Leviticus 2: Gratitude

Dear church,

We can come into God’s presence because atonement has been made for our sins. The next logical step is to offer God something from ourselves and our possessions. We do this out of gratitude. We recognize God has provided all that we have, and we are thankful. And we are committed to him.

This is the idea behind the grain offering. The people’s sins were atoned, and now they were offering what they had to God in gratitude.

The gifts were doused with oil, which was a symbol of something that had been consecrated or set apart as holy. Yeast was left out of these gifts likely because yeast symbolizes something that is breaking down. And yeast has a spreading feature to it. It infiltrates things of its own accord. Sin is a lot like yeast.

Salt was offered with the grain offering. Salt is a preservative and was used in ancient times to ratify covenants. When the people salted their offerings, they were marking their commitment to God’s covenant. They wanted that covenant preserved. 

So let’s think about this in Christian terms, knowing that Jesus died as our substitute, making atonement for our sins. He was our burnt offering of Leviticus 1. 

When I think about the grain offering, my mind goes to Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

We don’t just bring to God a meal of grain. We bring to him our very bodies. 

When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, he died in our place and gave us the gift of eternal life – the most expansive gift possible. We receive this atonement and this eternal life and then offer our whole selves to God. We do this out of gratitude, recognizing that we merely are giving back to God what is His already.

And we reaffirm, by our giving of ourselves, our commitment to this new covenant that we have in Christ. Do you recall that you are the salt of the earth? (Matthew 5:13).

Chris

Leviticus 1: Substitution

Dear church,

You may be dreading this book. Leviticus is where many Bible-reading plans go to die. When we set out to read through the Bible, we oftentimes are faithful through Genesis and Exodus. We love the narratives – the stories of Noah, and of Abraham and his sons, and of Moses and the people of Israel. 

And then we get bogged down in Leviticus. We get lost in the Law. 

So I hope we can make this something that is beneficial to all of us. My goal is not to explain every little detail of the Law. Frankly, I’m not capable of that, and there are other places you can go to seek out all of those answers. But I think my goal will be to explain some of the major elements of each chapter, especially those that relate most directly to our lives in Christ.

Because that’s what the Book of Leviticus points us toward – Jesus Christ, the slain sacrifice for the atonement of our sins.

We definitely see that here in Chapter 1, which describes the way burnt sacrifices were to be made for the sins of the people. It appears that the exact animal that was offered depended on the economic circumstances of the offerer – from steers to sheep, goats, and birds. Perhaps the wealthy brought cattle and the poor brought birds. But anyone could come. That’s important to know about God and his way with humanity. He is open to all who would come in faith.

The sacrificial scene is graphic if you let yourself spend some time with it. The person offering the animal would place his hand on its head. That animal was going to die in place of the one offering it. In order to come into the presence of the most holy God, an atonement for sin was necessary. To put one’s hand on the head of the animal was a moment in which that person associated himself with the animal. The animal was the substitute. This also is important to know – because this sacrifice points us to the cross. 

Then the worshipper would cut the animal’s throat, and the animal presumably would fall lifelessly to the ground. It was dead. It had died in the worshipper’s place. The worshipper, by all rights, should be on the ground dead. But God had made a way. This also is important to know.

Then the priests would take some blood from the animal and splash it against the sides of the altar. The cost of atonement was visible to everyone present. Sin is not cheap. 

The animal would be burned. Every bit of it would go up in smoke. It symbolized the life of the worshipper, totally given over to God. And the smoke went up to God – a picture of humanity’s desire to interact with our Creator, to come to Him.

To fully appreciate the Book of Leviticus, and the entirety of the Old Testament and the nation of Israel and Jesus himself, we have to come to appreciate the sacrificial system. We need to understand why these things were done and what they must have meant to the person who performed them. 

The most important thing to know, of course, is that God is holy, and sinful humans cannot come to him in their sinfulness. Atonement must be made. There is a cost to sin. And these sacrifices “please” God. They demonstrate to him that the heart of the worshipper is fully given over to God. The worshipper is dedicated to Him.

And Jesus fulfilled the Law. As Christians, we don’t make sacrifices like these any longer because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He was the sacrifice to end, or fulfill, this sacrificial system.

The apostle Peter wrote that we have been ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). 

