God-Exalted Leadership.

Joshua 3-4, Acts 7

Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. ­– Joshua 3:7 ESV

Joshua was God's hand-picked replacement for Moses. But it was essential that the people see him as Moses' equal and not just some unqualified stand-in. Also, God knew that Joshua was going to need some reassurance that his role as leader had God's “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” So God let him know that He was going to “exalt” him in the sight of the people. He was going to elevate Joshua's stock in the minds of the people by giving clear and convincing evidence that he was indeed God's man for the job. It just so happened that the very time of the year that God had picked for the people to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan was the same time of year when the Jordan River overflowed its banks. This was not a coincidence or a circumstance that caught God off guard and unprepared. It was all part of His divine plan. Just when the people of Israel were going to have to cross over the Jordan, God made sure that the circumstances were as difficult and impossible as they could be. They had lost their esteemed leader, Moses. They were faced with the prospect of having to get over a flooded, rapidly flowing river. They were being led by an unproven, novice leader. In other words, the situation was just right for God to work. And He did. He instructed Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the waters of the Jordan and, when their feet touched the water, the river ceased to flow and left them standing on dry ground. The people were able to cross over the river and into the land of Canaan, safe and sound. God had exalted His new leader. He had proven to the people that Joshua was His man for the moment. “On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all that days of his life” (Joshua 4:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God confirms those whom He chooses to act on His behalf. Moses was given the ability to perform signs and wonders, confirming his position as God's spokesman and deliverer. David was given the ability to defeat Goliath, an adversary far greater in size and strength, and in doing so, revealed that God's hand was on him. The prophets spoke on behalf of God and their right to do so was confirmed by God's fulfillment of their prophecies. God exalts or lifts up those whom He chooses. He confirms those whom He calls. But it isn't always the way we might expect. Not every called one ends up working miracles or performing great signs and wonders. In the story of the early church, found in the book of Acts, we see the rise of Stephen to leadership. He had been recognized as a man of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV). He was full of grace and power. God elevated him to a position of leadership within the church and gave him the ability to speak truth boldly and without compromise. He was clearly God's man for the hour. Luke describes him as having a “face…like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15 ESV). And yet God chose to exalt Stephen in a way that most of us would find shocking and surprising. This man, whose life was marked by grace and power and who was filled with the Holy Spirit, was stoned to death by the hands of those with whom he attempted to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He was exalted in death. Jesus had warned the disciples that this was going to happen. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9 ESV). Stephen became the consummate leader that day. He gave his life for the cause of Christ and was exalted by God in his death. Again, Jesus had taught His disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 ESV). “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35 ESV). The truth is that God sometimes exalts His chosen leaders through suffering and even death. This was the case with Jesus. Paul writes, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9 ESV). Jesus was God's own Son, and yet He had been sent to suffer and die. He was the Chosen One, but His role was to be that of the suffering servant and sacrificial Lamb. His obedience “to the point of death” resulted in His exaltation.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a warped view of leadership. We have saddled the concept with misconceptions and misunderstandings, turning it into a self-centered and self-elevating notion surrounded with power, position, prominence and possessions. We see leadership as tied to authority and power. And in the world, all these things are true. But in God's economy, leadership is always about service, humility and sacrifice. Some of God's leaders, like David and Solomon, held positions of prominence and power. Others, like Stephen, found their tenure short-lived and marked by tragedy. Virtually all of the disciples would die in their service for the Kingdom. There is no doubt that they were chosen of God and served as leaders for the cause of Christ, but their leadership would be marked by suffering and death. There is something attractive to most of us about being a leader like Moses or Joshua. The idea of being God's instrument for accomplishing great signs and wonders is appealing. We all want to be used by God. We would all love for others to see the hand of God on our lives through the miraculous things He accomplishes through us. But what if God's exaltation of us involves our suffering and death? What if His calling on our lives is revealed through our suffering in this life? Prosperity, power and prominence are not necessarily the mark of God's hand on a man's life. Before David could become the king of Israel, he had to suffer for years, living as a fugitive in the wilderness with a bounty on his head. He lost his job, his wife, his mentor, his reputation – and yet he was God's chosen one. He had been anointed by God, but had to suffer on behalf of God. Joseph was God's hand-picked choice to provide a place for the descendants of Jacob to live in the land of Egypt during the time of famine. But Joseph had to suffer humiliation, slavery, false accusations, imprisonment and worse – all before he could experience the exaltation of God. His suffering was all part of God's divine plan. Stephen's death was all part of God's plan. It actually confirmed his calling by God. We don't understand it. We don't necessarily like it. But even in his death, Stephen revealed the hand of God on his life, calling out“Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 ESV). His life was a witness right up until he breathed his last breath.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I must constantly learn to see my role as one of God's chosen ones, not through the world's false concept of leadership. I must see that sometimes suffering is God's form of exaltation. He may call me to suffer on His behalf. He may choose me to walk a difficult path. My life may at time be marked by suffering and shame, but that does not mean I lack His hand on my life. It may be confirmation that He has chosen me for something great. He may be exalting me by making less of me. Paul reminds me, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). That prospect is not attractive to most of us. We would prefer to be Joshua; standing before the people, giving instructions, wielding power and authority, and acting as God's spokesman. But it may be that our leadership will be marked by suffering, insignificance, pain and even death. I want to be able to say as the apostle Paul did, “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT). Whatever God calls me to, I want to honor His Son with my life – whether that means living it or losing it for Him.

Father, exalt my life however You see fit. Help me to see that suffering for You is just as much a form of leadership as accomplishing great things for You. Help me to see that as long as I am living my life in submission to Your will and dependent upon Your strength, I will be living a life worthy of my calling. Then I can leave the results up to You.  Amen

Our High Priest.

Numbers 17-18, Luke 24

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 NLT

As a result of the rebellion of Korah, God brought a plague among the people of Israel. It was only the quick action of Aaron, as he atoned for their sins, that prevented the complete destruction of the people of Israel at the hands of God. He intervened and interceded on their behalf, and God spared them. As a result, God reconfirmed His selection of Aaron and his sons as His chosen representatives. The budding of the rod of Aaron was a divine sign of God's choosing of Aaron and the tribe of Levi as His servants. They would belong to Him. Only the Levites could serve as guards over the Tabernacle and only Aaron and his sons could serve as intercessors with God on behalf of the people. With their jobs came great responsibilities and great blessings. They were to be holy and set apart unto God. They received no inheritance in the land, but God provided for them from the gifts that were given to Him as a part of the sacrifices of the people. They received from God what was holy. They ate the best of the best. But they had to very careful not to profane or desecrate the things of God with their lives. God warned them, “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood” (Numbers 18:1 NLT).

These were ordinary men who had been given an extraordinary responsibility. They were the literal keepers of the spiritual flame of Israel. They maintained the Tabernacle and everything in it. They protected it and transported it. Aaron and his sons, as the priests, were responsible for offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, atoning for their sins and providing a means for them to remain in a right standing with God. But their work could never fully remove the guilt of sin. They could never provide full atonement for the sins of the people. But the priesthood and the sacrificial system as outlined in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of something greater to come. “They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: ‘Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.’But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises” (Hebrews 8:5-6 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's plan for the Tabernacle, the sacrificial system and the priesthood was temporary system that represented a far greater future reality. It was imperfect because it involved sinful men. Aaron and his sons were sinful and flawed just like every other Israelite. In order for them to perform their duty as priests, they first had to be purified. They had to have their own sins atoned for. And the writer of Hebrews tells us, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office” (Hebrews 7:23 ESV). But God's plan was far greater than that of the Tabernacle and the earthly priesthood. He had already determined a better means of atoning for the sins of man. And it would involve His own Son. This had been God's plan all along. After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus gave His disciples two separate Bible lessons where He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). For the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Jesus unpacked all the writings of Moses and the prophets, showing how He had been foreshadowed and predicted. Everything had been pointing to Him. The entire sacrificial system was but a shadow of things to come. The priesthood as practiced in Moses' day, served as a glimpse of something greater to come. “He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven.  Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.  The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man would need a greater High Priest. We would require a greater means of atonement. The sacrificial system as practiced by the Jews in the days of Moses and even into the days of Jesus, would never fully eradicate the sins of men. Because man's capacity for sin was endless, so was the need for constant sacrifice. There was never a point at which they were totally forgiven and completely free from the guilt of their sin. If nothing else, the law and the sacrificial system were a daily reminder of the ever-present reality of sin and guilt. No one could keep the law perfectly, so therefore no one was sinless. And the constant capacity to sin required the constant need to sacrifice in order to atone for those sins. But Jesus came to put an end to the madness. He was the High Priest who came to deal with sin once and for all. “He did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:25-28 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My sins have been paid for. My atonement has been accomplished once and for all. I can now stand before God as righteous in His eyes. All because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross on my behalf. I have been set free. I am no longer a slave to sin. I have the capacity to live differently and distinctively, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. My righteousness is not of my own making, but has been given to me by Christ Himself. He bore my sins and gave me His righteousness. He died so that I might live. When I read the Old Testament, I must look for Christ. I must see His image and understand that all God did was pointing to His Son's ultimate arrival on the scene. The Old Testament is as much about Christ as the four Gospels. Prior to His ascension, Jesus took time to teach His disciples and point out all that the Old Testament Scriptures revealed about Himself. The story of the Bible is the story of God's ultimate redemption of mankind through the saving work of Jesus. Like any story, it has a beginning and it has an end. In the story recorded in Luke, we see Jesus departing from His disciples, ascending up into heaven. But we know that's not the end of the story. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV). He has gone, but He will someday return. His work as priest is complete. But His job as King is not yet finished. I look forward to the day when God closes the final chapter in His great book of redemption.

Father, thank You for the priestly work of Your Son. Thank You that Your plan didn't stop with the sacrificial system. Reading through the book of Numbers reminds me of just how sinful we men can be. It reminds me just how hopeless we are without You. Your standards are high. Your expectation of holiness is unachievable. But You provided a better way. You provided the ONLY way. You sent Your Son. He paid for our sins. He died in our place. He satisfied Your just requirement that sin's price be paid for through death. He gave His life so that we might live. Amen

Rebellion Against God.

Numbers 15-16, Luke 23

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. – Numbers 16:31-33 ESV

Yesterday we talked about the ever-present danger of doubt in the life of the follower of God. Doubt has a way of turning into disobedience, and disobedience against God is nothing more than rebellion against His Word and His will. In chapter eight of Numbers we see this pattern lived out in the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On. These men were descendants of Levi and, as such, they were responsible for the care and upkeep of the Tabernacle of God. God had set them apart as His servants and their jobs were essential to the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel. But they were dissatisfied with things as God had planned them. They wanted more responsibility. They wanted a greater role. They doubted God's order of things and demanded a restructuring of responsibilities and duties. The pointed their fingers at Aaron and Moses, exlaming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Like Miriam in chapter 12, these men expressed their doubt in God's preordained order and it led to their open disobedience and rebellion.

