Saturday, June 20, 2009

Leviticus 1

The following is a Sermon on Leviticus 1 without having worked through the whole of Leviticus so I certainly could make emendations.

Who has read the book?

It seems pretty clear that some books of the bible are viewed both by Christians and preachers as being almost in the too hard basket.
Some preachers certainly view the book of Revelation as being a bit hard and they avoid preaching on it suggesting as one pastor once told me at the end of his career that it was too confusing to understand and he'd never preached on it. This despite the fact that the book of Revelation itself claims to be an unveiling not a cloaking of Who Jesus is!

With the book of Leviticus things are only slightly different.

How many have read the book, let alone heard a sermon on it?

Too many preachers have a penchant for only preaching the New Testament. Sure the book of Leviticus has subjects that at times don't appear relevant to us as Christians, for example all those chapters about regulations regarding infections and childbirth and mildew, and how about the "ordination" of the Priests, but that really reflects a poor understanding of the book itself.

So let's get into this book that so many ignore.

The book of Leviticus is part of the Torah, the first five books of Moses because he is the one who wrote them. He is said to have written them during the Exodus from Egypt so one of the things you need to ask is what did all this mean for Moses' hearers? What would it have meant for them to implement these laws?

Those are very good questions, something that can help us ponder what they then mean to us.

In verse 1 we read that "The Lord called to Moses."
Sometimes we miss the obvious because we don’t pay attention to detail.
Literally, the verse is “and He { the Lord ] called to Moses.”
Do you see that little word “and”. What’s it there for? It’s there to connect it to what came previously. And that’s the book of Exodus. You see there’s no break in God’s Word. It’s not as though the books of the Old Testament are a mere collection of different stories from different times. Thematically they connect! Theologically they connect!

From one little Hebrew word we are to get insight into what’s going on in Leviticus 1.

We could actually get there without this by asking a simple question.

From where did he call?

God is not distant in heaven! From the last chapter of the book of Exodus chapter 40 verses 34f we read that the Glory of the Lord is in the tabernacle. This is important for us to think through.

Back in Egypt whilst the people were in Egypt from the time of the famine, a new king arose who did not know about Joseph, and he persecuted the people of God by putting them under harsh labor. Exod 1.

And later we read God hears the groaning of the people of God who as slaves were suffering in Egypt. Exodus 2:23-25. “and God remembered his Covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” That is, God had a history of promise with His people. It began with Abraham, then continued through Isaac and Jacob. God, we are being told, stands by His Promise.

What was His promise to Abraham? To make a people a nation, who He would bless, who would be a blessing, and He would stand by them. Genesis 12:1-3. So He selects Moses to represent His people, and we read in chapter 3 that the Lord God speaks to him out of a burning bush.

After the rescue, after salvation! Where he delivered them out of Egypt, just like we see in Exodus 20 where He reminds them of this deliverance before he tells them how they are to live in the 10 commandments. Then after all that, towards the end of the book of Exodus we read of the making of the tabernacle and the Glory of the Lord, that is, His presence comes to the tabernacle when the cloud, which guides them through the 40 years in the wilderness, comes over the tabernacle.

So God, who is with the people, His people, calls to Moses.

It is further in verse 1 of Leviticus 1 that we see the Lord God speaks to Moses. God is not Silent. He is able to be understood. He speaks and man is to listen.

So just what is God declaring? He tells us of the need for a sacrifice, the need for a burnt offering that is a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Three times this is repeated, and as I often like to remind people, God does not waste his breathe. He doesn't talk like us who just like to hear our own voice. When He repeats himself in the bible it's important. and so here we read three times what is pleasing to God, vs 9, 13 &17.

It's an offering from the herd, or from the flock or of birds. If anyone makes an offering this is how you are to do it.
You are to do it the way God says.
The Priest, that is those of the family of Aaron, vs 11 are to sprinkle the blood on the altar. Yet it's the person making the offering that slaughters the animal, they are the one's who we'd say "get their hands bloody" !
They are the one's who take the life of the animal.

And it will cost the offerer. It’s to be from the domesticated animals, his flock, not a wild animal, So you will see that it will be costly economically.

Why all this blood? Why all this death? It's because sin is serious! The sinner needs to bring a sacrifice for his sin. Death is required for sin. In the offenders place death must occur. And the offender is to place his hands on the animal in identification, in acknowledgment that this is what is happening.

{{ Yet whilst it is serious and while it is to be seen as an offering for sin, it is also an offering of worship which the Lord God is happy with. You could miss this point easily unless you compare it with later sacrifices where it is not a pleasing aroma to the Lord – all because the last two which are for expiation of sin are not dealing with communion as such. But we’ll see this when we get to them. }} – See Constable and work this through.

What I find interesting is that man, unbelieving man denies two of the clear points of this passage. Today man denies that God speaks. He denies that God has made His mind clear. They deride the bible. They continually say "Has God said", just as Satan asked Eve in the Garden of Eden.

And secondly they try to find excuses all the time for sin. They give it other names, they blame everything but the sinner. They redefine adultery to having an "affair". They blame his environment for what man does. Suggesting that if we only change his environment, or educate him that man won't do what we are forced at times to identify as evil.

However, we don’t understand a passage by merely contrasting it to how the world rejects it, to use it as a ramrod in our culture wars as T. D. Gordon would say.

Instead we still need to ask What Israel would have thought of this. What Moses hearers would have thought of what God required. Clearly if you want to please God, sacrifice needs to be made for our sin. If one is to be in communion with the Lord God sacrifice is required.

