Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

Isaiah 53, “Jesus: Rejected, Substitute, Sufficient”

“Good Friday.” The name is ironic. Considering that this is the day set aside in the year for Christians to remember Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, it does not initially seem to be good at all. What is good in Jesus being betrayed to the Jews and delivered to the Romans? What is good in His being beaten beyond recognition? What is good about the spikes driven through His wrists and feet, about His hanging in prolonged agony, in the mockery He endured from the crowd, or in His anguished death? What is good about any of that?

Perhaps there are several answers to the question, one of which being that it is good for what it accomplished. Without a crucifixion, there is no resurrection. Without the combination of the two with the Lord Jesus, there is no salvation. That alone makes it good. But there is something else, something more fundamental. It is good because it is of God. The crucifixion of Jesus was God’s idea – it was God’s plan for His Son. This was His will at work, for the purpose of reconciling the universe back to Himself and to reconcile men & women unto God. God willed that Jesus should die for the sins of mankind, of sinners like you and me. That alone makes it good.

It is this plan of God that is on display in Isaiah 53. It is without doubt a Messianic passage, used by Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch to bring him to faith in Christ (Acts 8:32-35) and referenced by Peter as an example of how Jesus suffered for us, thus we should expect similar suffering (1 Pt 2:21-25). Even Jesus saw this prophecy as speaking of His own suffering, specifically quoting it to the disciples the night He was arrested (Lk 22:37). This is no spiritualized picture of Israel; this is the prophesied work and suffering of Jesus Christ. We read it rightly when we see its fulfillment in Jesus.

The theology of the passage is rich, but tonight is not about an in-depth study pouring over every word. Rather, it is a time for reflection & remembrance – for us to take a step back and be in awe at our Jesus. We want God to speak to us through His Scripture, directing our attention and our devotion to Him for what was done to and through Christ.

In the prophecy, we see three main roles of Jesus, all entwined with each other. Each of these roles can be summarized with a single word. Jesus is: (1) the Man of Sorrows…rejected; (2) the sacrificial Lamb…substitute; (3) the suffering Servant…sufficient. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the plan of God. If it were not for God willing His Son to suffer on our behalf, none of us would be saved. How we praise God for His good will on this Good Friday regarding His good Son: Jesus!

Isaiah 53

  • The Man of Sorrows (1-3): Rejected.

1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah writes of the report that was disbelieved, or even unheard. What report? The few verses prior in Chapter 52 that speaks of the astonishment of the nation at God’s chosen Servant. Although God willed that this Servant be highly extolled and exalted, the Servant would first suffer. Isaiah wrote that “His visage was marred more than any man,” (52:14) and that “kings shall shut their mouths at Him,” (52:15) unable to comprehend what they witnessed. How could the chosen Servant of God, the Anointed One, the King of kings and Lord of lords…how could that One suffer such horrible punishment? Should not the Chosen One live a life of luxury and honor? That is expectation of royalty. When we think of kings, queens, and princes, etc., we think of their subjects bowing before them, honoring them; not beating them to a pulp and despising them. 

Yet that was the expectation for this Servant. The One chosen by God would come from humble beginnings, “as a root out of dry ground,” and He would have a humble life in general. Nothing about Him would initially stand out to the crowds as kingly. When Saul was initially presented by Samuel to Israel, the crowds all nodded their heads in agreement, affirming that Saul looked like a king. He was tall and handsome and easy to look at (not like the ruddy-faced kid that would come later in David). This was not the case with Jesus, God’s true Servant. There was nothing about His appearance that screamed “Messiah! King!” Although angels announced His birth from a virgin mother, He was raised by a humble carpenter and lived a boyhood life of relative obscurity and near-poverty. In the eyes of the world, this was not the résumé of a king. In the eyes of God, Jesus had all the qualifications required, yet His own nation was blind.

Instead of receiving Jesus, they rejected Him. They did not desire Him; they despised Him. They did not esteem Him; they spurned Him. John writes: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him,” (Jn 1:11). His own nation turned their backs on Him. No wonder that Jesus was prophesied to be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The pain experienced by Christ was at least as much spiritual as it was physical. It was all part of His suffering.

Jesus was truly rejected by those He came to save. Those who owed Him their allegiance derided Him. Not only did they clamor for His crucifixion, preferring to have the murderous terrorist Barabbas released to them rather than Jesus, but they even mocked Him while looking upon Him hanging on the cross. They could not have rejected Jesus any more than they did. It was a total repudiation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

But again, these were the ones Jesus came to save. Hanging from the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” (Lk 23:34). Oh, they understood that they were cruel in their mockery; they just didn’t understand Who they mocked. If they did, they wouldn’t have dared uttered a word! This was God in the flesh, One who could call down a legion of angels to destroy them. This was the God that would one day judge each and every one of them – the God from whose righteous wrath they required salvation. And that was what Jesus provided that day. He gave them the means to find refuge from the wrath of God. They didn’t know it, and they rejected Him.

We did, too. How long did each of us live our lives rejecting the gift of Jesus Christ? How many years passed with us mocking the Son of God, despising His sacrifice for us? How long did we usurp the rightful place of God in our lives, declaring ourselves to be our own lords and masters? And yet…Jesus died for people like us. He died for those who rejected Him, that we might reject Him no longer!