Moses is surprised and shocked. He asks them, “ is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together” (Numbers 16:9-11 ESV). Moses makes it clear that their beef was with God, not Aaron. Their rebellion was God-directed. They didn't like things the way God had set them up.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was incensed. As a holy, righteous King, He was unwilling to tolerate the open rebellion of these men, so He warned Moses, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:21 ESV). God was so angry. And His anger was so great that He was willing to wipe out not only these men but the entire congregation as well. While the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram was more pronounced and obvious, the reality was that the entire congregation was guilty of rebellion against God. But Moses and Aaron interceded and begged God to spare the congregation and punish the ring leaders. So God allowed Moses to warn the people and have them separate themselves from Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Then His judgment fell, with the ground itself opening up and literally swallowing the men and their entire families. Not only that, the fire of the Lord wiped out the 250 men who had aligned themselves with Korah, Dathan and Abiram and sided against Aaron and Moses. God would not tolerate rebellion among His people. He knew it to be like a cancer that, if left unchecked, would spread among the people. So He eradicated it in a powerful way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

And yet, amazingly, we read, “on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord’” (Numbers 16:41 ESV). Once again, the disbelieve that what had happened was God's will. And they openly rebel against God's representatives. So as before, God warned Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people because He was about to destroy them. But Moses intercedes yet again, telling Aaron to take his censer and "carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun" (Numbers 16:36 ESV). God was bringing judgment on the people, and Moses' quick thinking and Aarons' immediate response spared the lives of many. In spite of their efforts, 14,700 people died that day – at the hand of God. There would have been even more, had not Moses and Aaron acted. Their rebellion was a sin against God, and only the atoning work of Aaron, the high priest, was able to satisfy the righteous judgment of God against them. Doubt is inevitable and, if left unchecked, it will always result in disobedience and rebellion against God. Mankind is prone to unfaithfulness, even those who call themselves followers of God. Disobedience is in our nature. The risk of rebellion is a constant reality for each of us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the gospel of Luke we see the people of God once again rebelling against the will of God. He had sent His Son as the Savior of the world. But Jesus didn't come as they had anticipated He would. He failed to meet their expectations. Rather than a conquering king on a white horse, followed by a powerful army, He was a carpenter from the small hamlet of Nazareth and accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples. Rather than revere Jesus, the religious leaders found Him revolting. They longed to rid themselves of His presence. They arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the governor, for trial and, ultimately, execution. Even Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of any wrong doing. He tried repeatedly to release Him, but the people demanded His crucifixion. And they got their wish. Their rebellion against God's resulted in the death of the One whom God had sent. They doubted God's Word and rejected His will. Writing more than 750 years before the events of the crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). God sent His Son to deal with our rebellion. But rather than snuff us out, He provided a means by which we could be healed and made whole. He payed the debt we owed, He suffered the death that was meant for us. He took on the penalty for our rebellion against God.

Father, prior to Christ coming into my life, I was a rebel against You. I was a law breaker and fully deserving of death. But rather than wipe me out like You did Korah, You gave me a way out through Jesus Christ. He died in my place. He suffered for my rebellion. My sins nailed Him to the cross. My bore my guilt and took on the penalty for my sins. And I can never thank You enough. Amen

The Unattractiveness of Ungratefulness.

Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-62 ESV

Complaining, grumbling, dissatisfaction, and discontentment. These are all common characteristics of the human race. Even the people of God have been known to whine and moan about their lot in life on occasion. The book of Numbers records the journey of the people of Israel as they made their way from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan – the land promised to Abraham by God. And just three days into their trip, the people of Israel began to complain about their misfortunes. They moaned about how difficult their lives were. They had grown lazy during their stay at Mount Sinai, and now there were having to put effort into following God. No more sitting around camp while Moses did all the work up on Mount Sinai. Getting to the land of promise was going to take work on their part and, as a result, they complained. The source of their complaint was a "strong craving." They desired something they didn't have. They coveted something that was missing in their lives. The people wanted something that God had not chosen to give them. And they showed ingratitude for what God had provided. This is a danger for every child of God in every generation. God had led them and fed them. He had provided manna for them to meet their physical needs. But in their opinion, it lacked flavor and spice. They wanted more! They preferred the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt. Never mind the fact that their meals in Egypt were eaten as slaves. They wanted MORE than what God was providing. When it came to their well-being, they knew better than God. Their complaining revealed and underlying belief that they had been better off in Egypt. Their grumbling exposed their doubt in God's love and wisdom regarding their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God gave them what they desired – in abundance. He gave them meat in the form of quail. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV). God gave them exactly what they craved and, in time, it would prove loathsome. They would grow sick of it. Not only that, what would initially appear as a blessing from God would end up being a curse. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33 ESV). The psalmist would later write of this watershed event. “But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave then what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 1-6:14-15 ESV). God graciously gave them what they didn't deserve: meat. But He also justly gave them what they DID deserve: judgment. Sometimes God allows us to have what we crave, even though He knows it is not what we need. But He also allows us to learn the painful lesson that the things for which we crave tend to bring us disappointment and dissatisfaction. There is a natural human tendency to want more. We are naturally greedy and think the answer to all our problems lies in getting more of what we already have or somehow gaining access to what we believe is missing.

God had graciously provided for the people of Israel. He had chosen them, freed them, guided them, clothed them, fed them and led them. He had agreed to dwell among them – in spite of them. He had provided a means of receiving atonement and enjoying forgiveness of their sins. He had promised to bring them to a land of abundance where they would live in homes they didn't build, harvest crops they didn't plant and enjoy the safety of cities they hadn't constructed. All He had asked was that they follow Him, trust Him and believe that He knew what was best for them. But they craved more. They knew best.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We must always be careful to mistake as God's blessing the accumulation or acquisition of the things we crave for and lust after. A bigger house is not necessarily what God desires for us. More money could just as easily end up being a curse and not a blessing. Any time we crave what we do not have, it is a sign of dissatisfaction and discontentment with what God has already given us. Discontentment can spread like a cancer among God's people, robbing them of vitality and joy, and causing them to doubt God's goodness. We see in the story of Miriam and Aaron another brand of discontentment. They didn't like the fact that Moses was the sole spokesman for God. They were jealous and dissatisfied with their status as second fiddles to their brother, Moses. So they complained. And their complaint revealed a deep-seated distrust in God's sovereign will. In speaking against Moses, they had spoken against God. They revealed their belief that they knew better than God. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed” (Numbers 12:9 ESV). Desiring greater glory for herself, Miriam ended up with leprosy instead. Her craving resulted in a cursing by God. She would eventually receive healing, but also carry with her a painful, yet powerful lesson on the danger in testing rather than trusting God. For seven long days she would find herself expelled from the people of God. Rather than enjoying a greater role as a leader of the people, she would find herself shunned by them – a reject rather than a ruler.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of 1 John, we read these sobering words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17 ESV). Loving the world more than we love God is a constant temptation for us as His children. We can so easily view what this world has to offer as the solution to our problems and the source of missing satisfaction. More of anything that this world has to offer will always fall short of what God has already done for us. Yet when we crave more than what He has already given, we reveal our ingratitude and expose our desire to be our own god. Peter would remind us that, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). But as we saw with Miriam and Aaron, it isn't always about money and material things. They desired power and more significance. They were discontent with their roles and desired greater visibility and more recognition. They were unwilling to serve where God had placed them. They craved more. They desired something different.

When Jesus came He exposed the status quo of His day. The rich were looked on as icons of virtue. The poor were seen as suffering at the hand of God for their sins. But Jesus taught that the poor were blessed and the rich would find it difficult to enter into His Kingdom. Their love for and dependence upon materialism and money would prove to be a formidable barrier to faith. They were placing their hope in the wrong things. The poor, who had nothing, would find it far more easier to trust in God, because they had no other options. Their need would prove to be a blessing. In Luke 21, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for life after His death and departure. He reveals to them what the end times will look like. Some of what He tells them will happen during their lifetimes. But much of it has yet to occur. But regardless of the timing, He warned them, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 ESV). They were not to allow the things of this world to distract them from the reality that there is something more yet to come. The people of Israel had been promised a land of abundance. Yet they became distracted with thoughts of more – NOW. Unwilling to wait for the future outcome of God's promises, they demanded His blessing according to their terms and their timing. They became weighed down with the cares of this life and took their eyes off the promise of God. I can do the same thing. I can find myself craving more of what this world has to offer and fail to recognize that God's promise is not about me building a kingdom in this world, but enjoying the blessings of His Kingdom in a new world.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. And forgive me for loving and craving the things of this world. Help me see past their illusion and recognize their inability to deliver what they promise. Only you can provide me with joy, contentment, and satisfaction. More of what this world has to offer is not the answer. Help me to realize the truth of the statement that godliness with contentment is great gain. Amen

Followers of God.

Numbers 9-10, Luke 20

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 ESV

God led His people. From the moment He set them free from captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn't veer to the right or the left. They couldn't go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences. God's leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply says, "Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way." The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the Tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system in order to provide a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God's presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So "In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran" (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV). God led and the people followed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirement. They would have to follow obediently. God could have miraculously taken them straight to the Promised Land. He could have eliminated the need for the journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God's prescribed plan for His people. God didn't just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. God's leading was going to require the people's faithful adherence to His commands.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have been so slow to realize just how good they had it. They seem slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God's actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands. The psalmist writes, "How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted himin the desert! They again challenged God,and offendedthe Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV). But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We find ourselves on a journey. We are walking through this life, headed to another "land" that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has called us to live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness. "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 1:14-16 ESV).

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God's law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of those who had been following fled. Believing in Christ is easy. Following Him is difficult and sometimes risky. His disciples would learn this. The religious leaders of Jesus' day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But they were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn't want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God's Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. Heaven is our ultimate home. But we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth. We have been given an inheritance that includes a permanent home in His heavenly Kingdom. But in the meantime, we are living in what Paul Tripp calls "the gospel gap." Our salvation is in our past. Heaven is in our future. And we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility and service. It is on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible, practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our following of Christ is to result in our reflection of Christ to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

All of this reminds me of another great hymn from my past: Footprints of Jesus

Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,

Come, follow Me!

And we see where Thy footprints falling

Lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus,

That make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus

Where’er they go.

Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains,

Seeking His sheep;

Or along by Siloam’s fountains,

Helping the weak.

If they lead through the temple holy,

Preaching the Word;

Or in homes of the poor and lowly,

Serving the Lord.

Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,

We follow Thee;

Through the gloom of that place of weeping,


If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,

We go again,

Up the slope of the hillside, bearing

Our cross of pain.

By and by, through the shining portals,

Turning our feet,

We shall walk, with the glad immortals,

Heav’n’s golden street.

Then, at last, when on high He sees us,

Our journey done,

We will rest where the steps of Jesus

End at His throne.

Father, I want to follow You faithfully. I want to live a life that reflects the character of Christ. I want my walk to match my talk. And it all begins in my heart. I can fake following you, but You know my heart. I can go through the motions, and fool those around me, but You know what is really going on inside of me. Help me to die to self and live for You. I want to daily take up my cross and die to my will and my way, so that I might more faithfully walk according to Your way. Amen

From Joy To Tears.

Numbers 7-8, Luke 19

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." – Luke 19:41-42 ESV

In chapter seven of Numbers, we see the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the Tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe's contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the Tabernacle to meet with God, where "he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, and it spoke to him" (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst. This was a joyful celebration. And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal "stand-ins" for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the first-born males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the first-born males of the people of Israel were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the first-born Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt. But because of the sin of the people in worshiping the golden calf, God had chosen the Levites to serve Him instead. So on this day, the people were commanded to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the responsibility of serving God from the first-borns on to the Levites. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God's service. Paul reminds believers that we are to live with the same mindset: "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.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had gone out of His way to ensure that His presence would be with the people – in spite of their sinfulness. He had given them ample proof of His power, His ability to provide, and the benefits of living as His people. He had freed them from slavery in Egypt. He had given them the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for His presence. He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and receiving His forgiveness. He had given them manna from heaven and water from a rock. He had guided them all along the way through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of could by day. When they had sinned at Mount Sinai and worshiped the golden calf, rather than destroy them, God had forgiven them and allowed the Levites to serve as substitutes for the first-born. God had been generous, merciful, gracious, kind, forgiving, and incredibly faithful – in the face of the people's faithlessness. And over the coming years, their track record for faithlessness would prove to be abysmal. They would consistently fail to follow God faithfully – from the first moment they laid eyes on the Promised Land to the day they would find themselves headed into exile and back into slavery as a result of their rebellion against God. And Yet God would remain faithful to His covenant and unfailing in His love.

What does this passage reveal about man?

If we fast-forward to the time of Jesus, we find the people of God living in the Land of Promise, worshiping Him in a magnificent Temple rather than a temporary Tabernacle. They have long-since returned to the land after years in exile. But they are living under the rule of Rome. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land. They have no king. The man who calls himself the king of the Jews is a puppet king appointed by the Romans. King Herod, the self-proclaimed king of Israel, was not even a Jew, but an Edomite. He was a tyrant and a madman, who owed his allegiance to Rome, not the God of Israel. The spiritual climate in Israel was not good. The religious leaders were little more than self-righteous autocrats who lived by their own self-manufactured code of ethics. Jesus would commonly refer to them as hypocrites. These men were the spiritual elite of the day, but were little more than religious charlatans who mislead the people and who would reject Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.

