After the Israelites built the tabernacle, the Lord revealed to Moses how they should offer various kinds of sacrifices to Him. These sacrifices pointed the Israelites toward Jesus Christ and emphasized their need to rely on His atoning sacrifice for redemption.
Begin class by reading the following list of sacrifices we are asked to make as members of the Church, and ask students to ponder if they have sacrificed in that way during their life: pay tithing, give a fast offering, serve in a Church calling, fulfill an assignment.
Write the following question on the board: Why are we expected to sacrifice so much as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Invite students to ponder the question on the board as they study Leviticus 1–7 today.
Explain that Leviticus 1–7 contains the Lord’s direction concerning the sacrifices He required of His people anciently, including animal sacrifices. The book of Leviticus was like a priesthood handbook for the children of Israel. It set forth instructions for the performance of ordinances, rituals, and other sacred responsibilities.
When did Heavenly Father first command His children to perform animal sacrifices? (After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden [see Moses 5:5].)
You may want to display the picture Adam and Eve Kneeling at an Altar (Gospel Art Book , no. 4; see also LDS.org).
What did those sacrifices represent? (The future sacrifice of Jesus Christ [see Moses 5:7].)
Explain that the sacrifices outlined in Leviticus also teach about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Leviticus 1 provides instructions for performing an animal sacrifice called a burnt offering. This sacrifice was performed at the tabernacle (and later at the temple in Jerusalem) every morning and evening, as well as on special occasions.
Invite a student to read Leviticus 1:2–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for any elements of the burnt offering that could teach about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find. Ask them to report what they find. (Students’ answers could include “a male without blemish” [verse 3], “of his own voluntary will” [verse 3], “blood round about upon the altar” [verse 5], “flay … and cut it into his pieces” [verse 6], and “burn all on the altar” [verse 9]. You may want to point out any elements students do not mention.)
To help students understand how elements of the burnt offering can teach about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, write the following scripture references on the board: Matthew 27:26–31, 35; Luke 22:41–44; John 6:38; John 19:34; 1 Peter 1:18–19; Doctrine and Covenants 19:18–19. Invite students to choose one or two of these references and read them silently. Ask students to look for connections between these verses and the elements of sacrifice listed on the board. Invite students to explain to the class what they learned.
Explain that as animal sacrifices were burned on the altar, the smoke rising to heaven symbolized prayers of gratitude and supplication and also symbolized that the offering was going up to the Lord. Point out the phrase “burn all on the altar” in verse 9.
Why do you think the word all may be important in this verse? (Help students understand that burning the whole animal on the altar represented total commitment to the Lord.)
What can the word all teach us about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice?
Invite students to ponder how Jesus Christ set an example for us when He chose to sacrifice everything He had, including His will, to Heavenly Father. Point to the question you wrote on the board at the beginning of class.
Based on what you have learned from Leviticus 1, how would you respond to this question? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that we can become more like our Savior as we choose to give everything in sacrifice to Heavenly Father. Using students’ words, write this principle on the board.)
Point out the phrase “sweet savour unto the Lord” in Leviticus 1:9.
What can these words teach us about Heavenly Father’s feelings toward those who sacrifice everything to Him, as did His Only Begotten Son? (Their efforts are sweet or satisfying to Heavenly Father.)
Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a few sentences explaining why they choose to make sacrifices to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His prophets. You may want to invite a few students to share with the class what they wrote. You may also want to share your thoughts and testimony concerning the importance of sacrifice.
Summarize Leviticus 1:10–17 by explaining that the Lord allowed for other kinds of animals to be used for burnt offerings, enabling the Israelites to offer acceptable sacrifices in conditions of poverty.
Explain that Leviticus 2 contains instructions for giving meat offerings (which can also be translated as meal [or grain] offerings). These offerings consisted of flour and oil or unleavened bread and oil and were given with burnt offerings and another kind of sacrifice called peace offerings. Leviticus 3 contains the Lord’s instructions concerning peace offerings. These were presented as gifts to the Lord and were a means of giving thanks and asking for the Lord’s continued blessings. Unlike burnt offerings, portions of the peace offerings were eaten by those who had made the offerings (and their families), by the priests and their families, and by other Levites. (See Bible Dictionary, “Sacrifices.”)
Invite students to imagine they are Israelites living in ancient Israel and have committed a sin. Explain that when the Israelites recognized they had sinned, they needed to sacrifice an animal as a sin offering. Leviticus 4 includes the Lord’s instructions for making a sin offering.
Ask students to imagine bringing an animal to the tabernacle to be sacrificed. Invite a student to read Leviticus 4:4, 27–29. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what they would need to do to make a sin offering. (You may want to explain that a bullock is a young male ox.)
What do you think might be the significance of placing your hands upon the animal’s head? (The animal becomes your substitute or representative, just as Jesus Christ was our substitute or representative in atoning for our sins.)
How might you feel about killing the animal? Why?
Invite students to read Leviticus 4:5–7, 30 silently, looking for what the priest would do with the blood of the sin offering.
What would the priest do with the blood of the sin offering?
Draw a picture of a horn on the board. Explain that the horns on the altars symbolized power. The scriptures refer to the Savior as the “horn of salvation” (Luke 1:69), which indicates His power to save. The blood of the animal symbolized life or the Savior giving His life (see Leviticus 17:11).
What do you think the act of putting blood on the horns of the altars may have symbolized? (After students give their insights, you may want to explain that there were four horns on the altar. In the scriptures, the number four can represent the earth. Thus, placing blood on the horns could symbolize that there is power in the Savior’s Atonement to save all of God’s children who ever have or ever will live on the earth.)
Invite a student to read Leviticus 4:20, 31 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the sin offering helped bring to the sinner. Ask students to report what they find.
What can the ancient practice of making sin offerings teach us about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our sins.)
Explain that the act of sacrificing animals did not have the power to cleanse people of their sins, but it directed people’s minds and hearts toward Jesus Christ, who is able to forgive and cleanse us.
What is an ordinance in our day that directs our minds and hearts toward the Savior and helps us to receive His forgiveness?
You may want to invite a student to read the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“After the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice, … the ordinance of the sacrament replaced the ordinance of sacrifice. … This change moved the focus of the sacrifice from a person’s animal to the person himself. In a sense, the sacrifice changed from the offering to the offerer. …
“… Instead of the Lord requiring our animals or grain, now He wants us to give up all that is ungodly. … Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: ‘Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!’ (‘Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,’ Ensign, May 1995, 68).
“… When we overcome our own selfish desires and put God first in our lives and covenant to serve Him regardless of the cost, we are then living the law of sacrifice” (“The Law of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 10).
According to this statement, what does the Lord want us to offer Him?
In what ways can we give up “all that is ungodly” or offer “the animal in us” to the Lord?
Summarize Leviticus 5–7 by explaining that the Lord gave additional instructions for the sacrifices the Israelites needed to make.
You may want to conclude by testifying of the Atonement. Invite students to make an offering to the Lord by turning to the Savior, repenting of their sins, and preparing to partake of the sacrament this week.