Leviticus 19-20, “Be Different; Be Holy!”

It’s not easy to be different! Years ago, the muppet Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green,” because being green was being different from everyone else. It still isn’t easy being different. Although our culture gives lip-service to the idea that we need to celebrate diversity & differences, the reality is quite often the opposite. There’s a certain “window,” or a limited-spectrum of behaviors and qualities that is seen as acceptable by the world, and as long as your differences fall within that spectrum, it’s okay. Everything else is rejected. For the most part, Biblical morality is included in the “everything else.” The world receives and rejoices in all kinds of behavior that is in opposition to God, but rejects the things that He approves.

Yet here’s the thing: God calls us to be different! We are to be different from the rest of the world around us, because God is different than the world around us. And how will anyone know what God is like if His character is not reflected in His people? God’s people are to act like God: we are to be different, and we are to be holy.

That brings us to our text. Leviticus 19-20 come in the midst of what scholars call the “holiness code.” The people had been given incredible gifts from God! God had granted them: freedom from slavery – a covenant with Himself – the privilege of having the presence of God dwell among them – ways to worship God & sacrifices to bring to Him so that they could receive forgiveness & atonement for sin – and a priesthood who would speak to God on their behalf and give God’s instruction back to them. Amazing gifts – abundant gifts! In light of all this, the people were to give back to God, surrendering to Him their whole lives, serving Him as His people.

Yet how is anyone supposed to act as a child of God? God told them how! He taught them what was clean & unclean, and showed them the difference between the holy & the profane. That instruction continues in these chapters, and more than instruction, God gives them the reason to do it: Himself. Because God had called the people to Himself & because God is holy, the people are to be holy. God had separated these people from the world, so they were to walk differently from the world, demonstrating the transformation that happens when someone knows the Living God in Spirit and truth.

God’s people are still to be different, because our God is still holy. Although it would be easy to write all of this off as Old Testament law, irrelevant in the New Testament age, the New Testament tells us otherwise. Peter specifically quotes Leviticus 19 to the church: 1 Peter 1:13–16, “(13) Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (14) as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; (15) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” Are we saved by the grace of Jesus alone? Yes. Is our hope fully in Christ for salvation & life? Yes. Praise God! But that’s not the end-all of our relationship with God. We still have the rest of our earthly days to live out, and we’re to do so in holiness. Because our God is holy, we are to be holy. Because Jesus made us to be holy, we are to walk as holy.

Of course, even this is based in the grace of Jesus! Left to ourselves, we’d live lives of profanity, being anything but holy! But because of Jesus’ grace, and because of the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live lives pleasing to God…so we should! Not in an attempt to earn any favor from God, but simply out of gratitude and love for Christ, because He has already saved us and set us apart for Himself.

The ancient Hebrews were dependent on God’s grace for holiness, and so are we. Christian: be different & be holy. Why? Because our God is holy and Jesus makes us holy!

Leviticus 19 – Laws for holiness

  • Summary command (1-2)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

  1. It’s wonderful that it starts here, because if we get this wrong, we get everything else wrong. The people of God were not simply commanded to live better lives; they were commanded to act according to an example. God’s commands are based in God’s character. This is always the way it is! Examples: Why is murder wrong? Because God gives life. Why is theft wrong? Because God gives (and He gives everything!). Whatever the sin, the reason it is sin is because it is somehow opposed to God’s own character and nature. Even when it comes down to something good done at the wrong time, it is sin because God is Lord/Master. His authority is part of His essential nature. The same thing applies to the command of holiness. We are to be holy, because God is His command to His people is based on His own character and nature. Thus we love, because God is love – we forgive, because God is forgiving & merciful, etc.
  2. Specifically to verse 2, God’s people “shall by holy,” because God is “” God’s people are to be set apart, pure, and sacred, because God is all of those things. We are to be like our holy God. Nothing in all the universe is like Him, as God is completely set apart from all creation. He is wholly holy – fully set-apart. In fact, the creature closest in nature to Him is mankind, for the only reason that God made man in His own image (Gen 1:27). Yet look how short we fall of the standard of God! On our own, we are anything but holy! We need grace to make us holy. (And that’s exactly what Jesus gives!) But the overall idea is that we are to walk differently in this world – we are to act as God’s sanctified people, because God Himself is sanctified.
  3. Notice that also gives us our motivation. Christians aren’t to live in purity and righteousness simply out of moral obligation. We aren’t just to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “do the right thing.” Although Leviticus 19-20 detail much of the Mosaic law, walking in holiness isn’t about the law – it isn’t based in legalism. Walking as God’s holy people is based in love; not law. Our entire motivation for all our obedience is because God is our We obey because we know Him and love Him. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” (Jn 14:15). That wasn’t Jesus putting a legalistic guilt-trip or bond on His disciples; that was Jesus stating a simple truth: those who truly love someone want to please them. I can’t tell my bride that I love her, while going off and engaging in something she hates and causes her harm. I can’t tell my daughter that I love her, while working against her every chance I get. True love is seeking the best for the other person (whatever that “best” might happen to be). When we truly love Jesus, we want His best – we want what He wants – we want what is glorifying to God. Thus, it is right to obey God because He is Lord, we ultimately obey Him because He’s our Lord, and we love Him.
    1. This is why the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength! When we love Him in that way, to that extent, then everything else tends to fall into place.
  • Holiness with God (3-8)

3 ‘Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4 ‘Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God.

  1. 2nd, 4th, and 5th commandments: no graven images – keeping the Sabbath – honoring parents. All these things had been said already, but they were worth repeating. If God’s people truly wanted to live lives of holiness, starting with these things gave them a great foundation! Staying away from idolatry kept them worshipping the true God. Keeping the Sabbath law kept them reminded of (1) their dependence upon the Lord, and (2) their covenant with the Lord. Honoring one’s parents was the earthly application of honoring God as their Heavenly Father. It was upon these things that everything else could come back to.
  2. Note the repetition of “I am the LORD.” This, or some form of it, is repeated 15 times in Lev 19. Repetition shows emphasis – in this case, the emphasis being God’s character and authority. These commands did not come out of thin air – they weren’t patterned on the way the world worked; they were based upon the Covenant-Keeping God Himself. Again, He Himself is our motivation. We obey God not because we’re mindless robots; we obey God because we know Him and love Him.

These are the foundational issues, and they’ll be revisited at the end of Chapter 20 (again, showing the value of repetition). Much of what falls in-between are either reiterations of earlier laws, or punishments for laws already given. 

5 ‘And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, you shall offer it of your own free will. 6 It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. 7 And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. 8 Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people.

  1. Much of this was already specified in Lev 7:15-17, with the law regarding the peace offering. Remember that apart from the fat & certain parts of the animal that were burned on the altar as an offering to the Lord, the bulk of the meat was meant to be eaten by the worshipper as a symbolic meal shared between him and his God. Yet once the meat was cooked, it needed to be eaten, and eaten quickly. Not only did it emphasize the special nature of the meal, but it also had the practical purpose of saving the Hebrews from stomach trouble due to meals past their expiration dates.
  2. The principle: Worship isn’t meant for leftovers! We aren’t to treat worship lightly, as if it didn’t matter, or as if it were a completely casual thing. We’re to value it, and treasure it in the moment. Be present in your worship, and be active as you glorify God!
  • Holiness with others (9-18)

9 ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.

  1. Don’t be greedy! Certainly God’s people were to be thorough workers when they came into the land (and there’s a promise here that the people would come into the land!), but they weren’t to be so thorough that they fell into the greediness of ensuring they got every last grape from the vineyard. This was part of God’s provision for the poor, as they could come and glean the field from anything that was left behind by the farmers. [Book of Ruth]
    1. Holy people are to be compassionate people. God has showered us with compassion through Jesus! How can we demonstrate anything less to others? To be merciful and compassionate is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

11 ‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 ‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.

  1. 3rd, 8th and 9th commandments: blasphemy (not using the Lord’s name in vain), theft, and lying. Why are these things placed side-by-side? Perhaps because when God’s people steal, it denigrates the name of the Lord. When the people of the world see supposed “Christians” acting anything but like Christ, then it’ll cause them to blaspheme the name of Jesus also.
  2. 9th command includes all Cheating & robbing someone of what was rightfully due to them is no different than outright theft. Refusing to pay someone for work they did fits in the same category. God’s people are to be upright people, honoring Him in every respect.

14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

  1. Don’t be cruel! (Don’t be a jerk!) To take advantage of the disabled is wrong, and God’s people ought to know better. Why? The “fear” of the Lord should be in us. Those who attempt to cheat others (especially while naming the name of God) are in for a harsh reality check when they see the Lord face-to-face.
    1. This ought to be an especially sobering verse for the so-called “faith healers,” who take advantage of people who have little hope left. In a real way, these charlatans “put a stumbling block before the blind,” causing them to lose faith in God (if they had any faith in the first place). According to Jesus, better for someone like that to have a millstone tied around their neck & be cast into the sea, for their judgment will be harsh (Mk 9:42). 

15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

  1. Here’s the opposite of verse 14. Instead of being cruel, be just…be honorable. Don’t take advantage of anyone, whether rich or poor. Don’t spread rumors or be part of the gossip-mill.
  2. Again, all of this goes back to the 9th commandment not to bear false witness. This is all part of being honest. And why do we speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Because the Lord is our God.

17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

  1. Don’t hate – don’t bear grudges. At the same time, don’t ignore sin. You can “rebuke your neighbor” without hating him or being evil towards him. In fact, rebuking someone might be the most loving thing you can do at the time! When someone is caught up in sin & doesn’t see it for what it is, or doesn’t see the danger that lies ahead, what they need is someone to point out the danger to them. You can hate what they are doing without hating the person him/herself.
  2. Instead, love! And love in such a way that it blows the expectations of the world: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How important is this? Jesus labeled this as the 2nd greatest commandment (Mt 22:39) – Paul identified it as the summary of the law (Rom 13:9) and the fulfillment of the law (Gal 5:14) – James called it the royal law (Jas 2:8). It’s hard to emphasize its importance enough, for the Christian! How should we treat one another? In love. Love our neighbor to the same extent that we love ourselves. Desire the best for them & seek the best for them. Be proactive in your love toward them. Maybe this includes practical items, like giving food and clothing to those in need. Maybe it includes emotional things, like granting forgiveness to those who have wronged you. For certain, it includes spiritual things, like sharing the gospel with those who are lost. How bad do you want to be saved by Jesus? We ought to be sharing the gospel with the same zeal!
  • Holiness in actions (19-36)

19 ‘You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.

  1. Pictures of purity. Just like God’s word is not to be mixed with the values of the world, and God’s people were to be different and separate from the world, so was this principle to be demonstrated in the lives of the Israelites. Animals were not to be unequally yoked (particularly in breeding/mating!), nor were fields to be mixed at random or cloth to be mixed and blended. We don’t see these things as problems today: animals of different breeds (though not entirely different kinds) are bred (such as horses & donkeys producing mules); mixed crops sometimes help with cross-pollination; many people wear blended fabrics on a daily basis. It’s not that these things were inherently evil; it’s that God was painting a picture for His people. They were to be pure, different, and holy, because God is pure, different, and holy. The more this idea could be impressed upon them, the better.

20 ‘Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. 21 And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, a ram as a trespass offering. 22 The priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.

  1. Sexual sin in an unusual circumstance: this is adultery, but it’s adultery in a situation where the woman had little to no choice over the matter. It doesn’t necessarily describe something violent, but it’s still terribly evil. Thus, there is punishment, yet still protection. The woman would no longer be seen as acceptable to her betrothed, but she would face a life of poverty and shame. That’s why the man is scourged (beaten) in punishment, but not killed. He would be her provider the rest of her life.
  2. In all of this, it was a serious sin, but the grace of God was still available. What began in tragedy could end in praise. That’s grace!

23 ‘When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. 24 But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the LORD. 25 And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the LORD your God.

  1. Note the promise “when you come into the land…” The promise was on the way!
  2. That being said, the land belongs first and foremost to God. It was His to give, so He gave certain stipulations on how they would inherit it. The firstfruits of the land were to belong to Him (which He used to fertilize the fruit trees and allow them to grow into greater maturity), and only afterwards could the people partake.
    1. Trust God for your provision! We might not know why He does certain things the way He does, but we can be certain He has His reasons!

26 ‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

  1. Don’t act like the pagans. Eating blood, practicing witchcraft, cutting the beard or flesh in strange ways along with tattoos, particularly in association with the dead – those were all things the pagans did, and God’s people were to be different. This was one more way they could be set apart from the nations around them.

29 ‘Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness. 30 ‘You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD. 31 ‘Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.

  1. Protect your family. Don’t get so caught up in debt where family members needed to be sold. Don’t get so caught up in the world that you become blind to what is going on with your kids.
  2. Protect your priorities and your worship. God alone is to be worshipped; not the stuff of the world nor the stuff of demons. Ensure that your worship is given to God alone.

32 ‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD. 33 ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

  1. Show respect
  2. Show compassion.
  3. Remember where you came from & where you’re headed.

35 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. 36 You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

  1. Emphasis on honesty… Why? Because Jesus is the truth!
  • Mid-point summary

37 ‘Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the LORD.’ ”

  1. There’s more to be said on this at the end, but note this much: “observe…and perform.” God’s word is to be known, but it’s to be more than known; it’s to be obeyed. Many people know certain of God’s commands for them, but they don’t give any thought to obedience. Inherent in the idea for “observe” (in both Hebrew and Greek) is obedience; one does not happen without the other.
  2. When God calls us to be holy, we really are to be holy! Don’t write it off as unimportant or irrelevant; strive by the grace of God to live by it.