Peter went on to write, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:22). 

Jesus is our substitute. 

This, of course, is important to think about today – the day before Good Friday, when we remember the cross of Christ. 

Chris

Exodus 40: Already, not yet

Dear church,

There is a common theological understanding about our life as Christians on earth today. It’s the idea that Christ “already” has come, and so has the kingdom of God. It already is here on earth. Eternal life, also, already is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.

And yet, there’s also a “not yet.” Christ still hasn’t returned. We still haven’t experienced the resurrection of the dead and the new heaven and new earth. 

And so we can say we live in a strange time that is “already, but not yet.” Christ’s work is done, but there is still more he will do – namely, to return and finally abolish death and the devil. 

We get a glimpse of this at the very end of the Book of Exodus when God’s presence descended on the tabernacle in the form of a cloud, and Moses couldn’t enter the tabernacle. The tabernacle already was complete, but it was not yet time to enter fully into God’s presence. 

This image re-emerges in the Book of Revelation. There’s a temple in heaven that no one can enter until the final work of God is carried out in heaven and on earth. There’s also a cloud, of sorts, in that heavenly temple:

“And the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Revelation 15:8).

But this work will be finished someday. And the end of Revelation has this: “Behold, the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 20:3).

And so things will be brought to completion. The “not yet” will go away for good. All that will remain is the “already.”

So what does this mean for us today, especially as we consider the good news of Easter Sunday?

The most important thing is to know that the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the focal point of this whole story. The cross does away with sin. Sin “already” has been dealt with. And the resurrection points to the thing that still is yet to happen for all of us. It is “not yet” here – but it will be. 

And so we look backward and forward at Easter – backward to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus – and forward toward Christ’s return and our own resurrections. 

All of this should cause us great joy, and a lot of gratitude. 

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 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” (1 Corinthians 15:49-52). 

Come, Lord Jesus!

Chris

Exodus 39: ‘They had done it’

Dear church,

The people of Israel did the work. They followed the commands of God.

Here was a picture of perfect obedience. “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.”

The people had built the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell with his people. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap. But it was done. They had done it. It was perfect obedience.

However, this wasn’t a perfect people. They’d shown their flaws, and they would show them again. The perfect obedience involved in the construction of the tabernacle would, in short order, turn into a slow drip of rebellion.

God was showing the people the way to a robust and fulfilled relationship with Him. The people wanted it, so they said. Their actions, while excellent at times, would leave much to be desired. 

And so God provided his people – and the faithful of the world – with a better tabernacle. It’s a house not built with hands. 

As we approach Good Friday, we ought to spend some time in Psalm 22, which Jesus may have recited in full from the cross. He quoted at least part of it (Psalm 22:1). 

The end of that psalm reminded me of the end of Exodus 39. Here’s what it says:

“Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (Psalm 22:30-31).

What did Jesus do? Well, I think this points us back to the same thing the Israelites did with the tabernacle – “as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it.” 

Perfect obedience. Only Jesus did it his whole life, all the way to the cross. “He has done it.” 

What we cannot do, Jesus did for us. And we have a new tabernacle, a better One.

Chris

Exodus 38: Gold, silver, bronze

Dear church,

These are precious metals for sure. The work that went into the tabernacle wasn’t second-rate. Everything was done well, and with the finest materials. 

I remember my experience buying an engagement ring for Mary, nearly 20 years ago now. I was a poor college student, and I couldn’t afford to buy much of a ring. On top of that, it was the first time I had been inside of a jewelry shop. 

The salesman educated me on diamonds. There are a variety of cuts, and there are a variety of kinds of clarity when it comes to diamonds. And, of course, there’s the size – also known as the “carat.” 

Without much money in my pocket, I had to let go of something. I couldn’t afford a huge, clear, finely cut diamond. So I let go of the “huge” factor. Instead, I selected a tiny diamond that rated well for its clarity. I think the “cut” was pretty good, too, but I can’t remember all the details now. 

I remember being proud of that tiny diamond. But Mary and I chuckle now when we look at her wedding ring. It is not the most impressive thing in the world. You aren’t likely to snag a piece of clothing on it, so it’s safe in that way at least. 

At the time, it was the best I could do. 