In spite of all that God had done for the nation of Israel over the centuries, they had continued to rebel against Him, while claiming a false sort of allegiance to Him. They had come to believe that their very existence as descendants of Abraham was their ticket into God's favor. They still expected their Messiah or King to show up any day, but they were looking for a military leader who would set them free from the tyranny of Rome. They longed for a political savior, not a spiritual one. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, He didn't meet their requirements. He wasn't what they had been expecting, so they rejected Him.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus arrival should have been a day of celebration for the people of Israel. When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah that day in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He read the words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). Jesus was announcing the fact that He truly was the long-awaited Messiah. But the freedom and victory He came to bring was not from political oppression, but from sin and death. Jesus was God's appointed representative to bring the one thing the people of Israel needed more than anything else – permanent atonement and forgiveness for their sins. He came to restore the people to a right relationship with God once and for all.

And while there was a brief, yet seemingly enthusiastic welcome upon His arrival in Jerusalem that day, the shouts of "Hosanna!" would soon turn to screams of "Crucify him!" When He failed to reveal Himself as the conquering king and liberator from Roman rule, the people would turn their backs on Him. And while His arrival should have been a time of joy and excitement, for Jesus it was actually a time of weeping and sadness. Luke records that he wept over the city of Jerusalem. He knew that they were going to reject Him as their Messiah. He also knew that the city was doomed to destruction in just a matter of years. Their might city and the Temple of God they revered would both be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus sadly predicted, "they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44 ESV). As in the days of Moses at the dedication of the Tabernacle, God was in their midst. Immanuel – "God with us" – was standing amongst them and they failed to see Him for who He was. The very presence of God was there, but they were blind to God's goodness, grace, mercy, and love. And it brought Jesus, the Son of God, to tears.

How often do I fail to recognize the presence and power of God in my own life? How many times have I neglected the very presence of God in my life by refusing to listen to and obey the voice of His indwelling Holy Spirit? God has proven His power, provision and presence in my life time and time again, and yet I can find it so easy to doubt Him, disobey Him, and determine to ignore Him – turning what should be days of rejoicing into times of sadness and tears. I don't want to overlook or miss out on the presence of God in and around my life. He is there. But I must look for Him. I must focus on Him. I must faithfully trust in Him.

Father, You are faithful. There is no doubt about it. You are gracious, kind, loving, patient and consistently present in my life. Help me to see You more clearly. Help me to listen to You more closely and obey You more willingly. Each day of my life should be a celebration of Your goodness, grace, presence and power. Amen

All Things Are Possible With God.

Numbers 5-6, Luke 18

But he said, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." – Luke 18:27 ESV

It was literally impossible for the Israelites to maintain their holiness and purity before God. Sin and sickness, both inevitable outcomes of living in a fallen world, were going to be a constant part of their lives. And because God dwelt in their midst, the ramifications of their sinfulness and sickness were serious. Disease and disobedience both separated the people from God. The very existence of disease was a direct result of the entrance of sin into the world. Ultimately, disease and decay would lead to death. God gave Moses strict instructions about what to do with those who found themselves suffering from sickness or disease. They had to be removed from the camp. This was not an indication that their sickness was due to a specific sin they had committed, but a recognition that sickness was the inevitable byproduct of sin's presence in the world. God expected His people to remain pure, both spiritually and physically, if they wanted to enter into His presence. But as always, God provided a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with Him, in spite of sickness or sin.

God even expected the marriages of His people to be pure and above reproach. He provided Moses with detailed instructions regarding how to determine whether a woman was guilty of adultery. It is interesting that in the "test" God provided, the hidden sin of the woman, when revealed, would result in sickness. In this case, her sickness would be proof of her sin. It is also interesting to note that the resulting sickness attacked the very organs that had been used to commit the sin in the first place. There is much about this passage that is inexplicable, but it is clear that God was dealing with sin among His people in a powerful and pronounced way. This "test", when witnessed by others, would more than likely prove to be an effective deterrent to further adultery in the camp.

In the closing part of chapter 6, God gives Moses a blessing to pronounce over the people. "The Lord bless you and keep you;the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV). This simple, yet profound blessing reminds us that, ultimately, it was up to God to bless the people. It was up to God to maintain His presence among them by dealing justly with the sins committed by them. It was up to God to provide them with peace, when their repeated sins and inevitable exposures to sickness would leave them alienated from God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God alone is the instigator, arbiter and maintainer of the relationship He has with mankind. It is He who seeks us and not the other way around. Left to our own devices, man will always seek a god of his own choosing. Man will tend to make his relationship with his god based on his own performance and acts of self-righteousness. In His dealings with the rich young ruler, Jesus clarifies that obedience to a set of rules is not enough. God is more interested in the heart than any human efforts aimed at good behavior. The rich ruler was convinced that he could somehow earn favor with God (i.e. eternal life) through some form of works. Of his own admission, he was a rule-follower and a commandment-keeper. But Jesus knew that he had a love affair with wealth. His money had become his god. So when Jesus challenged him to see all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor, the man walked away sad and dejected. Luke clarifies that the "was extremely rich." Then Jesus drops the bomb shell that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25 ESV). This went against everything the disciples believed. In their society, wealth was thought to be a sign of God's blessing. So the disciples were shocked to hear Jesus' words and asked, "Then who can be saved?" (Luke 18:26 ESV). Jesus gives them an answer they would have never expected. "What is impossible with man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27 ESV).

It is God who saves, not man. It is God who does for man what man could never do for himself. Jesus was the solution to man's persistent problem regarding sin, sickness and death. Jesus came to deal with the ramifications of sin, replacing the punishment for sin with peace with God, turning the inevitable outcome of death into the unbelievable reality of eternal life. God would do the impossible.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has always lived with the delusion that life can be lived apart from God. Even those who long for God, believe that He is little more than an objective to be pursued, a giver of gifts whose favor must be earned. They make God the means rather than the end. He becomes the resource to get what they really want: peace, prosperity, contentment, happiness, fulfillment, and significance. It is why man can make a god out of anything that even remotely seems to promise those things. But we can't earn favor with God. And we can't turn God into some kind of divine lottery ticket that we hope will grant us our heart's wildest desires. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus paints a picture of two individuals who represent much of mankind. One is the self-righteous Pharisee who views himself as above reproach and head-and-shoulders above his contemporaries in terms of his spirituality. The other is the humble tax collector who, painfully aware of his sin, calls on God to show him mercy.

It was impossible for the people of Israel to live up to God's exacting standards. They would and did continually fail. But God had provided a means of atoning for their inevitable sins and dealing with the inescapable reality of sickness. It is interesting to think about the fact that sickness was hard to hide. Skin disorders and diseases would inevitably reveal themselves to the rest of the faith community. And as soon as the sickness became apparent, it had to be dealt with. But sin can remain hidden for a long time, unobserved and not obvious to the faith community. Sin was like a cancer that was hidden, undetected among the people of God, slowly spreading and infecting the body over time.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God's call to holiness is impossible – without His help. I cannot save myself. But not only that, I can't sanctify myself. I can't live up to God's exacting standards and high expectations – if I try to do it in my own strength or if I attempt to rely on my own self-manufactured righteousness. Reading through the book of Numbers simply reminds just how holy our God really is. It reminds me just how far each of us falls short of His goal of holiness and righteousness. But with God, all things are possible. He can do for us what we could never have done on our own. He provided a Savior when I couldn't save myself. He provided the Holy Spirit to empower and guide me, when my strength was inadequate and my sense of direction was nowhere to be found. I was blind and He opened my eyes. I was sick and He healed me. I was sin-ridden and He cleansed me. I was condemned to death and He has given me eternal life. All things are possible with Him.

Father, thank You for being a God of the impossible. Nothing is too difficult for You. My life is a testament to Your goodness and grace. Any good that I do and any righteousness I display are Your doing, not mine. Like Paul, I say, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13 ESV). Amen

Servants of God.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty." – Luke 17:10 ESV

The Levites were God's chosen servants. They were His handpicked replacements, intended to stand in for all the first-born males who were to be dedicated to God each year. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after having received the Law from God, he discovered the people worshiping the golden calf. Moses issued a call to the people, saying, "Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me" (Exodus 32:26 ESV). It was the sons of Levi who came to his aid. He commanded them to strap on their swords and act as God's hand of judgment upon the people. They obeyed and, as a result, nearly 3,000 Israelites died that day. In recognition of their obedience, Moses ordained them to the service of the Lord, "each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day" (Exodus 32:29 ESV).

These men, the Levites, would remain God's chosen servants. They served as guards over the tabernacle and all it contained. They served as carriers of all the materials that made up the tabernacle, transporting it from one camp to another during all the days they spent wandering in the wilderness. But they also served as redeemers. Each Levite was a substitute for another Jewish first-born male. God had intended for every first-born male from every family to be dedicated to his service, but the incident with the golden calf changed all that. Instead, God would allow the Levites to redeem the lives of the firstborn, serving in their place. These men were the consummate servants. They served God and they served men. They dedicated their lives to the ministry of the tabernacle. They played an integral role in the worship of God, ensuring that the tabernacle remained pure and holy, and helping provide a constant dwelling place for God and His presence during all the days they spent in the wilderness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God's presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While God had been giving His Law to Moses, the people had been busy rebelling against Him and revealing the depth of their unfaithfulness to Him. Their own sin made their first-born sons unqualified to serve Him. But the sons of Levi had remained faithful. They had willingly stepped up and done what needed to be done to cleanse the sin from the midst of the people and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. So God made these men His servants. He dedicated the sons of Levi as permanent ministers in His tabernacle and among His people. Once again, in spite of man's sin, God provided an acceptable solution. When He could no longer accept the firstborn males because of their sinfulness, He allowed the Levites to act as substitutes, redeeming the lives of those who were unacceptable for service.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Levites were set apart by God. They had specific responsibilities and duties that were essential to the worship of God. Their roles were vital to ensuring that God's presence remained with the people. The tasks they had to perform were not glamorous or prone to make their fellow Israelites jealous. They were guards of the holy things of God. They were porters and packers, making sure that the tabernacle of God, which housed the presence of God, traveled along with the people of God. In the book of Luke, Jesus gives an interesting commentary on servants. He asks His disciples, "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,  and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?" (Luke 17:7-8 ESV). Jesus goes on to say, "Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?" (Luke 17:9 ESV).

Within this same passage, we see Jesus telling His disciples to beware of temptation. He assures them that it will come, but to make sure that they are not the source of temptation. Instead, they are to rebuke a brother who sins. If he repents, they are to forgive him. And even if this brother sins against them seven times in a single day, and each times repents, they must forgive him. As servants of God, the disciples were being asked to do what He expected of them. Humbly and expecting no form of thanks. They were to obey, remembering that they were "unworthy servants" who served a holy and worthy God. There is to be a humility to the servant of God. There is also to be a gratefulness. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one returned to express praise to God. He didn't deserve healing, but he knew enough to acknowledge the One who provided it. Humility and gratefulness are the marks of a true servant of God. The Levites served without fanfare and probably received little in the way of thanks. Their roles were difficult and they had no choice in the matter. They were expected to do what God had assigned them to do. And they had to do it well – without complaint, in humbleness, and grateful for the opportunity to serve a holy, mighty God. That is the way I should live my life as a servant and son of the Most High God.

Father, Your Son came to serve, not be served. May I live with that same attitude of sacrifice and selflessness. I want to serve You faithfully and well, humbly and gratefully. Thank You for choosing me to serve You and Your people. Continue to show me how to do it with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen

Making God Central.