Leviticus 20 – Penalties for profanity

  • Spiritual harlotry (1-9)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name.

  1. Lev 18:21, 19:4 – the danger of idolatry, especially the cult of Molech.
  2. Those who engaged in it incurred for themselves the death penalty. Question: Is idolatry really that serious? Yes! Idolatry is a sin that sends people to hell, for they give their worship to something other than God. And for God’s people to allow this to grow in their midst was to allow a terrible cancer to grow uncontested. Once discovered, the people were to take immediate action through God-ordained judgment.
  3. The death penalty is common in Ch 20, specified eight times for various crimes. If nothing else, it emphasizes this: the wages of sin is death. (Rom 3:23) Those wages will be paid, one way or the other (either by us or by Jesus on our behalf!).

4 And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, 5 then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech. 6 ‘And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.

  1. If the people refused to judge the sin, then God would. Again, this was something that God could not allow to have spread among His people. Indeed, the more idolatry caught on, the fewer revivals took place in the land of Israel.
  2. And it wasn’t limited to the specific cult of Molech. All spiritual adultery (idolatry, demonism, mediums) was forbidden and subject to judgment. (Per Lev 19:31)

7 Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 8 And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

  1. All of it is emphasized again: Be holy! Be obedient! Be separate, because God has separated you. Once God set them apart for Himself, they (we) aren’t to go back running to the rest of the world and get all mixed up in it. He’s made us different, so we are to remain different.
  2. This is impossible! Yes, it is. We do it only in Christ! As much as the need for holiness is emphasized, so is our need for Christ. Christianity, even with the commands of Almighty God our Heavenly Father given to us, never becomes a religion of “Do this, or else!” It’s always a relationship based on the grace of God showered on us in Jesus. Everything we have in God is because of Jesus, and everything we do for God is because of Jesus. It is grace, upon grace, upon grace…even in obedience to His word.

9 ‘For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.

  1. Lev 19:3, 5th Commandment (honoring parents). Why so harsh? Because cursing one’s parents is equivalent to cursing God. Keep in mind, these weren’t awful words spoken in a fit of anger; this was the child intentionally cursing his/her parents, wishing them dead (not unlike the Prodigal Son, though he said it in a nicer way).
  • Physical harlotry (10-21)

10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death. They have committed perversion. Their blood shall be upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. 15 If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them. 17 ‘If a man takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his guilt. 18 If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has exposed her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from their people. 19 ‘You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister nor of your father’s sister, for that would uncover his near of kin. They shall bear their guilt. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. They shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They shall be childless.

  1. Much of this was already addressed in Ch 18, regarding the definition of the sin/crime. Chapter 20 details the punishment associated with the acts. … What was involved?
    1. Adultery: vs. 10, based off the 7th
    2. Indirect incest: vss. 11-12, based off of 18:7,15, with the father’s wife (presumably from a remarriage) or daughter-in-law.
    3. Homosexuality: vs. 13; 18:22. For all those who claim that the prohibition against homosexuality went out with the prohibition against mixed fabrics, we need to keep the whole Biblical context in mind. Here, the context is plainly in the midst of sexual sin. If adultery, incest, and bestiality is still considered sinful (which it is!), so is homosexuality.
      1. BTW – Homosexuality is a sin, but it is not the unforgiveable sin. Just like adulterers & other fornicators require the forgiveness of God & receive it through repentance and faith in Jesus, so can homosexuals receive the same.
    4. Unnatural relationships: vs. 14; 18:17. The unnatural act of bedding both a woman and her mother.
    5. Bestiality: vss. 15-16; 18:23. This time, the law specified punishment for both male and female.
    6. Direct incest: vs. 17; 18:9 regarding the sister. Question: what about Abraham & Sarah? Prior to the existence of the nation & prior to the giving of the Law.
    7. Unclean sexual acts: vs. 18; 18:19. Remember that in the blood is life, and it belongs to God. Sex during a monthly menstrual cycle defiled the picture of holiness.
    8. Other misc. perverse relationships: vss. 19-21, based off of 18:13-14, 16. Included relations with aunts and non-levirate relationships between brothers and sisters-in-law.
  2. What was the punishment? Usually death, though sometimes barrenness. Once again, we see how the wages of sin is death. Sin kills, and it always leaves victims behind.
  • Summary and reasoning (22-26)

22 ‘You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them. 24 But I have said to you, “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.

  1. Once more the command to be different from the nations; be holy! Lev 18:24-30 made the same point: the various peoples of the land had already committed all these sins, engaging in them without repentance. This was why God was judging them, casting them out of the land like vomit. The Israelites needed to walk differently than those who were there before, or (per Lev 18:28-29) they would experience the same fate.
  2. But they could be different. They had something that none of the other groups had: the presence of God & the word of God. They had been taught by the Lord. God had shown them how to be different; now they were to put into practice and actually be (Again, we need to know, but we need to move past knowing to doing.)
  • Appendix

27 ‘A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.’ ”

  1. Final thought, but related. Mediums reject YHWH as God, thus mediums are to be rejected by the people of God.

Conclusion:

Be different; be holy! For Israel, God called them to be different from the rest of the world, gave them the grace and knowledge to know how to be different, and even put His presence among them to help them act differently than their neighbors around them. And on top of all of that, God gave Israel the example of Himself. Almighty God is holy, and all they needed to do to know what holiness was, was to look at God.

Would they fail? Yes. Historically, we know that the nation of Israel failed in massive ways, eventually falling to all of the same traps and sins of the pagan nations who were before them. And like those nations, God judged them. Although the Hebrews were His own people, He brought judgment upon them due to their wickedness.

If we try to do it ourselves, we’ll always fail. God is holy…in fact, God is too holy. He is infinitely holy, perfect in every respect. Yet we are still called to that perfection. Although Peter quoted Leviticus 19:2 directly, Jesus referenced it indirectly, even raising the bar: Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Don’t just be holy; be perfect!

Impossible? Yes…but that’s exactly why we need Jesus! We can do nothing on our own, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are forgiven of our failings. Because of Jesus’ victory, we have access to His power through the Holy Spirit. When we fully belong to Jesus, having all our hope & trust in Jesus, then (and only then!) we can live lives pleasing to Jesus. That’s when we’ll be holy as God is holy & perfect as God is perfect, because God will see us through Jesus. Because Jesus is holy, God will see us as holy. It’s all an act of grace.

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As Paul continued his 3rd missionary journey, he showed himself as the consummate servant of Jesus. Wherever Paul was, and whoever he was with, he did everything for Christ.

Life of a Servant

Posted: May 12, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 20:1-16, “Life of a Servant”

There’s nothing like a travel slide show to make some folks want to run for the hills. As much as we like sharing pictures with our friends and family, the constant narration of places to which they’ve never been & have no experience can get more than a bit tedious. 

Because so much of the book of Acts is a first-hand account of the travels of Paul & Luke (the author), some of the narration can feel much like a travel slide show. Only instead of the use of PowerPoint (or the old-style carousel slides!), it’s just the narration of place after place. It’s easy for us to skip over as we try to find something a bit more theologically-deep.

At the same time, we need to ask why the travel details are included. What purpose did this serve, from Luke’s perspective? After all, he wasn’t keeping a simple travel log; he was (to a large extent) writing an apologetic for Paul, compiling evidence that could be used as a legal defense for the apostle as he faced the Roman court system. Similarly, what purpose did all of this serve for those outside the courts? As Luke additionally provided the account of the church’s beginning as an evangelistic tract (particularly for the man Theophilus, Acts 1:1), what benefit do all these details give toward that end? And of course, since all of this was ultimately inspired by God the Holy Spirit, why does God want these details in the Scriptures, and why is it important to Him that Christians know these things today?

IOW, why should we care about all of this? What does all of this matter for us? In all of the many details of the port cities and travel companions, what we see is this: Paul lived the life of a missionary. Or to put it another way: Paul lived the life of a servant. Paul was willing to go anywhere and do anything for the Lord Jesus who saved him; so should we.

Remember how we got to this point. Setting out on his 3rd missionary journey, Paul traveled by land over Asia (passing through the various familiar cities of Galatia) to arrive in Ephesus. There, he had a tremendously successful ministry, preaching in the synagogue for three months, and the general city for over two years. God showed His power through the preaching of the gospel in incredibly miraculous ways, and so many people were coming to faith in Jesus that they were burning their scrolls of sorcery and leaving behind their idolatry.

In fact, so many people were converted that it caused the idol-makers in the city to feel the threat of the gospel. They didn’t care about message preached by Paul for themselves, but they certainly cared when it affected their pocketbook! A riot broke out in Ephesus over the issue, and it was only the sovereign hand of God that protected Paul and saved the church from certain persecution.

Seeing that it was time to leave, Paul prepared to continue his missionary travels, and that’s where Luke picks up in Acts 20. For all of the various cities named and travel routes identified, Luke showed the life of a servant. To Rome, Luke showed that Paul was no danger to the empire; Paul was simply a blessing to the church. To the church, Luke showed that Paul lived a life of service unto Christ. Jesus had saved him and completely transformed him, and everything Paul did afterwards was done in service to the Lord. Paul gave a personal example of what he wrote to the Romans (which was written during this period of time!): Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” No matter where Paul was, he presented his body as a living sacrifice to God in service. Jesus was his Lord who had transformed him, and everything Paul did was for Christ.

Such is our example! Wherever you are, and whatever you do, keep serving the Lord Jesus! Paul demonstrates it in three ways:

  • Paul encouraged the church (1-6). Keep going!
  • Paul taught the church (7-12). Keep learning!
  • Paul was part of the church (13-16). Keep worshiping!

Acts 20:1–16

  • Paul encouraged the church (1-6). Keep going!

1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia.

  1. The “uproar” in question was the riot in Ephesus, and although God sovereignly protected Paul and Christians from further persecution, Paul knew it was time to go. Before things got hairy, he had already planned to go through Macedonia & Achaia/Greece and on to Jerusalem (19:21), but the riot had put a kink into things. Paul needed to wait until it was safe to be seen in the streets again, but he also had the wisdom to know that he shouldn’t be seen in the streets for very long. This wasn’t Paul running from a fight; this was simply wisdom in action. Proverbs 8:12 says that wisdom dwells with prudence,” and Paul was acting appropriately in the circumstances.
  2. That said, he had a sweet departure with the Ephesian “” They were able to spend some time together, as Paul shared some final words with them on his way out. Manuscripts differ as to whether Paul “embraced them,” (as in a final “greeting”) or “encouraged them,” but surely one includes the other. Any last words from Paul to a congregation he planted were going to be words of encouragement. They had begun in faith, so Paul naturally exhorted them to continue in the faith. The same thing is seen in his letter to the Ephesians, as he prepares his friends and church family for the spiritual battle that awaited them, exhorting them to stand fast in the Lord, clothed in the armor of God & praying in the Spirit for both Paul, for themselves, and for all the church everywhere.
  3. Of course, Paul did not only encourage the church in Ephesus; he encouraged the church everywhere he went…

2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

  1. Extraordinarily quick overview of his trip! This was basically the 2nd half of the entire missionary journey, and Luke sums it up in a verse & a half. Of course, Luke did not need to give a blow-by-blow account of every city visited during the trip – what Paul did in the 3rd journey, he had also done in the 2nd journey: he visited all the churches he had previously planted, helping them grow in their discipleship and doctrine. Paul was not one to plant a church, leave, and then never give it another thought. On the contrary, each one of these congregations were like children to the apostle Paul, and he cared deeply about their growth and development. He grieved over every church that started to go astray, or those that received false teachers. He pleaded with them to return to Christ and the gospel, and did not hesitate to discipline them either in person or in his letters. He loved these churches, and prayed for them daily.
  2. What happened during this time? Although Luke doesn’t write anything about it, Paul himself does, filling in some of the details through his various letters. Paul had a few plans as he entered Macedonia and Greece: (1) He wanted to receive a financial offering from the Gentile churches to take back with him to Jerusalem, in order to help the Christians who were suffering in poverty (Rom 15:25-26); (2) He was greatly troubled over the happenings in Corinth, and greatly desired to see them, administering correction & re-grounding them in the gospel of Christ (2 Cor 7:5-7). In fact, the “three months” in Greece were likely spent in Corinth; (3) Ultimately, Paul’s goal in this period was encouragement. He “encouraged them [i.e. the churches] with many words.” As he did when leaving Ephesus, Paul encouraged all of the Christians in these churches, exhorting them to continue to persevere & keep walking with Jesus.
    1. We all need the same encouragement! The greatest thing in the world is to know the Lord Jesus in faith & walk with Him as one of His own, being forgiven of our sins & born into the family of God – but if we’re being honest, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world. The easy thing for us is to fall back into old habits – the easy thing for us is to engage in the same sins we’re used to – the easy thing is to fall in line with our culture, not bucking against the peer pressure all around us. That’s the easy thing to do…which is why so many people do it! It’s hard to be different. At least, it’s hard when we try to do it in our own power. In fact, it’s impossible to do in our own power! This is exactly why we need the grace of the Lord Jesus & the power of the Holy Spirit! And what we need from one another is encouragement to keep seeking Jesus’ grace & the Spirit’s power. The word for “encourage” is literally “call alongside.” We need to come alongside one another, calling one another to keep walking alongside Jesus. We encourage one another to “keep on, keeping on.”
    2. We all have people in our lives that do this for us: friends, family, pastors – even Christians of the past who left their writings for us to encourage us. But ask yourself this: who do you encourage? There’s someone in your circle of influence that likely needs encouragement to keep the faith & be renewed by Jesus. Who is it? How can you help them with it? … This is part of bearing one another’s burdens & fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Ask God who you can help encourage…and then go do it!
  3. After all of this, Paul still faced Jewish persecution. The unbelieving Jews seemingly remembered Paul from his last visit to the region, and they tried to pick up where they left off. Although we aren’t told the exact details, they “plotted against him as he was about to set sail to Syria.” Apparently, Paul’s original plan was to sail directly from Corinth to Tyre, and once the Jews found out about it, they plotted some sort of sabotage (or even assassination). They tried, but they failed. God silently demonstrated His sovereignty by leading Paul in a different direction. He ended up retracing his steps & going back the way he came.
    1. Keep in mind that it’s not that God promised to always protect Paul from persecution and prison. To the contrary! Paul was headed towards Jerusalem where he’d face immense persecution and the start of a lengthy imprisonment. Yet God had a plan for the when & where of all of this. God didn’t want Paul taken out by unbelieving Jews on the way; God wanted Paul arrested by the Romans so that Paul would witness to the Romans. 
    2. What has God allowed to come into your life? Trust His sovereignty! Sometimes things don’t work out according to our plans, but our plans aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things; God’s plans are.
  4. Notice that none of these plots and difficulties stopped Paul. He kept going, no matter where he was, or how many times he needed to change plans. Just like Paul encouraged the church to persevere in faith, Paul did the same. He took his own advice, and kept on keeping on with Jesus, wherever that happened to be. And Paul wasn’t alone…

4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.