Now let’s see here that “the sons of Israel,” verse 2, “the Israelites” are the covenant people of God because of God’s promise to Abraham. They do not make this sacrifice to earn salvation. They make sacrifice so they can come back into communion with God once they have sinned.

Think about that for a moment. It has immense implications for your understanding of Who God is and who Israel are. This is for God’s believing people. This is for those who sprinkled blood on the doorposts in Egypt in faith so as to be delivered and have the angel of death Passover their eldest child.

These sacrifices are the means by which Israel sought and sustained their communion with God. The way God required it! The sense of God’s presence in all this is clearly brought out in the words used throughout – all this is done “before the Lordvs 3, that is He is present – and you have to grasp the severity of all this.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt there were some 1.5 million people, and by this time there could at least have been two million. How do you carry out sacrifices on that scale for sin? It's not a picture of white robed priests and those that cut the throat of the animals in fine white linen but of blood covered offenders. Where in a desert do you get all that water required to clean your hands and clothes?

Is such a system workable? And if it isn't what does that mean? This is what the Lord God requires. So you cannot make excuses. But perhaps, just perhaps this is meant again to teach God's people that sacrifice is required for sin and He would do it through the Messiah, His lamb.

Here we pay attention to the fact that “a male sacrifice is required, one with out blemish.” These are not merely suggesting that The Lord God requires our best, but they are types for Christ, the true sacrifice for sin. READ Hebrews 9:14.

We won’t speculate on the notion that a male sacrifice is required here, for later on we read a female one is acceptable in one of the sacrifices. Yet we can have confidence that being without blemish is important as the New Testament refers a number of times to the lamb of God, Jesus being without blemish. Look at Paul’s quote in N.T.

So in verse 4 it's clearly stated that this sacrifice is for atonement. it carries the idea of sin being dealt with and cleansed, but also of ransom, see Leon Morris, and then also the notion that it accomplishes reconciliation between God and man.

And it further fits well with the Lord God's repeated point to His people throughout the Old Testament that the attitude of those that deal with this sin is important to Him.

You know of course that in a reconciled relationship your attitudes count. Your attitude to the other person matters. If you are ignoring them and don’t listen to them there’s a serious problem isn't there?

So also our attitude to sin is important. Just as the Israelites attitude to sin was important to the Lord. He requires a contrite and broken heart. those that mourn over their sin. He's not looking for someone who is merely perfunctionary about putting on a sacrifice. He's not looking for Priests, who almost mechanically go about their duties.

Consider Isaiah 66:2f "This is the one whom I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in Spirit, and trembles at my word. But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb like one who breaks a dogs neck.... they have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations .. [for] when I called no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened.. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me."

The one the Lord God esteems are those that are humble and contrite in spirit and listen to Him! They respond to what He says. They "tremble at His Word".

This is the same criticism that Jesus make of the Jews and leaders in His day. He pointed out in Matthew 5 what Kingdom people would be like. They are poor in spirit "they recognise their spiritual bankruptsy", They mourn, "mourn over their sin", they thirst for righteousness.

The Kingdom comes with the King not to throw out the Romans, it's not political oppression that is their, the people of Israel’s problem, but sin. Their problem is spiritual, not political.

How are we to see the application here in Leviticus 1?

Of course we recognise for us the immediate truth that Jesus is the final sacrifice, the on Who truly makes us right with God.

But before we jump into what’s in it for me, let’s see what this means for both the Jew and the also the Christian.

What we see here is that to Walk with God, to have communion with God requires sacrifice for our sin. For the Jew, he could not ignore What God requires. He needed to hear with humility that his sin was serious. When Jesus “the Lamb of God” came – and these are that great Old Testament prophet John the Baptists words, - He came to deal with Sin. He is God’s Answer, He the Messiah, is King, the promised King of Israel, and the King who came to die to make atonement for sin.

It tells us God’s ritual to come into His presence,

Can ritual be bad? Of course, and this was Jesus accusation against the Pharisees of his time. They were white washed tombs, cleaning the outside by performing bits and pieces of the law while remaining defiled inside! They needed to recognise who the Messiah was and Why He was there and welcome Him as King and Redeemer and Priest.

More importantly for Israel this book tells them how they can fulfil what God requires and what it means.

Back in Exodus 19:6 they are explicitly told they will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Wow what a privilege, what a standing. What honor.

And do you realise it’s really part of the covenant that God made with Abraham isn’t it – they will be a blessing to the world. This then as God’s continuing revelation helps them understand this come to grips with it.

But how can they be a holy nation when sin rears its ugly head. And when it does how can they commune with a holy God when sin happens?

There’s much more to see about them being a holy nation as the rest of Leviticus tells us – and we will soon see that. [ namely that they are separate, extremely different to the world and the requirements of God here in Leviticus mark them off objectively for all to see, from the nations around them ]

What then about us? For us Christians, what do we learn here?
Isn’t it amazing how the same notion is applied to Christians in 1 Peter2:9 ! You are a kingdom of priests, you are marked off.

And secondly, what are we to do when we sin? How are we to be restored? We understand that When Jesus the lamb of God, died on the cross he paid the penalty even for our future sins, but is there still something we are to do?

Look at 1 John 1:7-9. daily confess our sins and purpose to walk in God’s ways..

Lastly, from God’s word to the Jews, as found in Leviticus 1 we can take heart in the same Hope. The same Lord God who promised Israel, who made His covenant with them and faithfully kept it, is the Same God who holds us. Who transforms us into the likeness of His son Jesus.

What blessing when holiness is so awesome!

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