Numbers 1-2, Luke 16

Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: “When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it. – Leviticus 2:1-2 ESV

As the Israelites prepare to make their way to the Promised Land, God prepared them in two ways. First, He had Moses take a census by tribe, to determine just how many men of fighting age were available. Then He gave them strict orders regarding how they were to make camp each night by tribe, surrounding the Tabernacle, which was to be kept at the center of their camp. He also instructed them how they were to march each day with two tribes leading the way and two tribes bringing up the read, with the Tabernacle safely placed in the center. God was to be kept at the center of their community at all times, whether they were camped for the night or marching by day. The Levites were exempt from mandatory military service so that they could protect and provide for the Tabernacle. Each night, they would be divided into groups of four, and they would set up their camps on all four sides of the Tabernacle, providing a protective barrier between the various tribes and God's holy presence. The divine presence of God was not to be taken lightly or treated contemptuously. He was the key to their existence and their survival. Without Him, they would have been just another nomadic nation, attempting to survive in a harsh environment. It was God's presence that provided the food they needed, the protection they required, the daily guidance they depended upon, and the power they would have to have if they were to conquer the enemies occupying the land of promise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God's presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But men are easily distracted and prone to make other things the focus of their lives. We have seen how the Pharisees of Jesus' day had made rule-keeping and ritualism the center of their religious world. It had become less about God than about their ability to keep a set of rules. The focus had become their own self-righteous efforts, rather than the holiness and righteousness of God. In Luke 16, Jesus gives a series of parables regarding money and wealth. Repeatedly, He uses the terms rich, poor, wealth, riches, and money. Jesus knew the high priority wealth and material things held in the economy of His day. For the Jews, wealth had become a sign of God's blessing. Riches were a symbol of significance and worth. To be poor was considered to be a curse and a sign of God's punishment. And yet, Jesus recognized that the people of God had made money their god. They had ignored the warnings found in the Proverbs regarding wealth. "Don't wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit" (Proverbs 23:4 NLT). "The trustworthy person will get a rich reward, but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble" (Proverbs 28:20 ESV).

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV). He knew there was a prevailing problem among God's people of making money and the pursuit of it the central focus of their lives. They believed that wealth was the key to contentment. They believed money was the cure-all for all problems. But Jesus warned that material things could actually become a barrier between man and God. He said, "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13 ESV). Divided allegiance. There was nothing inherently wrong with money. But when men make it their god, it produces all kinds of problems.

Paul provides a wonderful commentary on the problem of making money our god. "But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, andwe cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). It is the LOVE of money that is the issue. We are to love God. Wealth can be a tool to accomplish God's will. Material things can be instruments in the hand of the individual who loves God and be used to further His Kingdom.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As a child of God, my true treasure lies elsewhere. The things of this world were never meant to be my focus. I was never intended to fall in love with the things of this world. John reminds us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15 ESV). I can't love the things of this world and love God at the same time. That is divided allegiance. If I love this world and all it offers, I will fail to love God in the way He demands. I will fail to love others as He has commanded me to love them. My love of money will prevent me from loving God and man. Keeping God the central focus of my life is essential if I am going to live and love the way He intended me to. Had the Israelites failed to keep the Tabernacle at the center of their camp, they would have missed out on His presence and failed to experience His power. Had they neglected to set up the Tabernacle in the center of their camp each night, they would have squandered their only means of making atonement and receiving forgiveness for their sins. Nothing was to take the place of or become a higher priority than the presence of God. He had to remain the central focus of their lives. And the same is true for me today. I must constantly be on the lookout for anything and everything that I might be tempted to take the place of God as the central focus of my life.

Father, help me keep You at the center of my life at all time. Forgive me when I make material things more important than You. Forgive me when I mistakenly convince myself that more of anything, other than You, might make me happier, more content, more secure, or more significant. You alone are all I need. Anything else You graciously allow me to enjoy in this life, whether wealth or health, is a gift to be used for Your glory and the good of others, not to satisfy my own selfish desires.  Amen

The Need For Repentance.

Leviticus 27, Luke 15

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:7 ESV

The entire book of Leviticus is a picture of the holiness of God. It would be easy to mistake it as some kind of a divine rule book for life, but at the core it is a revelation of the holiness of God. God's holiness is contrasted with man's sinfulness. A holy God cannot coexist with unholy men. His holiness and His justice require that He punish sin, because, ultimately, sin is rebellion against His will. The commands, rules and regulations outlined in the book of Leviticus give the people of God a clear understanding of just how holy their God is. He cannot tolerate sin of any kind, so He requires that His people reflect His holiness in every area of their lives. From their worship and their work, to their home life andpersonal hygiene issues, God provided them with His non-negotiable requirements. He had set them apart from all the other nations of the earth. He had made them His prized possession, but that high calling came with high expectations. They were going to have to live up to His exacting standards. But God knew they were incapable of keeping His laws. He fully realized that their sin natures would make obedience impossible. So He provided a means of atonement. When they eventually sinned, which He knew they would, He included a way for them to be restored to a right relationship with Him. The entire sacrificial system was intended to provide a means of paying the penalty for their sins and making forgiveness possible. But they had to take their sin seriously. They had to recognize that their sin was a problem and it required a solution. If they failed to take sin seriously, the results would be devastating. But they would have no excuse. They had been told. They had been warned.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Leviticus provides an amazing picture of God's grace. He did not have to choose the descendants of Abraham as His priceless possession. He didn't have to redeem them slavery in Egypt. He was not obligated to give them a land of their own. Yes, He had made a covenant with Abraham, but they had broken their part of that covenant over and over again. And yet God would fulfill what He had promised. He would do what He had said. He would accomplish what He had set out to do, not because of the people of Israel, but in spite of them. In reading through the book of Leviticus we get a wonderful, and yet sobering, contrast between God and man. The repeated calls to purity, cleanliness, holiness, obedience, faithfulness, sacrifice, and repentance cannot be overlooked. The people would have been well aware of their sin. God made it painfully obvious that their actions and attitudes were flawed and deserving of His divine judgment and wrath. But if they would simply acknowledge their sin and follow His divine prescription, they could experience atonement and enjoy forgiveness. God had provided a way. It was costly. It involved the shedding of blood and the loss of life. It required an admission of guilt and a desire for cleansing. The people of Israel would have fully understood that their lives were dependent upon God's grace and mercy. They should have known that their efforts at living in complete obedience to His laws would have fallen woefully short. God's laws were all-encompassing, impacting every area of their lives.  “Leviticus 27 points out that holiness is more than a matter of divine call and correct ritual. Its attainment requires the total consecration of a man’s life to God’s service. It involves giving yourself, your family, and all your possessions to God" (Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. New International Commentary on the Old Testament series).

What does this passage reveal about man?

By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the people of Israel had turned God's laws into some kind of ritualistic religious endeavor that had long lost its meaning. The rules had become the focus. In fact, the Pharisees had developed their own set of rules and rituals, intended to make them look even more religious than others. Rather than focusing on the holiness of God and their own sinfulness, they had made it all about their own ability to keep their own laws. They took pride in their outward signs of compliance. But Jesus exposed their hypocrisy. He showed up on the scene calling the people of God to repentance. John the Baptist paved the way for His arrival, proclaiming, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father. For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham'" (Luke 3:7-8 ESV).

Jesus would later say to the Pharisees, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32 ESV). His point was that, as long as the Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous, they would never recognize and repent of their sinfulness. These religious leaders had made it all about rule-keeping. They took pride in their ability to keep even the minutest of rules, But Jesus accused them of missing the point. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God" (Luke 11:42 ESV). In today's reading from chapter 15 of Luke's gospel, we see once again the Pharisees and scribes complaining about Jesus because, "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2 ESV). They were appalled at Jesus' lack of decorum. He didn't play by their rules. He didn't live according to their standards. But they were blind to their own hearts and refused to acknowledge their need for a Savior. So Jesus told them, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous person who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7 ESV). Jesus' use of irony here is sobering. He refers to the Pharisees and scribes as "righteous," but their brand of righteousness was fake. As long as they viewed themselves as self-righteous and deserving of God's mercy and grace, they would fail to receive it. It is a recognition of sin that leads to the realization of a need for repentance. The Pharisees had long since stopped measuring their holiness by God's standards. They had come up with their own. They had long lost sight of their own sinfulness and their need for salvation. As far as they were concerned, they were fully capable of atoning for their own sins. But they had forgotten the words of the prophet Isaiah: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The story of the prodigal son should be the story of us all. He was really no more of a sinner than his older brother. Yes, his sin was more visible and more pronounced. But even the older brother, while seemingly living in obedience to his father, was actually bitter and resentful toward him. He viewed himself as sinless. He saw himself as the faithful rule-keeper. When he discovered that his father had thrown a party for his long-lost brother, he became angry and declared to his father, "Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:29-30 ESV). Rather than rejoice at his brother's return, he became resentful and angry, revealing his belief that his "obedience" had somehow earned him favor with his father. But the real point of the story is the repentance of the younger brother. He saw his sin and repented of it. He saw his need for his father's forgiveness and grace. He came broken and fully aware of his sin. The older brother came arrogantly, stubbornly holding on to what he believed to be his right to a reward.

God has made my sinfulness perfectly and painfully clear. At one time, I was just like the younger son, living in my own sin and trying to determine my own fate. Then I finally reached the painful point where I realized that I was desperately in need of help. I could not fix my problem. I was hopelessly lost and destined to die in my own sinfulness. But God provided a Savior. He lovingly offered me a way out. And it began with a recognition of my own sinfulness and the realization that I could not save myself. Paul reminds us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8 ESV). My holiness was God's doing, not my own. My salvation was provided by God through Christ. It is those who recognize themselves as sinners who realize their need for a Savior. It is those who understand their sinfulness who are most willing to repent, to turn from it, and turn to Jesus as the only sure solution. "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12 ESV).

Father, thank You for helping me to realize that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. But forgive me that there are still times when I fall back on my own self-righteousness. I can find myself going back to a life of rule-keeping, hoping that I can somehow earn favor with You. But my obedience to Your will should not be based on earning, but a yearning to show my gratitude for all that you have done for me. I want to learn to obey You because I love You, not because I am trying to get You to love me. You have already proven Your love for me by sending Your Son to die for me. Amen

The Cost of Discipleship.

Leviticus 25-26, Luke 14

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27 NLT

As is clear from a reading of the book of Leviticus, being a child of Abraham, one of the chosen people of God, was costly. That distinction came with a great number of conditions. It was not easy to live up to the standards to which God had called them. There were rules, regulations and requirements of all kinds. And God took them quite seriously. They were not suggestions, but commandments. And in chapter 26, He made it quite clear that disobedience to His commands had dire consequences. In a series of "it…then" statements, God let the people know what would happen if they obeyed, and what would happen if they disobeyed. Obedience would bring prosperity, power, peace, protection, and the abiding presence of God. But disobedience would result in disease, defeat, drought, destruction and eventual deportation. And everything God predicted and promised in these verse took place. As long as they were obedient, God blessed them. During the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon, Israel became a prosperous and powerful nation. He gave them victory over their enemies and during the days of King Solomon, He allowed them to live in peace and prosperity. Until King Solomon disobeyed God. In spite of his great wisdom, King Solomon disobeyed God and married foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. But it got worse. "So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods" (1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV). He disobeyed God. He broke God's commandments. And as a result, God split his kingdom in two. The days of prosperity and peace were over. And from that point forward the two divided kingdoms of the people of God found themselves on a downward spiral of disobedience that led to their eventual destruction and deportation.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had made the terms of His covenant quite simple. Yes, it was going to be difficult, and virtually impossible for the people to keep all the commands He had given them. But He had provided ample means by which they could receive atonement and forgiveness for their sins. But they would have to refrain from turning to false gods and turning their backs on the one true God. He had told the, "I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high" (Leviticus 26:11-13 NLT). He promised His presence. He reminded them about His powerful works of the past and assured them that there was more to come – if they would simply obey Him and remain faithful to Him. Yes, it would be costly. His blessings came with requirements. They would have to practice justice. They would have to treat one another with respect and dignity. His will would have to supersede their own. His requirements, however unreasonable or ridiculous they may have sounded, would have to be followed. The very idea of the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee had to have come across as totally nonsensical to the people. Releasing someone from paying you what they owed you had to have seemed unfair and unreasonable. And all indications are that the people never really obeyed these laws. In fact, God seems to intimate that once the people were deported as slaves into foreign countries, "the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it" (Leviticus 26:34-35 ESV). God had a reason behind every rule and requirement. Ultimately, it was so the people would know that He was God. He wanted them to grow in their dependence upon Him and recognize their need for His presence and power among them. They couldn't keep these rules without Him. When they broke them, they needed His forgiveness, made possible through the sacrificial system He had provided for them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We love the blessings of God. To a certain degree, we believe we somehow deserve the blessings of God. He owes them to us. But His blessings were directly tied to obedience. Faithfulness was an essential quality for those who wanted to experience God's blessing on their lives. And yet the people of God became lazy and lax in their relationship with Him. They continued to expect His blessings in spite of their disobedience and refusal to keep their part of the covenant. They failed to remember that their was a cost and commitment to being the people of God. They began to believe that God's rules were optional, not required. They began to take short-cuts and create loop holes. They compromised and cut corners. All the while believing that their status as His chosen people somehow guaranteed them His blessings, regardless of their conduct or the condition of their hearts. Repeatedly God forewarns them, "But in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me" (Leviticus 26:27 ESV). The word "contrary" carries the idea of open hostility or opposition. They would live their lives in direct opposition to God, rather than in obedience to Him. And as a result, God warned them, "then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins" (Leviticus 26:27 ESV).