Israel did its best, I believe, as they were constructing the tabernacle. They had all the precious materials they needed to follow God’s instructions. They didn’t cheat the system. They didn’t downscale anything. They could afford to do all God asked of them.

What has God asked of us? 

I don’t believe he’ll ask for more than we can give in terms of our service or our stewardship. But he doesn’t want anything that’s second-rate. He is our Creator and our Redeemer. We give him our best.

And we do this as we build up his church. 

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Corinthians 3:11-13). 

Chris

Exodus 37: ‘He also made …’

Dear church,

Item after item was crafted by Bezalel. Item after item was overlaid with gold. Item after item was prepared for use in the tabernacle. 

How long do you think all of this took? Months? Years?

Fast-forward several centuries, and King Solomon was building the temple. That same temple was destroyed and later rebuilt. None of this was easy or instantaneous. 

As we read this, we recall all of this was moving in a single direction. There was a place on earth where God dwells with humanity. It was the tabernacle. It was the temple. 

Finally, it was – and is – Christ. 

Jesus was very clear about this as he cleansed the temple of its money-changers and pigeon-sellers (John 2:13-22).

“Destroy this temple,” Jesus said, “and in three days I will raise it up.” 

Not months or years, but three days.

The Jewish leaders were perplexed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

John goes on to tell us that Jesus wasn’t talking about the stone temple where he was standing. He was talking about himself – “the temple of his body.” 

You see, if the purpose of the tabernacle and the temple were to be the place of God’s presence with his people, when God himself shows up, there is no need for either temple or tabernacle. 

“When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

More than a millennium earlier, Bezalel knew nothing of this as he spent weeks and months (surely) crafting the ark, table, lampstand, and altar of incense. He was gifted by God to do this work (Exodus 36:1). And he did his work without comment. This was a sacred task. 

What he was creating was temporary. In one instantaneous event, when a stone was rolled away from the front of a tomb, Bezalel’s work would be replaced forever. 

Part of the glory of Easter is that it marks the end of the work that Bezalel started. No more temples, tabernacles, or golden furniture. It’s just Jesus now.

Maybe the lesson is that everything we build here on earth – even the sacred and holy things – are fragile and temporary. It doesn’t mean they are of no value. Bezalel’s work was of great value. But even that passed away. Even that was rendered inconsequential in light of the ultimate thing.

All that matters in the end is the final temple, Jesus Christ. 

It ought to change our perspective. We ought to live and work and create for him – because he’s the only thing that lasts. He is the only thing that conquers death. And we are given a place “in” this new temple by his grace. 

This calls for humility – and an honest assessment of what’s really important.

Chris

Exodus 36: The craftsmen

Dear church,

This description of the building of the tabernacle can feel a bit redundant. We’ve already read God’s instructions of its construction. And now here we have the carrying out of those instructions. And the Israelites tried to carry out the plan to perfection. 

This is good.

As we read this, we can pay attention to the exquisite detail that we are given. The tabernacle wasn’t thrown together like a woodshed made out of pallets on a Saturday afternoon. Careful thought went into this house of God – the place of God’s presence among the people. 

The tabernacle pre-figures Christ. It was the central place of worship and direction and holiness for the people of God. This is where the prayers of the people were directed. 

After the tabernacle was the temple. And then Christ replaced the temple. 

And the faithful believers in Jesus Christ – the church – were brought into him. We now are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). 

And so this description is, in some ways, a description of the church. It was built by skillful craftsmen – first by the apostles and then by every faithful preacher, pastor, and Sunday School teacher who followed them. 

The apostle Paul said, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Corinthians 3:10).

Let’s be careful how we approach our lives in the church. This priesthood of all believers that we share is a sacred thing. We want to build with care – to build a more biblically-based, more evangelistic, more compassionate church. We want to build a church that constantly is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

And we want to do this according to the grace God has given us. 

Chris

Exodus 35: The congregation

Dear church,

Christian worship is a communal affair. It is something that is done best when it is done together. 

“Take from among you a contribution to the Lord.” Those who were willing brought a contribution. They brought their gifts. Some brought gold. Some brought thread. Some brought animal skins. 

They looked around the house, “We can bring this.” And they did. This was for the Lord. This was for the house of God.

“And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of the meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.”

When God was first putting together his tabernacle, he drew upon the whole people – not just a few. 