  1. Some of these men we know nothing about; others we know quite a bit. This is the only mention of Sopater & Secundus. Aristarchus was one of the men taken in the Ephesian riot, and possibly Gaius as well (although “Gaius” was a common name, and this could perhaps refer to someone else due to the mention of him being from Derbe). Timothy was obviously a constant companion of Paul, and Tychichus & Trophimus are also mentioned in Paul’s letters (Tychicus, Eph 6:21, Col 4:7, 2 Tim 4:12, Tts 3:12; Trophimus, 2 Tim 4:20).
  2. If we learn nothing else from the mention of these men, we know this much: Paul wasn’t alone! In all of his service, Paul was always part of the larger Body of Christ. He couldn’t do the mission alone, nor did he want to. He needed other brothers (and sisters) in the Lord around him, helping to carry the load. In this case, the other men provided a bit of financial accountability for the offering that was being collected for Jerusalem, as well as serving as representatives from the many areas in which Paul had planted churches (Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia).
    1. We can’t all be Pauls or Timothys or Spurgeons or pick-your-favorite-famous-Christian. Maybe we’re more like a Sopater or Secundus, or maybe even more like one of the multitude of unnamed anonymous “disciples” mentioned in the Scriptures. It doesn’t matter what reputation we might have with others, as long as we have the right reputation before the Lord Jesus. As long as we’re doing what He has called us to do, by the power of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us to do it, then praise God! Let His reputation be the one that we lift up; not our own. We’re all part of the Body of Christ, so we serve as the body-part Jesus has made us to be.

5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

  1. Note the change in person from 3rd (“him/them”) to 1st (“us/we”). One name that was not listed in the above was Luke. Luke rarely calls attention to himself, but he was certainly present for this part of the journey.
  2. More than the travel locations, Luke provides the travel dates: “after the Days of Unleavened Bread.” This was springtime sailing, probably in 58AD (25 years after the cross of Christ!). That Luke points out the feast of Unleavened Bread tells us something about Paul (and the others): he was still an observant Jew. Though he was saved, having believed upon Jesus as the Messiah, it never changed his identity as an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. He was who he was, made a new creation in Christ Jesus, but always as a fulfilled Jew knowing the Messiah of whom the prophecies spoke.
    1. Sadly, there has been an increase in antisemitic behavior in the US & elsewhere. There is zero justification for it in the Scriptures. Jesus is the Hebrew Messiah, the very first Christians were Hebrews/Jews, and the first missionaries to the Gentile world were Hebrews/Jews. That Jews today (by & large) do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah is due to spiritual blindness (Rom 11:7), but by no means is God finished with Israel, nor has He replaced Israel with the Gentile church. Eventually, the Jews will come to faith in Jesus (Rom 11:26), and they will be some of the strongest evangelists of the Messiah that the world has ever known (Rev 7:4-8). Antisemitism has no place among Christians, and it ought to be viewed as the evil antibiblical behavior that it is.

In all of this, for as much as Paul encouraged the disciples in Macedonia & Greece to keep growing in their faith and keep walking with Jesus, notice that Paul kept going as well. He was constantly on the move, always headed from place to place (often accompanied by valued brothers in the Lord). Granted, this was his task at the time, being actively involved in his 3rdmissionary journey (i.e., not a vacation!), but it doesn’t change the fact that Paul never stopped serving. Be it in Ephesus, Berea, Corinth, or back again, Paul was active. He kept going for Jesus.

  • Are you active? Are you moving? Are you persevering? Sometimes we get the idea that once we come to faith in Christ, that’s it. We’re saved, so we can sit down. Not so! Jesus didn’t have us so that we could sit on our rumps; He saved us so that we can serve Him and glorify Him. Ephesians 2:8–10, “(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Are we saved by grace through faith, apart from works? Yes, gloriously so! But once we’re saved, we do work, in gratefulness to God as we worship Him with our lives, giving ourselves over to Christ as living sacrifices. We keep moving with Jesus, never giving up.

So Paul kept going as he encouraged the church, but that’s not all he did along the way…

  • Paul taught the church (7-12). Keep learning!

7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

  1. Notice when the disciples met: “on the first day of the week” = Sunday. This is the 1st mention in Scripture that the Christians were meeting on Sunday, rather than the Sabbath (Saturday). The Jewish Sabbath never changed for the Christians; only the day of meeting…which made sense not only for the fact that these Christians were primarily Gentile, but also to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on a Sunday.
  2. What had they gathered to do? “Break bread,” and receive teaching. Most think that the idea of breaking bread was a reference to the Lord’s Supper, perhaps beginning with what was called a “love feast.” But it was more than a time to eat food; it was a time to feed spiritually on the word of God through Paul’s teaching (or whoever happened to bring Scriptural teaching, whenever Paul wasn’t in town). IOW, they came to have church! They came as the church, to worship as the church & to learn as the church. They came expecting to participate with one another & to grow with one another. “Church” wasn’t passive; it was active. (It still is!)
  3. They certainly got their time’s worth out of Paul, as he gave them a lengthy teaching! Knowing that he had a limited amount of time with them, he started his Bible lesson and “continued his message until midnight.” Paul’s lengthy teaching became a dangerous teaching for one particular young man among them…

8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.

  1. It’s difficult to blame poor Eutychus. Although many make excuses for falling asleep in church, this was a totally natural reaction for the guy. Since the church met on Sunday evening, it seems likely that they came together after a day of work (at the time, most people worked on Sundays). Being understandably weary after the day & sitting in the window late at night, he got more & more tired as Paul kept teaching. The lamps were flickering, the heat was possibly rising from the oil flames, and, try as he might, the poor guy couldn’t stay awake. He fell asleep, and being that he was sitting in an open windowsill, he fell to his death. 
  2. In no small irony, “Eutychus” means “fortunate/lucky.” At the time, he didn’t seem very lucky at all! Thankfully, he had a bona fide apostle of the Lord Jesus there…

10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.”

  1. Reminiscent of Elijah & Elisha. Each of them revived a young man from the dead by doing something similar (1 Kings 17:21, 2 Kings 4:34). Seeing the emergency situation, Paul followed the example he knew from the Scriptures, and was immediately convinced of its effectiveness. Whether Eutychus woke at that time or not, we don’t know, but Paul certainly knew that the young man had been healed.
  2. Based on what Paul said, some have questioned if Eutychus truly died from his fall. As if Paul went down, and healed an unconscious man rather than reviving a dead man. We need to give Luke a bit of credit as a physician. When he wrote in verse 9 that Eutychus was “taken up dead,” that’s precisely what he meant. Something similar happened with Jesus & Jairus’ daughter. Once Jesus arrived at the house, before even seeing her, Jesus said that the child wasn’t dead, but sleeping (Mk 5:39). Were all the other people wrong about the girl’s state, and that she was only in a coma the whole time? Most likely, Jesus had already willed that the girl’s life be restored, and for the time being, it was like she was only asleep. Once He went inside, took her by the hand, and commanded her to arise, that’s when everyone else saw the proof (Mk 5:40-43). Likewise here with Paul & Eutychus. Being led by the Spirit, Paul fell on the young man, and knew the life had been restored, even though the visible proof had not yet been given. Paul was led by faith, acted in faith, and spoke in faith…and the results were soon verified!
    1. Amazing, yes; impossible, no. As with the miracles that took place in Ephesus, why should the thought of the supernatural be so hard to believe? We serve a God who has risen from the dead! Our Lord Jesus can do anything!
  3. The good news for Eutychus was that he was restored to life. And that was good news to the church congregation as well! “Do not trouble yourselves…” No longer did they have to be worried, sad, and troubled; God had granted life.
    1. We ought to have the same reaction every time someone comes to faith in Christ! Don’t be troubled about who they were; rejoice in the life they now have!

11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.

  1. Out of all of the humorous parts of this story, this bit is the best. Paul heals Eutychus, reviving him to life, and what does he do next? Paul goes right back upstairs, celebrates Communion, and then goes on with his message! In fact, by the time Eutychus fell, Paul was barely halfway done. He went on teaching for several more hours, “even till daybreak.” One minor little thing like a temporary death wasn’t enough to stop the sermon! 😊 And note this as well: the rest of the Christians stayed with him. It’s not like Paul was preaching to an empty room…the other Christians were there the entire time. As temporarily traumatic as the accident had been, once it was done, it was done. They could rejoice in the Lord, and their joy in Jesus made them even more hungry for the word and teaching that Paul gave them.
    1. How hungry are we for the Scriptures? How valuable is the teaching of the word of God to us? As a pastor, I’m grateful to say of this congregation that this is a church that truly values Biblical teaching…but that’s not the case for every church or every Christian. Some show up & endure the sermon, simply because it’s what you’re supposed to do on Sunday. And of course, sometimes the sermon is truly to be “endured,” because what’s taught isn’t the Bible! When the message is nothing but the rantings & opinion of men, then it’s difficult to see any value in that at all. But when it’s of/from the Bible, that’s something to be treasured! That’s something to drink in, like cold clear water on a hot day.
    2. And may we not limit it to Sundays! (Nor Wednesday, or any other mid-week service.) Biblical teaching is something we can receive every time we read the Bible. Each one of us has the word of God at our fingertips – it’s something we can open & read for ourselves. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is our Teacher, and we can trust Him to lead us & instruct us in the things He needs us to know. Paul writes of the Scripture that it is exactly what God uses to make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (2 Tim 3:17). Not pastors, not radio Bible teachers, not Christian authors (although all of those can be valuable!); it’s the Bible itself that makes us fully equipped. Never stop reading it – never stop learning from it! There’s always more we can grow through its teaching.
  2. If there was any doubt that Eutychus had truly died, Luke notes that when the young man was brought in again, he was verified as “alive,” to the great joy of the congregation (although put in typical Lukan understatement!).

There’s no doubt Paul taught an overly long time. Even so, Paul understood that there was much to be taught, and the Christian in Troas had much to learn. He tried to give them as much doctrine as he could, before he had to leave. There is always more to learn. Never stop growing.

So Paul encouraged the church to keep going – he taught the church, and they kept learning…

  • Paul was part of the church (13-16). Keep worshiping!

13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus.

  1. Luke provides a bit more travel commentary. Basically, the group continued south from Troas, sometimes by land & sometimes by sea. The note about Paul travelling alone to Assos is interesting, but unexplained. Why did he want to go alone for a time? Perhaps this was when he received prophetic revelation from the Lord regarding his future trials in Jerusalem (20:22-23).
  2. In any case, the group ended up in “Miletus.” Where was Miletus? 30 miles south of Ephesus…

16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

  1. Don’t get the wrong idea. Paul loved the Ephesians, and he had a tremendous ministry when he was there. But the last time he was in the city, he was there for well over two years (upwards to three). Now a year later, he has an end-goal of Jerusalem, and he cannot afford to delay his travels. There were two concerns: (1) Being reunited with the Ephesian Christians to an extent that he wouldn’t be able to leave in a timely fashion, and (2) Being recognized by Demetrius and other enemies, who might start another riot upon Paul’s arrival.
  2. Why did Paul want to be in Jerusalem? Besides his commission from the Holy Spirit, Paul wanted to be there in time to celebrate Pentecost (i.e. Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, 50 days after Passover, typically being a celebration of God’s gift of the 10 Commandments). IOW, he wanted to be among the Jewish Christians to worship. Paul was part of the church, and he wanted to worship alongside the church, with the church, as a member of the church. Paul may have been leadership within the church as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, but he was never above the rest of the church as a child of God bought with the blood of Christ. He worshiped God, just like everyone else, side-by-side with everyone else.
    1. Don’t lose sight of the need to worship! In all of our service to the Lord, it is never done as a replacement of worship; it’s to be done as But even then, we need to spend time in dedicated worship of our Lord & Savior. Sure, we can (and should!) give glory to God as we’re vacuuming floors, making coffee, teaching classes, etc., but certainly we ought to have time set aside for doing nothing else but worshipping and praising God. Right now, surrounding the throne of God are angelic creatures that do nothing but declare His praises 24/7, and guaranteed, they’re never bored! Surely we can dedicate some time every day & every week to do the same.
    2. And it’s done alongside the rest of God’s people. We can have marvelous times of worship by ourselves: just us & Jesus in our personal prayer closets, quiet times, etc., but those should not be the only times we worship. Jesus has made us to be members of His body, and He wants us with other Christians & around other Christians to worship. It’s one thing to sing praises to God on your own; it’s another to join with a roomful of people, having all your hearts and minds knit together as one giving glory to our God & King. May we worship, and may we worship together!