They were going to fail to keep God's laws, and He knew it. They were going to reject Him as their God, by the way in which they conducted their lives – in disobedience and unfaithfulness.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

And yet, God remained faithful. I am amazed at God's unfailing love and unwavering commitment to His covenant. In spite of them, He would bless them. Yes, He would lovingly discipline them, but He would also restore them. He provided a way back. He told them that "if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land" (Leviticus 26:40-42 ESV). All they would have to do is confess and God would restore them to the land. But amazingly, they would fail to do that as well. Nowhere in the story of the people of Israel do we see them confess and return to God. Even in the midst of their exile, they remained unrepentant and unwilling to return to Him. And yet, God would restore them – in spite of them. "Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 26:44-45 ESV). My God is faithful.

He has called me to live in obedience to His indwelling Spirit and in keeping with His Word. He has set me apart as His child and commanded me to grow in increasing likeness to His Son. He has provided me with His Word to guide me and His Spirit to empower me. But life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not without its costs. Jesus said, "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-27 NLT). Following Jesus was not going to be a cake walk. There are tremendous blessings that come with a commitment to Christ, not the least of which is eternal life. But there are also costs. We must put off our old lives and leave behind our old loves. We cannot attempt to love God and love the world at the same time. Our conduct must line up with our confession. Our behavior must reflect our beliefs. Our new nature, provided for us by Christ through His death on the cross, must show up in our everyday lives. But our old natures will be an ever-present problem. We will be prone to cling to our old way of living, to live according to the ways of this world. We will find ourselves holding on to old habits and compromising our conduct rather than dying to self daily. There will be times when our light will dim, our saltiness will diminish, and our faith will waiver. But God is faithful. He will do His part. He will continue to lovingly discipline us, patiently perfect us, and relentlessly conform us into the likeness of His Son. He will finish what He started. He will complete what He began. He will accomplish everything He has promised. And all He asks is that I do my part and remain faithful.

Father, I want to live for You. I don't want to compromise my life and let this world distract me from living in faithfulness to You. But I need Your help. I need Your Holy Spirit's power. Thank You for making the Christian life possible. Thank You for providing me with everything I need to live the life You have called me to. Keep me increasingly more dependent on You, not only for my salvation, but my sanctification – my ongoing transformation into Christ-likeness. Amen

To the Lord.

Leviticus 23-24, Luke 13

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, "Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" – Luke 13:34 NLT

As the people of God, the Israelites existed for the glory of God. Everything about their lives was to be focused on Him – every aspect of their lives throughout the year was to revolve around Him. Everything about the Tabernacle, the feasts, and the Law was designed to remind them of God's holiness and to bring Him glory. God filled the year with festivals and feasts, each intended to commemorate His divine action on and influence over their lives. From the weekly Sabbath observance to the yearly Passover celebration, they could not escape the fact that their very existence was a result of God's grace, mercy and unfailing love. Throughout chapter 23 of Leviticus, we see the phrase "to the Lord" used repeatedly. The various feasts are referred to as "holy convocations," or sacred assemblies. These were to be days that were set apart on the calendar each year to remember what God had done in their lives – from His miraculous redemption of their lives from captivity in Egypt to His gracious provision of crops during the last year. These days were to be dedicated to the Lord and held as sacred. Their lives were to be a testament to God's glory and grace, power and provision.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted the people to understand that everything He had given them to do was to be done with Him as the focal point. The Sabbath was to be dedicated to the Lord. The Passover was "the Lord's Passover" (Leviticus 23:5 ESV). The Feast of Firstfruits was intended to honor the Lord as the people presented to Him the very best of all that they had. Pentecost was a one-day celebration where they were to present a thank offering for God's provision for their physical and spiritual needs. The Feast of Trumpets served as their New Year celebration. The sound of the trumpets signaled the beginning of another new year and called the congregation to once again dedicate the year ahead to God. It was to be a reminder that God was in their midst and working on their behalf. The Day of Atonement was a day of fasting and self-denial as the people gave up their normal activities and dedicated themselves to the task of sacrifice for their sins. This was a once-a-year occasion that provided for the people atonement for the sins committed over the previous year. Apart from their fasting, this was all the work of God. Their atonement was His doing, not theirs. This was a day of humbling before and complete dependence upon God. The Feast of Tabernacles was a yearly celebration and commemoration of God's provision of their needs during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He had provided them with shelter, food, water, and even clothes that did not wear out. It was a reminder of God's faithfulness and provision.

God designed all these things to point to Him. The people were never to take Him for granted or fail to remember that their very existence was dependent upon His love, mercy, grace and presence among them. Without Him they were nothing. But they were not only to observe the feasts and festivals as reminders of God, they were to treat Him with dignity, honor and respect – even honoring His name and never using it in a disrespectful or inappropriate manner. To do so was called blasphemy and the penalty was death by stoning. God's name was to be treated with the same reverence as one would show Him. God was holy and was to be treated as such.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a tendency to make everything about us. It would be easy to think of a day of sabbath rest as a day for us to kick back and relax, to cease from working and simply chill out. But the Sabbath was intended to be a day dedicate to God. The cessation from work was intended to provide the people time to concentrate their attention on God. It was also to be a reminder of their trust in and dependence upon God. If they didn't work, they would have to rely on Him. The festivals and feasts were not intended to be civil holidays that provided the people a day off from work. They were to remind the people of God's faithful activity in their lives. Throughout the year, the Jews were given constant reminders that God was to be the focus of their lives and the focal point of their nation. The very presence of the Tabernacle in the midst of their camp was to reinforce that God was to be at the center of all that they did as a people. To this day, the people of God are to live their lives totally dependent upon and focused on Him. We are not the stars of the show, He is. We are not to make ourselves the center of attention. We must make all that we do all about God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the book of Luke, we have recorded for us Jesus' lament over the city of Jerusalem. Jesus knew that His days were numbered. He had been slowly making His way to Jerusalem where He would face His arrest, trials, and crucifixion. He knew exactly what awaited Him because it had been part of God's plan from the very beginning of time. He knew the Jews would eventually reject Him and demand His death. But their rejection of God's offer of salvation was not new. They had stoned and killed many of the prophets of God who begged them to repent and return to Him. They had a track record of refusing God's offers. Since the days of Moses, the people of Israel had repeatedly refused to keep God at the center of their lives. Yes, they had a Tabernacle and, eventually, a Temple. They had continued to maintain the sacrificial requirements. But they had simply been going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. And by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, their worship of God had become little more than half-hearted attempt at keeping a set of ritualistic rules and religious requirements. He had long since ceased to be the focus of their lives and the focal point of the nation's attention.

The same thing can happen to me. I can easily make myself the central focus of all that I do, even making my faith in Christ a convenient resource for living a better life. I can live my life as thought God exists for my glory, instead of the other way around. I can make the costly mistake of thinking that God is somehow obligated to meet my needs and grant my wishes – like some kind of divine cosmic genie. But I am to live my life focused on God. I am to constantly remind myself that my entire existence is based on His faithfulness, grace, love, and mercy. I am nothing without Him. Paul would remind me, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17 ESV). Elsewhere he writes, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). My entire life is to be lived with a Christ-centered, God-focused mentality. All that I do, say, and am should be centered on my Savior and God. Without them, I am nothing. But because of them, I have been redeemed, forgiven, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father.

Father, help me stay focused on You. Forgive me for tending to make it all about me too much of the time. I am nothing without You. You are evident in every area of my life. Your love, mercy and grace permeates the entirety of my life. I can see Your hand at work in and around me constantly. Thank You for providing Your Word as a reminder of who You are and all that You have done. Thank You for Your Spirit who dwells in me and is a constant reminder of Your unfailing love for me. Amen

A State of Readiness.

Leviticus 21-22, Luke 12

So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord – Leviticus 22:31-33 ESV

Holiness was not an option. It was a requirement. God's demand that His people be holy was based on His very character, represented by His name. God's ongoing presence among them required that they be holy. His commands were not the byproduct of an overly demanding personality. His very nature required an atmosphere of holiness. To profane His name was to denigrate His character. It was to treat Him with disrespect and dishonor, and to do so was a dangerous thing. God's desire that His people maintain their holiness was as much for their own protection as anything else. Their actions could not diminish God's holiness in any way. Their sins could never alter His righteous character or standing. But their failure to live in holiness could result in their own discipline and, in some cases, destruction. So it was important that they see holiness as non-optional.

There is a sense in which holiness is about readiness. The high priest had to be ready to come before the Lord on behalf of the people. He could not afford to defile himself or allow himself to become unclean, otherwise he would be unworthy to offer sacrifices before the Lord and make atonement for the sins of the people. It was a dangerous thing for the high priest, or any priest for that matter, to disqualify himself for service. He was God's chosen representative, "for the priest is holy to his God" (Leviticus 21:7 ESV). Every area of his life was to be holy. He was to live his life with his set-apartness in mind. He could never forget the fact that he belonged to God and that his lifestyle, at home, in private, and within the community, had a direct impact on his holy standing before God. He was to live in a constant state of readiness and holiness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The priests and the sacrificial animals were essential if the people were to maintain a right standing before God. God required unblemished animals and undefiled priests to offer acceptable sacrifices before Him on behalf of the people. The people's only hope for acceptance before God and forgiveness for their inevitable sins was based on the acceptability of the sacrificial animal and the one offering it. It would have been important to the people that the high priest remain holy and that there were always an abundance of unblemished animals on hand. Sin was unavoidable, so they never wanted to find themselves with a sacrifice that was unacceptable or a high priest who was unworthy to come into God's presence. Even a blemish on the skin could keep the high priest from coming before the Lord. So he had to take special care regarding how he lived. He had to be careful about what he touched and ate. He had to have a firm grasp on his household, because even their conduct could negatively impact his qualification for service. God demanded that His priests live holy lives, constantly ready to reflect His glory among the people and to represent the people in His presence.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There is a sense in which the Israelites had a vested interest in the holiness of their high priest and the quality of the sacrificial animals. They would have wanted to have known that their priests were ready, willing and able to offer sacrifices on their behalf, and that there were always animals ready to stand in their place as an acceptable sacrifice for their sins. The people were totally dependent on the priest and the sacrificial animal for their future well-being and any hope they had of forestalling the wrath of God against the sins they had and would commit. Their hope was based on the character of that one man and the acceptability of that single animal. They knew from experience that sin was inevitable and, therefore, sacrifice was unavoidable. They had a vested interest in the holiness of the high priest and their own substitionary sacrifice.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is unveiled as both the priest and the sacrifice for the sins of man. "For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26 ESV). He was ready, acceptable, holy, separated and fully prepared to stand in my place when the time came. He offered His own blood on my behalf in order to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. He was ready, willing and able. And there is a sense in which He calls me to live in a state of readiness as well. I have been set apart by His sacrifice. I was purchased by His blood, ransomed from slavery to sin and made a son of God. I am now to live holy because God has made me holy. I am His. And over in the book of Luke, Jesus calls me to live with a Kingdom perspective, with my eyes focused on the prospect of His eminent return and the reality of an eternal existence that supersedes this temporal one.

Jesus told His disciples to live with a healthy fear of God, rather than to live in fear of man. " But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:5 ESV). He wasn't threatening His disciples with a loss of their salvation, but was simply warning them to live with a constant awareness that it is God who determines the fate of men, not men themselves. Men can kill, but only God can determine a man's eternal destiny. Jesus told His disciples to live worry-free lives, realizing that God was their ultimate provider. He encouraged them to "seek his kingdom" instead. Their focus was to be on the eternal, rather than the temporal. The things of this earthly kingdom were inconsequential in comparison to the Kingdom God had prepared for them. So they were to live in a state of readiness for the future, holding on to the things of this world with a loose grip. Jesus warned them, "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12:40 ESV). There is a sense in which we are to live our lives in a constant state of preparedness for His return. We are to live my life in such a way that His return would not catch me off guard, by surprise or unprepared. That means I must live in holiness and readiness, not in order to ensure my salvation, but as an expression of my understanding that this world is not my home.