  • The Sacrificial Lamb (4-9): Substitute.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Are there any verses in the Bible that speak more clearly of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us? Centuries before Jesus walked the earth in His incarnation, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Christ’s work as a substitute. Jesus put Himself in our place, taking on our sins, bearing the wrath of God in our place as our punishment. The apostle Paul put it this way: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus knew no sin, having committed none of His own, nor being born with a sinful nature like ours. Yet He became sin when He became our sin offering for us. Hanging upon that bloody cross, Jesus bore each of our griefs and sorrows. Every wound on His body was inflicted for our many transgressions against God. Every bruise and each blackened eye were for the iniquities of men and women. Jesus deserved none of it. We did; He didn’t. He was truly and totally innocent. Yes, He was tempted just like every human being is tempted, but He did not fall to that temptation. Jesus did not live in a holy bubble, sealed off from even the possibility of sin. On the contrary, Jesus was surrounded by sinful people and subjected to the personal spiritual onslaught of Satanic attack. Yet Jesus prevailed! Jesus was sinless and deserved no suffering whatsoever. But suffer, He did. He suffered in ways that our minds can hardly imagine.

Yet it was not in vain! Jesus’ suffering produced tremendous results. What was the fruit of His punishment? “Our peace.” The shalom (wholeness, peace) we need with God, Jesus provides. The spiritual healing we require from the death earned by our sin, Jesus bought and paid for “by His stripes.” Everything we need to be restored into full relationship with God is made possible through Jesus Christ.

What was the cost? Jesus Himself. For us to be healed – for us to have shalom peace with God, it required that our “iniquity” be laid on Christ. We needed a perfect substitute, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was it.

What did that sacrifice look like? …

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

How accurately Isaiah prophesied the passion and suffering of Jesus! Though “oppressed and…afflicted” in a series of unjust trials, Jesus did not attempt to defend Himself and gain judicial victory. Certainly, He could have if He desired. No one would have been able to mount a self-defense in court like Jesus! But He chose otherwise. Jesus understood that the cross was necessary for the plan of God, so He made no attempt to avoid it. “He opened not His mouth.” The Jewish high priest was astounded, incredulously asking Jesus, “Do You answer nothing?” (Mt 26:62). Likewise, Pilate “marveled greatly,” when Jesus did not answer the charges against Him (Mt 27:14). Even Herod was frustrated at Jesus’ silence, cruelly mocking Jesus when Herod didn’t get the answers he wanted (Lk 23:9-11). Jesus had no reason to answer any of them. He was fully prepared for the suffering and death He would face. That battle was resolved the previous night in the Garden of Gethsemane as great drops of blood came down Jesus’ face in anguished sweat. Though He prayed that God might remove this cup of wrath from Him, Jesus faithfully prayed that God’s will be done. In the mockery and cruelty of the various national leaders, God’s will was being done. It was God’s will that Jesus go to the cross; this was how it had to be.

At that point, Jesus was taken from the custody of the Roman soldiers (a kind of “prison” and “judgment” in itself) and terribly affixed to the cross with three massive spikes. Hanging there for hours, “He was cut off from the land of the living,” as He hung until He died. It was the death of a criminal, and indeed, He hung between two other criminals – perhaps the very terrorist partners of Barabbas. Jesus died the death of a transgressor, but it was not His own transgressions for which He died, but “for the transgressions of My people,” the “My” speaking of the people of God. Jesus died on that cross as the Savior of Israel. He died on that cross for your sins and for mine. Every tortured breath took while hanging there was a moment of suffering that you and I deserved. That should have been us; it was Him.

Finally, He died and the rest of the prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus died literally beside two “wicked” men, and the initial expectation of His burial would have been to throw His body into a mass grave along with other criminals. Instead, Jesus was “with the rich at His death” as Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus a brand-new tomb, with both Joseph and Nicodemus the Pharisee personally attending to Jesus’ dead body. The two Sanhedrin members packed Jesus’ body with almost one hundred pounds worth of spices (Jn 19:39) – a magnificent gift, provided by two men who had not the courage to honor Jesus in life, but felt compelled to do so at His death. Jesus died the death of a criminal, but He received a burial befitting a king!

Why did it all have to be this way? It was the will of God…

  • The Suffering Servant (10-12): Sufficient.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

Why did Jesus die on the cross? Yes, it was for our sins. But ultimately, it was the will of God. “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.” The word translated “pleased” could also be translated “delighted.” We don’t want to get the wrong idea. God the Father is not a sadist, being overjoyed at seeing His only begotten Son in suffering and anguish. Rather, God is well-pleased when His will is done. Sometimes hard things, difficult things, please us when they bring about the right result. No mother enjoys the pains of labor but they are delighted to hold their newborn son or daughter. If the pain of childbirth is what is required for the baby to come, so be it. 

Likewise, with the plan of God. God’s plan did not begin and end with Jesus’ suffering and death. If that were all that was desired, that would be cruel indeed. But the bruising and grief of Jesus had a specific purpose: it was “an offering for sin.” Ever since the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, sin has been in this world and there was only one answer to it: a sufficient sacrifice. Without a sufficient shedding of blood – without a death of greater value than the sin that made it necessary, sin would remain in this world and this universe would remain perverted from God’s original intent for it. For these things to be made right, a sufficient sin offering needed to be made. Jesus made it and God was pleased. Moreover, God was even the One who ordained it, ultimately being the One who put Jesus “to grief.” God did what it took for sin to be squashed and for death to be conquered, and the result brought Him pleasure and delight.