Conclusion:

As the 3rd missionary journey continued and started to come to a close, Paul kept serving Jesus. Wherever he went, and whoever he was with, the apostle found ways to keep active in his service to Christ, truly becoming that “living sacrifice” unto the Lord. And why not? The life of Paul would have looked extremely different at this point if he had never known Jesus, nor surrendered to Him in faith. Paul’s life went from being one of violence & misplaced theological zeal, to that of being a consummate servant, used greatly by the Lord for the glory of God. 

Paul was willing to go anywhere and do anything for the Lord Jesus who saved him; so should we. Consider for a moment who you were prior to knowing Christ. How lost were you? In what sins were you trapped? Even for those without the so-called “dramatic” testimonies, consider the fact that before you knew Jesus in faith, you were spiritually dead, destined for hell. No matter what sins you committed, you (and I!) had committed sins, being treasonous against the God who created us, and we were rightfully facing His infinite wrath. And then there was Jesus! Jesus changed all of that for us. Because He died in our place at the cross, and because He rose from the grave, our lives instantly changed the moment we surrendered to Him in faith. Our vast sins were forgiven – our enmity against God was replaced with peace – our spiritual death became spiritual life – our destiny of hell changed to a future eternity of heaven…all because of Jesus. How could we do anything less, than give our lives back to Him in faithful service?

  • Keep going: Persevere, endure, stand strong. Don’t give up on faith, but keep walking with the Lord who saved you.
  • Keep learning: Stay in the word of God, growing in the Scriptures with every opportunity.
  • Keep worshiping: Whether alone or with others, make worship a priority in your life. What a privilege we have even to be invited to worship! May we take marvelous advantage of it!

Bottom line: keep serving Jesus! Wherever you may be, whoever you may be with, and whatever you may find yourself doing, do it all for the Lord Jesus & for His glory!

Vive la Différence!

Posted: May 9, 2019 in Leviticus, Uncategorized

Leviticus 17-18, “Vive la Différence!”

The French have a saying: “Vive la Différence!” = “Long live (or celebrate) the difference!” Although we live in a culture that largely wants everything to be the same, there are certain things that are wonderfully different. People love their pets, but few people are both cat-lovers and dog-lovers; one always takes preference. With food, there’s a time for something soothing, creamy, & cold, and a time for something spicy & with a kick. And there are many differences between the sexes (despite recent claims to the contrary): men and women have different ways of thinking, process emotions differently, and have different physiologies. And to that, we can give thanks! (I’d hate to wake up to someone who looks just like me! “Vive la Différence!”)

Other differences reach to a totally different level. For instance, although men and women differ on some levels, we are same in our value to the Lord God. The difference between saved & unsaved, however, it something else entirely. Although all people are equally in need of the grace of God, and all have equal availability to the grace of God, only some people have received His grace. Once we have, the Bible says that we have been made new creations (2 Cor 5:17), having experienced a second birth (Jn 3:5). That fundamentally sets us apart from the people of the world, and we are profoundly different.

The problem comes when we don’t act different. What happens when someone is born of the Holy Spirit, made to be a child of God through the grace of Jesus Christ, but then still acts as if he/she is a child of the devil? What happens when the people of God act like the pagans of the world? That’s a problem! It destroys our witness, and drags down our personal relationship with our Savior. It isn’t supposed to be that way. Once Jesus cleanses us, we’re to walk as cleansed people; we aren’t supposed to walk around in our previous filth. He has made us different, so vive la différence!

This is the basic idea as the next section of the book of Leviticus opens, which some refer to as the “Code of Holiness.” At this point, the nation of Israel had been instructed on appropriate sacrifices, and the ongoing need to have blood shed for them for the remission of sin. Israel had also been given a priesthood: men consecrated & set apart to serve as both mediators between God and His people, and as teachers to show the people what was holy & profane, and clean & unclean.

From this, instruction was given regarding the clean & unclean, demonstrating it in food, sickness, and bodily functions. A brief break came with a description of the Day of Atonement, showing how an unclean nation would be cleansed by the grace of God every year. Now, the attention shifts to determining the holy from the profane. The pagans previously in the land had been profane; God’s people were to be holy & pure.

God’s people are not to be pagans, but if we’re being honest, that’s often how we act. Humans are naturally defiled and vile creatures, walking in all kinds of abominations. We require the grace, command, and empowerment of God to be different. We get that in Jesus! And it’s shown to us in Leviticus 17-18. Ch 17: Jesus saves us from paganism; Ch 18: Jesus saves us from perversion. 

Don’t act like the pagans; act like someone bought with the blood of Jesus!

Leviticus 17 – Jesus saves us from paganism.

  • Unlawful sacrifice (1-9)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Aaron, to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, saying: 3 “Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people, 5 to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to the priest, and offer them as peace offerings to the LORD.

  1. Was it wrong to slaughter livestock raised among the camp of Israel? Scholars have different opinions on the matter. Some point out that the Israelites ate manna during the wilderness, and did not need to slaughter meat at their tents, thus all slaughter apart from worship sacrifices was forbidden. Others suggest that while the Hebrews could eat meat (after all, they had many flocks with them, being primarily a nation of shepherds), any killing had to be done at the tabernacle. Still others say that the text does not specifically speak of slaughter for the purpose of eating, but only refers to slaughter for sacrifice & that is what needed to be done at the tabernacle. Deuteronomy 12:15 is clear that Hebrews could slaughter animals for eating within their cities (although it was a future reference to their soon-arrival in the Promised Land). All in all, it’s difficult to pick a strong position from the text, other than to say it was wrong to slaughter any animal used in sacrificial worship and not acknowledge that animal at the tabernacle at the center of camp. There is no question that the Hebrews ate at least some meat (seen in the fellowship offering & Passover celebrations, if nothing else), but even in their eating there was a danger of pagan idolatrous practices. All life belongs to God, including animal life, and that was to be recognized among the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness by bringing all of the shed blood to the Lord God.
  2. Beyond the idea of meat was the idea of personal sacrifice. Throughout the book of Genesis, there are accounts of the patriarchs building various altars wherever they may have lived, and giving their sacrifices to God at those places. No longer! That practice was now forbidden among the Hebrews, as worship was to be offered only at the tabernacle. God had given a way for the people to worship, and they were commanded to use it. 

6 And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and burn the fat for a sweet aroma to the LORD. 7 They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” ’ 8 “Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9 and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from among his people.

  1. The point of bringing all of these slain animals to the tabernacle was this: tabernacle worship ensured godly worship. In the past, the people had been spiritual harlots, practicing demonic idolatry, and this was to be avoided at all costs. If spilling blood in the camp opened up the door to idolatry, then people needed to be reminded that the blood belonged to the Lord God.
    1. FYI: the word for “demons,” could also be translated as “hairy,” or “goat,” but the third usage is plain from the context here: a goat-demon, such as a satyr. (Technically, the word “satyr” is taken from Greek mythology, but there’s an interesting similarity with the Hebrew word: שָׂעִיר) The LXX translated the word as “empty/fruitless,” with the idea of nothingness. In the end, that’s all idolatry is: worship offered to demons that is totally meaningless.
  2. This may have been what Israel did in the past, but it wasn’t what they were to do in the future. Improper sacrifices/worship resulted in excommunication – the “man shall be cut off from among his people.” Idolatry & improper worship carried serious consequences! The Israelite would be separated from his people, unable to carry on friendships and family relationships until there was some point of repentance and restoration.
    1. That’s the whole point of church discipline! It’s never to exact some sort of punishment; it’s always to bring a person to a point of repentance and restoration. When a person is “cut off” from the church, hopefully that person feels the pain and sorrow of being removed from friendships & understands the blockade he/she has put up between them and God. That sort of loss is what is meant to bring a person to true, sincere repentance, with the ultimate goal of forgiveness and full restoration.

All of that was to handle blood that had been shed. The right thing to do was to bring it to the tabernacle; the wrong thing to do is to keep it for yourself…

  • Eating blood (10-14)

10 ‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ 12 Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’

  1. Although this seems gross to us, obviously being wrong, we need to remember that we live in a 21st century western culture that has been founded on Biblical principles. For other cultures, this is not the case. Some drink blood as part of rituals, others use blood in dishes such as blood sausage or blood pudding, etc. [Not talking about rare steaks, but actual blood.] Biblically speaking, the consumption of blood is strictly forbidden. So much so, that eating blood is enmity against God. Notice how God describes it here: “I will set My face against that person who eats blood.” IOW, God takes up an adversarial position against that person, treating him/her as an enemy.
  2. Why? Because blood belongs to God; not us. God sees the person who eats blood as an enemy because he/she is usurping God’s rightful place. As God said to Noah, and affirmed again to Moses, “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” and life is something God alone can give. For humans to consume blood is for humans to put themselves in the place of God.
    1. This isn’t something that has changed in the New Testament. Out of the few commands that carried over to the church, this was specifically pointed out by the apostles in Jerusalem to the Gentiles who were just starting to come to faith. (Acts 15:29)
  3. To eat blood was to misuse it. Blood was given as a gift. It was meant for atonement; not consumption. This is why the blood of animals needed to be shed at the tabernacle: so that the people could see how it was used by God as a “sweet aroma” to quiet His wrath and to cover over their sins. The more they saw the shedding of blood as a requirement for sin, the more then understood the gravity of their sin…and the more grateful they would be for Jesus, who gave His own blood for our sin! How valuable is the blood? We are bought by the blood of Jesus! That’s why we don’t eat/drink it – it takes away from the picture of His sacrifice.
    1. Objection: What about communion? Don’t we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ? (Jn 6:53-56) Symbolically, yes, we do eat Jesus’ “flesh” and drink His “blood” when we partake of the bread and the cup…but those things are symbols, only. This is the way we symbolically partake of His sacrifice for us, as of a sin offering given on our behalf. But literal flesh & blood? Absolutely not. Jesus said to “Do this in remembrance of Me,” (Lk 22:19) – the Lord’s Supper is a memorial supper.

13 “Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; 14 for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’

  1. This is one more indication that the Hebrews weren’t completely meat-free in the wilderness: they had hunters. When the Hebrews hunted, they were to drain their kills when they cleaned the animals. The blood was poured out on the ground & covered with dust, being that they were too far away from the tabernacle to offer it there.
  2. This was more guarding against pagan practices. Even today, some hunters drink the blood of their first kill – a practice from which Christians ought to abstain.
  • Death by natural causes (15-16)

15 “And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. 16 But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”

  1. The subject changes from bloodshed, but it’s still related as it deals with the death of animals. It just goes back to the earlier discussion of clean vs. unclean things. Animals that died of natural causes were considered unclean. Technically, the Israelite who touched the dead animal carcass was already considered unclean (Lev 11:39). Surely, the Israelite would not purposefully eat it, but it was possible that he/she might accidentally eat something that was served to him/her. This wasn’t something that would totally cut them off from their people; it just made them temporarily unclean for the evening. The law had the effect of guarding the Hebrews from potential diseases that might have killed the animal, preventing it from infecting the humans. 

So God guarded His people from paganism, particularly when it came to the shedding of blood. This is something Jesus saves us from: idolatrous or worldly practices that worship Him wrongly or destroy the picture of His salvation. This is one way He makes us different from the rest of the world. It’s not the only way…

Leviticus 18 – Jesus saves us from perversion.

  • Preamble: YHWH’s commission (1-5)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. 3 According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. 4 You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

  1. God calls us to be different! What NOT to do? Don’t be like the pagans. The theme carries over from Chapter 17, although it takes on a different form in Chapter 18. All of it (including the rest of the holiness code in the following chapters) carries the same basic theme: God has called us to be different from the world, so be different! For the Hebrews, they weren’t to be like the Egyptians (the culture in which they had lived for the past 400 years), nor were they to be like the Canaanites (among whom they would soon live). They were not to abide by the examples of the world; they were to abide by the example of God.
  2. What TO do? Live by God’s word. Which parts of His word? All of it! “Judgments…ordinances…statutes…judgments.” Although it doesn’t come across very well in the NKJV, there is a great parallelism with the Hebrew terms used. The terms used for “judgments” is the same, as is the term used for “ordinances/statutes.” It’s a great sort of inclusio (or “bookend”) technique – not so much pointing out fine distinctions between different aspects of the law, but giving a comprehensive view of all of God’s commandments. The basic idea is to obey everything God has said, regardless of any division/organization.
    1. BTW – This hasn’t changed in the New Testament. Jesus says the same thing in the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Which commands of Jesus are His disciples to keep? ALL of them.
    2. This isn’t legalism, nor is it tying us down to the ceremonial commands of the Old Testament. Obviously there is much that is given strictly to the historical nation of Israel, and it is clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law (Mt 5:17) and the end of the law for those who believe (Rom 10:4). What this is, is simply living as citizens who are subject to their King. Our Lord has given us commands, so we obey. He tells us to love our neighbor, so we love – He tells us to forgive our brother, so we forgive – He tells us to walk in newness of life, so we do. All of it’s done by the power of the Holy Spirit, and all of it is enabled by His grace. The one thing we don’t do with it is: ignore it. We don’t write off a command of Jesus simply because we live under grace. It is because we live under grace that we love Jesus to the point that we want to keep His commandments. Paul actually quotes Lev 18:5 to the Galatians: Galatians 3:11–12, “(11) But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” (12) Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”” His point? No one is fully justified by the law (not even the Hebrews originally commanded through Moses); we are only justified by faith in God through Jesus Christ. If someone uses the law for justification, they will fail miserably! Yet that doesn’t mean we are not to live in obedience to God. Paul goes on to write to those same Galatians: Galatians 5:16, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” There is a way that we are to walk as Christians, and it is according to the word of God, by the power of the Spirit of God, all to the glory of God. We obey Him, walking worthy of the calling with which we were called (Eph 4:1).
  3. WHY do it? Because YHWH is our God. Three times in five verses (and once more in verse 6!), God says “I am the LORD.” Literally, “I, YHWH.” It wasn’t that Israel needed the constant reminder of Who it was that they served and worshiped (though that was needed!); it was an emphasis on the authority behind the command to be different. The Israelites might feel pressure from the world, but they served Someone far greater than the world. Their King was none other than YHWH God, the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. It was because God spoke, that they obeyed. It didn’t matter what everyone else did; it mattered what their God did and what their God told them to do.
    1. Why do we obey Jesus? Because Jesus is the Lord! He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – He has been given the name that is above every name – He is the image of the invisible God through whom all things were created, and in whom all things consist. When Jesus commands us to do something, it comes from the highest authority! Is it different than the world? Is it (in many cases) contrary to the world? Yes. Is He to be obeyed? Yes. Jesus calls us to be different, so be different! It doesn’t matter what everyone else in the world is doing, or what they believe. It doesn’t matter what direction our culture wants to go; we are to abide by the word of God, period! Jesus is our Lord & King, and He is the one we obey. 