Father, I want to live my life in a constant state of readiness for Your Son's return. Don't let me get bogged down by the cares of this world, the distractions of materialism and the thousands of things that can negatively influence my set-apartness. I want to live as if I belong somewhere else, because I do. I want to live as if I don't belong here, because I don't. I am a citizen of another Kingdom. Help me to live like it, act like it, and think like it. Amen

Practical Holiness.

Leviticus 17-18, Luke 10

You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:4-5 ESV

Holiness is not some ethereal, unrealistic goal reserved only for the spiritually elite. God had set apart all of the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, as His possession. In that sense, they were already holy in His eyes. He had redeemed them as His own. They were positionally holy or set apart. They belonged to Him. But God also expected to live like it. He expected them to conduct their lives with a kind of practical holiness that gave proof that they were His children. So God gave them rules and regulations, laws for life and daily living. All of these laws were designed to set them apart from the nations around them. God made it clear that their lives were to be lived distinctively different from the nations around them. "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life" (Leviticus 18:2-3 ESV).

Rather than imitate the lifestyles of the pagan nations the occupied the land of Canaan, the people of God were to live in obedience to God's decrees and regulations. If they did, He promised they they would find life through them. Obedience to God would result in the blessings of God. They would discover the joy of living under God's pleasure, rather than His wrath. They would enjoy His love, grace, and mercy. They would experience His presence, provision and power in their lives. Practical holiness, life lived on God's terms, would bring far more joy and contentment than imitating the ways of this world could ever bring.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When sin entered into the world through the rebellion of Adam and Eve, it created a broken, dysfunctional environment where everything became twisted and perverted from the way God had originally intended it. Like a cancer, sin quickly spread and the intensity of the sins of man increased exponentially as the human race exploded in size. Yet while unrighteousness increased, God's holiness remained the same. His standards never diminished and His expectations regarding man never waivered. He didn't lower the bar or dumb down the requirements. He simply made them perfectly clear. The book of Leviticus contains God's black and white articulation of His standards. It contains God's rules for living and His requirements for enjoying His abiding presence and divine pleasure. God expected His people to live differently. But He knew they would fail. He knew they did not have the capacity for complete obedience, so He provided them with a means for restoring their broken relationship with Him through sacrifice and atonement. That is why He puts such a high priority on the blood of the animals. It was through the shedding of the their blood, their very lives, that men could be restored to a right relationship with Him. The death of the animal through the shedding of their blood was the key to both physical and spiritual life for the people of God.

And the life of every individual who God redeemed through the blood of an innocent animal was to be lived in obedience to Him – in practical, visible ways.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God knows us well. He knows our hearts and fully understands that, because of sin, we are wired to live in disobedience to Him. We will always gravitate to the ways of this world. That's why He had to spell out everything in painstaking detail. In chapter 18 of Leviticus He had to articulate just what He meant when He commanded them to "not do as they do in the land of Canaan." Man's tendency to find loopholes to all rules and workarounds to all regulations required that He leave nothing to the imagination. So He forbade them to practice incest in any of its forms. He outlawed adultery. He ruled out any form of polygamy. He blatantly restricted them from participating in homosexuality or beastiality. It's fascinating to think about the fact that God had to spell it out for them, because He knew otherwise, they would eventually do those very things. And the reality is, they ended up doing all these things, in spite of His prohibitions against them. They would end up disobeying any and all of His laws eventually. But He continued to provide a way of making atonement and finding forgiveness and cleansing. That's why the blood was so important. It was not to be taken lightly or treated with contempt. "For the life of every creature is its blood" (Leviticus 17:14 ESV). The book of Hebrews tells us, "under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). The blood of the animal was the key to forgiveness. Obedience to God's law was the key to enjoying His pleasure. But since perfect obedience was impossible and sin was inevitable, sacrifice was unavoidable. The shedding of blood was a constant need and a regular reminder of man's sin and God's grace.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The writer of Hebrews gives us a clear understanding of the sacrificial system under Moses. "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV). The sacrifices were a constant reminder of sin. God had called His people to practical holiness – lives lived out in obedience to His laws in everyday, real-life ways. But they couldn't. They could try, but they would constantly find themselves failing and falling short of His divine standards. They had to rely on God's mercy and take advantage of His provision of atonement made possible through the shedding of blood.

But unlike the Israelites, my sins have been taken care of once and for all time. The sacrifice of Jesus' on the cross in my place has made it possible for me to receive forgiveness of sin and a right standing before God that is permanent and unchanging. And yet, I am called to live a life in obedience to His will and in keeping with His holy, righteous standards. Not in order to earn His favor, but in gratitude for the favor He has already shown to me. My obedience and my efforts towards living a life of holiness that shows up in practical terms, is not based on earning, but on a yearning to express my love to the one who poured out His love on me through the death of His own Son. In the book of Luke, when Jesus was being tested by the lawyer and asked how a man might inherit eternal life, the lawyer was thinking in terms of adherence to the law of God. When Jesus asked the man what was written in the law, he responded, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Luke 10:27 ESV). Jesus then said to the man, "Do this, and you will live." Jesus basically told him that if he would live his life in total, complete obedience and devotion to God that showed up in his treatment of his fellow man, he would experience life as God had intended it to be. He would have to love His neighbor in practical terms. He would have to live sacrificially and selflessly. But no man is capable of that kind of life without the power of God made possible through a relationship through His Son, Jesus Christ. I have that power residing within me through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And as a result, I have the capacity to live differently and distinctively. I can live a life of practical holiness where my outward actions are expressions of the inward change that has taken place in my life due to the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Father, I want to live a life that flows from the indwelling power of Your Holy Spirit. I want my salvation to show up in practical ways and to manifest itself in love for You and others. I want my obedience to be an expression of love and gratitude to You for all that You have done. You have given me the motivation through the gracious gift of Your Son, and the inspiration through the indwelling power of Your Spirit. Please continue to make my holiness, my position as Your child, to show up in practical ways in my daily life. Amen

The Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 15-16, Luke 9

Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. – Leviticus 15:31 ESV

Once again, we have an entire chapter dedicated to a fairly disgusting topic: bodily discharges. The level of detail given in this chapter gets a bit embarrassing at times. But the point remains the same. Uncleanness among the people of God was to be taken seriously. Many of the conditions described were abnormal and unsanitary. There are some commentators that believe some of these conditions describe a form of a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea. Yet others describe normal bodily functions such as a woman's menstrual cycle. But we can't lose sight of the focus of this chapter. The real point is that these conditions, whether normal or abnormal, made those who had them unclean before God. And God could not and would not allow those who were unclean to enter into His presence. Their state of uncleanness would prevent them from entering into the Tabernacle, lest they defile it with their presence. Uncleanness disqualified the individual from participating in public worship as part of the nation of Israel.

The Israelites were not the only people who suffered from these conditions. They were common among all people groups. But remember that God had set apart the people of Israel for Himself. They were to be different and distinct. They were required to live up to a higher standard. And by providing the people with rules and regulations regarding this various diseases and disorders, God was reminding them that their own humanity was a barrier to His presence. Just by living life on this planet, they were going to come into contact with someone or something unclean. Given enough time, they would contract some kind of disease or disorder. Living on a fallen, sin-racked planet was going to expose them to impurity and uncleanness. And yet their God had called them to a life of holiness, purity and righteousness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Surrounded by sin and constantly susceptible to sickness and disease, the people of Israel were in a difficult spot. No one could remain pure all the time. Nobody could keep themselves from committing sin or breaking God's law. Eventually, everyone would find themselves guilty of sin, unclean because of some sickness, and unable to come into God's presence. So God provided a means by which His people could atone for their sins and their sickness. When they found themselves infected or sick, He gave them rules to follow that would keep them from defiling His Tabernacle. And because God knew that they were going to sin and would inevitably have sickness in their midst, He provided a yearly day of sacrifice that would cleanse all the sins and impurities that might have gone unconfessed and unaccounted for throughout the rest of the year. The Day of Atonement was a once-a-year, once-and-for-all opportunity for the people of Israel to have their sins and sicknesses atoned for. Chapter 16 of Leviticus outlines the exact order of the events required for atonement to take place. The sequence and details were non-optional and non-negotiable. It had to be done God's way. In order to come into God's presence on behalf of the people, Aaron, as the high priest, had to atone for his own sins first. He had to make atonement for the sins of the people. He had to cleanse and consecrate the altar from the sins of the people of Israel. God required the Aaron, "make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins" (Leviticus 16:33-34 ESV). The amazing thing about this day is that it provided cleansing and forgiveness for the people for all the sins they had committed, both intentionally and unintentionally (Hebrews 9:7) that entire year. And it was done on their behalf. They didn't bring the sacrifice. It was provided for them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

No matter how hard we try, we can't keep from sinning. Now matter how much we try to keep from getting sick, it inevitably happens. Disobedience and disease have been a part of the human condition ever since the Fall. And just as in the days of Moses and the people of Israel, no one can ever stand in God's presence totally pure and completely whole, physically or spiritually. It's impossible. So in the Old Testament, God provided the Day of Atonement. And one of the unique features of that day was the scapegoat. This was one of two goats that were used in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. One goat was presented was slaughtered and presented as a sin offering. But the second goat was not killed. Instead, Aaron would "lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins" (Leviticus 16:21 ESV). Then that goat was led away into the wilderness where it was left alone to die. The goat that was killed was a visual reminder to the Israelites that for atonement to take place, there had to be judgment on their sin that resulted in death. The goat that was released or "escaped" into the wilderness carrying the guilt of their sins was to be a reminder that their guilt had been removed from their midst. It reminds me of the words of Psalm 103: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:11-12 ESV). Their sins had been paid for and their guilt removed. And God did it for them.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Luke, we read the words of Jesus as He tries to tell His disciples what is going to happen to Him once He gets to Jerusalem. "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Luke 9:22 ESV). He is attempting to prepare them for the inevitable and unavoidable reality of His death. What they don't realize is that the death of Jesus was the plan of God – from the beginning. He was to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of man. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "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. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:26-28 ESV). Jesus had to die. He had to be the one to take on our sin and bear our guilt. He became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of man. He did for me what I could never have done for myself. He paid for sins I have committed willingly, knowingly and rebelliously. But He also paid for sins I have committed unwittingly and ignorantly.

Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I

Whereby Thy grace to claim,

I’ll wash my garments white

In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Father, You provided a way to atone for my sin and sickness. You made it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You, not because of me, but in spite of me. You gave Your Son to die in my place. You have forgiven my sin and removed my guilt – as far as the east is from the west. Let me live in the joy of that reality. Amen

Declared Clean.

Leviticus 13-14, Luke 8

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV

These two chapters in Leviticus are a difficult read. They deal with a strange topic that seems totally non-applicable to our modern culture. All the descriptions of and discussions about these diseases of the skin are somewhat disgusting to think about. But the thing we can't afford to overlook is the emphasis on uncleanliness and cleanness, purity and impurity, acceptance and rejection. This whole section in the book of Leviticus takes the requirements of God to a whole new level. The purity God was looking for went way beyond just the moral dimension. His people were to be pure physically. There was a direct correlation between sin and sickness in the Hebrew mind. These passages are not teaching that these diseases and abnormalities of the skin are the direct result of sin. They are simply using the contagious qualities of these diseases to illustrate the danger of sin among the people of God. A contagious skin disorder, if left unnoticed and unchecked, would quickly spread among the people, bringing death and destruction. Sin can do the same thing. God was teaching His people the serious nature of sin in the midst of the camp. It was to be compared with leprosy. And while the term leprosy most likely does not refer to the modern disease of the same name, it carries the same impact. What we have described in these chapters of Leviticus are a wide range of infectious skin diseases and disorders. And while we could simply characterize them as having nothing to do with our modern context, we must never fail to recognize the spiritual significance the represent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God cared about His people. He desired that their lives be characterized by blessing, holiness, healing and health. Disease, like sin, was not part of God's plan for man. It showed up on the scene as a result of the fall. The rebellion of Adam and Eve resulted in a shattering of the perfect environment of Eden. Death and disease showed up as unpleasant companions to sin. Disease was an everyday reality in the world by this time. Illness was a common concern for the people of God, just like it was for all mankind. Knowledge regarding infections and the spread of disease was minimal at best. Man was as ignorant of the dangers of sickness as he was of sin. But God knew that contagious disease could be just as devastating to a community as unchecked sin. So He instituted rules and regulations to control the spread of diseased among His people. Like the moral laws He provided to manage their personal relationships, God provided laws to manage their personal hygiene. Like any of the commandments, if these laws were ignored, the consequences would be devastating. God loved His people enough to provide them with a means for determining the exact nature of a disease and appropriately treating it. Ignorance could be deadly.

