Leviticus

Set Apart by God

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

God set apart or sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a special day to be marked by rest from work. He also set apart the priests and assigned them the responsibility of acting as His servants, caring for the tabernacle and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. And God set apart the tabernacle itself by displaying the glory of His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are countless examples of qadash, the setting apart of something or someone by God for His use. God set apart Abram as His own, choosing him from among all the people on earth and making a covenant promise to make of him a great nation. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept that promise to Abram by blessing him with many descendants, who became the people of Israel. His decision to set apart Israel as His own possession was not based on some characteristic found in them, but was determined by His love for them. And God expressed His love by sanctifying them, setting them apart from every other nation on earth, and providing them with a one-of-a-kind relationship with Himself.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 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 7:6-8 ESV

The nation of Israel enjoyed the unprecedented status of being God’s chosen people. But their relationship with God came with expectations from God. As the Leviticus passage reveals, their lifestyle was to reflect their sanctified status as God’s possession. He had set the apart as His own and their behavior was to reflect their status as His possession. And notice that God put certain restrictions on them that included their dietary habits. Thirty seven times in Leviticus 11, God uses the word tame', to refer to those creatures which He deemed as “unclean” or “defiled,” and therefore, off limits to the Israelites. The list included camels, pigs, vultures, certain sea creatures, and insects. God refers to these creatures as being sheqets, which means “detestable” or “an abomination.” In a sense, God had sanctified these creatures as unholy. They were to be avoided at all costs. The people of Israel were to refrain from eating them. If they did so, they would become defiled and, therefore, unholy.

Even contact with them could make an Israelite impure. Which is why God warns the Israelites: “ You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them” (Leviticus 11:43 ESV). Instead, the people of God were to consecrate themselves or set themselves apart as holy to God. The word translated as “consecrate” is qadash, the same word translated later in the passage as “sanctify.” The people of Israel, having been set apart by God, were to set themselves apart through their actions, by faithfully obeying God’s commands.

Notice that their distinctive lifestyle was tied directly to their distinctive relationship with God.

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

God tells them that, because He is set apart or holy, they were to be also. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it is derived from the root word, qadash. The people of Israel were to live set-apart lives. God had called them to live distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the nations around them. They had been set apart by God and now there were to live as who they were. And that distinctiveness was to show up in everyday life.

God reminds the Israelites that He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to their own land. It was within that new land that their lives were to reflect their new status as His children.

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 ESV

By commanding the Israelites to “be boly,” God is not asking the them to become something. He is not suggesting that they have to set themselves apart or make themselves holy. No, He is demanding that they live in such a way that their lives adequately demonstrate their set-apart status. Why? Because they belong to Him and He is set apart and holy. There was no other god like Yahweh. And there was to be no other people like the Israelites.

And the apostle Peter picks up on this call to distinctiveness as he writes to believers living in the first century. Quoting from the Leviticus passage, Peter reminds New Testament followers of Christ that they too are to live set-apart lives.

First of all, he warns them not to go back to their old way of living.

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They were to be “obedient children,” living according to the commands of God. Not to win favor or to earn brownie with God, but as a means of reflecting their set-apartness. They had been chosen by God and their behavior needed to distinguish them as His children. Set apart people live set apart lives. Sanctified people live sanctified lives. Those who God has deemed holy should live lives that reflect their holiness. And Peter makes it clear that holy people strive to be holy in all their conduct. No compartmentalization. The Greek word Peter used is anastrophē and it refers to “manner of life” or “behavior.” There was to be no area of the believer’s life that was free from God’s expectation of holiness. God had set the entire individual apart, not just their soul, mind, or spirit. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Christ-followers are to live set-apart lives, in every area of their lives. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament, modern-day Christians are to be holy because the God who chose us is holy. Our lives are to reflect our sanctified status as His children. We are to live like our heavenly Father, not perfectly or completely free from sin, but with an intention to show ourselves to be who He has made us to be: His children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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

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

Unintentional Sin. Intentional Solution.