One major area of difference was seen in sexual relationships, particularly that within families…

  • Protecting familial relationships (6-18)

6 ‘None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the LORD.

  1. Long section dealing with sexual morality, some of which will be repeated in Chapter 20. The idea of “uncovering one’s nakedness” isn’t so much only gazing at another person’s private parts (although that’s included); it’s usually a euphemism for sexual action. Much of Chapter 18 is guarding the Hebrews from engaging in incest, something that was commonly seen among Egyptian royalty and in other cultures.
  2. All in all, God emphasizes the sacredness of family relationships. One’s family is to be valued & protected; not abused & defiled. God’s intent for sex is holy & pure: one man + one woman, humbly submitted to God & to one another, joined together for life. When this is done according to God’s will, it’s wonderful! When it’s not, it is the source for all kind of pain & heartbreak. The pain only increases when sex is abused within family relationships, and it is something God wanted to guard His people from.

7 The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. 9 The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10 The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness.

  1. Note how the nakedness of the spouse belongs to the other, or of the children belong to the head of the household. Emphasizes a couple things:
    1. Sexual sin affects far more than just the person involved
    2. In marital bonds, each spouse belongs to the other
  2. Question: What about the children of Adam and Eve? Didn’t they inherently break these commands? Yes & no. Yes, there is no question that the original children of Adam and Eve were intermarried in what would today be considered incestual relationships. There’s simply no way around it… At the same time, there were no commands broken because there were no commands governing these relationships yet given. Those things happened centuries before the global flood of Noah, and many more centuries before the tribes of Israel ever existed.

11 The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father—she is your sister—you shall not uncover her nakedness. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law—she is your son’s wife—you shall not uncover her nakedness.

  1. Outside of the immediate family, God still guards relationships among people who are near of kin. Even without direct blood ties, some relationships are still too close to be considered appropriate.
  2. Again, the whole idea is that the family is sacred. It is to be valued, and guarded as unto God.

16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness. 18 Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.

  1. Although it would seem to be contradictory, verse 16 is not the same thing as levirate marriage. [A man marrying the widow of his brother or close-relative, per Boaz & Ruth.] The whole context in verse 16 is that the brother is still alive, whereas in levirate marriage the brother has died. The concept of levirate marriage still seems somewhat strange to modern ears, but we need to remember that this was a provision of grace to young widows living in an ancient culture where they would not be otherwise valued or cared for. God cared for them, and He ensured that they would find sustenance.
  2. Verse 18 was the exact scenario for Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Although the nation of Israel was birthed out of just such a relationship, there is no question that it was painful, and the source of much division between the sisters and their children.

Perverse pagan sexual acts were not limited to incest…

  • Prohibiting other pagan sexual practices (19-23)

19 ‘Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity.

  1. Goes along with Leviticus 15:24. There, it demonstrates that a man who lies with a woman during her monthly period is unclean; here, it prohibits the act entirely. This isn’t contradictory, but complementary. FYI: this was a gift to the woman, protecting her from unwanted advances during her regular monthly cycle.

20 Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. 21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.

  1. Four major sexually-based sins:
    1. Self-explanatory. Interestingly, the Bible is explicit that this sin is “defiling.” For many in today’s culture, it’s “no big deal…just an affair, a fling;” to God, it is defiling sin.
      1. According to Jesus, it’s sin that can take place in the heart before it ever passes into physical action. (Mt 5:28)
    2. Although the custom of passing one’s child “through the fire to Molech” does not specifically identify a sexual sin, the fact that it is included in the list of other abhorrent sexual practices suggests that there was some other sexually perverted element to it. We know this to be the case with other idol-cults, as Baal and Ashtoreth were portrayed as fertility gods, and often worshiped through cultic prostitution or other sexual acts. Even so, the very idea of idolatry is Biblically considered to be spiritual adultery against God, so it’s inclusion in this list of other sins is appropriate.
      1. The actual practice of passing through the fire to Molech was horrendous, involving child sacrifice… Its modern equivalent? Abortion.
    3. Although only male relationships are specified, it was widely understood by the rabbis that the same prohibition applied to females.
    4. It might seem terrible to think that such a command would even have to be specified in the Scripture, but when considering the practices found in other cultures in the ancient near east, it was a necessary prohibition. The Apologetics Study Bible notes, “Hittite laws assign the death penalty to lying with some animals, but lying with a horse or a mule carried no penalty.” The Bible wastes no words with it, calling it “perversion.
  2. What’s the difference between an abomination and a perversion? In English, not much – but in Hebrew, there’s a bit of clarification. The term for “abomination” (תּוֹעֵבָה) refers to a detestable thing, something to be abhorred. On the other hand, the term for “perversion,” (תֶּ֫בֶל) refers to confusion – something outside of the natural order. By itself, “confusion” doesn’t seem too bad – but when confusion leads to something that is abhorred by God, then it is truly evil indeed.
  3. That said, all of these sins are abominations and Repetition and parallelism are common Hebrew grammatical techniques to show emphasis, and although it is more common in poetic literature, it is the same basic usage here. All of these sexual sins (including the incestual ones leading up to this passage) are outside of the natural order given by God, and all of them are hated by Him. Practically speaking, it means we shouldn’t see one as being “more” evil than the other. Adultery is on the same level as homosexuality, and idolatry is on the same level as bestiality. It’s all evil, being corruptions of the goodness God intended for us in our relationships with one another and with Himself.
    1. BTW – That doesn’t mean that bestiality is less evil; it means that adultery and idolatry are far more evil than we typically realize. We often think of some sins being more perverse than others, simply because those are sins we don’t think we’d ever commit. That’s not what the Bible teaches. Even in the New Testament, when Paul lists off the unrighteous people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, he puts fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and sodomites (homosexuals) side-by-side (1 Cor 6:9-10). Beware the idea that certain sins are more damning than others! The person who plays around with heterosexual sex is just as much in need of forgiveness and grace as the person who justifies him/herself in homosexuality.
  • Warning against defilement (24-30)

24 ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.

  1. The other “nations” were defiled, and they defiled the land. They were the ones that engaged in these terrible sexual acts (incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, idolatry), and they so defiled themselves that they brought the judgment of God upon themselves. Back in Genesis, when God promised the land to Abraham, telling him that his descendants would eventually inherit it, but they would have to wait 400 years, God also told him the reason why: Genesis 15:15–16, “(15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” God had given the nations the opportunity to repent, but they hadn’t done it. Instead, they defiled themselves, and they defiled the possession of God.
  2. Because they defiled the land, they lost the land. God’s way of cleansing the land was to pour out His judgment upon them through His chosen vessel of Israel. It is with all of this in mind that God gives His command to the Hebrews. If the Canaanites and Amorites could defile the land and lost the land, the same thing could happen to the Israelites…

26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 ‘Therefore you shall keep My ordinance, so that you do not commit any of these abominable customs which were committed before you, and that you do not defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.’ ”

  1. The Hebrews should heed the warning! Israel could lose the land just like the heathen before them, if they committed the same abominations as the heathen. But if they kept the law, they wouldn’t be defiled. If they kept the law, they would show themselves to be the people of God. There’s only one problem: it’s impossible to keep the law! No one can live perfectly, and no one can justify themselves by the law of God, as perfect as it is. If they kept the whole law, yet failed in one point they would be guilty of the entire thing (Jas 2:10). Even their best attempts to keep the law in their own strength would be of no more value than filthy defiled rags (Isa 64:6). 
  2. This takes us back to the preamble. If the Israelites are called to live by the commands of God, not defiling themselves with the perversions of the world, how can they do it if it is impossible to keep the law in its fulness? Answer: they (like us) were to rely on God’s grace. Yes, they would fail…that’s why God gave them the sacrifices. Yes, they would be imperfect…that’s why God gave them the priests as intercessors. Yes, they would require atonement…that’s why God provided it. Of course, even those things were imperfect because they relied on human people, but they all looked forward to the One who is perfect: the Lord Jesus Christ! God gave them the law, so that they would rely on His grace. God gave them the commands, so that (1) they would strive to live in obedience, but (2) when they failed, they would humbly plead for His mercy and love. That’s exactly what God promised to give, and that’s what He did give in Jesus!

Conclusion:

The bottom line is this: perversions of the world defile/pollute the people of God. God warned the Israelites of the danger, and the danger is no less real for us. What is our hope? Only the purity and cleansing we receive in Christ! He gives us His grace, so we walk by His grace. But we do walk. We live as Christians, the people of God!

Beloved, as born-again Christians, we have been made into different people by the grace of God, so be different! Don’t live as you did when you were a pagan; live as Jesus has made you to be: a new creation, empowered by God the Holy Spirit. Jesus saved us from paganism, and He has saved us from perversion; walk in holy purity according to God’s word, giving God the glory.

As Paul wrapped up his ministry in Ephesus, a riot broke out, and things looked bleak as the people revolted against the gospel. But things took a miraculous turn. Jesus is the one to build His church, and His gospel can’t be stopped!

Acts 19:21-41, “Revolting Against the Gospel”

What is it that you consider your greatest threat? For young students, it might be a bully at school – for older students, it might be a teacher they consider unfair. In a career, it might be the coworker constantly playing politics. As we age, it might be health scares such as cancer or other life-threatening diseases. What we consider our greatest threats vary from person-to-person, and it can be difficult to imagine what it might be for our neighbor. Yet this much is clear: for Satan, his greatest threat is the Lord Jesus! And likewise for a world of people under the guidance of the one Jesus called “the ruler of this world,” (Jn 14:30), their greatest threat is the gospel of Christ. After all, the one thing that can free people from the slavery of sin and of Satan is the good news concerning Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Rom 1:16) That is news that the devil will try to silence at every opportunity, but the gospel cannot be silenced! The good news of Jesus Christ will ring forth into all the world, inviting people to respond in salvation, because it goes out with the power of Almighty God. The gospel is what Jesus uses to build His church, and His church will be built, with the gates of hell unable to stand against it! (Mt 16:18)

With that in mind, what does Acts 19:21-41 have to do with the gospel? In a passage of Scripture that never once mentions the name of Jesus, how exactly can this be about His gospel? Sometimes a presence is felt, even when it isn’t seen. That’s the case here. As Paul began to wrap up his ministry of evangelism and discipleship in the city of Ephesus, certain people acutely felt the threat of Jesus and His gospel. They tried to put a stop to it, but found that the gospel cannot be stopped!

Back up for context. Keeping his promise made at the end of his 2nd missionary journey, Paul returned to Ephesus in Asia Minor to preach the gospel. He found great success in the synagogue, having his longest opportunity yet to preach among the Jews: three months! From that point, he went (with the newly converted Jewish Christians) to the public square, using a lecture hall known as the School of Tyrannus to preach among the Gentiles & spread the gospel message to the rest of Asia. This continued for two years, and God did amazing things through Paul as the gospel went forth. People were miraculously healed, demons were cast out, false teachers were exposed, and many people were saved. The power of God was on full display!

This was keenly seen when approximately $3 million worth of “magic” scrolls were publicly burned by former pagans who came to faith in Christ. These people saw the truth of the gospel & the worthlessness of what they had previously believed, and they burned all their bridges to the past. They wanted the gospel truth, and nothing less!

Events like this stood out among the rest of the city’s populace, and those who made their living from making idols took notice. These silversmiths saw the writing on the wall. If the Ephesians were turning away from “magic” and other false beliefs, then they would soon turn away from idolatry as well.

What was success for Paul and the church (and most importantly, in the eyes of God!) was a threat for those still in the world. They had to do something to resist the danger to their livelihood, so they revolted…and they revolted in a big way!

Revolt as they might, they could not overcome the almighty power of the sovereign God! They did not worship God, and they resisted Jesus…but they could not stop Him or His gospel! Jesus was building His church, and they could stand in the way, but they could not slow Him down.

