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  • 1. Leviticus - Friday Night Genesis, Friday, Mar 2, 2012In our journey through the Bible we will spend this weekend looking at a picture of God inLeviticus. While Genesis spanned some 2500 years, and Exodus quickly covered some 400 yearsto bring us to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, we have now come to a completehistorical stand-still. We are still with the Israelites at the foot of Sinai, right where we left themat the end of Exodus. I hope you have had the opportunity to read the book of Leviticus and thefortitude to persevere to the end of the book. Last month a few people told me that they werecurious to see what I would draw out of the book of Leviticus, and to be honest I was curiousabout that too! Before I launch into tonight’s topic I do want to set up a bit of a foundation that will help uswrap our minds around what is described in Leviticus. While Exodus dealt mainly with civic law,it seems Leviticus deals a good deal more with ceremonial law. Having said that, rolled intothose ceremonial laws many of you will recognize the basic precepts of hygiene. In the days waybefore microscopes and any appreciation for the existence and work of germs, bacteria andviruses, this does seem to be the simplest way to impart the basics of good hygiene. Then thereis Chapter 18, which could make a few saints blush. But seriously, if God has to spell it out thathaving sex with your relatives, your mother or animals is not the right thing to do, my questionsare not about the God giving this law, but about the moral compass (or lack thereof) of thepeople who required such a law to begin with!And then there are all those sacrifices. To be completely honest, I do not understand thesymbolism of everything that they did, nor how they perceived those things within their culturalbackground, but I just want to provide a few clues that I have found which have at least helpedme understand why their church services had more in common with an abattoir than what weconsider church today. You may remember the incident of the golden calf from Exodus chapter32, and how the way that they worshipped the golden calf seemed remarkably similar to whatthe sacrificial laws look in Leviticus. In Leviticus 17 God tells Moses that the sacrifices must bebrought to the Sanctuary. “This is so that the Israelites will bring to the LORD the sacrifices theyare now making in the open fields. They must bring them to the priest, that is, to the LORD, atthe entrance to the Tent of Meeting and sacrifice them as fellowship offerings.” (Lev 17:5). So
  • 2. people are already making these sacrifices to various “gods” out in the field! It seems thatsacrifices were a common practice in that day and culture and that was their understanding ofhow you worshipped a god. So God uses their practices to point them to the true God and hasthem bring those sacrifices to Him. He gives them detailed instructions as to what they shouldbring and how they should handle it, because what the people of that time did in their attemptsto win the favor of the deities could be truly scary. Leviticus 20 talks of people sacrificing theirchildren to a god called Molech. Man, I look at my 6 month old daughter, and she is so preciousto me, I cannot fathom how anyone could come to a place where they are prepared to burntheir own child as a sacrifice to a god! That is truly sick! And that is why God has to say - don’tget creative, this is what and how you need to sacrifice for various offences and occasions.All of which brings me to the topic for this evening - a verse that, without context, could frightenand discourage even the most ardent of saints. “ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entireassembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy.’” (Leviticus19:1,2) Now, I have grown up in church, and have heard a lot about the standards we have tokeep in order to “be able to stand before a holy God”. And so when you see something as blackand white as this in the Bible, where you are told to be holy because God is holy, and byimplication God is now the standard that you are now trying to attain, you just want to throw upyour arms and say “it’s hopeless, I’ll never get there!” But as I got to wrestling with this topic, Igot to see something truly beautiful and exciting. And there may be some of you here who willget to the end of the presentation tonight and say ‘it took you this long to figure this out?!”, butI’m just excited to share with you what I have learned over the last few weeks, so I hope you willbear with me and at least share in my joy. We’ll kind of deconstruct this and first build up a fewpieces of this puzzle and then bring them all together in the end.First of all I want to deal with the whole idea of holiness. What is holiness? The definition mostoften employed are that something holy is something that is special, set apart, different thaneverything else around it. But is something holy because it was once declared holy, or is it holybecause it was created to be special, it has inherent special meaning? For example, 4 th July is aholy day to all Americans. Now, did the founding fathers just get together and say “we’ll make4th July a special day in this new nation.”? Or is there something that happened on 4 th July 1776that makes that day different and special from all other days in this nations history? And so on
  • 3. 4th July we have a holiday, we celebrate, we have fireworks and air shows, because it is a specialday for us as a community. There is another holy day that I would do well to remember - March7, 2004. That is the day Kelley and I got married. There is nothing special about that date on thecalendar, what makes is special for us is what we did on that day.There is also a holy day mentioned in the Bible. “By the seventh day God had finished the workhe had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed theseventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he haddone.” (Genesis 2:2,3). Now let me ask you a question: does God get tired? If I were to do aproject, say, finishing our basement, when would I rest? When I got tired! But does God gettired like we do? No. He rested because He had finished the project - He had finished the workof creation. And so God created this day to be a holy day, a memorial to His act of creation andthe birth of our planet. Notice, God made the day holy, and then in Exodus 20 He simply says“remember to keep it holy, because in 6 days God created the heaven and the earth and on thisday He rested.” He made it holy all we have to do is to keep it holy.Can any of you remember another time when God rested on the Sabbath after finishingsomething? Some 2000 years ago, on a cross, Jesus said “It is finished” and He bowed His headand died. He rested on the Sabbath and then rose again on Sunday. He once again restedbecause He finished something, and that was the work of salvation.And it is this that I want to really focus on tonight. Because when we see all the laws and ruleslike we do in Leviticus, our mind immediately goes to a place where we want to earn oursalvation by keeping the rules. But just like God made the Sabbath holy and then just told us tokeep it that way, it is the same with our salvation. After Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, thespiritual world of the Jews was turned upside down. Many of their understandings, many thingsthat they held near and dear to their heart no longer mattered. And so there was a letterwritten to the Hebrews that has been preserved in our Bibles that looks back at all the Jewishlaws and history and explains those things in light of the ministry of Jesus. And in Hebrews 4, wefind a little study on the Sabbath rest. Here the author of Hebrews says that although theIsraelites of Leviticus had the same message preached to them, they never entered into God’srest because they did not combine it with faith, in other words, they did not fully trust God. And
