For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
It’s one of those lines from Paul that nearly all of us know. Even if we can’t always cite the chapter and verse, we know it’s Paul and we’re pretty sure it’s Romans. After all, this is part of what some call the Romans Road.
Only, it’s not really Paul. It’s actually Leviticus.
Now, mind you, that’s not always obvious right away. And it takes a bit of work to see it. But, if you follow the logic of Leviticus, you end up where Paul is in Romans 6: “The wages of sin is death.”
That is, sin always ends in death. Sin always costs a life. Not figuratively. Not metaphorically. Not even just spiritually, though there is a spiritual death. No, for Leviticus (and even Paul), it’s literal, physical. Sin literally, physically ends in death.
It’s the first lesson Leviticus teaches. Right out of the gate in chapter 1, Leviticus starts talking about how to sacrifice bulls, goats, sheep, and even doves and pigeons so that we can find favor in God’s eyes.
And it gives us a dizzying array of sacrifices to offer. Burnt offerings. Thank offerings. Sin offerings. Guilt offerings. Even grain offerings.
But, the bottom line is this: If you want God to forgive you your sin (particularly with a sin offering or guilt offering), it’s going to cost something its life.
Something has to die. You. Me. A bull. A goat. Whatever it is, something has to go up on that altar to die for that sin. That’s the inescapable logic of Leviticus.
Ideally, it should be you and me. After all, we’re the ones who sinned. The bull and the goat didn’t do anything. They’re innocent. You and I are the guilty ones. So, really, we should be the ones who die on that altar.
However, in Leviticus, God does something incredible. He allows for a substitute. He allows something else to die in our place. What we will call later on in our systematic theologies: Substitutionary Atonement.
Which is basically a fancy way of saying that God forgives us at another’s expense. We go free because another gave its life.
That’s what all those sacrifices are about. That bull or goat dies in my place. In fact, in the sin offering I actually place my hands on the animal’s head and call down my sins upon it. The connection is clear. This animal is my surrogate. It’s my substitute. It’s going to die on that altar in my place.
The lesson is two-fold. First, sin costs a life. Something has to die for me to be forgiven. Second, God is gracious. He has provided a way to find atonement without us having to die. We can be forgiven at another’s expense.
That’s Leviticus. And that’s Jesus on the Cross.
One cannot miss the connection. Jesus gave His life in our place. That should be me on the Cross, but it’s not. It’s Him. He died for me. For you. For us all.
By His death we have forgiveness in God’s eyes, so that in Jesus we have that gift of eternal life Paul is talking about in Romans. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus paid the tab. You’re welcome.
Just remember, Leviticus said it first.