This wasn’t only good news for Paul & the Ephesian Christians; it’s good news for all of us today. We live in a world that revolts against Jesus, hating Him, His message, and His people. And it seems like the resistance increases every day. That can get discouraging… The world’s resistance to the gospel message makes us want to give up, but God’s good news cannot be stopped! Jesus built His church in Ephesus, and He continues to build His church today. So: keep preaching the gospel – let it out to do its work – expect the world’s resistance – and trust God!

Acts 19:21–41

  • The gospel is preached…so keep preaching! (21-22)

21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

  1. At this point, the ministry of Paul in Ephesus was over 2 years long, and he knew it was time to bring things to a close and move on. That he “purposed in the Spirit” to do this is simply to say that the Holy Spirit guided Paul in his decision making. Paul was resolved to do whatever it was the Spirit gave him to do.
    1. BTW – Many people wonder how they can know God’s will for their lives. Paul demonstrates it wonderfully! Live your life humbly submitted to God, spending time with Jesus in prayer, meditating upon His written word. As you do, trust that the Living God will guide. Resolve to do what the Spirit leads you to do, and when faced with a decision, you can trust that the decision you make will be the one the Spirit led you make. (And if you’re wrong, you can be sure He will lovingly correct you!)
    2. More often than not, we get into trouble by purposing to do whatever it is we want, rather than what God We make our decision, and then pray as a form of “clean-up,” after-the-fact. Be careful to pray first! The more proactive we are in our submission to God, the more confident we can be of His steadfast guidance.
  2. Knowing that it was time to move on, Paul looked ahead by looking back. He had already been to the regions of “Macedonia and Achaia” on his previous mission trip, and he wanted to revisit the cities in which he had planted churches in the past. Much like he did at the start of his 2nd missionary journey (visiting the churches planted by he & Barnabas during his 1st missionary journey), he wanted to do the same thing on his now-3rd missionary journey (visiting the churches planted on his 2nd missionary journey). Paul was no fly-by-night church planter, setting up congregations and never thinking of them again. On the contrary! He was a loving pastor & shepherd, being concerned about the well-being and maturity of these churches, and he wanted to ensure that they were thriving and healthy. Additionally (as we can piece together from the letters he wrote), there was also a hardship in Jerusalem, and Paul was receiving an offering from the Gentile churches to take back to the original church in Jerusalem – which was why he knew he would end up there. At that point, Paul was convinced that it was necessary to go to Rome, and although he knew that it would include much suffering, he didn’t know the specifics of what awaited him along the way (20:22-23).
    1. Even so, that’s a pretty specific plan! Paul understood what God had in store for him, and he was resolved to see it through. We might not have quite as many precise details about God’s plan for us, but we can still proceed with the same resolve. Wherever we are & whatever we’re doing, we are always witnesses of Jesus! To be a “witness” isn’t only something we do; it’s something we are. We don’t have to be present at an evangelistic outreach to do evangelism; we just need to introduce people to the Jesus whom we know, love, and worship. What is it God has you doing? What has He put in front of you? Be resolved/purposed to be a witness in that!

22 So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.

  1. Paul sent two ahead, while he remained behind. He knew that God had plans for him beyond Ephesus, but he wasn’t rushing anything. As long as God gave him a window of opportunity where he was, he took it. This was what God had in front of him, so he was faithful with what he had. For two years, the gospel had a massive impact around him as he had been preaching, so he kept preaching it. (Keep faithful! Keep witnessing!)
  2. Although nothing had been said about “Timothy and Erastus” prior to this point in the 3rd missionary journey, it’s a reminder that Paul wasn’t alone in ministry. Obviously, Paul had met Timothy long ago, but the last mention of him was when Paul was in Corinth, just prior to getting kicked out of the synagogue and preaching to the Gentiles (18:5). Erastus is a new name in Acts, and his origin is uncertain. There was an Erastus who was the city treasurer of Corinth named at the end of Romans (Rom 16:23), who may/may not have been the same friend who remained in Corinth at the end of Paul’s life (2 Tim 4:20). Whether this was the same man whom Paul sent out from Ephesus with Timothy is unknown. Whoever the man was, he was still vital to the gospel ministry! Both he and Timothy could keep the mission progressing while Paul stayed in Ephesus to preach. What does it show? It shows that the whole body of Christ was (and is!) necessary to do the work!
    1. You are just as important to the Great Commission as me, or anyone else! You may not have the audience of Franklin Graham or Greg Laurie, etc., but you have personal connections they don’t. You can speak to people they will never meet – you have relationships they will never have. Keep preaching Jesus where you are! Show Jesus in your life, and take the people you know to Him. Serve in the church where God has placed you, using your gifts with the people God has put around you. That’s a ministry that cannot be duplicated, nor can it be replaced!
  • The gospel is a threat…so let it out! (23-27)

23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.

  1. The Way.” Throwback to an older name for Christianity. This was what Christians were called prior to Paul’s conversion, when he was still persecuting believers in Jesus Christ as Saul the Pharisee (9:2). It’s a fitting name, considering Jesus’ own statement about Himself: John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
    1. People wonder how they can know they will go to heaven when they die. There’s only one Way: Jesus! If you’re not going through Jesus, you’re not going at all!
  2. Of course, that’s not often a very popular message. When people get told there is only one Way, they get offended. That’s what happened in Ephesus. All kinds of people had gotten saved through the preaching of the gospel, and they were repenting of past sins and paganism. Although that’s good news to us, it was troubling to others. Because of the preaching of Jesus as the One Way, “There arose a great commotion” – there was a tremendous agitation/disturbance. The Way of Jesus is bound to disturb people! The gospel is a stone of stumbling & a rock of offense to those who do not believe. (1 Pt 2:8)
    1. It was like that in Ephesus, and it’s like that in America today…even right here in the Bible belt! As much as it seems that every person on the street claims to be a Christian, the moment they’re told about the exclusivity of the gospel (that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone, known through the Bible alone), they get offended. They want to believe that they can add something to their salvation – that they can assure themselves of their salvation through all their good works – that surely a good & loving God would never allow anyone to go to hell – that it doesn’t really matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you’re a relatively nice person, etc. On the surface, all of that might sound normal (simply because so many people believe it), but none of it’s biblical. The only way we are saved is through Jesus…full stop, period, end of story. We place all our faith in Him, and He saves us by His grace. He is the only Way! (Have you believed upon Him? Is He your Way?)

24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

  1. Who/what was Diana of the Ephesians? (Or “Artemis,” the literal Greek name.) This was a pagan goddess that should not be confused with the Artemis/Diana of Greek/Roman mythology. The name was adapted for the goddess, but this was a far older idol-cult that likely came from elsewhere in the ancient near east. Unlike the Greek/Roman myths of a chaste goddess of the hunt & moon, the Diana of the Ephesians was a multi-breasted fertility goddess, not unlike the Ashtoreth/Astarte worshipped by the Canaanites and surrounding cultures (including even the Israelites, at times!).
  2. In the case of Ephesus, their version of Diana/Artemis had a massive temple within the city, originally built in the mid-6th century BC, burned at one point, but totally restored to its architectural glory by the time Paul arrived in the 1st century AD. It was the 1st massive structure built of nothing but marble, and was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It’s final destruction came in 262AD when it was burned by the invading Goths. – At the center of the temple was the idol itself, either a meteorite that looked something like a figure with all the breasts, or a statue carved from what was likely a meteorite (as seen later in the passage), and it was held in the highest esteem and security. In fact, the temple was so secure that it even served as a type of bank/financial lending institution due to the fact that so many rich citizens kept their valuables there.
  3. If this paints the picture of the temple of Diana being a valued part of the Ephesian culture, it should! Ephesus was a wealthy city for two reasons: trade & tourism, due to the temple. Although trade was more financially secure, it was getting tough because of problems with the riverbeds leading to the Mediterranean, so that put a lot of focus on cultic tourism. People came to see the temple, and (just like tourists today) they came to spend money at the temple & for trinkets and other things related to the temple.
  4. That brings us to Demetrius. He seems to have been a leader of the trade-guild that manufactured idols made for these tourists. He saw the impact of the gospel preached by Paul and saw the threat to his pocketbook. The more people who became believers in Jesus as the Way, the less people he had willing to buy silver statues of Diana. So he gathered all of the various idol-makers together (not all of them worked with silver), and he explained the threat to them.
  5. Question: Is the gospel a threat? You bet it is! The good news of Jesus Christ threatens not only the sin of idolatry, but sins and worldliness of all kinds. When people come to believe that Jesus truly is the Son of God crucified for their sin and risen from the grave in victory – when they put all their hope and faith in Him for forgiveness & eternal life, that’s when their entire lives change. People turn away from their sins of the past & start walking as the new men and women that Jesus makes them to be. They are empowered by God the Holy Spirit to walk in faithfulness and power, glorifying God. All of that is wonderful music to our ears, but it is the sound of war to Satan! It is a threat to drug dealers and porn publishers – it’s a threat to bars & distilleries – it’s a threat to false teachers and false religions – it’s a threat to any industry that makes its money keeping people away from God & entrapped in sin.
    1. The surprise shouldn’t be that these industries feel threatened; the surprise should be when they don’t. When there is no change among the Christians (no difference between the church and the world), what does that say about the church?
  6. The gospel does threaten the world. Why wouldn’t it? In it is the power of God to salvation! That’s not something to restrain; that’s something to let loose! Preach the news of Jesus in all it’s fullness, and watch it work!
  • The gospel is rejected…so expect resistance! (28-34)

28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” 29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.

  1. Stirred up by Demetrius, a riot broke out in the city & anyone associated with Paul was taken. Apparently, they couldn’t find Paul, so they settled for two more of his “travel companions,” Gaius and Aristarchus. (Spoiler alert: both of them make it out of this, and continue on with Paul in Acts 20.)
  2. Having taken the Christians by force, the mob “rushed into the theater with one accord,” painting the picture of a huge crowd thirsty for blood. The Ephesian theater was massive, with a seating potential of upwards to 25,000 people. This was the place where games were held, and Gaius and Aristarchus could only imagine what awaited them in the next few minutes.

30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.

  1. Interestingly, during this entire event, Paul does not say one word in his own defense, or in defense of the gospel. Not that he was afraid (he had spoken up in dangerous situations many times in the past), nor because he lacked the desire – after all, he had to be restrained by well-meaning friends, both Christian and non-Christian. These people wanted to protect him from the Ephesian mob (and not without reason!). No, Paul did not speak because he did not need to speak; God chose someone else to do the speaking for him. God had a different plan in mind, and He was working it out to His own glory.

32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

  1. Although the mob had begun with Demetrius and the idol-makers, it spread to all corners of the city. As is typically the case with rioters, most of the people didn’t even know why they were there – they just got caught up in the crowds and the noise. It was mass confusion – a throng of people acting in furious anger, not caring who felt the weight of their wrath.
  2. At this point, the unbelieving Jews in Ephesus thought they might have a chance to really put the screws to Paul, and purge him and all of the Christians out of the city. It didn’t work out so well…

33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

  1. The plan of the unbelieving Jews completely backfired. They thought that Alexander would be able to speak on their behalf, and that they could distance themselves from Paul and the gospel, but it didn’t work. All the crowd saw was one more guy who believed in one God who was not Diana of the Ephesians. The rioters (rightly) saw the God of the Hebrew Bible to be the same God preached by Paul in the person of Jesus Christ.
  2. This was a massive revolt! The city was in an uproar, all because of the message preached by Paul and the Christians. They understood exactly what it was the Christians were saying: that Jesus Christ is Lord, and idolatry is an empty lie…and they soundly rejected it. They dug in their heels and resisted the gospel in every way that they could. Does this mean that Paul and the others had failed? Not at all! The revolt began because of success; not failure! If the message preached by Paul and the others never had an impact, Demetrius and the others wouldn’t have cared. It’s because the gospel of Jesus did something to people, that the people resisted.
    1. Have you seen people resist the gospel? Good news: it means that at least there has been an impact! It can be discouraging to look around our culture and see greater and greater resistance to Jesus, and no doubt, much of it is due to Christians not acting like people transformed by Christ. But a lot of it is a sheer rejection and hatred of Christ Himself. They can’t stand the idea of there being one Way, Truth, and Life, so they revolt against the news & the church every way they know how. It shouldn’t be a surprise: Jesus warned the disciples that the world would hate them because the world hated Him (Jn 15:18). But again, at least there has been an impact. If people reject Jesus, it’s because they have heard of Jesus. Don’t get discouraged by their rejection; expect it and keep doing what Christ has called you to do!

As for Paul & the other Christians in Ephesus, at this point things looked pretty bleak. With thousands of people in an uproar & Christians taken by violence, it seemed that the church itself might be threatened. It wasn’t…God was in control!

  • The gospel is preserved…so trust God! (35-41)

35 And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?

  1. Keep in mind that Luke is merely recording the words that were said by the city official. This is not a Biblical endorsement of idolatry or an affirmation that Diana/Artemis is a legitimate goddess; it is simply an accurate summary of what was said and/or believed. Some object had fallen from the sky (perhaps a meteorite), and this was taken by the Ephesian pagans and worshipped as a god.
  2. Apparently, this “city clerk” believed this just as much as anyone else there in the Ephesian theater. We don’t have the name of this man, but it’s evident that he commanded a lot of power and influence within the city (no small feat, considering Ephesus was the 3rd largest city in the Roman empire!). What we do know is that this man was an idolater, just like the rest. He worshipped the Diana/Artemis idol just like the rioters in the street. He had no reason to protect Paul, yet that was exactly what he ended up doing.
    1. God can use anyone for His purposes! He did it with pagan kings in the past – He did it with city officials in the Roman empire – He does it with men and women all over the world today. God is absolutely sovereign…let there be no doubt!

36 Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another.

