There’s sort of this elephant in the room when we read the Bible. When we read the Bible we are looking for information that we can apply in our lives and animal sacrifice, I think we know intuitively isn’t something that Christians do and it’s not really a thing anymore, but it’s in the Bible, so we need to do something with it, right?
Well, we’re going to do something with it today by taking a look at the book of Leviticus. Next to Numbers, Leviticus is the book that Christians loathe to read because it seems mundane, irrelevant, and frankly confusing at times. Well good news for you, I spent a lot of time with Leviticus this week and I’m going to hit the main sections for you today.
The central issue of Leviticus is Holiness for the purpose of entering into God’s presence.
And the key verse in Leviticus is Chapter 11, verse 44 where the Lord says,
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. ~Leviticus 11:44a, ESV
The entire book of Leviticus was written to show the Israelites how to consecrate themselves—or another way to say it is, how to be holy before the Lord. The Lord was present in the city of the Israelites and if they were to appear before Him at the tabernacle, they would need to be consecrated; they would need to be holy.
We often attribute holiness to obedience. But, holiness is a lot more than just obedience to laws. Holiness allowed the Israelites to worship God in His presence. And in the church today, although there has been a change in our covenant with God — that is, the way we interact with God — we still have to be consecrated, we still have to be made holy, to enter into God’s presence.
So, we are going to look at three requirements for holiness from the book of Leviticus.
The first is, we have to be…
When we talk about purity, there is a different term that’s often used in the Bible. The word is unclean. The two terms are relatively interchangeable.
You may have head the term unclean, or ceremonially unclean and wondered what that means. I mean, the symbolism is pretty obvious. When we talk about the purity of God, how he is Holy and always does what is just and right, we get a pretty clear metaphor of cleanliness. God is clean and his house is clean.
Have you ever gone to someones house, maybe with your kids, and you enter their house and to your horror they have white carpet? And then they offer you a seat on the sofa and they have a white sofa?
You’re immediately thinking, ‘Did I wipe my feet on the mat?’ and, ‘I hope the kids didn’t step in anything.’ and things like that. You think those things because you realize intuitively that you probably aren’t anywhere near as clean as the house and you don’t want to mess it up.
Well, the Israelites were God’s people and they lived in God’s city and they went to visit with God to worship him at God’s house. To an Israelite, at this point in history, to meet with God was terrifyingly out of the question, because they just weren’t clean enough. That is, unless God made a way for them to get clean before they entered into His house and into His presence. They had to be made clean, made pure.
And there’s all sorts of things that make a person impure or unclean. And we often think, well sin, certainly sin makes us impure. When we break God’s commands, when we do things that damage our relationship with God or relationships with other people or when we do things that are just wrong or gross—sure those things make us impure, right…
But there’s more to it. Impurity is not so much that we partake in evil things, but just that we partake in common things. Another way to say it is that…
Impurity occurs when we partake in things that are a unique part of this world and have no place in God’s eternal Kingdom.
If there is something you do, that is something you don’t think you will do in eternity with God, that is something common to this world that makes you impure and unable to enter into God’s presence.
We don’t have time to go through the entire book of Leviticus to look at all the unique things, but here’s the major categories.
- Sickness makes a person unclean.
- Anything to do with human reproduction makes a person unclean.
- Touching dead things makes a person unclean.
- And certainly, yes, anything we call sin also makes a person unclean.
Now, let’s take a look at each of these so you can see why these make a person unclean.
Sickness is a pretty obvious part of this world. When we think about Adam and Eve in the Garden, it’s hard to imagine them getting a head cold, but certainly they weren’t getting cancer and heart disease or any number of other illnesses. So, it follows that if God’s Kingdom is a place of eternal joy and peace with God, that sickness probably has no place in that world either. It’s obvious that getting sick is not a sin—although it’s possible sin led to sickness—but sickness is still a part of this world and the Israelites were not able to enter God’s presence if they were sick. They were impure.
The next major category is human reproduction. If you touched bodily fluids, including reproductive fluids, or if you just had a baby, or even having sex, that makes you impure. And that’s kind of odd, because I always say God wants us to reproduce, to multiply and fill the earth to build a Kingdom for Christ’s glory. And that’s true. But, the building of God’s Kingdom numerically is part of God’s plan for this world.
In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage… ~Matthew 22:30, ESV
And if we don’t marry in eternity, then we don’t have sex and we don’t have children in eternity. I don’t say that to make sex seem icky or weird. It’s actually a beautiful part of God’s plan for humanity, if it is exercised within the bounds of a monogamous marriage. It’s just not part of God’s eternal plan so it makes a person unclean.