Worship is a communal affair. It wasn’t just the priests who did the worshiping and who controlled everything. Anyone could play a role. Anyone could bring a gift. 

Too many Christians hold back from contributing their gifts to the life of the church. “They don’t need me,” they say. “I don’t have anything to offer.”

Or they might say, “I don’t have time for that. Someone else is just going to have to do it.” And they stay home, they stay away, they keep their gifts to themselves. 

This isn’t about money, although it does not exclude the topic of money. Rather, this is about anything we have that could be given for the upbuilding of the church. The most valuable thing we have to give is not necessarily financial. In fact, it’s likely not financial.

What is your contribution to the work of the Lord in our church family?

Chris

Exodus 34: Merciful and gracious

Dear church,

The Bible enables us to encounter God like we would any other person. We start in Genesis, in the beginning, and we begin to see something of what God is like. He is the all-powerful Creator of all things. He is oriented toward the Sabbath. God’s work culminates with his resting. 

At the same time, God also is oriented toward relationship. He desires a relationship with his Creation and, specifically, with his special creation – humanity, made in God’s image. These are things we learn about God as we read the Bible.

We also learn that God is a God of justice. The flood story tells us that. And God is a God restoration and divine choosing. The long story of Abraham’s family tells us that. 

And then we get to the point where God’s people break their covenant with him. They agreed to worship no one but God, and then they constructed the golden calf. The God who desires relationship with us, as well as justice on earth, turns out also to be the God of mercy and grace. 

It is here that we begin fully to see that God is not a harsh taskmaster, like Israel had in Egypt. God’s very “name” is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” 

Certainly, we don’t lose sight of God’s justice in this “name.” But the new thing here is the broad mercy of God. Israel sinned against God in the most grievous of ways. They did not trust him. They abandoned his covenant. They were ungrateful and grumbly. 

And yet, God forgave them, and the covenant was renewed.

We have a merciful and gracious God. And Christ is the foundation of this mercy and grace. In fact, Jesus’ death on the cross is the very picture of God’s mercy and grace. The mercy God showed the Israelites in the wilderness was carried out with the knowledge that the sins of the faithful later would be paid for – in fact, already were paid for – by Christ on the cross. 

The apostle Peter, living 1,500 years after Moses, wrote this: “(Jesus) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).

God knew from before the creation of the world what the Son of God would do for us. And so the mercy he showed to Israel – totally unmerited, of course – sprang from the cross of Christ. Jesus paid the cost for the sins of the faithful.

This can be confusing stuff because we like to think in a linear and chronological way. I’m certain this is not the only way God thinks about things. 

Suffice it to say for today that we have a merciful God. If the cross was powerful enough to apply even to those ancient Israelites who never had heard of the Son of God, then it is powerful enough to cover over your sins and apply God’s mercy to your life.

Chris

Exodus 33: Seeing God

Dear church,

I recall the various ways in which people tried to observe the solar eclipse several years ago. Some used welding shields, over the top of sunglasses. The sun, everyone knew, was too bright to be seen directly. 

This is similar to the story of Exodus 33, as God shielded Moses from view, in the cleft of a rock, until God had passed by. 

Elsewhere in these old stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are invited to find Christ in them. He was the spiritual Rock that gave the people water (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). It is no wonder ancient Christians were quick to see Jesus here, too, the place where God shelters his people as he draws very near to them. We are safe only in the cleft of the Rock. Only the blood of Jesus Christ enables us to draw near to God.

This is a story that tells us about God’s grace. Moses’ close encounter with the divine was entirely a product of God’s grace. God chose to reveal himself to Moses. And God provided the protection Moses needed to be so close to Someone so holy. The hand of God shielded Moses from God’s face – something that cannot be seen directly by sinful humanity. 

A lot of Christians, myself included, know there are times in our lives when we have felt very close to God. We’ve had an experience of Him that went beyond and was deeper than the regular encounters we have with him in our Bible study and prayer time and weekly worship gatherings. These close encounters are very special to us. We know God had something for us in those moments. These are our spiritual mountaintops. 

And Exodus 33 reminds us that those moments occurred at the choosing of God. He does not have to reveal himself to us. We are incapable of seeing him on our own, and it is dangerous even to try. 

We can only see God by grace. 

Chris