  1. The city official may have been pagan, but he was law-abiding. He saw what was being done, and knew it to be wrong. Gaius & Aristarchus (and even Alexander) had not broken any laws, and thus had no reason to be thrust forth for punishment. Ephesus was a city under the rule of law; not the rule of the mob. There may have been a potential financial threat against the temple of Diana, but it wasn’t like the Christians had gone in and defaced it. If there were true crimes, then the proper channel was the court system.

39 But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.”

  1. For all the danger seen by Demetrius by the message of the gospel, the city clerk saw a real danger in the actions of the mob. If the people of Ephesus were seen as unruly, then Rome had ways of dealing with such things! The city official wanted to protect the people from themselves, and avoid Roman consequences. 

41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

  1. Finally, the crowd dispersed. It seems almost anticlimactic, but when we think about it, it’s truly impressive! One moment, thousands of people are gathered in the theater ready to pour out their violence upon a couple of token Christians, with the whole movement of Christianity in the city blamed for a threat against their chief economic industry. The next moment, everyone goes home, with the Christians set free & the church even cleared to keep preaching the gospel. That’s not only a dispersal of a mob; that’s a miracle of God!
  2. This is what is seen, but not said: God used a pagan to protect Paul. God used this unnamed unbelieving man to protect the Ephesian Christians from further harm, and also to supernaturally protect the apostle Paul, fully freeing him to continue his gospel ministry throughout the Roman empire. This was nothing less than the sovereign hand of God at work! The devil through Demetrius had tried to stop the gospel, and it couldn’t be done. Jesus continued to build His church!
  3. BTW – God saved Paul in this instance, just like God earlier saved Paul from a similar problem in Corinth (18:12-17). Does that mean that God was obligated to save Paul from persecution every time? Most of Paul’s 1st & 2nd missionary journeys was filled with persecution – Paul coming dangerously close to death on at least one occasion. And of course, Paul would soon face more danger & imprisonment for Jesus’ sake when he went to Jerusalem & then to Rome. Paul was no stranger to suffering! Sometimes God delivered Paul away from it; sometimes He gave Paul grace to endure it. Either way, God was with Paul – either way, God was still sovereign.
    1. Why does God sometimes do one & not the other? That’s up to Him…it all depends on His perfect plan. But because it is God’s plan, we can trust Him!

Conclusion:

That’s a lot of narrative about events that don’t even mention the name of Jesus. Why is it all in our Bible? Remember that Acts is more than a history of the early church to be read by modern eyes; it was a useful document in the day that it was written. As an apologetic (legal defense), Luke shows that neither the city officials in Ephesus nor the chief officers of Asia saw Christianity as a threat to Rome. This would have provided quite a bit of evidence on Paul’s behalf when standing before Caesar! That said, there was a lot more to it than that! As a history of the spread of the gospel, there is no question that Christianity was/is a threat to paganism, lies, and sin. Christianity spread, because the gospel of Jesus is the truth!

Question: If Christianity was so successful then, why does it not seem to be as successful today? First of all, remember that we look at only a mere fraction of the overall picture. Although the church seems to be on a decline in America and Western Europe, in other countries around the world (particularly those in predominantly Islamic areas), Christianity is on the rise! Those who are lost are hearing the gospel of Jesus, and they are getting saved!

Even so, why does it seem to be on the decline in the West? Its power has not changed, nor has the message changed. What has changed are those who promote it. If the modern western church had the faithfulness & zeal of Paul (and Timothy, Erastus, Aquila, Priscilla, etc.), perhaps we would see different results in our evangelism. Remember that in Thessalonica the Jews who resisted the gospel were upset to see Paul & his companions arrive, because they were “those who turned the world upside down.” (17:6) We need more Christians with a similar reputation!

How do we get there? By getting back to the basics! Love God – love one another – love the lost.

  • Sincerely love, worship, and fear God. (Dt 6:5, Mk 12:30)
  • Love one another as Jesus has loved us. (Jn 13:34-35)
  • Love lost people enough to share the gospel with them so that they will be saved…make disciples out of them. (Mt 28:19-20)

This is foundational stuff for the church…yet, we’ve gotten away from it. Instead of focusing on the foundations, we’ve replaced it with hype & busied ourselves with programs. Not that all programs are bad! But the slickest youth ministry will never replace basic discipleship. The coolest worship team will never be a substitute for loving one another. Get the foundations first; the other stuff comes later. A lot of the “other stuff” comes down to Christians’ attempts to build the church, when Christians aren’t the ones to built it; Jesus is. When we stick our foundations, Jesus builds His church, and He builds it with power! We don’t need tricks or gimmicks or programs or ingenuity; we need Jesus!

That doesn’t mean the world won’t resist the gospel & revolt against it…in fact, we can be sure that it will! What it means is that the world will never stop it. God’s good news cannot be stopped! Jesus built His church in Ephesus, and He continues to build His church today. So: keep preaching the gospel – let it out to do its work – expect the world’s resistance – and trust God!

Wash Up!

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Leviticus, Uncategorized

Leviticus 15-16, “Wash Up!”

“Wash up for supper!” It’s what we say to our kids – it’s what we say to one another when we get ready to sit down to the table. As a kid, as much as I hated having to wash my hands, I knew it meant something good was coming, and so I’d better get clean. 

Why wash up? Because we stay perpetually dirty! (Some of us more than others!) There are always germs to wash off, even if we haven’t been working in the yard or with greasy equipment. Just the day-to-day stuff of life leaves us dirty, requiring clean hands prior to meals. (As might be imagined, cultures that eat with their hands put Americans to shame when it comes to washing up. And for good reason!)

Our need to wash applies to more than just clean hands for supper. Our human condition is naturally dirty/unclean. That’s just what we are as human beings. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, humans have been fallen creatures. We are naturally sinful & unclean. We don’t often think about it in those terms, but it’s true. We are sinners not only because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. IOW, it isn’t only our sinful actions that define us as sinful beings; we are sinners simply in who we are. Without Christ, our core human condition is fallen and sinful.

Paul writes about this to the Romans, contrasting the sin we inherit from Adam with the grace that is available in Christ: Romans 5:18–19, “(18) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Right there, we see the bad news & good news side-by-side: the bad news is that we are all sinners; the good news is that we can all be forgiven. But don’t miss the teaching: our sinful condition is inherited. Only after we inherit it, do we continue to earn it for ourselves through our sinful actions.

What’s the point? Regardless of anything we’ve done, what we need is cleansing, and Jesus gives it! We don’t have to count off the ways to know we’ve sinned; we just have to realize we are sinners, and totally dependent on the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

We see this with the nation of Israel in Leviticus 15-16. To this point, they’ve been at the base of Mt. Sinai, receiving instruction from God through Moses how to worship Him at the tabernacle (through the many offerings of animal and grain sacrifices) – they’ve received a priesthood, having Aaron and his sons consecrated to serve as mediators between them and the Lord – and they’ve received instruction on clean vs. unclean things. God called His people to be a holy people (because God Himself is holy), and for them to be a holy relationship with Him, they needed to be able to determine what was & was not clean (i.e. holy) for them. Thus, God instructed the priests to teach this to Israel. So far, it has consisted of dietary laws, and laws dealing with infectious skin diseases (grouped under the term “leprosy”). In all of this, God has provided what was clean (in food) and provided hope for cleansing for lepers, because God is gracious & He wants His people to be able to worship Him.

All of this continues with Chapters 15 & 16, although the two might not appear to relate to one another. In Chapter 15, the instruction on clean vs. unclean continues in the form of laws dealing with bodily discharges (a natural follow-up to leprosy). Chapter 16 seems to drastically change direction, providing the priestly ritual for the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Yet these things aren’t as unrelated as they might seem. In the first, we see people who are naturally unclean (dirty), simply because of human conditions. In the second, we see God’s grace in providing cleansing atonement.

When we are left unclean, not by sinful acts but simply due to our sinful condition, what do we do? We throw ourselves upon the mercy and grace of Jesus, who cleanses us!

Leviticus 15: Naturally Unclean

  • Male uncleanness (1-18) – Abnormal discharges (1-12)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. 3 And this shall be his uncleanness in regard to his discharge—whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is stopped up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness. 4 Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. 5 And whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 6 He who sits on anything on which he who has the discharge sat shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 7 And he who touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 8 If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 9 Any saddle on which he who has the discharge rides shall be unclean. 10 Whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until evening. He who carries any of those things shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 11 And whomever the one who has the discharge touches, and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 12 The vessel of earth that he who has the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.

  1. Any kind of discharge, other than sexual emissions (which are addressed later). Some scholars suggest that the discharge is related to sexually transmitted disease, but the text is unclear. The overall context suggests that the discharge is somehow related under one’s garments (considering the parallel account with the female menstrual cycle & abnormal flow of blood), but it potentially could be anything from passing blood to various other conditions. Because it is so general, all of the safeguards commanded by God make sense. After all, there was a high potential of illness and contagions passed by the individual. It wasn’t so bad that a person would require a quarantine outside the camp (as with leprosy), but it was bad enough to where any person who came in contact with him, or anything he sat upon and/or wore was considered unclean for a time.
  2. Throughout the section, there is a repeated command: process of washing and waiting. Whoever touched the man, or whatever the man touched – it was all to be washed (or bathed), and it remained unclean until evening. Family members who attended to the man would be unclean because of their dealing with an unclean person, but they did not remain in the man’s uncleanness the next day. Every day was new, just like God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:23). Uncleanness was just the reality of dealing with bodily fluids. Things needed to be washed & people needed to be careful not to spread germs, but that was the extent of it.
  3. Common sense? But just because it’s common sense today does not mean that it was always common sense in the past. In a March 2017 article, Smithsonian Magazine notes that “the idea of surgeons washing their hands is only 151 years old.” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/idea-sterilizing-surgical-instruments-only-150-years-old-180962498/) Until a Scottish doctor named Joseph Lister (“Listerine” was originally a surgical antiseptic, named after the doctor) started washing his hands and cleansing surgical tools, people routinely died from things as minor as broken bones, due to infection. One would think that washing hands is basic common sense…not always. For all of what might appear to modern Western readers to be petty details about cleanliness, boring us as we read it, this was all riveting life-saving commands given by the Lord to His people.
    1. Even when we don’t always understand the commands given us by God, we can trust that God knows what He’s doing! It is for His glory and our benefit that we obey!
  • Cleansing rite (13-15)

13 ‘And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean. 14 On the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and give them to the priest. 15 Then the priest shall offer them, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD because of his discharge.

  1. The basics: wait a week, wash, and bring sacrifices. However long the sickness lasted, the man was prohibited from offering any worship to God at the tabernacle. Remember, unclean people were not allowed to come near. Now that the man is clean, he’s not only welcomed back, but he’s commanded to return! His fellowship with his God is to be restored, and (as with everything else in Israel) it took place through sacrifice.
  2. Interestingly, these were smaller sacrifices than what was normally required for sin offerings and burnt offerings. Even for the poorest of the poor, two turtledoves were usually brought for a single burnt offering; not one bird for one offering & a second dove for the sin offering. God did not burden anyone with expensive costs for healing from minor diseases. The idea is simply the need for blood to be shed in relation to cleansing. The fact that a man experienced some kind of discharge wasn’t necessarily sinful, or a consequence due to any specific sinful action; it happened due to the fact that he was (like us) a sinful, fallen human being. So yes, blood needed to be shed, but it didn’t require a lot. It was a simple recognition of the presence of sin & the need for God’s atoning mercy.
    1. What is there is our lives that isn’t tainted in some way by sin? Nothing! What is there for which we don’t need Jesus? Nothing!
  • Normal discharges (16-18)

16 ‘If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening. 17 And any garment and any leather on which there is semen, it shall be washed with water, and be unclean until evening. 18 Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.

  1. Whereas the first set of commands spoke of abnormal discharges; this spoke of something that happened on a more regular basis. Here, there’s no mention of a need for sacrifice, but there is a need to recognize temporary uncleanness.
  2. Again, although this seems random and perhaps antiquated for Western Evangelicals living in the 21st century, we need to remember the cultural context in which the command was originally given. Why would God say such a thing to the Hebrew people? The Hebrews were surrounded by other nations who worshipped their false gods through sexual ritual. Sometimes they used temple prostitutes – other times, graphic sexual imagery. By declaring the emission of semen to render a Hebrew temporarily unclean, it set the Hebrews apart from their Gentile neighbors. “The most significant practical effect of 15:18, therefore, was to make it impossible for sexual rites and ‘sacred prostitution’ to be part of the worship of Yahweh.” (JH Wright, New Bible Commentary.) Sexual acts could not be used in worship, if those acts rendered one temporarily unclean.
    1. With that said, there’s nothing in the Bible that even remotely suggests that sex is sinful. Sex was given by God to unite husband & wife together with an intimate physical, emotional, and spiritual bond (they are “joined together”), as well as a way to fulfill His command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Hebrews 13:4 affirms that the marriage bed is “undefiled.” Where sex becomes sinful is when it is taken out of its God-given context and safeguards.
  • Female uncleanness (19-30). Normal discharges (19-24)

19 ‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. 20 Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. 21 Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 22 And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. 23 If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. 24 And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

  1. This is the parallel to the natural discharges of the male. For the female, it is with her monthly cycle. It is natural, but still unclean. As with the male, anything she sits upon and/or touches with her body is considered temporarily unclean & must be washed. (Including her husband, if they have sexual relations at the time, which was otherwise forbidden. ~ Lev 18:19)
  • Abnormal discharges (25-27)

25 ‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.