  • 4. then he goes on to say: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyonewho enters Gods rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9,10)We are to rest from our work of trying to earn our salvation, because God has alreadyaccomplished that work.So let’s come back to Leviticus for a moment. After God told the Israelites to be holy, becauseHe (God) is holy, He then launches into this mantra that carries through to the end of the book:“I am the Lord who makes you holy.” Wow! That changes a few things! Yes, we are called byGod to be holy, but whose work is it to make us holy? God says “I am the Lord who makes youholy.” You see, the Israelites have just come out of Egypt, and they were on their way to Canaan.Both these cultures had a good deal of influence on the spiritual life of the Israelites. And boththese cultures worshiped a whole host of cantankerous “gods” that controlled everything: rain,sun, rivers, fertility, illnesses, pests…. You get the picture. These “gods” never engaged with thepeople, which might have had something to do with the fact that they didn’t exist. But peoplebelieved in them never the less, and so they did whatever they could think of to try to win thefavor of these “gods”, so that they would send the rain, take away the illness, give them victoryin war or whatever it was that the particular “god” was supposed to be in charge of. And so theysacrificed all kinds of things to these gods, and when there was no response they would sacrificesome more, going even so far as to sacrifice their own children in order to win the favor of these“gods” so that they would merely provide the essentials for their livelihoods!In the light of that kind of a mindset, what God does is incredible. Not only is He activelyengaging the people, not only is He providing for their livelihoods, but God is proposing toengage with them on a heart level. Changing them at a heart and mind level to be holy people.The only thing you expected from the other “gods” in these cultures was things you needed forlife or avoiding suffering. Becoming a better person never figured into it. Being changed at aheart and mind level however is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, and so God starts withsome rules of good conduct, just as you might lay down some basic rules of the house for atoddler. “Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.“ (Leviticus20:8). Once again going back to the book of Hebrews which explains a lot of things from thisperiod, this is what we read: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).
  • 5. However, the rules and regulations were not to be the end of it all. When Jesus was here He toldus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). And once again,without the context, you may read this text and throw up your arms and say: “there is no way Ican be as perfect as God!” If you read the context in which Jesus said this, however, you willrealize that He was talking about loving your enemies and how God sends the rain and the sunon all people regardless of their relationship to Him. Those who understand Biblical languagessay that this text would better be translated as “you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father isperfect”, because the original is ambiguous. You shall be perfect is both a command to beperfect, but also a promise that when God is done with us we shall be perfect in love. God islooking to reproduce in us His holy character of perfect love.We are inextricably linked to God, and so the call to be holy because God is holy is not an emptyphrase. If we go right back to the beginning we read: “So God created man in His own image, inthe image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27). In thebeginning, God created us in His image, which means that He also reproduced in us His holycharacter of perfect love. Just like with the Sabbath - the memorial to creation, He created usholy, all we had to do was to keep ourselves holy. Ever since Adam and Eve threw that away,God has been working to restore His image within us. This is His work, because only He can do it.Our ideas of holiness can often be very warped. And so we are called to rest in God and thework that He is doing in us. We may no longer be sacrificing our children in order to win God’sfavor, but we are still prone to trying to work for our salvation. God is simply saying to us whatHe was saying to the Israelites all those years ago: rest in Me. Simply follow my instructionsbecause I am the Lord that makes you holy. I made you in my image, and I want to restore youback into my image. And so one day you shall indeed be perfect in love as your heavenly Fatheris perfect. I am the Lord who makes you holy.
  • 6. However, the rules and regulations were not to be the end of it all. When Jesus was here He toldus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). And once again,without the context, you may read this text and throw up your arms and say: “there is no way Ican be as perfect as God!” If you read the context in which Jesus said this, however, you willrealize that He was talking about loving your enemies and how God sends the rain and the sunon all people regardless of their relationship to Him. Those who understand Biblical languagessay that this text would better be translated as “you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father isperfect”, because the original is ambiguous. You shall be perfect is both a command to beperfect, but also a promise that when God is done with us we shall be perfect in love. God islooking to reproduce in us His holy character of perfect love.We are inextricably linked to God, and so the call to be holy because God is holy is not an emptyphrase. If we go right back to the beginning we read: “So God created man in His own image, inthe image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27). In thebeginning, God created us in His image, which means that He also reproduced in us His holycharacter of perfect love. Just like with the Sabbath - the memorial to creation, He created usholy, all we had to do was to keep ourselves holy. Ever since Adam and Eve threw that away,God has been working to restore His image within us. This is His work, because only He can do it.Our ideas of holiness can often be very warped. And so we are called to rest in God and thework that He is doing in us. We may no longer be sacrificing our children in order to win God’sfavor, but we are still prone to trying to work for our salvation. God is simply saying to us whatHe was saying to the Israelites all those years ago: rest in Me. Simply follow my instructionsbecause I am the Lord that makes you holy. I made you in my image, and I want to restore youback into my image. And so one day you shall indeed be perfect in love as your heavenly Fatheris perfect. I am the Lord who makes you holy.