Leviticus 12: Unclean

Dear church,

The idea of a person being “unclean” has a negative connotation. We think about the unwashed masses of humanity, people we don’t really want to be around, people who smell badly or talk poorly or don’t live up to our own standards. 

It is wrong for us to think this way about anybody. No one is more “unclean” than we are!

According to Leviticus 12, a new mother was “unclean,” and we might think there was something really wrong with her – that she did not please God.

I don’t think that’s the case at all. Child-bearing is the chief purpose of humanity, laid out at the very beginning. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28). 

If God blessed humanity and gave them this first commandment, it cannot be that God was somehow unpleased with a new mother when she was obedient to the commandment. 

I think this has more to do with flesh, blood, and the holiness of God. There is a messiness and brokenness to being human, as we shall see in this chapter and in the two that follow. In our lives in the flesh, we go through periods and seasons when we are not whole. I think “wholeness” might be a better way to think about “clean” and “unclean” here.

When we go through seasons when our bodies are not whole, our bodies are not operating in the normal way. Things are on us or come out of us that we wouldn’t always want to be on us or come out of us.

God wants humanity to come into his presence in wholeness – in wellness. And we will never be fully well or whole until we stand in front of God in our resurrected bodies. That’s the main point we need to take away from this text as Christians. 

The purification process is a reminder that we are not what we need to be, physically or spiritually, in order to stand before a perfectly holy God. Sin broke both our spirits and our flesh. All of life is marked by the brokenness caused by sin. And Jesus provides the cure for both our broke spirits and our broken bodies.

Moreover, when a woman gives birth, she is marked by blood and other bodily fluids. I’ve been a close eyewitness to this on four separate occasions! When blood comes out of a person, it is a sign of a weakening of that person. Blood signifies life, after all, and God wanted his people to take the flow of blood seriously. 

Consider the use of blood in the sacrificial system. Only one kind of blood was to be brought into the holy places – the blood of the sacrifices approved by God himself. 

And so a new mother was able to take respite during her time of purification. No sacrifices were asked of her for 33 or 66 days. The birth of boys or girls were treated differently – male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27), and this difference was acknowledged in the Law.

But fundamentally, this text is one that pointed out to God’s people – yet again – their inherent brokenness and imperfection in light of their holy God. They needed to find wholeness before they could enter into his presence. 

It points us to the resurrection. 

The apostle Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

We must understand this as Christians. Blood flowed out of the body of Jesus Christ when he was put to death outside Jerusalem. It was the ultimate blood of atonement that covers over our sins.

But we still are living in our flesh and blood. We cannot stand, as it is, in the physical presence of God. We still are being sanctified as we live out our days in this life. But a day will come when we can stand in the holy places, when we receive our perfectly whole resurrected bodies. 

Today, perhaps, might be a day to think about the way in which your body is telling you it is “perishable.” What is breaking down? What isn’t functioning correctly? What is un-whole about your body right now? Now think about the resurrection. There is much hope for us in Christ!

Chris

Leviticus 11: Holiness

Dear church,

God’s will permeated every aspect of the lives of his people. Nothing was left untouched by the ways of God. His commandments affected virtually everything.

We bristle at things like this. We want our privacy, and we want our freedom. Our Wednesday morning coffee group has had numerous discussions about the way in which technology and advertising companies – and the government? – can monitor our every movement and our every internet search. Next will come vaccine “passports” that enable businesses – and the government? – to monitor our health history. 

There is coming a day, it seems, when the government and its mandates never will be far from our minds. We always will know our place within our society, and we always will know who is in charge. 

In a very different way, God’s Law gave his people every opportunity to remember their place with him. They were constantly reminded in their daily lives that they belonged to him. And, because of this, they were constantly reminded of his gracious actions and his character. 

“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Already, the people of Israel had the Sabbath – a weekly break from their work to recall God’s resting on the seventh day of his creation. They were to recall on that day their Creator God.

And they already had the sacrificial system established in Leviticus 1-7. Regular sacrifices were made to remind them of their sin and their need for atonement and reconciliation. God provided a way back to him. They were to recall their Redeemer God.

And now, in Leviticus 11, we see God’s Law moved all the way down into the meals of his people. Some animals were clean, and some were unclean. Some could be eaten, and some could not. The people constantly were to distinguish between holy and unholy. They were to recall, even in their eating, their Holy God.