  1. As with the man, the woman can also have some sort of unnatural/abnormal discharge. The same basic rules apply, with the uncleanness lasting as long as the flow of blood lasts.
  2. With that in mind, consider the woman who reached out to Jesus. She had her flow of blood for 12 years! (Mk 5:25) That is a woman who would have lost all hope! Yet, there is hope in the person and power of Jesus Christ! 
  • Cleansing rite (28-30)

28 ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 30 Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for the discharge of her uncleanness.

  1. The ritual is identical for the woman as with the man. 
  2. Interestingly, the one difference is that although the man did not necessarily need to bring a sacrifice to the tabernacle with his normal emission, the woman apparently did with her monthly cycle. (Although other scholars disagree, thinking that the ritual is only for the abnormal flow of blood.) If the woman did indeed have to offer a sacrifice every month, was this a form of oppression? Quite the contrary! It had the effect of ensuring that women had the opportunity to come to the tabernacle to worship God at least once per month! In the culture, how many women would have been taken to the tabernacle at all by their husbands? In this command, the wife had a free invitation to come and worship!
  • Conclusion (31-33)

31 ‘Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My tabernacle that is among them. 32 This is the law for one who has a discharge, and for him who emits semen and is unclean thereby, 33 and for her who is indisposed because of her customary impurity, and for one who has a discharge, either man or woman, and for him who lies with her who is unclean.’ ”

  1. Similar to the end of the dietary laws and leprosy laws. This was all part of educating the people as to what was unclean & what was clean.
  2. Notice why all these laws had been given: Israel’s uncleanness defiled the tabernacle. Remember that the tabernacle was a holy place – in fact, it got more holier the further in one progressed! (Courtyard –> holy place –> Holy of holies.) This was God’s own dwelling place among His people – this was the place He had His earthly throne among Israel. Yet there was a problem: God is infinitely holy; humans aren’t. People are always defiled, and would normally always be excluded from God. The only thing that would solve that problem was for the human defilement to be cleansed & made right, and that was the whole point of the sacrifices and atonement.

Throughout Chapter 15 (and much of the preceding chapters), sin and uncleanness had been addressed on a case-by-case basis. If someone got sick with a discharge, once the sickness was over, sacrifices could be made for atonement. Or in the case of sin taking place, once that sin was repented, sacrifices could be made for atonement. (Or in the case of leprosy, etc.) But what happens if you miss a case? What can be done for the sin that is forgotten, or the sickness that’s healed but not directly addressed for whatever reason? At that point, the people are still in a state of unclean defilement, no matter what other sacrifices had been offered. Unless each and every issue is covered, then there’s something that still needs covering…and the people nor the priest might not ever know about it. What would Israel do in that case?

This is where the Day of Atonement comes in. Here, God graciously gave Israel an annual way to atone for all their sins…even the ones that slipped through the cracks. This was the day that helped reset the people’s relationship with God – the day that all remaining uncleanliness was made clean.

Leviticus 16: Graciously Cleansed (Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur)

  • Introduction (1-2)

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; 2 and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

  1. The context is the events surrounding Nadab & Abihu in Ch 10. … Apparently, drunkenness was not the only issue. Perhaps their drunkenness led them not only to put strange (profane) fire on the altar, but to wander/stumble into the Holy Place as well. Whatever exactly happened on that day, the two elder sons of Aarons approached God wrongly. What is described in Chapter 16 is how the priest could approach God rightly.
    1. We can only come to God on God’s terms! And what are His terms? Humility & faith through Christ alone! (Jn 14:6)
  2. The priest did have an invitation to enter the Holy Place, but that invitation was limited. Notice that Aaron could not “come at just any time to the Holy Place inside the veil,” under penalty of death. 99% of all the priestly ministry took place outside the veil, either in the courtyard at the altar or in the holy place with the incense altar & showbread. Going beyond the veil was expressly forbidden. All expect on one specific day, under very specific circumstances. The Day of Atonement was that day.
  3. What made it so special? Because God was there! The mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant was always seen as God’s earthly throne, and His presence was always seen in the form of the cloud overhead (or the fire by night). But on the Day of Atonement, things would be different. His presence would be in the tabernacle in a special way as God promised to “appear in the cloud” on the day that Aaron went back there.
    1. That wasn’t something to take lightly! Not for Aaron…not for us. We have a glorious privilege in our relationship with Jesus. Not only was the veil of the temple torn for us when Jesus died on the cross (Mt 27:51), giving us constant access to God the Father in prayer – but on top of that, we have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We don’t go into a temple or tabernacle to worship; we have become the temple of God, Who lives in us. And again, that’s not something to take lightly! We might not fear being struck dead at the slightest mistake, but it ought to encourage us to have a healthy fear of the God we serve & worship. If God is in us, we don’t want to blaspheme His name nor profane His character. We ought to worship and honor Him as He deserves! 
  • Aaron in the Holy Place (3-19)

3 “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. 4 He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering.

  1. All of this is preparation. Aaron comes with offerings (which are described here, and in more detail later) and different priestly garments. Normally, Aaron would wear the ephod, the tunic, the crown, etc., picturing the glory & beauty of the Lord to the people (Exo 28:2). On this day, Aaron would dress simply, more like a servant. This time, Aaron came in on behalf of the people to God, fully dependent upon God’s grace. Simple humility was the order of the day. 
  2. After he puts on the new clothes, there are 12 basic steps to the ritual…

6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

  1. Step 1: present the offerings to the Lord at the door of the tabernacle. He doesn’t yet enter with the items or rush to kill the sacrifices; he presents them in an orderly fashion to the Lord. Again, he’s approaching God in God’s way, on God’s terms.
  2. Note that Aaron requires his own atonement. The bull is offered for himself and for his family. Why? Even though Aaron was the high priest, he was just as sinful as everyone else. Before he could approach God on behalf of the people, he first needed his own sin resolved.

8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.

  1. Step two: determine the scapegoat. Out of the two goats brought for Israel, one would be sacrificed to the Lord, while the other was set “free.” Be careful not to get the wrong idea. The scapegoat didn’t get a free pass; it had all the sin of Israel placed upon it & was sent to be abandoned (or left to die) in the wilderness. This will be explained later in the passage; for now, all that is done is cast lots to determine which goat was which. It wasn’t chosen in advance; God was the One who did the choosing via the lots.

11 “And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself.

  1. Step three: kill the bull for his own offering. That a bull was required for the sin offering of the high priest was something already taught in Leviticus (4:3). All of this was done according to the earlier command.

12 Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. 13 And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die.

  1. Step four: take coals from the incense altar (golden altar) beyond the curtain (“inside the veil”) to provide a cloud of covering. The curtain might be pushed back, but there still needed to be something between the high priest and the glorious presence of God. The coals from the incense altar provided it. God is too holy! Not even Moses was allowed to gaze directly at God’s face; God had to cover Moses in the cleft of the rock and allow him only to see God’s back-parts (Exo 33:20-23) – the priest was no different. Something had to shield him from seeing God’s unfettered glory.
    1. What was restrained from Moses and Aaron has been given to us in Jesus! When we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father – He is the image of the invisible God. To know Him is to know the glory of God Almighty!

14 He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

  1. Step five: sprinkle the blood of the bull on the mercy seat. The blood had been shed outside on the altar; at this point it was applied. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin (Heb 9:22). At this point, this was all for the priest – but he was about to start acting on behalf of Israel. 

15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. 16 So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

  1. Step six: repeat the sacrifice and sprinkling with Israel’s goat being offered to God. Once more, blood was shed, and the priest went past the veil under the covering of a cloud of incense to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat itself.
    1. Can you imagine what went through the mind of Aaron every time he did this? First of all, he was on very holy, but extremely dangerous ground. He had personally seen what happened when someone (even a priest) approached God wrongly…he had two buried sons because of it. This was the holiest place in all Israel, and he was coming near to the holiest item in all the world: the ark of the covenant. Even standing inches away, he was not allowed to touch it, but only sprinkled blood upon it. Yet what a privilege simply to be there! There, he saw the physical representation of God’s glory, and somehow experienced the mystical presence of God in his midst.
    2. For Aaron, it remained holy and amazing because it only happened once per year. For us, we get to come into God’s presence every day…and we tend to lose our awe and wonder at it. May God help us reclaim the wonder of it all!
  2. Note: even the tabernacle required atonement, due to its proximity to the uncleanness of Israel. This was the point made at the end of Ch 15, and it’s reiterated here. Such is the toxic nature of sin…it defiles everything it’s around!

17 There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

  1. The whole ritual was solitary…emphasizing the reverence of it all. Only the high priest could enter – only on this day – only in these clothes – only through these steps. It was highly restrictive, and rightly so! Others could watch from afar, but only one could do the work.

18 And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

  1. Step seven: sprinkle blood on the altar. Question: which altar? Scholars are divided. Some suggest that this was for the bronze altar of sacrifice, showing the people watching in the distance that the altar itself was cleansed by the Lord and acceptable to continue to receive the offerings of the people. Others believe it to be the golden altar of incense inside the tabernacle (hence, “the altar that is before the LORD”), and the blood is sprinkled upon it to make atonement that enables the prayers of the saints to continue to rise to God.
  2. Whichever altar was sprinkled, this much is clear: our ongoing relationship with God is based on the blood of sacrifice! Our sins cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood – our worship will not be accepted without the shedding of blood – our prayers will not be heard without the shedding of blood. Our ongoing sinful condition always gets in the way of these things, and God will have none of it until our sins find covering & atonement. Where does it come? Only through the blood of Christ!
  • Aaron outside of the Holy Place (20-28)

20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. 21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

  1. Step eight: send away the scapegoat. The term “scapegoat” is an uncertain translation. The ESV renders it as a transliteration, “to Azazel,” but doesn’t provide an explanation of what it is. Out of the various theories, there are two that are most prominent: (1) the Hebrew word is perhaps a compound word that refers to something being left in a desolate place, (2) it is a proper noun referring to some sort of demon in the wilderness. Although the second theory is more grammatically sound, it’s fraught with theological problems. The first theory is likely best, and it’s supported by the ancient rabbis and translations.
  2. Better than the translation is what actually happened with this goat (of which there’s no debate!). It was led out of the camp “by the hand of a suitable man” (i.e., someone who could be trusted with the responsibility), and left to die in the wilderness. Over time, the custom developed where the goat would be led to a certain cliff, and be basically pushed off of it. Why? To prevent it from coming back! Keep in mind, the whole picture being painted here was that the sin of Israel was removed from the camp. Atonement had been made, and sin no longer remained. What would be the result if the scapegoat somehow wandered through the wilderness & found its way back home? Tragedy! No, the scapegoat was to be removed, because sin had been removed from Israel.
    1. Sin has been removed from us, as well! Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

At this point, things progress quickly as a bit of a wrap-up…

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 The fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar.

  1. Step nine: wash self & change clothes
  2. Step ten: offer the burnt offerings
  3. Step eleven: burn the fat of the sin offerings.

26 And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. And they shall burn in the fire their skins, their flesh, and their offal. 28 Then he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

  1. Step twelve: burn the carcasses of the sin offering.
  2. Final clean up of all those who helped.
  • Command and conclusion (29-34)

29 “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. 30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. 31 It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.

  1. Command for Yom Kippur. Fall fast (Oct 8-9, 2019), exactly six months following Passover. At the beginning of their year, they would remember their freedom from slavery & their salvation. At the midpoint of their year, they would remember their dependence upon God for cleansing & covering.
  2. Although it was a commanded holiday (and total sabbath from work), it was more a fast than a festival. This was a to be a solemn remembrance, and the people were to “afflict [their] souls.” The idea of affliction is one of humility. They were to humble themselves, submit themselves to God, and reflect on their ongoing need for atonement and grace.
    1. Sin (and especially our forgiveness from it) is never to be taken for granted! We don’t have to flagellate ourselves & engage in ritualistic self-punishment when we sin, but we do need to remain humble and submissive to God. Sin is something Jesus conquers; not us. There will never come a day that we are not utterly dependent upon His daily grace & mercy!

32 And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; 33 then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.

  1. Perpetual memorial in future generations. This law applies to all Hebrews in all times. (And it hasn’t been practiced properly since the destruction of the temple in 70AD.)
  2. When does it stop? When can it be practiced properly? Only with Jesus! Hebrews 9:24–26, “(24) For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; (25) not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—(26) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” 

Conclusion:

The Hebrews were God’s chosen people, but they (like all of us) were still just human people with the human condition of sin. Some of the things that made them unclean weren’t really their fault; it just came with being human. But God continually provided covering/atonement. He mercifully gave them opportunities to be cleansed by the blood of sacrifice, and to receive of His grace.

We need grace for everything…even for simply being human. Jesus gives it! Obviously, we have sinned in massive ways. Every day we wake is another day we do something that serves ourselves rather than the Lord God. We ought not need convincing that we have acted in truly sinful and rebellious ways. But at the same time, there are some things we experience not due to our particular sins, but just due to the presence of sin at all. We too, get sick and struggle. We experience frustrations. We grow old & die. None of these things were part of God’s original design for Creation. Originally, things were “good” and perfect! Yet when sin came in, things came crashing down to our reality. 

We need grace for this life, and Jesus gives it! We need grace to come into the presence of God & worship – we need grace to not only enter into prayer, but to endure in it – we need grace to deal with the slings and arrows of life – and we have abundant grace through Jesus! Because He shed His blood for us, not only do we have atonement for all our individual sins, but we have atonement for our sinful nature. This is why (for Christians) death has no sting & sin has no permanent victory! This is how we are made the sons & daughters of God. It’s all through the atoning work of Christ. He took our fallen sinful condition, and remade it into something new: we have been totally reconciled to our God.