Why? Because it was sufficient! What Jesus did was enough and the proof was in the resurrection, here too prophesied by Isaiah. Although the Suffering Servant truly died, He would still “see His seed” (i.e. the offspring of the church) and “He shall prolong His days.” How can a dead man’s days be prolonged? They can’t. Only a living or a resurrected Man’s days are prolonged. Such is Jesus!

11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

The work of Jesus was truly enough! The labor He poured out on the cross was satisfactory. What Jesus accomplished was able to “justify many,” making us right in the sight of God. Whereas our sins separated us from God, Jesus reconciles us back to God, zeroing out the infinite debts we owed through our “iniquities.” Everything we require for eternal life yet could never achieve on our own, Jesus achieved in full and freely offers.

It is no wonder that God exalts Jesus in the way He does! Jesus came to earth in utmost humility but has been raised to great glory. He lived a life of poverty but has inherited a future of victory. The language used by Isaiah is normally used of military warriors who gain “spoil” from the cities they conquered. Jesus is the Victorious Warrior! The enemy He conquered was no mere human nation; Jesus conquered sin and death itself. Death has no more sting, nor does Hades have any victory because Jesus has all victory! He won it at the cross and proved it in the resurrection. It came from His obedience to suffer, and His suffering was sufficient. Today, we enjoy the spoils of His victory. Our sin is gone because Jesus bore it – our transgressions are removed because Jesus numbered us with Himself.

Praise be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!

On Good Friday, we remember the cross. But we also remember that the cross is not the end; it leads to a specific event: the resurrection. Yes, Jesus suffered immensely – yes, Jesus died – yes, Jesus was buried. But that is not all…praise God, it is not all! Jesus went from that death and burial to resurrected life, and in His life, we find the hope and promise of new life. We are forgiven! Our transgressions are forever removed, all because of the work of Jesus.

Is this your hope? Is this your trust? This is the promise that is available to all the world, yet it will only be experienced by those who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord. Tonight, receive Him! Although you rejected Jesus in the past, He was your substitute for sin when He died on the cross, and His death is sufficient for you as seen in His resurrection. You know the truth; now act on it in faith.

Route 66, Leviticus – “A Holy Nation Worships a Holy God”

So how exactly does someone approach the Holy God in worship?  The Israelites had been birthed as a nation, brought out from Egyptian slavery in a powerful act of sheer redemption, and had been given a covenant with Almighty God.  They had seen the power and glory of God with their own eyes, and it (rightly) terrified them.  To be sure, it didn’t sink in enough to stop them from rebellion (even while stationed at the base of Mt. Sinai), but it certainly did leave an impression upon them.  They knew they couldn’t approach God in His holiness, which is why they sent Moses to go do it on their behalf.

While with God, Moses had received instructions regarding a place of worship, and the holy tabernacle of God was built.  The people now had a mobile location to worship God, but they still needed to know how to go about it.  It’s one thing to have an altar; it’s another to know what to do with it.  How were Aaron and his sons supposed to know what to do as priests?  It’s not as if they had Bible college or seminary available to them at Mt. Sinai.  For that matter, they couldn’t even apprentice with anyone, because it had never been done before.  So God told them exactly what to do, and thus gave the book of Leviticus.

BACKGROUND: Author, Date, Title
Like the other books of the Pentateuch, Leviticus was also written by Moses, most likely during the wilderness wanderings.  He would have passed on the word of God to Aaron and the others at the time God spoke, but it’s doubtful Moses would have taken the time to write it all down immediately.  Like the other books of Moses, that dates the book to sometime after 1455BC, when the Passover took place.

The name in our English Bibles comes from the Greek translation (LXX), meaning “relating to the Levites.”  Remember that the Levites were the tribe set apart by God to be the priestly tribe, and much of the book deals with priestly regulations.

SIGNIFICANCE
Overall, the book deals with the holiness of God.  From one perspective, it seems almost severely practical: a how-to manual for a Hebrew priest.  What could this possibly have to do with New Testament Christians today?  Everything that the priest did had to reflect the holiness of God.  Every law that was given to Israel reflected the holiness of God.  God is supremely pure & holy.  He is “wholly” holy, and thus everything people did in worship of Him needed to reflect that.

Because God is holy, that means His people need to be holy as well.  That’s why so much of the book of Leviticus deals not only with sacrifices & the priests, but also moral regulations among the nation.  The people were to be set apart because God is set apart.  The people of God aren’t to look like the other nations of the world, because they had been called, redeemed, justified, and sanctified by Almighty God.

Of course what was prefigured through Israel fully comes to fruition in the Church.  God’s people are still to be holy, because the God who saved us is holy.

GENERAL OUTLINE

The sacrifices & offerings (1-7)
The priesthood (8-10)
Laws of holiness (11-22)

  • Clean/unclean (11-15)
  • Atonement & blood (16-17)
  • Moral laws (18-20)
  • Priestly laws (21-22)

Feasts and worship (23-25)
Promises from God, vows from men (26-27)

TEXT

Sacrifices & Offerings
Leviticus would seem to start off with a bang!  There’s no introduction, but rather an immediate jump into the laws and regulations pertaining to worship and sacrifice.  We go from 0-60 in nothing-flat, in terms of jumping into the law and the spilling of blood.