Meals are important. “A man’s got to eat,” we say. Our eating is our way to fuel our bodies. But it is more than that. It also is how we fellowship with one another. We eat together to bond. If you want to get to know another person, take him or her to lunch. Over that meal, you talk.

This is one of the first things to know about God’s intentions with his food laws. If his people could not eat with people of other nations, they could not assimilate into those other nations. It is hard to build relationships with people with whom you can’t even share a meal. 

God’s people were going to enter into a land with other nations and other gods. And God expected his people to remain holy, to be set apart, to not follow false deities. 

And so the constant paying attention to clean and unclean foods was important in steering his people toward holiness. 

But why these foods? Why did God pick some foods as clean and some as unclean? There is much debate about this. 

Some think it was a matter of hygiene. God wanted to keep his people healthy, and so he directed them to the best animals for food. His instructions were very pragmatic.

I don’t think this is the case. For one, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The people were not to eat pork, but they could eat locusts? For health reasons? Really? And besides, Jesus later would declare all foods clean, something I don’t think he would do if it opened the door to a bunch of dangerous foods (Mark 7:19).

Others think God’s selection of these foods was a relatively arbitrary matter – like God’s electing of Israel in the first place. God picked Abraham to be the forefather of the nation – not because Abraham was a particularly good person but … just because God is God, and God chooses. 

And so to eat only “clean” animals – declared clean only because God said so rather than any merited reason – God’s people were reminded of how God chose them in spite of themselves. There was nothing special about Israel except that God chose this people to give his blessings to the world. 

I like this explanation. 

Of course, I also like the way some scholars have noticed that God’s pattern of choosing animals may have connected with his creation order. God was very orderly in his creation of the universe. His people were not to eat animals that crossed over from one kind to another – like amphibians or fish without scales. 

The sinful world is the world of chaos and boundaries that have been crossed. God wanted his people to remain holy and to eat only those foods that symbolized holiness. There are some holes in that theory, but it does seem to have some merit. 

Still other scholars have said that all the unclean animals were connected to pagan gods and were sacrificed in those pagan rituals. This could be the case, but because such a wide array of animals were off-limits to the Israelites, it is hard to imagine all of those animals being key to pagan worship. 

Still yet other scholars note that the Israelites were forbidden from eating carnivorous animals. God cared for life, and life was only to be taken at God’s command, and so carnivorous animals were unclean because they killed other animals. There may be something to this as well. 

And so we can think long and hard about these things – why God chose the animals he chose for his people to eat. But the most important factor was that his people were to be holy, and they were to be able to distinguish between clean and unclean and holy and unholy.

This was to be a practice God’s people were to become skilled at, and they were to do so in order not to forget that they were the children of a holy God. Every time they sat down to eat, the issue of God’s holiness would be forced into their minds. And every time a foreigner entered the land of Israel and tried to have lunch with one of Hebrew people, that person would know that this was a peculiar group of folks. 

Everything was focused on the holiness of God – and the holiness of his people.

Enter Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the Law. The selection of food was not the main thing, he told his followers. Rather, the holiness of God’s people was the main thing.

“Here me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. … Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? … What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23). 

Under the New Covenant, the food didn’t matter. God’s holiness was affirmed on the cross of Christ, and it resides within every Christian heart through the Holy Spirit. The food wasn’t the main issue. Rather, human action and obedience to God’s holiness was the main issue. Faithful living was the main issue. Sin defiles a person, not food. 

Fortunately, Jesus covered over our sin. 

The opening up of God’s dietary restrictions for his people also pointed them to the reality of God’s grace. Anyone can accept the good news of Jesus Christ and enter the kingdom, whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile. 

Peter learned this while he was on his way to the home of Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Read Acts 10 when you have a moment.

“He fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:10-16).

When Peter sat down to his first meal that included pork, I’m sure it was difficult. He’d been trained all his life to understand some foods as clean and some as unclean. And now God had declared all foods clean. 

When Peter ate that first meal of pork, he would have done so understanding that God’s grace was available to Jew and Gentile alike. 

Perhaps we should keep that in mind at our meals. We eat some strange things – chilled monkey brains even, as I recall a memorable scene from Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom. The freedom we have to eat – whatever – is a sign of God’s willingness to accept into his kingdom whomever.

“What God has made clean, do not call common.” If God made you clean – and not only clean, but holy – by the blood of Christ, you are no longer common. You have been given an extraordinary gift that must be cherished.

So how are we to live in light of all of this?