Leviticus 3-4, Luke 3

If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord's commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt,when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. – Leviticus 4:13-14 ESV

"But I didn't know!"

How many times has that pitiful plea graced the ears of the average parent? We've all been there. We've all had a child who we caught in an act of what appeared to be obvious disobedience and disregard for our authority, only to find out that their sin was inadvertent and unintentional. They didn't know they were sinning. They didn't mean to break the rules, but they did. And while we may have extended grace and diminished the degree of punishment meted out, their ignorance didn't eliminate their guilt. How many speeding tickets have you ever talked your way out of using the excuse, "But I didn't know!"?

In the case of the people of Israel, God had a predetermined plan for dealing with just such a case. He knew there were going to be times when the people sinned unintentionally. But their ignorance did not eliminate their guilt. God's law was intended to reveal any and all sin in the lives of God's people, whether intentional or not. Sins of commission and omission all had to be dealt with, because God is a holy God. He cannot tolerate sin. By placing of the hand on the head of the animal, the unintentional sins were transferred from the guilty party to the "substitute." The unintentional sins of the people still required the shedding of blood as propitiation or payment for the sins committed, whether they were intentional or not. God had to be appeased. The penalty for sin was still death. But God provided a means by which His righteous requirements might be satisfied and forgiveness be given. Twice in chapter four we read, "And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 4:31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's grace is amazing. Whether their sins were intentional or not, He provided a way for them to find forgiveness. God left no stone unturned and no loose ends when it came to man's sin and His provision for forgiveness. God knew that man was going to sin and that sometimes it would happen out of ignorance. But He also knew that sin was serious and the consequences were deadly, regardless of man's intention. Payment still had to be made. Blood had to be shed. Everyone, rich or poor, had to satisfy God's just demands – either with their own life or the life of an innocent substitute. And all of this pointed to a future day when God would send His Son as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of man. Paul reminds us, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 ESV). Elsewhere he writes, "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10 ESV). He was simply echoing the sentiment of the prophet Isaiah who wrote, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Paul made it painfully clear that "the wages of sin is death," but he also gave us the incredibly good news that "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23 ESV). God, in His infinite mercy and grace, provided a way for man to find forgiveness for sin, not imperfectly or temporarily, but permanently and completely.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When John the Baptist showed up on the scene, preparing for and heralding the arrival of Jesus, he was confronted by a people who were steeped in their sinfulness. There were the chosen people of God, but they had long since given up living as those set apart by God and for His glory. They had begun to see their worth as based on their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as righteous because of their blood line, rather than because of the blood of the sacrifices they offered each year. Being descendents of Abraham was their get-out-of-jail-free card. They thought they were guaranteed a right standing with God because they were born into the right family tree. But John bluntly reminded them, "God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham" (Luke 3:8 ESV). He warned them about God's coming judgment. He told them that their lives needed to reflect a passion for the things that pleased God. "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:11 ESV). He told the tax collectors to "collect no more than you are authorized to do" (Luke 3:13 ESV). He told the soldiers to "not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14 ESV).

John was demanding life change. He was letting them know that their lives were going to have to be distinctively different than what they had been. It wasn't going to be business as usual. They were to "bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8 ESV). Things were about to heat up. Expectations were about to ratchet up. He warned them, "even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9 ESV). God's expectations for holiness hadn't changed. His demands for a people who would live holy lives and act in accordance with His Word and in keeping with their character as one of His children, had not changed.

But only one man could do what would bring satisfaction to God. Only one man was going to be able to live up to God's exacting standard, perfectly and completely. And at the baptism of Jesus, God said, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22 ESV). Like no other man had ever been able to do before, Jesus pleased God. He met His standard and lived up to His holy requirements. And He would continue to do so throughout the days of His life on this planet.