Why?  Because without the spilling of blood, there IS no relationship between God and His people.  Before they can do anything else, they must first address the problem of their ongoing sin.  They had been redeemed out of Egyptian slavery, brought through the Red Sea, but they (obviously) weren’t perfect.  No sooner had they reached the other shore did they start complaining against the Lord.  Sin was prevalent, and sin needed to be dealt with.  And the only way to deal with sin is by the shedding of blood.  Hebrews 9:22, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission." .

If it sounds messy, that’s because it is.  We’ve tended to sanitize sin in our own lives.  We call them “indiscretions” or “little white lies” or “my own choice” or whatever…but it’s sin.  Sin is rebellion against the God of the Universe, and it carries the penalty of death.  Whenever there is sin, something/someone has to die – and thus that’s why the Old Testament is filled with bloody sacrifices.

Of course ultimately, every sacrifice points to Jesus.  That’s true of every sacrifice in the Bible, from the Garden of Eden onward.  When God clothed Adam & Eve in the garden, an animal was slain – blood was shed.  Before Noah left the ark, he offered sacrifices.  When God stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac in his premier act of faith, a substitution sacrifice was still made.  All of it pointed to Jesus, and so does every sacrifice in Leviticus.  Every single time an animal was placed upon the altar, it would be a preview of the sacrifice that the Son of God would make for them.

However, it wasn’t a matter of the Hebrews randomly deciding to kill whatever animal they wanted in whatever way they wanted.  God had a specific way He wanted them to do it.  Why?  Because God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33) – He is a God of order, and things were to be done in an orderly fashion. (That applies regarding worship in both the Old AND New Testaments.  There is an order in how we worship God with reverence, and an order in how we exercise spiritual gifts.) In addition, God had a intended purpose for each sacrifice, and the people needed to come to Him on HIS terms in order for His purpose to be accomplished.  We are the ones graciously invited by God to come to Him; we cannot decide to force ourselves upon God however we want to do so.  (All points to the fact that there is ONE way to God: through Jesus Christ… …)

There is one sacrifice for us today, but for the Hebrews, there were several – most of which are outlined in the 1st 7 chapters of Leviticus.

  • Burnt offering (1) = Dedication/worship.  This was a freewill offering, given simply out of a desire to worship.  Blood still needed to be shed, because sin is always in the way.  (Jesus is the only way to remove it!)  Depending on the wealth of the individual, they would bring a bull, a male sheep or goat, or a turtledove/pigeon.  The animal had to be pure & without blemish.  It would serve as a substitute for the worshipper as he laid his hand upon it, and then personally killed the animal.  (The worshipper was involved!)  The priests would then sprinkle the blood around the altar, and slaughter the animal.  The parts were placed upon the altar and burned, with it being a “sweet aroma to the Lord” (something that is repeated often regarding the sacrifices).
  • Grain offering (2) = Declaration of dependence.  Often this would be offered alongside other offerings, such as a burnt offering or peace offering.  Here, instead of blood being shed, the grain from the field was brought to God in thanks for His provision.  Cakes could be baked or unbaked, and even grain itself could be offered.  Most importantly, it could not be offered with leaven (a picture of sin), nor without salt (a picture of perseverance).  Through the work of Jesus, our sin is removed & we have been made the salt of the earth.
  • Peace offering (3) = Celebration of peace.  Some translations label this as a “fellowship offering.”  This is again a freewill offering, bloody sacrifice as an animal or bird is brought to the Lord.  It might be brought when a vow was fulfilled, or the worshipper was giving thanks to God.  Ultimately, Jesus IS our peace with God, having made peace for us through the cross & His blood.
  • Sin offering (4) = Atoning for accidental sin.  This is typically what we think of when we think of sacrifice.  Again, this is a blood sacrifice in which a bull, goat, or lamb served as a substitute for the individual.  Like other sacrifices, the animal had to be without blemish, and the sin was symbolically transferred to the animal prior to slaughter.  The law gave specific regulations for sin offerings for the priest, the whole congregation of Israel, rulers of the people, and individuals among the nation.  Why?  Because everyone sins.  No one is exempt.  No one is so “holy” that they are without the need for the forgiveness of God.
  • Trespass offering (5) = Atoning for realized guilt.  The difference here with the sin offering is that the trespass offering dealt with specific sins specified in the law.  Perhaps a person violated an oath, unknowingly touched an unclean thing, or was somehow unable to fulfill a promise.  The trespass offering would cover it.  Once more, it was to be a lamb, or two turtledoves/pigeons (depending on someone’s wealth), and the shed blood brought the promise of forgiveness (ultimately looking forward to the forgiveness of Christ).
  • Various laws regarding the offerings (6-7)
    • Personal responsibility in regards to others (6:1-7).  Just because someone has gone before God with their sin doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a problem between neighbors.  Things that are stolen need to be restored, promises that were broken need to be made right.  God gives specific guidelines about making restitution along with one’s trespass offering, and these things were supposed to be supervised by the priest so that forgiveness might be granted.
      • Our own culture desperately needs to be reminded of this principle!
    • Burnt offering: fire was not to go out. (6:9, 13)  Priestly garments changed when disposing ashes.
    • Grain offering: reiterated that it was most holy, and that a portion was given to the priests.  The priests were also to offer it, and that was not to be eaten, but wholly burned. (6:14-23)
    • Sin offering: Everything dealing with it was holy, and to be treated as such.  Clothes were to be washed; pots were to be broken. None of the sin offering was to be eaten at all.  Once given to the Lord, it was forever His.  (6:24-30)
    • Trespass offering: All of the fat belonged to the Lord. (7:3-5)
    • Peace offering: How to offer cakes as peace offerings (7:12-14).  Regulations about the meat offered as peace offerings – specifically that it was to be eaten the same day it was offered.  Waiting to eat it past the 3rd day was an abomination (7:15-18)
    • General rules: No flesh was ever to be eaten that was unclean (7:19-21).  All fat and all blood belonged to the Lord (7:22-27)
    • The priestly portion.  Aaron & his son given part of the meat that was offered to God – this was God’s provision for them. (7:32-34)