Appreciate the grace God has given to you. We ought to remember that we have been brought into God’s kingdom – made clean and holy – by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And be holy. The call remains the same for us as it did for ancient Israel: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). We are to be set apart from the world’s ways. We aren’t fish with no scales. We’re fish that look like fish! 

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

This means just as the Israelites were careful with their food – just as they came to understand very easily the difference between clean and unclean foods – so we ought to understand the difference between good and evil actions. We don’t fall into the ways of the world. We separate ourselves from it.

We belong now to our holy God. 

And God, too, knows the difference between holy and unholy.

We drove to California recently and made our way to the beach. It was a cold and windy experience, on the beach in Monterey in March. 

When we arrived, I saw a guy with a metal detector in one hand and a shovel in the other. He was walking slowly along the beach, just outside the reach of the surf, waving the metal detector over the sand – back and forth, back and forth.

Behind him, were several piles of sand, where he had detected something and dug down to retrieve it. Some things, I suppose would be worthless – little scraps of metal or even tin foil. And he would drop them back into place. He would discard them. 

The man on the beach was looking for something else, something special, something of value, something to take home with him.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50).

As Jesus sometimes would say, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43).

Chris 

Leviticus 10: Strange fire

Dear church,

The spiritual lives of our faith leaders are very important. They need to be able to distinguish between “the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” I suppose this is why drinking on the job, as a priest or pastor, is frowned upon!

Some commentators believe Nadab and Abihu had been drinking “wine” or “strong drink” while doing their work at the tabernacle, which would be the reason why this is the passage where the prohibition against priestly drinking is given. This makes sense to me.

Of course, there is more going on in this passage. 

Nadab and Abihu also violated God’s Law with their “unauthorized fire.” God had just lit on fire the offerings on the altar, and in the very next moment, these two priests were doing their own thing at God’s tabernacle. It was as if they were saying, “Well, that’s nice, God. But we’ve got some good ideas, too.”

Perhaps the most important thing to know about this chapter is the fact that God chooses what sacrifices and what rituals are acceptable to Him. And the most important sacrifice that has been offered was the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

The application for us today is that we, as a church and as pastors and as “priests,” ought to be focused squarely on life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t offer God our own “truth.” We come to him simply in faith.

Many churches make mistakes here. They want to please culture, and so they alter God’s commandments to suit their culture. They walk around with “unauthorized fire.” I think of those churches that refuse to talk about sin or try to argue away the clear words of God on certain topics, like gender and homosexuality. 

And, of course, the global church long has struggled with the idea of works-righteousness, the idea there are other ways to God besides the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul had something to say about this – “let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Read Galatians 1:6-10 when you have time.

There is only one gospel by which a person can be saved. There is only one sacrifice for our sins. There is only one Savior. 

And so Leviticus 10 is about how God established rules for the people’s worship and for the rituals that brought them into relationship with him – and how quickly some began to move in their own direction rather than God’s. 

Let us be aware of this as a church. 

Chris

Leviticus 9: Glory

Dear church,

I think the thing to which we all are striving is to know God in his fullness. 

We want to grasp the ultimate. And God is the Ultimate. He is the creator of the universe. All good things come from him. To be close to him is to be close to the One who can make us complete, who can provide full protection and blessing on our lives. We want to be safe with him. 

We want to be saved. We want eternal life – life free from sin and the decay and death that it brings. To come close to him is to come close to all of those things. 

God is the end to which our lives are pointing. 

When we gather for worship, we’re stopping all of our worldly pursuits – the pursuit of food, clothing, shelter – in order to dedicate ourselves only to seeking God. Of course, we can worship God even as we do our daily work, but there’s something important about putting all of that aside – and everything else – to focus solely on him. We gather to worship weekly, and it is a special thing. We want to come close to God when we gather like this. 

The people of Israel’s first formal worship service is recorded in Leviticus 9. You will notice the whole point of the worship service was “that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”

And you also will notice the steps by which the people came close to God’s glory. They sought atonement through sacrifice. They offered a burnt offering – a symbol of their giving of their whole selves over to God. They offered a grain offering – an offering out of their gratitude to God. And they offered a peace offering, celebrating their relationship with God. They ate together.

Aaron, the high priest, blessed the people. And then he and Moses went into the tabernacle, where God’s presence was, and returned to bless the people again. 

And the glory of God appeared to the people. God’s fire consumed the burning sacrifices on the altar. And the people fell down in worship. 