What does this passage reveal about man?

What should jump out at us in this passage is the devastating nature of these various skin diseases and disorders. Once the people understood their potential for spreading sickness among themselves, they were naturally prone to separate themselves from those who suffered from the diseases. Those who were sick were quickly ostracized. They were shunned and isolated from the rest of the camp. Like sin, sickness had devastating consequences of fellowship and acceptance. Imagine what it would have been like to be diagnosed with one of these diseases. Your world was rocked. You were required to wear torn clothes and walk around with unkempt hair – visual billboards of your condition – and cry out for all to hear, "Unclean, unclean!" You were forced to declare your sorry state to the world. Everyone would give you wide berth, shunning contact with you for fear of contracting whatever it was you had. On top of that, you were required to live in absolute isolation, outside the camp, alone. What an incredible picture of the devastating impact of sin on the life of an individual. You were unclean, impure, unacceptable. You were an outcast, unwanted and unable to do anything about your condition. But God provided a means to be restored. He commissioned His priests to act as mediators, providing a personal touch in these individual's greatest times of need. They offered atonement, cleansing, and a way to be restored to fellowship with God and His people. These diseased individuals could not heal themselves. They could change their condition. They were completely dependent on the help of the priest and the healing of God. Their cleansing was completely outside of their control. Think of the parallels to our former condition as sinners prior to coming to Christ. Paul reminds us, "even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)" (Ephesians 2:25 NLT). He told the believers in Colossae the same thing: "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins" (Colossians 2:13 NLT). It was Jesus who said, "Healthy people don't need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners" (Mark 2:17 NLT).

It's interesting to note that when Jesus was ministering here on Earth, He regularly healed those who were sick. Not only that, He was willing to touch those who would have been considered unclean and impure. In chapter eight of the book of Luke, we have the story of the woman with the discharge of blood. Her illness would have classified her as unclean, and yet the text emphasizes multiple times that she touched Jesus. "She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment" (Luke 8:44 ESV). Jesus immediately responded, "Who was it that touched me?" (Luke 8:45 ESV). Again, He declared out loud, for all the crowd to hear Him, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me" (Luke 8:46 ESV). The woman, mortified, fell at Jesus feet and "declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him" (Luke 8:47 ESV). In essence, she declared her guilt. She had knowingly contaminated another person with her uncleanness. But rather than scold her, Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace" (Luke 8:48 ESV). Later in this same chapter, we read of Jesus knowingly touching the body of a young girl who had just died. To do so would have made him ceremonially unclean. And yet, Luke makes it clear that Jesus willingly took that risk. "But taking her by the hand he called, saying, 'Child, arise'" (Luke 8:54 ESV).

Earlier in this same book, Luke records the words of Jesus as He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:17-18 ESV). Jesus came to heal the spiritually captive, blind, sick, and oppressed. He came to bring release from the deadly disease of sin. He came to stop the spread of sin's contagion and put an end to its inevitable outcome of death.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul reminds me to, "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV). I was once like one of those poor individuals who found themselves outside the camp, alone, and separated from God and His people. My sin sickness made me unacceptable to God and unable to come into His presence. But God sent His priest, His Son, into my life to provide the cleansing I could never have found on my own. I have been declared clean and pure, sinless and whole. What an incredible feeling it must have been for a formerly unclean person to be declared clean and acceptable again. What joy they must have felt. What gratefulness they must have expressed to God. I should feel that same way. I have been healed and made whole by God.

Father, thank You for providing my healing. I am no longer barred from Your presence because of the sickness of my sin. Your Son has provided my healing and restored me to a right relationship with You. And I can't express my gratitude often enough. Amen

BE Holy.

Leviticus 11-12, Luke 7

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to why certain creatures were considered by God to be clean while others were deemed unclean. Yet with all the discussion over the years, there is still no consensus as to why God declared these distinctions. There were obviously good reasons for these designations. God never does anything flippantly or without just cause. But the primary lesson to be learned from this detailed discussion concerning the clean and unclean is holiness. God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. He had set them apart from all the other nations. But their set-apartness was to be more than just a divine designation – it was to be lived out in practical ways. When God chose them as His own, He set them apart – made them holy. Now He was giving them concrete actions that would illustrate their holiness to the world around them. Much of what God was commanding concerning food was tied to the eating habits of the pagans who surrounded the Israelites. It was not enough for the Israelites to be known as the people of God, they must act like the people of God. So He gave them precise instructions that would clearly differentiate them from the rest of the world. At this point in time, God had chosen to use the descendants of Abraham as the means through which He would reveal Himself to the world. They were His designated ambassadors and, as such, they were to "consecrate" themselves to His service. The Hebrew word for "consecrate" is qadash and it means "to be separate, to be set apart, to be holy." God was calling them to BE what they already WERE. He had set them apart, now He wanted to them to act like it.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had set the people of Israel apart positionally. They were His possession. But He also wanted them to live set apart, practically. Later on, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses would tell the people, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to a love and obedience that was holistic in nature, impacting every area of a person's life – from their heart to their hands, from their attitudes to their actions. God's commands concerning the clean and unclean had to do with distinctiveness. He was calling His people to a different way of living. He was giving them clean and distinct rules for living as His people that would be visible for all to see. God was concerned that the other nations would see and know that the Israelites were His people. It was not enough that they be known as His, they must also live like it. These rules concerning the eating of food would be a constant reminder to the people of God that they were to live differently and distinctively. They were not to live like the nations around them. They belonged to God and were to live according to His terms.

It is important that we remember that these rules were given to the people of Israel long before the coming of Christ. They were given for a particular people and were intended for a specific time period. It was important that the people of Israel remain distinctive and set apart in order that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could be born as a descendant of Abraham through the lineage of King David. All through the centuries, God Himself would maintain the line of Abraham, in spite of them. Even after having sent them into exile for their rebellion and sin, He would restore them to the land of promise, all in keeping with His covenant with Abraham. But with the coming of Jesus, things would change dramatically. Jesus Himself would say, "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person" (Matthew 15:11 ESV). Under constant attack from the Pharisees for His seemingly lax adherence to their ceremonial rules and regulations, Jesus was viewed as a heretic. He healed on the Sabbath. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He allowed Himself to be anointed by a prostitute. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion. He touched the funeral bier of a dead man, making Himself ceremonially unclean, but raising the young man from the dead at the same time. He allowed His disciples to "harvest" grain on the Sabbath and, when confronted by the Pharisees for this infraction of the law, He replied, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

Over in the book of Acts, God would reveal to the Apostle Peter a change in the status quo. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, God had been opening up the door to the Gentiles. He was expanding the designation, "people of God" so that it included those outside the nation of Israel. Peter, as a good Jew, was not quite up to speed on God's new plan. He was actually resistant to it, so God gave him a vision. "The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, 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 10:9-16 ESV). God used the imagery of the ceremonially unclean animals to teach Peter that the Gospel was to be taken to the "unclean" Gentiles.

The apostle Paul, writing to a church made up primarily of Gentile believers, would put it this way: "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV). God had opened up the door – He was not making it possible for ALL men to become a part of His divine family.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But even while God has made it possible for all men to become His children, the need to live holy lives remains unchanged. While we no longer have to live according to the dietary restrictions found in the book of Leviticus, we are called to live lives that are holy, different and distinct. The same Peter who was given the vision from God, would later go on to write, "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 1:14-16 ESV). God has called us to live lives that reflect our position as His children. We have been called to live differently than the nations around us. Our actions are to express our new nature. Our lifestyle should be an outward expression of our new standing as sons and daughters of God. When Jesus came, He found a people who, while ceremonially clean on the outside, were unclean on the inside. Of the Pharisees, He would say, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27 ESV). When Jesus visited the house of a Pharisee and was anointed by woman with a checkered past, his host was appalled that Jesus would allow Himself to be touched and defiled by a sinner. But Jesus simply replied, "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47 ESV). The Pharisee, who say himself as sinless and pure because he kept the ceremonial laws, expressed no love to Jesus because he saw no need for Jesus. This woman, while a sinner, showed through her actions of sacrifice, humility and selfless service to Jesus the true condition of her heart. She expressed her love to Jesus through visible acts of serve to Jesus. In that instant she had set herself apart, living out the reality of the command, "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is one thing to say, "I am a child of God." It is another thing to live like it. I have been called to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have been set apart by God as His own, and He wants my life to reflect it. That means my Christianity is not merely a title I bear, but a lifestyle I live out in front of others. Jesus Himself said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter would echo the same sentiment. "Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world" (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).

Father, I want to live as what I am. I want my life to reflect my status as Your Son. I don't want to simply claim that I'm a Christian, I want my life to prove it by my actions and attitudes. You have called me to live distinctively and differently in this world. It is difficult at times. The temptation to compromise and blend in is tremendous. Give me the strength to live for You in all that I do. Amen

Strange Fire.

Leviticus 9-10, Luke 6

Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what I tell you? – Luke 6:46 ESV

The worship of God is not to be taken lightly. The privilege of coming into His presence should not be treated frivolously or flippantly. In many ways, we have lost any fear for the Lord. We no longer appreciate His power and holiness. We have become so comfortable in His presence, that we can be tempted to treat Him with disdain and disrespect. But just because God has graciously provided us with access into His presence through the death of His Son, does not give us the right to treat Him any less reverently or respectfully. In the story of Nadab and Abihu we get a glimpse into the seriousness of God's sanctity or sacredness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It should be abundantly clear from all that we have read thus far in the book of Leviticus that God was very particular about how He was to be worshiped. He did not leave anything up to man's interpretation or imagination. For man to be able to come into His presence, sin was going to have to be dealt with, and on God's terms. The sheer number and variety of sacrifices required by God give ample evidence of the magnitude of man's sin. Even the priests who would offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people had to be purified and consecrated, and their sins had to be atoned for before they could stand before God. The Tabernacle and everything in it had to be cleansed and consecrated. And when things were done as God had commanded, He faithfully and graciously appeared before the people. "…and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and the fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces" (Leviticus 6:23-24 ESV). When the people obeyed God's word and followed His will, they experienced God's presence and pleasure. But when the disobeyed, they experienced God's displeasure.

What does this passage reveal about man?

For some reason, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron and members of the priesthood who had been going through eight days of consecration for service to God, decided to do things their way. Rather than stick to God's prescribed plan, they came up with their own, and offered "strange fire" before God. We don't know exactly what it is that they did, but we do know that it was not according to God's will. They "offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them" (Leviticus 10:1 ESV). And as a result, "fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:2 ESV). The same fire that had consumed the burnt offering consumed them. The first fire had been one of acceptance, because the people had faithfully done all that God had required of them. The second fire was one of judgment because Nadab and Abihu had chosen to go off script and ad lib. There is some indication that they may have been drunk when they did this, because God later told Aaron, "Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die" (Leviticus 10:9 ESV). These two men had chosen to treat God with disrespect and paid the price. They underestimated the holiness of God. They had attempted to worship Him according to their own terms and suffered the consequences.

When Jesus appeared on the scene, the laws of Moses were still in effect. The people of Israel were still offering sacrifices in the Temple in an attempt to satisfy the holy requirements of God. They were still living under the pressure of trying to atone for their sins through sacrifice and acts of self-righteousness. But many of them had long since lost their respect for and fear of God. They were simply going through the motions. Many of them saw themselves as righteous because of their adherence to the law. There was a prevailing attitude among the Jews that they were righteous simply because they were descendants of Abraham. They were God's chosen people, therefore they must be in good standing with God. But Jesus came along and rocked their religious world. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and angered the religious leaders by His apparent disregard for God's holy day. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, and according to the Pharisees, made Himself ceremonially unclean. He chose twelve men, commoners who would not have been qualified to serve in any of the religious sects of the day. They were little more than uneducated peasants.