The Priesthood
In the book of Exodus, the priesthood was described, but primarily from the aspect of clothing/dress. [PIC]  Every aspect of the priestly garments had significance, from the way the priest bore on his chest a representation of each tribe of Israel before the Lord, to the declaration of God’s holiness on his head.  He was clothed in white (symbolizing purity), and the other colors on his ephod represented everything from the blood of sacrifice to God’s kingly royalty.  All in all, the garments of the priest pointed both towards the Lord Jesus Christ as our great high priest, to the privilege of New Testament Christians being a royal priesthood of believers.

In Leviticus, it’s the role of the priest that is fleshed out, along with the narrative of the actual start of the priestly ministry.

  • The priests are consecrated (8).  All done per the commands of Exodus 29.  Moses clothed his brother Aaron in the priestly garments (not unlike Jesus clothing the believer in His own righteousness; we do not clothe ourselves).  Moses anointed him with oil…  The sin offering (a bull) was made, and the blood poured out at the altar…  The burnt offering (a ram) was made for a sweet aroma…  The ram of consecration was killed, and the blood symbolically placed upon Aaron & his sons.  They used the pieces of the ram as a wave offering, and gave them to the Lord.  Finally, the anointing oil and blood from the altar was sprinkled upon the priests, and they were left to boil the flesh of the sacrifice, eat it, and consecrate themselves for seven days.
  • The beginning of ministry (9).  On the 8th day, Aaron and his sons were commanded to begin offering sacrifices.  First, it was for themselves as sin offerings and burnt offerings. Then it was for the nation of Israel as sin offerings, burst offerings, peace offerings, and grain offerings. What happened in response to all of this was amazing: the glory of God came down!  Leviticus 9:23–24, "(23) And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, (24) and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces." .
  • The priests violate God’s holiness (10).  It was all glorious until the moment two sons of Aaron (Nadab and Abihu) offered what the Bible calls “profane fire” to the Lord.  Remember that God had just sent fire from heaven, and consumed the offering on the altar.  The fire that was there was supremely holy (our God IS a consuming fire – Heb 12:29), and apparently these two newly consecrated priests offered a fire that came from another source.  They did something that God did not command them to do, and as a result the fire from God came out and consumed them so that they died (10:2).  This would seem to be harsh from our perspective, but there was a valid reason for it: Leviticus 10:3, "(3) And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace." .
    • So important is God’s holiness, that Aaron was not even permitted to grieve for his sons at that very moment.  He was the priest of God currently in the middle of his duties, at the very beginning of his consecration.  If he had stopped halfway through, Aaron himself would die. (10:7)  Even the remainder of Ch. 10 looks at specific regulations for the priests regarding their own behavior.  They weren’t to be drunk while they ministered to the Lord – they were to rightly distinguish between clean and unclean things – they were to take care that they would be able to rightly teach the nation of Israel.  Why?  Because these were God’s people, and God was holy.  His holiness was to be held in the highest regard.

Laws of Holiness
The holiness of God has been well-established in the eyes of the priests, who sadly had to learn it in a painful way.  Now the holiness of God is going to be reiterated in the eyes of the rest of the nation.  To modern ears, some of these regulations seem rather particular, perhaps weird or even cruel.  We need to remember a few things: (1) These laws were not written for us.  There are principles here that apply to all of God’s people, but the specific ordinances were given to a specific nation at a specific time.  These are laws for the theocratic nation of Israel; not the republic of the United States of America.  (2) God had a reason for these laws.  What seems rather strict to us are many times God’s ways of protecting His people.  These were people living ~3,500 years ago without modern medicine, refrigeration, and other technology that we take for granted.  There are certain freedoms we enjoy today simply because we know how to make them safe; the ancient Hebrews did not have that same privilege.  (3) At the heart of these laws is the repeated emphasis on God’s holiness.

Clean/unclean (11-15)

  • Foods/animals (11).  Certain animals could be eaten (generally cloven-hooved animals), and others could not.  Specific animals were called out as unclean (pigs), even being abominations (water creatures without fins or scales).  Some of these dietary restrictions are obvious health protections; others seem downright random.  In the wisdom of God, He was both protecting His people & setting them apart.  They were to be different from the nations around them, demonstrating how they had been sanctified by the holy God.
  • Childbirth (12).  Childbirth is a miracle, but because of the bodily discharges involved, it made the mother ritually unclean for 7 days to 2 weeks (depending on a male or female baby).  Part of this is reflective of the fall in the Garden of Eden – a constant reminder of the consequences of sin.  At the same time, it still looks forward to the redemption of Jesus in that God gave provisions for the mother to be cleansed of her impurity.
  • Leprosy (13). The term as used by the Biblical writers included far more than what we know today as “Hansen’s disease.”  It included virtually any skin disease, and thus had to be examined and dealt with very carefully by the people.  Throughout the Scripture, leprosy is a picture of the consuming nature of sin – a kind of walking death that keeps us from God.
  • Cleansing leprosy (14).  Some people did heal from their leprosy, but extreme caution needed to be taken to ensure that the disease was not further spread.  The priest would examine the former leper, ensure his healing, and then sacrifices were made to picture his ritual cleanness. 
  • Bodily discharges (15).  This dealt not only with the menstruation cycle of women, but also nighttime bodily discharges of men.  These are natural occurrences, but they still left someone ritually unclean.  Because God is supremely holy, His people are called to represent His holiness, thus sacrifice needed to be made.