This is a picture of a people moving from separation from God because of their sinfulness into his presence by way of atonement. The people gave their very best to God. They celebrated their peace with God. And God showed up. He made himself known to them.

Our worship – our coming into God’s presence – operates no differently than this. Before we can even think about drawing near to God, we must have a sacrifice. We must have atonement. And Jesus Christ is that sacrifice, dying on the cross for our sins. 

And then we offer the best of ourselves – our “grain offerings,” of sorts. We take up our crosses, and we follow him. And we celebrate the peace we have with God through the Lord’s Supper.

Through all of this, God’s presence dwells inside of us through his Holy Spirit. But I think the fire burns brightest when we follow this pattern of fully surrendering ourselves to God, day by day, minute by minute – “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

And so, I suppose, that’s the question for today. 

If we really want to draw near to God – to see his glory – we first must accept by faith the sacrifice of Christ. And we must live out that faith by offering the best of ourselves to Him.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Chris

Leviticus 8: Priests

Dear church,

Chapters 8-10 are their own section in the Book of Leviticus. These first seven chapters of Leviticus discussed God’s law regarding the sacrifices that were to be offered at the tabernacle. These next three chapters are about the priesthood, and there is much here for us as a church.

It is good to understand this text in light of Jesus Christ. He is our high priest (Hebrews 8:1-2). And Jesus, like Aaron, leads a contingent of fellow priests. This is us. The church is a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:5).

There also is an application in these chapters to church pastors and elders. God has gifted some to lead his church – not to officiate sacrifices but to shepherd the people and to teach the Word (1 Corinthians 12:28).

With that understanding, we can see what God instructed when it came to the consecration of the priests. We’ll run through this quickly with an eye toward the spiritual implications of what took place and how those eternal truths show up in our Christian lives.

The priests were consecrated in a public ritual. The whole assembly was gathered. When you became a Christian, you likely made a public profession of your faith. At least, I hope you did. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). What’s the point of confessing something verbally if no one is there to hear it? The confession is for the sake of the body, the assembly of believers that we now are joining.

The priests were washed with water. I think about baptism. We also might think about being washed with the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26). And we also might think about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:8).

The priests were clothed with special garments. What clothes are you wearing? See Ephesians 6:10-18.

The priests were anointed with oil. Jesus was anointed by God (Acts 4:27). And that anointing was connected to the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). We also have been anointed (1 John 2:20). 

The priests offered a sacrifice for sins. Atonement was necessary. And Jesus did this for us (Isaiah 53:12).

The priests offered an ordination sacrifice. They were marked on their ear, hand, and feet with the blood. Whatever they heard, whatever they handled, and wherever they went, they were set apart for the work of God.

The priests were to eat together and remain at the tabernacle for seven days – a symbol of completion. The priests were wholly given over to God. Do you remember how we are to take up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25)? A cross was an instrument of death. Those who went out with their own crosses didn’t come back!

There is plenty here to think about. 

The following are three sets of questions to consider today. Some may be more applicable to you than others.

1) Have you made your faith public? Have you been baptized? Are you open to sharing your beliefs with others, whether inside the church or outside of it? Does anything cause you to pull back?

2) Are you immersing yourself daily in God’s Word? Are you being fully “washed” by it? Does it dictate how you respond to what you hear, and does it guide where you go and what you do with your days?

3) Are you fully given over to Christ? Have you picked up your cross, and are you following? Will you continue to follow – no matter what?

I am praying for you! Keep moving forward in Christ.

Chris

Leviticus 7: Holy meals

Dear church,

The eating of meals can be meaningful. Too often, of course, we must eat on the run – grabbing a Big Mac in the McDonald’s drive-through lane. The burger is half-gone by the time the light finally turns green on Highway 82 as we’re headed for home. 

Not all meals, of course, are the same. The Israelites had some meals that meant a great deal to them.

The priests ate one of these meals. After a guilt offering, the priests ate from the sacrificed animal, presumably in the presence of the person who made the offering. That person had discovered some sin and sought to make atonement and restitution. The priests were God’s representatives among the people. It was their sacred duty to assure the worshipper that his or her offering had been accepted. This meal the priests ate was designed to do just that.

This was a holy meal that was eaten in a holy place by men who were declared by God to be his holy representatives among his people. In some way, perhaps, the worshipper could watch that meal and know God had accepted the offering – that all now was well.