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

I am the recipient of God's amazing grace. Rather than having to try and live up to God's impossibly demanding standards, I have been offered forgiveness of sin through the death of His Son. I have had my debt paid in full by the sinless Son of God. Paul tells us, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). All of my sins, intentional and unintentional, have been taken care of by Jesus. But I must remind myself of this daily. Because not only is God pleased with His Son, He is pleased with me! I sometimes find that hard to comprehend, and sometimes even harder to believe. My sins have all been paid for. My debt has been settled. Jesus made atonement for me, and I am forgiven.

Father, Thank You for the remind of Your gracious provision for my sin through the death of Your Son. Never let me take it for granted. Don't allow me to ever forget that I am now pleasing to You because the selfless, sacrificial death of Your Son brought pleasure to You. He satisfied Your righteous demands and allowed You to shower me with grace, rather than wrath. Amen

Holy Unto the Lord.

Leviticus 1-2, Luke 2

If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.  – Leviticus 1:3-4 ESV

Reading through book of Leviticus can be a formidable task. In fact, when most people attempt to read through the Bible, Leviticus is usually where they begin to bog down and even give up. They may even be tempted to simply skip this book altogether. But while Leviticus is full of mind-numbing details about sacrifices and ancient Hebrew rituals, there is much we can learn from its pages. All throughout the book, you will see references to clean and unclean, purification, holiness, and atonement. As in the verses above, you will see the repetitive use of the phrase, "accepted before the Lord." Similarly, you will see references of offerings and sacrifices being offered "to the Lord" and providing "a pleasing aroma to the Lord." All throughout the pages of Leviticus you will see individuals, like you and me, bringing their offerings to the Tabernacle and sacrificing them unto the Lord. Their offerings were costly. They were required to bring the best of what they had. They could not bring a sick lamb or a defective bull. They were required to offer up to the Lord the very best. It was truly a sacrifice. And it was to be offered willingly and gladly, not begrudgingly. I am reminded of the words of Paul to us as believers, "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" (Romans 12:1 ESV). As New Testament saints, we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices to the Lord, because Jesus Christ has offered Himself as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of man. But we are to give to God what Christ has died to redeem: Our lives. And it is costly to sacrifice our lives to Him. Paul goes on to tell us, "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 12:2 ESV). We are required to give up our allegiance to this world and our love affair with the things of this world.

That is the picture of Leviticus. As the people of God, the Israelites were being asked by God to set themselves apart from the rest of the world by following His requirements for them. The ritual laws and moral/ethical requirements were designed to set the people of God apart from the world around them. Holiness, purity, and acceptability are key themes in this book. Later on in the book, we will read the command of God, "be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). That is a fairly sobering and scary statement. But lest we think it doesn't apply to us as 21st -Century believers, we need to remember that these are the very words that Peter quoted: "But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT). The theme of Leviticus is holiness – the holiness of God and His expectation of holiness among His people. The rituals and rules are merely a means to an end. They are the necessary requirements placed upon man by God that, if followed, will allow man access into His presence. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is serious about holiness. He is deadly serious about sin. Sin had destroyed His creation and shattered the peace that had permeated the world He had made. It had damaged the relationship between man and God, separating them from one another and leaving man condemned to physical death and an eternal death marked by a permanent separation from the presence of God. In Leviticus we see God providing a means by which man could enjoy His presence once more. But in order for that to happen, sin had to be dealt with. God's holiness had to be recognized. His transcendence or "otherness" had to be comprehended by men. They had to understand that God was nothing like them. He was sinless and righteous. He was all-powerful and holy. As sinful men, they couldn't just walk into His presence or treat Him flippantly or carelessly. A big part of the goal of all the rituals and rules found in the book of Leviticus was that the people of God would recognize the true nature of their God. All of these sacrifices and offerings were to be a constant reminder of their sin and His holiness. Everything they were required to do was to be done "unto the Lord." It was all for His glory and intended to make them acceptable in His presence.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All of these rules and requirements can come across to us as somewhat arbitrary and antiquated. They seem a bit over-the-top and overly bloody. But you can't read the book of Leviticus and not understand that sin has a cost. Not only that, atonement for sin is equally costly. Every year, tens of thousands of animals were bled to death and sacrificed on the altar as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of man. When a man brought his bull or lamb to the Tabernacle as an offering unto the Lord, he had to bring his best animal, unblemished and spotless. Then he had to lay his hands on the head of the animal, designating it as his substitute or stand-in, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. Then that individual would kill the animal himself. He would take its life, shedding its blood "before the Lord" in order to "make atonement for him." Then he had to skin the animal, cut it into pieces and watch as the priests laid the dismembered carcass on the fire of the altar. This bloody, messy ordeal would end with the sacrifice becoming "a pleasing aroma to the Lord." That was the goal. That was the whole point. That animal's death and consumption by fire was accepted by God and, by proxy, made the one who made the offering acceptable and pleasing to God. 

