Leviticus 3:6-8 “If he offers an animal from the flock as a fellowship offering to the Lord, he is to offer a male or female without defect. If he offers a lamb, he is to present it before the Lord. He is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it in front of the Tent of Meeting. Then Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood against the altar on all sides.”
How many times haven’t you heard faith described in terms of a relationship with God? But what does that mean? I have relationships with all sorts of people– some casual, some intimate; some happy and some strained. Even the devil has a relationship with God, although it isn’t a good one.
Christian writer Eugene Peterson noted that most people who speak of a relationship with God have a mystical emotion in mind. They forget that when we are close to another person, intimacy isn’t something you feel most of the time. It’s often a very ordinary life, a life that involves openness, honesty, sacrifice and giving. It’s a life of knowing someone and being known by them. But it’s not always a powerful experience.
One way the Lord taught his Old Testament people about the kind of relationship he had with them was by means of the sacrificial system. Like just about everything else in their life of worship, the sacrifices were pointing them ahead to the life and work of Jesus. From the sacrifices we learn something about the kind of relationship Jesus gives us with God.
The fellowship offering had two ways of communicating to God’s people that he accepted them. First, the offering dealt with the problem of sin. It is the biggest problem in anyone’s relationship with God. Should that come as a surprise? If love is the fulfillment of God’s law, then sin always involves lovelessness. Isn’t that what causes problems in every other relationship? We fail to love someone else, or they fail to love us, and the relationship is injured or broken.
It’s the same way with God. We fail to love him (he never fails to love us), and the relationship is injured and broken. Unlike a lover’s spat, our broken relationship with God can’t be fixed by an apology and a kiss. We have forfeited our lives. Only if we find a substitute can our own lives be spared.
No animal could serve as a suitable substitute for a person, but in order to impress this need upon his people the Lord set up a whole system of sacrifice. Each sacrifice had a different emphasis. One common feature was an animal giving its life for the worshiper. This transfer of guilt from worshiper to victim was dramatized when the one bringing the offering laid his hands on the head of the animal just before it was slaughtered. “He is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it in front of the Tent of Meeting.” In this way God rehearsed his people in their need for someone to die to take away their sins.
Then God demonstrated the peace and fellowship we have when sins are removed. When I was a child, I thought that most sacrifices involved the entire offering going up in flames. That is not the case. With some sacrifices most of the meat was simply cooked on the altar. It was given to the priests and their families.
With the fellowship offering the meat was also shared with the person who brought the sacrifice. In Leviticus 7, God commands, “The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning.” Does that strike you as significant? Do you sense the Lord commenting about our relationship with him? Unfortunately, the meaning of sharing a meal has been lost on many. Less and less do families sit down and share a meal, much less extend an invitation to others. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning points out, “For an orthodox Jew to say, ‘I would like to have dinner with you,’ is a metaphor implying, ‘I would like to enter into friendship with you.’”
We seem unlikely candidates to share such a close relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth. In our sin we are worse than strangers at his table. We are enemies. But in the fellowship offering, the Lord of all was inviting sinners to be his guests. We pray in our table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” But here God himself was saying to his people, “Why don’t you be my guests for a little while. Here, at my table, you can enjoy my peace, my trust, my friendship, and my forgiveness. You can share your lives with me, and I will share my love for you.”
As pointed out, the sacrifice of animals could not actually atone for sin. It only foreshadowed the peace and fellowship of the sacrifice to come. Jesus brought us peace and fellowship with God by taking our sins upon himself and dying for them.
Then he takes his place with us at another meal in which he is not only the host. He himself is the feast. He doesn’t just sit across the table from us. His body and blood feed us, leaving no space, no separation between us and God whatsoever. How much clearer could it be that our sins are forgiven? How much clearer could it be that our God is our Friend? At the Lord’s Supper the fellowship offering finds fulfillment, and we see Jesus giving us fellowship with God.