Many Christians today struggle with feelings that God is not pleased with them, that they haven’t done enough to warrant a good standing with God. Of course, it’s all by grace. That’s the point. But they walk through life wondering whether they really are saved. They just aren’t sure. 

God always has wanted his people to be sure of their standing with him. He doesn’t want us to be confused. The holy meal eaten by the priests was one way for God to assure his people he had accepted them, that they were moving along with him in the right direction. 

What is that “meal” for us today? Have you ever read the Book of 1 John, from beginning to end, and paid attention to how many times the assurance of our salvation is laid out in that book? Do that when you have an opportunity. Notice how we can “know” we are saved. 

In some ways, God’s Word – the Bible – now fulfills the role of the old sacrificial system. Jesus Christ, of course, died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. But he also is our priest. The Word he has given us is our assurance of his grace and goodness toward us – of his acceptance of us. 

Other meals are mentioned in Leviticus 7. The meal that followed the peace offering was eaten by the worshipping community. This was a communal meal that people enjoyed together. A person offered the sacrifice, offering his or her praise to God for something God had done, and then people sat down to eat. It was a happy meal.

This ties into the Lord’s Supper as we eat together in praise and gratitude toward God. It also ties into our sharing of praise reports during our worship services. We ask for “prayer requests and praises” each Sunday. Did you know this is practice that has its roots in Leviticus?

I think we only fall short in that we don’t make a big enough deal of our praises – of our “peace offerings.” And we definitely don’t eat enough meals together!

Other meals, or ways of eating, are mentioned in Leviticus 7. One key point here is the “fat” was God’s. God deserves the best of what we have. It is not for us or the “priests.” It is only for him.

Another key point is the priests were cared for by the gifts of the people. Their living was supported by the sacrifices and offerings of the people. This is important to keep in mind as we live out our lives in the church. 

I really am wary of saying anything about this for fear someone would call me self-seeking. But I’m supposed to teach God’s Word. That’s why I’m here. It is my calling. You can read the Scriptures for yourselves about God’s provision for his ministers. You see it here in Leviticus 7:28-38. You can also find it affirmed in the New Testament – applied to the church. Christians have an obligation to share what they have. Meanwhile, ministers are due their “wages,” but they also should refuse them if they find it spiritually beneficial for those whom they are serving. Read Luke 10:7; Acts 20:32-35; 2 Corinthians 8-9; and Philippians 4:10-18. 

Chris

Leviticus 6: Restitution

Dear church,

If you can make it right, you ought to do it. 

Leviticus 5:14-6:7 describes cases when someone may sin against the “holy things” of God – the things of the tabernacle or the people’s worship – and when someone sins against his or her neighbor. 

God seemed to be saying: “Make it right.”

Oftentimes, this is part of seeking forgiveness. True repentance results in changed action, and changed action likely will lead us to fix the things we’ve broken. Part of loving and honoring God is respecting the other people on this earth whom God has created. 

And so we seek to make things right. 

Jesus taught along these lines in the Sermon on the Mount: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). We also might think about the example of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ response to that example (Luke 18:8-9).

We can see how Jesus tied reconciliation with those whom we have hurt to our reconciliation with God. The two go hand in hand. God desires his people to be people who care for one another, and especially for those within the family of God. This teaching began all the way back in Leviticus. Jesus didn’t abolish the law, after all (Matthew 5:17).

So you may want to think today about wrongs that you need to make right with the people around you. Is anything gnawing at your conscience? Take care of it today. And then go worship.

Leviticus 6 also has some interesting things to say about the priests. They were to keep the altar fire burning at all times. I suppose this was so people could come and offer sacrifices at any time. In other words, the way to atonement always was to be open to the people. 

Surely you know you can reach out to God at any time. You don’t have to wait for Sunday mornings. The way always is open. 

My job as pastor – and, frankly, your job as a kingdom of priests – is to keep that “fire” burning for anyone who would come. We keep sharing the good news, letting people know there is a way through the sin and strife of this life, and that way is Jesus Christ.

Finally, Leviticus 6 discusses food for the priests. When the priests ate from the offerings of the people, they were signifying to the people that God had accepted those offerings – that God was pleased. In a very visual way, a worshipper could know God had accepted him or her. 

As Christians, we understand God’s acceptance of us by faith and by the very clear words of the testimony that has been handed down to us in Scripture. Passages like 1 John 1:9 assure us of our position with God. 

That’s enough for today. Please keep reading Leviticus in the light of Jesus Christ. And let me know if you have any questions.