Over in the book of Luke, we have recorded the birth of Jesus. He was born into an obscure Jewish family and, like any Jew, was required to keep the rituals and rules placed upon the people of Israel by God. On the eighth day after His birth, Jesus was circumcised, according to God's command. Days later, once His mother Mary had fulfilled the purification requirements spelled out in the Law (Leviticus 12:3-4), Jesus was brought to the Temple so that He could be offered as the firstborn. Ever since the Exodus, God had required that the Jews offer their firstborn male son as a sacrifice to Him. It was a ritualistic reminder of His killing of the firstborn in Egypt that led to their eventual release from captivity by Pharaoh. God told the people, "All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed" (Exodus 34:19-20 ESV). So when the time came, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, in keeping with the law of God. Everything about Jesus' birth and life was in keeping with His Father's law. Even Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17 ESV). It was Jesus' ability to keep God's law perfectly and to live a human life without sin that made Him the acceptable sacrifice to God. He was able to do what no man had ever done – live in complete obedience to the law of God and without sin. And His death as our sinless sacrifice has made access into God's presence possible for any who will accept the free gift of His substitutionary death on their behalf. Like the Israelite who was required to lay his hand on the head of that lamb and trust that God would accept find him acceptable and pleasing, we must, in essence lay our hands on the head of Jesus, and trust that His death in our place will make us pleasing and acceptable to God. 

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

So much of what God requires of me can seem daunting and impossible. I am to love my neighbor. I am to live sacrificially and count others as more important than myself. I am to die to myself daily. I am to live in submission to the Holy Spirit and bear fruit in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). I am to offer my body as a living sacrifice each and every day of my life. I am to live in unity with other believers, forgive those who hurt me, give to others without expecting anything in return. and keep myself unstained by the world's influence. But those things are not what make me righteous and acceptable to God. It is the work of Christ on the cross that makes me holy. All of those things are the byproduct of my new relationship with God through Christ. I have a new capacity to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to guide me and the Word of God to teach me. Any offering or sacrifice I make to God is not done as some kind of penance or to act as some form of atonement. They are to be the expression of a grateful heart to a gracious God who has made me acceptable in His sight. When Peter quotes God and says, "You must be holy because I am holy," he is not telling us to become something we are NOT. He is reminding us to live as what we ARE. We are holy. We belong to God. And our lives and actions should reflect our new nature and standing before God.

Father, Thank You that my relationship with You is not based on my ability to live in obedience to some set of standards. Thank You that the way to get right with You was not based on me trying to live a sinless life, because I could never have lived up to that standard. But while I was still a sinner, mired in my sinfulness, You sent Your Son to die in my place and to act as my atoning sacrifice. In essence, ll I had to do was place my hand on His head and believe that He would be my substitute, my stand-in and that You would accept Him in my place. And You did. For that I am eternally grateful. Now continue to help me live as what I am – Your child, holy and acceptable in Your sight. Amen