So, then the next, might seem obvious. But, death makes a person impure because it is a part of this world and not a part of God’s eternal Kingdom. Speaking of the eternal Kingdom Jesus said,
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ~Revelation 21:3–4, ESV
Death and all the common things of this world are passing away and will be no more. Participation in the things of this world, including sinful things, but also the common things of this world make a person impure.
Now remember where we started. Common things aren’t necessarily sin. But, they still make a person impure so that they cannot enter God’s presence.
So, what do we do with that?
When so many things are common to this world—just think about your favorite things and ask if you think they make sense in eternity—when so many things are common, how could we ever enter God’s presence?
Well, in the OT times when the book of Leviticus was written, God gave practices to the people to undergo purification. Sometimes it took animal sacrifice, which we will start to look at more in a minute. Sometimes it took special washings. And sometimes it just took time.
But today, what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to go through all these practices God gave to Israel?
There’s a couple places in the New Testament that address this, but the short answer is no. Paul speaking to Christians says,
You were washed clean, you were made holy to God, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. ~1 Corinthians 6:11, CEB
Here, Paul is talking about impurity caused by sin, but it follows that all impurity goes away if the impurity from sin goes away. But notice, there is something about Jesus’s work that makes us pure.
And then he says that our purity before God the Father was dealt with by something Jesus did, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
So, what did Jesus actually do to make us pure?
You might say he died on the cross … and that would be true if we teased it out enough, but that’s not the most obvious answer for this question.
When Jesus came, there were countless times when he healed people. He healed diseased people so that they could be pure, because their disease made them impure. He healed invalids so that they could be pure. He healed blind people so that they could be pure. All these people who couldn’t enter God’s presence to worship or offer sacrifice for their sins, Jesus purified them.
And then there was the woman who suffered from chronic bleeding. This was an issue of fluids dealing with reproduction like we talked about earlier. So, according to Leviticus she was impure and couldn’t get clean unless she got healed. She was impure and, even worse, according to Leviticus, if she sat on a chair or a bed it became impure. And then anyone who touched her or those impure things became impure. And it just spread.
But, then she heard Jesus was in town and she went to beg him for healing, because she so desperately wanted to be acceptable in God’s house and in God’s city and by God’s people. So, she pushed through the crowd to get to Jesus, making all sorts of people unclean in the process, and she reached out and touched Jesus’s cloak.
And what does Leviticus say should have happened?
According to Leviticus, Jesus’s cloak should have become impure because she was impure, and then Jesus, touching the cloak, should have been made impure.
But, that’s not what happened. The opposite happened.
Instead, she was healed. Because when we are impure, we spread our impurity to others like an infection. But, when we know Jesus, the opposite happens. Jesus makes us pure. His purity spreads to us.
By nature of who He is, Jesus makes people acceptable in God’s presence.
And this isn’t just a Bible thing for ancient people. He does that for people today. He’s done that for me. And he’s done that for many of you in this room who have thought there is no way God could ever accept you, you thought your sin was so disgusting because you were an addict, or an adulterer, or you were violent and abusive, or something else, and Jesus purified you. H made you acceptable to God to enter into His presence.
So, you might think that the book of Leviticus is irrelevant on the point of purity. Maybe purity doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, because we are pure because of Jesus’s purity.
Well, I would challenge you to consider this. When the woman was free from her bleeding and she was made pure, do you think she went back out and looked for things to make her impure again? Do you think she thought, well I’ll just go do whatever I want; all I have to do is touch Jesus again and I’ll be fine?
Probably not. I think after being impure for so long she probably did everything in her power to stay away from impure things. I’m sure she went strait to the temple to worship and offer sacrifices before God. I imagine that her purification resulted in a profound interest in holy things.
And I think that’s true for us as Christians. I’m not going to give you a list of things to do here, because that would be missing the point. But, I am going to say this. If you are a Christian and you have given your life to Christ and you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then you should be increasingly interested in holy things, pure things. And you should be less interested in the common things of this world.
We’re going to do something a little different this week with your Next Step cards. I’d actually like you to take them out now, get them ready. Pull up the website, SonrisePalmdale.com on your phone or grab the paper in the back of your seat. And I’ll give you the first possible Next Step.
FAST This Week
Do you know what fasting is?
Fasting is when you give something up for a period of time and then you take the time doing whatever it is that you usually would do and you do something to focus on God.
Fasting is about taking something common and worldly in your life and putting it aside for a period of time so that you can focus on God.
And you can fast from anything, but fairly obviously, it should be something that you like. And if you fast, replace the time with prayer or Bible reading or both.
For example, Ill tell you my Next Step for this week. I’m going to give up Social media for this week. I’m going to take my phone and I’m going to move my Bible app next to my Facebook app as a reminder. And I’m going to do it for 5 days, M-F.
I’ll challenge you to take this step, to fast from something common this week so that you can focus on holy things.