Chris

Leviticus 5: Confession

Dear church,

I don’t know about you, but when I read some of these laws available to us in Leviticus – as well as those back in Exodus – a feeling of conviction creeps upon me. 

I recognize some sins that I have committed but not done anything about. Sin sometimes is incidental or accidental. Sometimes, we don’t even know we’ve violated God’s law. Perhaps we aren’t paying attention. Or maybe we’ve simply forgotten.

And then, for some reason, we remember. What are we to do?

Well, Leviticus tells us clearly what the ancient Israelites were to do. “When he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed,” he’s to seek atonement.

The new thing here is this: God’s people are to confess their sins to God. 

Four specific sins are listed in the early part of Leviticus 5. They had to do with withholding the truth, with not seeking purification after touching an “unclean” object, and with making bad or unfulfilled promises. In essence, these deal with the matter of not following through with what should be done. 

Perhaps we can call these sins of “omission,” rather than “commission.” You know what this means – when you don’t do the thing you know you ought to do. 

Sometimes this can happen, and we know we have sinned. It can weigh on us. Other times, we may realize only later that we’ve sinned. 

A woman was violently beaten in a racial crime outside a New York hotel recently, and video of the beating went viral on the internet. It is hard to watch. But very noticeable in that video were the hotel employees who were standing by doing nothing. They did not intervene. I imagine they woke up the next morning with guilt about how they should have done something – but didn’t. 

That’s an extreme example – and things happened so quickly in that episode that it can be hard to pronounce harsh judgment – but past sins can be like this. They can weigh on us. We know what we should have done, but we didn’t do it!

The way to atonement is through confession. A key text that we’ll probably come back to frequently as we study Leviticus is 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus Christ provided the sacrifice that covers over our sins. We need not bring a lamb or turtledoves or grain. Jesus paid the full cost of our sins.

But confession of sin remains part of God’s plan for his children. Those who don’t confess are living in denial. The very next verse in 1 John is this: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).

To confess something means that we bring it to light. We admit our wrongs. We shed light on the fact we did not follow through with our obligations, whatever those may have been.

God provided Israel a way to make atonement. He provided a way for those who had the means to acquire a lamb, and he made a way for the poor who gleaned grain from the fields. Anyone had the opportunity to return to God.

Again, Christ is our sacrifice. We turn to him in faith, confessing our sins. 

Perhaps today, you may need to spend some time in confession. As you do, don’t wallow in feelings of inadequacy – like you just don’t measure up. The reality is that none of us measure up to God’s standard. 

To confess is just to be straight with God. You know where you’ve fallen short. Our confession should be marked with clear-eyed honesty. We take responsibility for our actions, and we ask God to forgive us. And we know, by 1 John 1:9, that he has. 

And then we lean into the Holy Spirit, to move us onward from our sins. We leave them behind. We stop and confess – and we feel whatever emotion that may come along with that confession – and then we accept the forgiveness of God and walk onward with him.

Psalm 32 might help to you in this. It is a wonderful guide to confession.

Chris

Leviticus 4: Purified

Dear church,

Sin comes to the forefront here – unintentional sins and, perhaps, little sins. 

Is it possible to sin without intending to sin? I suppose so. The other day, I found myself driving way over the speed limit, and I had no intention of speeding like that. “Well,” you might say, “that’s not morally wrong. Don’t worry about it. It was an accident.” But if the sheriff had pulled me over, he would be justified in writing me a ticket. I had broken the law, plain and simple. 

And God’s people can break his law without knowing it or intending to do so. Right now, the world tells us a lot of things are OK to do that are clearly against God’s way for humanity. A person could fall into sin with the world applauding all along the way only to discover later that he or she was now outside of God’s Way.

Sin is sin. There’s no way around it. And every sin has its cost, whether that sin was committed intentionally or not. To understand sin as sin, we also have to understand God as holy. He is perfectly good. He wouldn’t be perfectly good if he turned a blind eye to sin – even to small, unintentional sins. 

But God provided a way for his people to atone for their sins. You notice in Leviticus 4 that levels existed in how these sins were handled by God. The unintentional sins of the priests were handled differently than the unintentional sins of the common people. This could be because the impact of the sins of the priests was greater than that of other people. The sins of leaders can bring great harm to the people. 