Atonement & blood (16-17)
These are somewhat wrapped up together, although they comprise separate chapters.  True atonement for sin only takes place because of blood that has been shed on our account, and blood is precious in the sight of God, and God will state the reason why.

  • The Day of Atonement (16).  This will be addressed later on in Ch. 23, but the ritual is introduced here.  For all the sacrifices that had been given, the blood was to be poured around the bronze altar outside of the tent, but there was one specific sacrifice that was to be brought inside the actual Holy of Holies and placed upon the mercy seat of God, and that was on the Day of Atonement.  The priest would bring a bull and two goats to be sacrifices.  One of the goats (chosen by lot) would be the scapegoat & be released, but the bull and remaining goat would be killed.  Their blood would be taken beyond the veil and actually placed on the mercy seat to make atonement for Israel.  No work was to be done anywhere in the nation on that day, as everyone was to wait for atonement to be granted.
    • Again, this looks forward to the forever atonement we have through the blood of Jesus.  The best that Israel could do is push off the punishment due their sin, one year at a time.  Jesus offered one sacrifice for all time, and it was utterly perfect.
  • Why blood?  Because God knew the value of it, which is the subject of Ch. 17.  Other nations treated blood casually, even drinking it after a hunt.  That was not to be done among Israel.  The blood belonged to the Lord.  Why?  Leviticus 17:11, "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." .  The blood of bulls and goats were not good enough; there was only one shedding of blood that was enough: Jesus.

Moral laws (18-20)
Why are some of these seemingly so strict?  Because the people of God were supposed to be different from everyone else.  The people of God were supposed to reflect the holiness of God. Leviticus 18:3–4, "(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." .

  • Sexual morality (18).  The people were not to look upon the nakedness of their close relatives, thus avoiding incest & even the close approximation of it.  Although this may seem obvious to us today, we need to remember that the culture of the time was extremely different.  The children of Adam and Eve had no choice but to marry one another, as did the children of the sons of Noah.  Even Abraham married his half-sister.  But over time, that was no longer necessary.  To intermarry or have children with close kin produces all kinds of genetic defects, and thus God commanded the people not to do it.  Beyond incest, God specifically addressed adultery, cultic sex, homosexuality, and bestiality (19:19-23).  All these things are perversions, and defile not only the people of God, but would defile the very land itself.  These were some of the reasons God judged the previous inhabitants of the land, and God wouldn’t hesitate to judge His own people when they committed the same sins.
    • Obviously our own culture has rather large issues with some of these things.  They might agree with the prohibition against bestiality and incest, but otherwise they would claim that people have a right to have sex with any other consenting adult, be they married or single, male or female.  That may be our culture, but it’s not God.  God calls His people to a higher standard.  Granted, these laws were specifically given to the nation of Israel, but the principles behind them have never changed.  God is still holy, and He calls His people to be the same.
  • Various ceremonial laws (19).  These, and virtually all of the laws given to Israel can be summed up in the first statement of God in Ch. 19: Leviticus 19:2, "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." .  Again, this is what He called Israel to.  This is what He calls US to be!  (1 Pet 1:15-16). … For Israel, this was reflected in several ways:
    • How they treated their parents & the Sabbath (19:3)
    • How they treated idols (19:4)
    • How they respected the sacrifices of God (19:5-8)
    • How they had compassion upon the poor, in respect to leaving some of their fields un-harvested (19:9-10).
    • How they dealt with honesty and injustice (19:11-16)
    • How they loved their neighbor (19:17-18)
    • How they treated the purity of the land, and purity of sexual relationships (19:19-25)
    • Other various laws that demonstrated their sanctity – how they were set apart from the other nations that surrounded them in all kinds of practices.  This included everything from eating blood, to tattooing their bodies in cultic worship or for the dead, engaging in prostitution, trusting God to provide for them on the Sabbath, and treating others with kindness, justice, and respect.
    • God’s people are supposed to be different! …
  • What happens if someone breaks the law?  As with any criminal act, there is punishment (20).  Chapters 1-7 dealt with the sacrifices that needed to take place when someone repented from their sin, but what happens if they don’t repent?  Or what about sin that carries immediate consequences?  That’s the subject of Ch. 20.  Generally speaking, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and that is graphically illustrated here.  For the person who worships the false god Molech (usually through the act of human sacrifice), that person would die.  For the person who engaged in witchcraft, that person would die.  For the person that even cursed his father or mother, he would die.  The various acts of sexual perversion (adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality) carried death sentences.  Why?  Again, for one single reason: God is holy.  God’s holiness (and works of holiness) is emphasized in vs. 3, 7, 24, 26.  The standard for holiness is not “good” or “almost” or “kind of” or “relative to something else”; it’s “perfection.”  The standard for holiness is God Himself.  As Jesus taught, God’s people are to be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48)
    • That leaves us with a pretty big problem!  Fortunately, that is exactly the problem Jesus came to solve.

