Blood was the main ingredient for the forgiveness of sin in the Jewish sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus. The picture of the throwing of the blood on the altar, along with other references to a sprinkling of the blood on the altar, picture man’s only process by which his sins can be atoned for. There is no forgiveness if there is no blood. So the blood was thrown on the altar to make atonement for the sins of the offerer. But one might walk away from that wondering if God had truly forgiven his sins. That’s what the next four verses deal with. Leviticus 1:6-9 tells us that after the blood was applied to the altar, “Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces,  and the sons of Aaron, the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.  And Aaron’s sons, the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The important words in this passage are “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” We saw this same idea spoken by God when Noah offered sacrifices after the flood. The ascent of the Aroma was called a sweet-smelling savor. I always think of my steaks cooking on the barbecue grill in my backyard on the 4th of July. It’s surely sweet smelling, but I agree with Zaspel, “The point here, of course, is not that God enjoys the smell of barbeque. The point is that the sacrifice was accepted by God, ‘pleasing’ to him in that sense. That is to say; the sacrifice satisfied God. Its leading purpose was to appease God with reference to sin. Here is how God could dwell with a sinful people: a substitute was offered who, standing in place of the people, bore the punishment of their sin, thus making satisfaction to God. Mercy through judgment. Now, of course, no mere animal could satisfactorily bear the sin of men and women created in God’s image. But these centuries of sacrifice were intended by God to establish the structure, a picture, by which we are made to think that if an adequate substitute could be found, sinful humanity would have hope.”[1]

An adequate substitute was found for us! Paul uses this same language when he speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Ephesians 5:2, he says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Mathews rightly summarizes this idea, “Unlike the animal slain on behalf of the worshipper in Leviticus, the sacrifice offered up by our Lord was wholly voluntary. He ‘gave himself up.’ That the Father fully accepted the atonement of Jesus was proven by the resurrection of the Lord. We who have entrusted ourselves to Christ by faith can have the same assurance of acceptance with the Father.”[2] It’s the resurrection that proves God accepted the sacrifice for our sins. I think of Christ’s ascension as the final movement of Christ on earth. Jesus was the sweet-smelling “smoke” that ascended to God as the perfect symbol of God’s acceptance of His sacrifice for our sins.  The author of the book of Hebrews speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins as being a “once for all” event. He tells us that our sins will be remembered no more. Richards concludes, “Because we know our sins are forgiven, we can approach God with confidence (Heb. 10:22). We need never cringe from our Lord or try to hide from Him, for Jesus’ death has won a full and complete forgiveness for us. We no longer need to carry the burden of our past failures, for in Jesus, all our sins are forgiven and put away. Because of Jesus, we can forget the past and look forward with hope to the future.”[3]

[1] Zaspel, Fred G. 2015. “The Wrath of God and the Gospel.” Credo: The Forgotten God (April), 2015.

[2] Mathews, Kenneth A. 2009. Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[3] Richards, Larry. 2001. Every Name of God in the Bible. Everything in the Bible Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.