And the priests also had access to the Holy Place in the tabernacle. That’s why we see in this chapter the priests carrying the blood of their sacrifices into the tabernacle to sprinkle it before the veil and to touch the horns (the place of power) of the altar of incense. The altar of incense was a symbol of the prayers of the people. Because the priests had access to the Holy Place, it was defiled by their sins.

And so, in Leviticus 4, we are told how the tabernacle could be purified. Please understand this. God was giving his people a picture of the way in which their sin damaged their worship. We know it fractured their relationship with Him, but it also made the very things of their worship and the very elements of creation unclean and impure. 

Purification was needed. 

We read this as Christians. Every sin matters – every tiny, insignificant, throw-away sin. Every white lie has an effect. And it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor or a leader in the church or a just a “regular Joe.” Sin is sin, and sin brings problems. 

And Jesus paid the price for those sins. He is our substitute. He purifies what’s been defiled by sin – namely, you and me.

In the Book of Hebrews, the writer explains how Jesus atoned for our sins as our High Priest and how Jesus brought purification to the heavenly temple. 

First, the writer said almost everything under the law “is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). This is what God established. We can’t argue with it and be faithful to Scripture. Sin has consequences, and God doesn’t want his people to lose sight of the high cost of sin. 

Then, the writer of Hebrews explained that the tabernacle and temple on earth was a copy of the heavenly temple. And Jesus purified it. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. … But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24, 26).

We see this again in the throne room of God in the Book of Revelation (chapters 4-5). “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).

Again, he is our substitute. And he purifies as he goes. 

Our sins matter. And we need to deal with them. The only way to do this is through Christ.

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him …” 

We realize our guilt, and we turn to the Lamb. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

We need to be purified. The uncleanness, the place where the blood needs to be sprinkled and which the blood needs to touch, is us.

It is Easter Sunday. A good thing to do today is to look around at our lives and see what it is that Jesus has done. We look for the work of purification in our lives. 

All of us have dirtied up our lives because of sin. And all of us, as we recognize those sins – hopefully – are turning to Christ in confession.

And he makes us clean. And because of that, we have a future that does not end. 

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Our hearts are what need to be purified. Only the blood of Jesus can do this.

Chris

Leviticus 3: Peace

Dear church,

The peace offering seems to be the pinnacle of the offerings. Be sure to read Leviticus 7:11-18 as well with this chapter because it gives us an important clue about this offering: The offering, at least part of it, was meant to be eaten by the people. They were to make a meal of it. 

The idea of “peace” with God is something we are familiar with as Christians. This peace is the result of the blood of Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

To have peace with someone means that all is right between you and him or her. When I have peace with my wife, Mary, I know she’s happy with me, and I’m happy with her. There’s nothing left to do but be happy about it and to live our lives together in harmony. 

So the Israelites were to offer peace offerings to God. And this brings up an interesting point. Relationships require something of both sides of the relationship. If one person does all the giving, there’s not much of a relationship there. Things can get strained pretty quickly. 

If you are really invested in a friendship, you will pick up the phone and call your friend from time to time. You think about that person. You will give that person gifts. You will seek to meet your friend’s needs. 

God, of course, does not need anything. He’s the giver of all good gifts. We can’t out-give our Friend. But God also is pleased to see his people giving themselves over to him in faith. This is the peace offering. 

And it results in a celebration. Our sins have been atoned, and we have life because of God. We can enter into his presence because he has provided a way for us to do so. This is what the Israelites lived out through the sacrificial system. 

And then they would eat of their peace offerings in the presence of God. It really was a celebration. To eat a meal together is to celebrate together. 

The fat and the blood were not to be eaten – blood because of its association with atonement and fat because it symbolized the best of something, which belongs wholly to God. 

When we dig into this chapter as Christians, we find the Lord’s Supper. At least that’s what I found. The peace offering given “without blemish” can only be Christ. And we eat of this together when we gather as a church. 

As we eat, we “remember” what brought us into peace with God (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). We celebrate. We eat with joy and thanksgiving. 

So these first three chapters of Leviticus point us to Jesus. Jesus is our substitute who brings us atonement for our sins (Leviticus 1). We offer ourselves to God in gratitude for his gifts to us and in commitment to his covenant (Leviticus 2). And we celebrate the peace we have with God because of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (Leviticus 3).

I am sure I’ve missed some things in this interpretation, but I am settled with the basic truths and applications that we’ve found here. The Book of Leviticus – the book no one wants to read – does have much fruit for our lives in Christ, if we will spend some time looking.

Chris