23 January 2016

Stone 3 - Leviticus

Welcome to the book of Leviticus - a book with many guidelines over which a great deal of controversy still remains.

We Are Sinful
The Isrealites were rescued from Egypt and were on the way to the promised land. My understanding is that many guidelines were provided to the Isrealites in order to set them apart as a nation that they might live in the presence of God. Well, sin and God simply do not mix, as it were. They cannot share space together. The Levitical Law made some provisions.

I will admit that Leviticus was a challenge to read as there was a great deal of repetition but what I find most striking about the book is the message of Christ hidden within.

The only way for people to be in the presence of God was if they were pure - thus the sacrifices and other procedures. Jumping to New Testament for a second in order to draw a comparison, Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death. I see the sacrifices were the animals paying the price for our sins but the effect was temporary since we would ultimately sin again and those wages would need to be paid again. Our actions have consequences. Eventually, Christ came as the ultimate sacrifice such that all sin has been atoned for and we no longer need to perform sacrifices. However, the sin in our lives still needs to be atoned for so as individuals, we need to accept the gift God has provided. Rejecting Christ would be like one of the Israelites of Leviticus choosing not to make themselves pure. As soon as they try to enter the presence of God, they will die. God will exact the punishment.

We see this happen to Aaron's sons (Lev 10). Their actions were unauthorized - they were impure.

All These Laws
As I understand it, there are three categories of laws - ceremonial, civil, and moral. Today we recognize the moral law which is based on the holiness of God. The moral law transcends time.

Ceremonial Law
The ceremonial law centered around the rituals needed to be pure which would allow them to be in communion with God. In the majority of these cases - it was simply a matter of being impure from natural event that were not sinful in and of themselves. For example having a skin rash, having touched a dead body, or giving birth are not sinful but simply things that made people 'unclean' or impure.

Since Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, there is no longer a requirement to perform these sacrifices. The animal sacrifices were to take the place of our own deaths due to sin. Christ's death on the cross was enough to cover all for all time. The gift is available to all but the gift must be accepted.

Civil Law
Probably the most elusive of the three. An everchanging landscape of law over the years as cutures have tried to define right and wrong, moral and immoral, and distinctions between good and evil. These laws were basically about how to deal with those who were in violation of the law and were provided to the Israelites at that time. Since then cultures have changed and so have these laws. As a citizen of the United States, I need to obey the laws that are established here - not the ones given to Israel thousands of years ago.

Moral Law
While civil law continues to morph over time and ceremonial law is no longer necessary, moral law as based upon God's holy standard is still in effect. As Christians, we no longer have to sacrifice an animal nor are we expected to stone people to death for their crimes but we are still expected to strive to become more Christ-like.

Why Bother?
So what good is Leviticus? Why bother reading it? As members of the 21st Century, I think we grapple with most if not all of the concepts in Leviticus. Let me suggest to you a couple of things to consider.

1. We are told in 2Tim 3:16 that all of scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness. All would include Leviticus.

2. Go back to that time some 3000+ years ago when sacrifice was a common thing among all peoples as a way to try and appease the gods. This is what they understood. What if God used this as a strategy to help the people understand the real meaning of Christ's ultimate sacrifice that would eventually come? God speaks to them on their level in a way that they will understand. For us, in 2016, at the time of this writing, it seems barbaric but it was commonplace then - they got it - now that it is no longer required of us - we don't get it and find it repulsive.

I do not want to diminish the importance of the laws and commands given to the Israelites. While not all of it is applicable in today's culture it still retains immeasurable value. Leviticus is about how the people at that time could be pure. It was a preparation for Christ. We should not surrender our attempts to gain a closeness with God, to worship Him and develop a relationship with Him. How should we be preparing our hearts for a relationship?

Let's try to make ourselves ceremonially pure through repentance and the acceptance of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
Let's become obedient followers of the law as established by our leadership.
Let's continue to live more like Christ and strive to behave according to the moral law established by the good and holy nature that is God.
Let's continue to pick up the Word of God and read books like Leviticus. It won't be easy. Following Christ won't be easy either.

Being holy is to be set apart. God details how the Israelites are to be set apart in Leviticus (Lev 19:2).
Let's set ourselves apart as well.

Here is another great review from the Bible Project on Leviticus.