt of sin that was transferred to the animal and then to the priest. This act of “bearing away the guilt” was the same as making an atonement for the sinner. It meant freedom for the sinner; he wouldn’t have to bear his own sin and guilt.

Discussion Question: How can the concept of substitution for sin be considered fair–when an innocent suffers for what he didn’t do?

Thought Questions: Even though I have allowed Jesus to bear my sins on the cross, have I also given Him my guilt? Can I be forgiven of my sin, but at the same time hang on to the guilt that came with it? What harm is there when I do?

Thursday: Forgiveness

The last three verses of Micah reveal the true relationship of God and His remnant people. God is willing to forgive them, and that forgiveness is one of His most outstanding characteristics..

“Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His power forever, Because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.” Micah 7:18-20 NKJV

God’s people will imitate His forgiving nature. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” NKJV

Having read all these lovely things about God, the next minor prophet provides a different picture:

“God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; The Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. The Lord has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, And the clouds are the dust of His feet.” Nahum 1:2, 3 NKJV

Discussion Questions: How do we reconcile these two facets of God’s character–His mercy and His justice? Discuss how He could have just one or the other, or could He? How can these qualities complement each other?

Next week: more on the Day of Atonement–how and why the sanctuary becomes cleansed