Jesus came to teach a new way of life. He came to offer a new way to have a right relationship with God. He came to raise the bar on righteous behavior. He required a new degree of love. No longer would it be acceptable to offer your sacrifices to God while you hated your brother. And no longer could you choose to whom you would express your love. He taught, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). He spoke of a love that was selfless, not self-serving. He taught about behavior that mirrored that of God Himself. "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36 ESV).

Jesus came to change hearts. The sin of Nadab and Abihu emanated from their hearts. They didn't truly love, respect, fear and honor God. What was inside came out. Jesus said, "no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit,for each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:43 ESV). Their fruit was readily evident in their behavior and it was judged by God as unacceptable. Their actions were a byproduct of the condition of their hearts. They disrespected God by disobeying His commands. But Jesus said, "Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like" (Luke 6:46-47 ESV). He is like a man who built his house on a solid foundation of rock. So that when the storms of life and the floods of misfortune came, his home remained unshaken and firm. Obedience to God brings the blessings of God. Loving submission to the will of God guarantees the power, provision and pleasure of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I don't have to obey God to earn His favor or maintain a right standing with Him. That was taken care of by Christ through His death on the cross. My obedience should be motivated by His love and mercy to me. I should love as He has loved me. I should show mercy as He has shown mercy to me. My behavior toward others should be motivated by His behavior toward me. My actions should be out of appreciation for His gracious actions toward me. There is a degree to which I offer up "unauthorized fire" to God in my life every day. I do things my way. I attempt to live the Christian life on my terms, instead of His. I try to worship God according to my standards, rather than His. And yet, He has called me to love like He loved and live like His Son lived. God has a single standard for holiness – His. I don't get to come up with my own. His standard of acceptance is His own Son's sacrificial death on the cross. His blood alone satisfies God. My life is to be lived in obedience to God's will, not to earn favor and gain acceptance, but out of gratitude for all that He has done for me. I am to worship Him out of gratitude, not some sense of duty or in an attempt to earn brownie points with Him. Willing obedience to God is an expression of love for God in recognition of all that He has done for me.

Father, I am so grateful for the gift of Your Son. Thank You that I can come into Your presence, not because I somehow deserve it, but because Jesus Christ made it possible. Forgive me for the times in which I offer your "unauthorized fire" and attempt to worship You on my terms. Keep me focused on the fact that my efforts are never to be an attempt to earn Your favor, but simply to express my love to You. Amen

Forgiveness and Cleansing From sin.

Leviticus 7-8, Luke 5

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." – Luke 5:24 ESV

Reading through the book of Leviticus, one can't help but recognize the emphasis on sin, guilt, impurity and uncleanness. But there is also an emphasis on holiness, consecration, purity, and forgiveness. It is perfectly and painfully clear that the sin of man was a problem. It was a pervasive and inescapable reality – even among the people of God. The psalmist reminds us, "They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3 ESV). That sobering assessment refers to mankind in general, but most certainly includes the Israelites. They had proven themselves to be fully capable of turning aside from God and, therefore, had become corrupted by their own sinful hearts. But God had a solution. He provided a means by which they could find forgiveness for their sins and freedom from their guilt and condemnation. It would be costly. It would require a great deal of sacrifice on their part. It would be a perpetual, never-ending necessity in their lives if they wanted to continue to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The sheer number and variety of sacrifices required by God are staggering. In chapter seven alone we read of the guilt offering, peace offering, wave offering, ordination offering, grain offering, and sin offering. The various requirements associated with each can be overwhelming to keep up with. The amount of details that had to be considered, remembered and followed to the smallest detail are hard to read, let alone to obey. But it shows us the seriousness of sin and the price required for sin to be dealt with effectively. God's desire was that His people understand and appreciate their role as His chosen ones. He had personally handpicked them and set them apart as His own. And elsewhere in Scripture, God makes it clear that His choosing of them was based on one thing alone. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 ESV). God loved them. And all the demands He was placing on them were a reflection of that love. He wanted to cleanse them and forgive them of their sins. He wanted to remove their guilt. But He also wanted them to appreciate all that He had done for them. He wanted a people who would express love for Him in return and show their faith in Him through obedience to Him.

As His chosen ones there were going to be requirements placed on them by God. There were demands, regulations, rules, rituals and rites. They were going to have to listen to God and obey what He told them to do. Not because God was demanding and severe, but because His holiness required that sin be dealt with. His very character required that He justly and rightly deal with sin. He could not tolerate it, overlook it, or ignore it. To do so would have made Him less than God. But God is love. He wanted to express His love to His chosen people. To do so, He had to provide them with a way to satisfy His holy requirement to punish sin. That is what the entire sacrificial system is all about. And it was designed by God to provide forgiveness and cleansing from sin. It was onerous and difficult because sin was dangerous and deadly. God could not take sin lightly and He wanted His people to understand that they could not afford to do so either.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the prophetic book of Malachi, we read a prediction made by God concerning the people of Israel. It provides a glimpse into Israel's future, long after they had arrived in the land of promise. It tells of a time that will take place after the building of the Temple and the nation of Israel has enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity in the land God had promised them. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi says:

"A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord Almighty. "It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'

"By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:6-8 ESV).

The day was coming when the people would disregard God's requirements and, instead of offering the best of the best, they would offer the lame and the sick. In doing so, they would show contempt for the name of God. They would defile His altar. They would treat the sacrifices ordained by God with contempt. They would bring "injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices" (Malachi 1:13 ESV), treating His means of forgiveness with ingratitude and disrespect.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the book of Luke, we see the coming of the Son of God to earth. In the early chapters of Luke's gospel, we read of the coming of Jesus and the beginning stages of His ministry. While we read of His miracles and His choosing of the twelves disciples, we must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to forgive sins. He came to pay the penalty required by His Father for the sins of mankind. Jesus' miracles were simply a proof of His authority as the Son of God. He could heal the sick, calm the sea, cast out demons and even raise the dead. When accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy for telling a man his sins were forgiven, Jesus responded, "Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?" (Luke 5:22-23 ESV). Proving a person's sins had been forgiven would be impossible. But proving a lame man was healed would be easily verifiable. So Jesus healed the man. His power to heal was a demonstration of His power as God to forgive sins. His mission was to go to the cross. His assignment was to offer His life as a payment for the sins of all mankind. Once again, God had provided a means by which men could receive forgiveness for and cleaning from sin. Why? Because He loved us. Paul makes this perfectly clear when he writes, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation" (Romans 5:8-9 NLT).

God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place. And my response to that incredible love should be to do what Paul encourages us to do in 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."

Father, from the very beginning, You have had a plan for dealing with the sins of man. You knew that man was incapable of solving the sin problem. Once it began, it was like a cancer that spread throughout Your creation, infecting everyone and everything. The only solution was for the penalty for sin to be paid for. Thank You for the permanent solution provided by Your Son's death. Thank You that we are no longer under the temporary means of the Old Testament law. I am so grateful for the reality of my forgiveness and right standing with You. I don't ever want to take it for granted. I don't ever want to take sin lightly or treat Your gift of grace and forgiveness with contempt. Amen

Recognition of Guilt.

Leviticus 5-6, Luke 4

If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord's commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. – Leviticus 5:17 ESV

There is a pattern here:

…and he realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:2

…when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:3

…when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these… – Leviticus 5:4

…though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:17

…if he has sinned and has realized his guilt… – Leviticus 6:4

While the various kinds of offerings mentioned in these chapters can get a bit confusing, it is perfectly clear that they are associated with the sins of men and their guilt for having committed them. Yet, it is important to recognize that their guilt was a reality, whether they knew about it or ever acknowledged it. Their punishment was assured because their sin was readily apparent in God's eyes. But should they come to recognize their guilt and the sin that caused it, they had an opportunity to do something about it. God provided a means by which they could deal with their guilt and receive forgiveness. Guilt alone is not enough. To recognize your guilt, but have no way to effectively deal with it, would lead to hopelessness and despair. Guiltiness is a state of being, not a state of mind. A person who exceeds the speed limit unknowingly is just as guilty as the person who does so willingly and purposefully. Guilt is the condition in which sin leaves us. We stand as guilty, whether we realize what we have done or not. That is why the book of Leviticus seems to put so much emphasis on inadvertent sins, or sins committed in ignorance. Guiltiness is our standing before a holy God, whether we recognize our condition or not. Sin is sin, regardless of whether it is intentional or unintentional.

It is interesting that the emphasis seems to be on recognition of guilt, not recognition of sin. The fact is, all men are sinful. We sin daily, through acts of commission (those things we do that violate God's law) and omission (those things we fail to do in keeping with God's law). The New Testament makes it clear that we are to confess our sins. "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 ESV). But what we sometimes fail to understand is that confession of sin includes the idea that we understand that we stand as guilty before God because of our sin. We are sinners and we are guilty. But we must recognize that fact.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God seems to want mankind to understand the true nature of their condition. Sin has permeated our ranks. It has infected each and every one of us. Our condition before Him is as a criminal standing before a judge. He is fully guilty and worthy of the judgment, whether he acknowledges his guilt or not. But our incredible God has provided a way by which we can enter our guilty plea before and place ourselves at His mercy. In the Old Testament, they were able to bring sacrifices before God. In essence, they recognized their guilt, confessed it through the act of bringing their sacrifice, then received God's forgiveness. "And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). God forgave not just their sin, but their guilt. The sacrificial animal gave its life so that they might live. Rather than standing before God as guilty of sin and condemned to death, they were able to stand before Him as forgiven, their sins having been atoned or paid for.

When Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth and was asked to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, the passage he read included the words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). This Old Testament prophecy was speaking of Jesus Himself. He was the one who had come to set free those who were captive to sin, living in spiritual blindness, and suffering the oppression of a life lived attempting to make themselves right with God through their own human effort. Jesus offered a new way, a better way, the only way to get right with God. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 ESV). He offered rest from the wearisome burden of attempting to please God through acts of self-righteousness.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The life of the average Israelite was one filled with a constant realization that they couldn't measure up to God's righteous demands. They were always guilty, because they were always sinning. Theirs was a life of perpetual guilt, requiring constant confession, the costly need for sacrifice, and the never-ending need for God's forgiveness. And while that description may sound depressing and a bit unfair, it was all simply designed to teach man that his sins were serious and his guilty standing before God was inescapable and irreparable without God's mercy and grace.

The same is true today. We all stand guilty before God, whether we recognize it or ever acknowledge it. The guilt of mankind is a non-negotiable reality. And all men are in the same boat, needing some means for having their guilty verdict irreversibly wiped away. But God could not just ignore man's guilt, He had to pay for it. The penalty had to be paid. The sentence of punishment had to be meted out. To someone. So just as the case of the animals used in Old Testament sacrifices, God sent His Son to take man's place. "He himself 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 2:24 ESV).

Jesus' role as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of man was so important that Satan attempted to stop Him before He ever got started. The book of Luke records the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, and Satan's three-pronged attack on the Savior, designed to invalidate His role as the sinless, obedient Son of God. He tried to get Jesus to replace God's will with His own. He wanted Jesus to disobey His Father and, therefore, discredit Himself as the sinless sacrifice. But his attempts failed. Jesus remained faithful and obedient to His Father's will. And as a result, mankind was given a means by which their guilt might be eliminated once and for all. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am no longer guilty of sin. My sins have been forgiven. But I must never forget the to recognize that apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, I would be as guilty as the greatest sinner. I would still be deserving of death and stuck in a never-ending treadmill attempting to satisfy a holy God through my sin-stained efforts. My former status as guilty before God makes my current status of forgiven, accepted and righteous all that much more remarkable and hard to believe. He has set me free from sin, guilt, condemnation and the ultimate penalty of death. "And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). That is exactly what Jesus did for me.

Father, never let me forget to recognize the reality of my guilt before You prior to Christ's death on my behalf. I don't ever want to take for granted my salvation and my standing before You as righteous. Thank You for the remarkable gift of Your Son. Amen