Priestly laws (21-22)
Obviously the entire nation of Israel was holy unto the Lord God, but the priests were especially so.  They were the intermediaries between God and the people, representing God to the people & the people back to God.  They were to take special measures to ensure their purity and holiness in acknowledging their roles & duties. 

Why does this matter to the Christian today?  Because ultimately every priest of Israel not only points to our role as a priesthood of believers, but also to Jesus as our Great High Priest.  Jesus does a truly holy work in all perfection, and any work that we do is what He has empowered us to do by His own holiness and grace.  That’s not something to take lightly, or think of any less than it actually is.

As to Israel, priests were commanded:

  • Not to defile themselves (21:1-15).  They could make themselves unclean by touching dead bodies (representative of sin), by shaving their heads or beards according to pagan customs (taking on the image of the world), by taking a wife who had been divorced, or by having a daughter who was sexually promiscuous (anything apart from God’s ideal of marriage being one man & one woman, united in God, together for life).
  • Not to minister while being defiled (21:16-24).  A priest who had a disease or deformity was not allowed to minister in the tabernacle.  This was not an act of cruelty by God, but the picture of Jesus as our high priest.  Jesus is not less than perfect, and His physical representative among Israel needed to reflect that.  God was teaching His people lessons about Himself; which was bigger than any one person in ministry.
  • Not to allow unclean persons to partake of the sacrifices (22:1-9).  Disease is a physical reflection of the result of original sin (from the Garden of Eden).  It illustrates the creeping, corruptive nature of sin, and thus people who were unclean needed to be treated with compassion, but they could not partake of the things that were offered upon the altar.  The premise of God’s holiness needed to be maintained.
  • Be discerning of those who did partake of the offering.  It wasn’t to be given to an outsider because it was reserved for the priest and his family alone.  That was part & parcel of the priest’s inheritance in the Lord.
    • A similar idea is seen today with the Lord’s Supper.  It’s not to be given to non-believers.
  • Be discerning of the offerings that were brought to the Lord to be accepted by Him (22:17-33).  People weren’t to bring their left-overs; they were to bring the best.  God is holy, and He is worthy of the very best that we can give.

Feasts and worship (23-25)

The national calendar of Israel rotated around their various feasts.  It was an ongoing reminder of the work of God in their lives, as well as a prophetic look forward to what God was still going to do.

  • Sabbath: celebrated the rest that they had in God.  Fulfilled in our salvation, in that we are saved solely by grace through faith in Christ.  We do not work for our salvation, but rest in the work that Jesus has already accomplished.
  • Passover/Unleavened Bread: celebrated the redemption they had from God.  Ultimately fulfilled in the cross of Christ.  Unleavened bread represented the removal of sin from their midst – prophetically looks to our own walk with Christ & how He has cleansed us from sin.
  • Feast of Firstfruits: celebrating the provision they had been given by God.  It began the Sabbath following Passover – prophetically fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Feast of Weeks: celebrated another provision from the Lord, 50 days after the feast of firstfruits.  This became known as Pentecost, and prophetically fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon the new Christians and birthed the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • Feast of Trumpets: celebrating their calling as the people of God.  In the 7th month of the year, the trumpets were blown, and the children of Israel were gathered together in a holy convocation.  This will be prophetically fulfilled in the rapture, when Jesus blows His trumpet, and we are gathered together with Him, forever to be with the Lord.
  • Day of Atonement: memorialized the cost for their sin.  Also in the 7th month, the people were to afflict their souls and bring an offering to the Lord.  It symbolizes repentance, and prophetically looks forward to the Great Tribulation, in which Israel will once again be afflicted as they await the coming of Messiah (King Jesus).
  • Feast of Tabernacles: celebrates the dwelling of God with Israel.  Shortly after the Day of Atonement, the people were to once again have a holy convocation as they worshipped God.  This was to be joyful celebration as they remembered God’s provision for them in the wilderness.  Prophetically, this is fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom, as God the Son dwells with His people and fulfills every promise made to them throughout the Scripture.

After describing the various feasts, some of the laws seem somewhat randomly placed side-by-side.  Even here, the theme of God’s holiness still resounds.

  • Specifics regarding tabernacle ministry: continual lit lamp, and maintaining the bread (24:1-9)
  • Punishment for those who blaspheme, murder, maim. (24:10-23)
  • The 7th year Sabbath rest for the land (25:1-7)
  • The 50th year Jubilee, following 7 sabbath year cycles (25:8-22)
  • Laws regarding redemption of property (25:23-34).  This is closely related to the Jubilee regulations, since all loans were supposed to be fulfilled and absolved.  It was a reminder that the Israelites were merely stewards of what God entrusted to them.  Ultimately, it all belonged to God.
  • Righteous lending to the poor, forbidding usury (25:35-38).
  • Righteous dealing with slaves (25:39-55).  Israelites were not to be personally sold as slaves at all, and even hired Hebrew servants were to be treated with dignity in fear of God.

The theme throughout it all? “I am the Lord” (25:17, 38, 55).  The Israelites were not doing these things because it somehow made them righteous; they did these things because GOD is righteous.  The Holy God called the Hebrews to be His people, and this was merely the logical response to what He had already done.  We see a similar principle regarding how we live as Christians, based in the grace of Christ.  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." .  In light of everything that Jesus has done for us – how He has saved us in spite of our sin, declared us righteous in the sight of God, fully justified us to be a holy people – how else are we supposed to live?  It’s no wonder we give ourselves back to the Lord Jesus in holy service – what else would we do?

Promises from God, vows from men (26-27)
As Leviticus starts to draw to a close, it launches into a poetic section reminding the people of the things God expected of them.  He called them to be His people, and if they kept the covenant, God would bless them immensely (something that will be reiterated in Deuteronomy).  God would bless the people economically, militarily, and generally make them fruitful and abundant.  God would dwell with them in unbroken fellowship, and they would have joy and freedom. (26:1-13)

If they did not obey, then God would work against them and they would be severely punished.  They would suffer drought, famine, attacks from wild beasts, attacks from foreign enemies, and much more.  The people themselves would be degraded to the point that they would consume themselves in their sin, and their cities would be laid waste. (26:14-39)

Is this a threat?  Yes & no.  It’s more of a promise.  This is simply the certain outcome of sin.  When people sin, God will respond in justice…period.  God is a just God, and He must deal with sin accordingly.  If that is true of the world, how much more is it true of God’s dealing with His own people?  When His people who are called by His name live and act as if they are enemies of God, then God has to do something.  Judgment begins with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17) – something that is true of both Israel AND the Church.

The good news (for both Israel and the Church) is that God did not leave them in that place of judgment.  He went on from there to say how He would respond to their true repentance.  God would remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the people would be restored. (26:40-46)

The principle for us today?  God desires our repentance!  There’s no doubt that we will eventually slip up and sin against God.  Sometimes it’s an accident; other times we charge right into it.  Either way, Jesus has already died for us – the provision of a sacrifice has already been made.  All that we need to do is appropriate it through confession and faith (1 Jn 1:9).  God will cleanse us & restore our relationship with Him!

The final chapter deals with redeeming things that had been dedicated to the Lord.  In Ch. 26, God made certain promises to Israel; in Ch. 27, we see how people dealt with the promises they made to God.  Sometimes people’s hearts are bigger than their circumstances, and they may have vowed to give something to the Lord that they could not give.  That vow would have to be redeemed in some fashion, and God graciously gives them a way to deal with it.  The vow could not be merely forgotten, because God is holy & He always honors His word.  But it could be dealt with in grace – and that’s what God does.

Conclusion:
The holiness of God is not something to take lightly!  God is holy, and He commanded His people to be holy.  The problem is that they couldn’t do it, which is why sacrifice was needed.  Yet even with all of the sacrifices given here, it was all insufficient…and God knew it the whole time.  All of it served to prefigure what He would do through the ultimate Lamb of God, Jesus.  His blood that was shed not only perfectly fulfills the requirements of the law, but it atones for our sin for all time.  It rights what went wrong, going all the way back to the foundation of the world.  And God showed it all through this obscure book mostly ignored by the Church today: Leviticus.

May God help us remember His holiness!  May He help us live as holy!  May we give thanks for the blood of Christ at all times!

The Ultimate Valentine

Posted: February 14, 2014 in Thoughts
Tags: , , ,

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 

It happens every February.  Almost as soon as the Christmas decorations go away, the Valentine’s Day decorations go up.  Thoughts turn to romance, loved ones, hearts, and chocolate, among other things.  Our culture has an idea of love that is one-sided…something that is totally human.  Of course there is much to be said and celebrated about the love between a husband and wife, or a parent for his/her child.  Those kinds of love (though different from each other) are wonderful things.  Yet even in their purest, most innocent expression, they fall short of the ultimate standard of love: that between the Holy God and the people He has redeemed.
 
The Bible tells us that God has demonstrated His own love towards us in that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  The gospel of John famously recounts Jesus telling Nicodemus how God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  This is God’s great love for us: that He would give His Son to willingly lay down His life for us.
 
What act of love can possibly compare with this?  Many parents would lay down their lives for their children, if need be.  Spouses would gladly sacrifice themselves for their mates.  But what about doing the same for an enemy? That is exactly what Jesus did for us.  While we were still sinning against Him, He died in our place.  While we were actively rebelling against the God who created us, the Creator gave His Son for our crimes.
 
And it doesn’t stop there.  The night Jesus spoke the words recorded in John 15, He specifically called the people in the room His friends.  He had not yet gone to the cross – He had not yet borne the penalty of their sins – but already He could call the eleven disciples (and whoever else was there) His “friends.”  These were people still lost in their sin, but they were eternally loved by the Son of God.  Jesus had been slain for their sin from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), and He could look at them with the compassion of God and call these sinful human beings His friends.
 
What valentine can compare with this?  What greeting card could adequately capture the indescribable magnificence of the love of God for us in Christ Jesus?  Words cannot express the love shown to us in the cross – it is no wonder we are given an eternity to praise our Savior in heaven.
 
As we approach a day to celebrate the human love between family and friends, may we always keep at the forefront of our minds the love God has shown to us in Christ.  Take the opportunity to express your love back to Him as we gather in worship every week.  And go a step further: share the best valentine of all by telling someone else of the love of Jesus for them.  Jesus has already laid down His life for that person – and as Jesus said, there can be nothing greater than that.