Ceremonial purity was about getting away from the distractions of the world to get into God’s presence.
But, that’s only one element of holiness. We have to be purified and then we have to be…
And this is where I’d like to look at one of the animal sacrifices in Leviticus 3. Some translations call this offering a peace offering. But, peace is vague here. The peace isn’t peace for the individual. The peace isn’t even peace between God and humanity. This offering is for peace among the people. So, the NIV translation calls this a fellowship offering. And I like that. The Holman translation calls this a fellowship sacrifice. I like that too, but I’m going to read from the CEB for this one, because I think it handles the translation best.
If the offering is a communal sacrifice of well-being, the one who offers the herd animal—whether it is male or female—must present a flawless specimen before the Lord. You must press your hand on the head of the offering and slaughter it at the meeting tent’s entrance. Aaron’s sons the priests will toss the blood against every side of the altar. Then you can offer a food gift to the Lord from the communal sacrifice of well-being: the fat that covers and surrounds the insides; the two kidneys and the fat around them at the loins; and the lobe on the liver, which should be removed with the kidneys. Aaron’s sons will completely burn all of this on the altar—along with the entirely burned offering on the wood that is on the altar fire—as a food gift of soothing smell to the Lord. ~Leviticus 3:1–5, CEB
There are two other ways to offer communal sacrifices to God or to offer fellowship offerings. This one uses a herd animal like a cow. The rest of chapter says what to do if you have a flock animal like a sheep. And then it tells how to do it with a goat.
At any rate, I wanted you to see how bloody this is. Animal sacrifice is messy. And we shouldn’t think that ancient people were more barbaric so it wasn’t so strange for them. That’s silly. They thought this was messy. But, they understood the point of it all, so they were willing to go through with it.
This was a lot of work and a lot of mes, but it was worth it.
Why was it worth it? What did this accomplish?
Well lets take a look at the order of events. First, they started with a pure animal, an unblemished animal. Remember, they had to take care of purity or consecration first.
Have you ever been cleaning and you thought you had a clean rag and you went to wipe something clean with it just to discover that the rag wasn’t actually clean? So instead of cleaning the counter or the refrigerator or whatever you were working on, you actually made it more dirty.
That’s the purpose of the unblemished animal. If it wasn’t pure, it would do nothing to make you pure.
So if you were an Israelite, you would take the animal and hold it real steady by the head and slit it’s throat so it would die and the blood would drain out. Then the priests would take over. And the first thing the priests would do is take care of purity by sprinkling the blood of the animal on the alter.
The sprinkling of the blood is symbolic of cleansing. And the thing being sprinkled is the thing being cleansed.
A side note here. Some of you may have been here for baptisms in the past and noticed that we practice baptism by immersion. We put you completely under water, because that appears to be the way the early church and certainly John the Baptist did it. But, some churches sprinkle with water and this is why. Because in the Bible sprinkling is symbolic of ritual cleansing.
Anyway, the thing being sprinkled is the thing being cleansed. In some sacrifices, the blood is sprinkled on the individual to purify them. But, in this case the blood is sprinkled on the alter. The reason is that this is a communal offering. The offering is for the unification of the people of Israel and so the alter is purified because the alter belongs to the whole nation of Israel.
What we see in this offering is that purity is a responsibility that the Israelites had to each other. It was so important that they would offer sacrifices to God to bless their unity as a nation. When there was disunity in the city, this sacrifice was offered for the restoration of the people—again, the restoration of the people to each other, not to God.
We see this play out in the book of Leviticus in many ways. For example, when someone was impure because of a skin disease they would be placed outside the camp until purification could be made. To bring the impurity into the city was to defile the whole community. And we see other times where clothing that is impure is burned outside the city. And bricks from the house that get mold on them are cut out the walls and put outside the city.
The people were to be a holy people, a pure people. And the city was to be a holy city for the Lord’s presence to dwell and therefore could not be impure.
But, it is not just purity that the community needed to be concerned with. They also needed to be concerned with how they care for each other. So, Leviticus gives laws concerning dealings between people in order to keep unity among the people. Here’s a few.
When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather up every remaining bit of your harvest. Also do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.
The Israelites were to care for the poor among them by allowing them to harvest the edges of their fields without charge.
You must not steal nor deceive nor lie to each other. You must not swear falsely by my name, desecrating your God’s name in doing so; I am the Lord. You must not oppress your neighbors or rob them. Do not withhold a hired laborer’s pay overnight. You must not insult a deaf person or put some obstacle in front of a blind person that would cause them to trip. Instead, fear your God; I am the Lord.
The Israelites were not to deceive or lie to one another or be dishonest when they payed an employee. And for that matter, they weren’t allowed to be a bully by tripping blind people. Instead, they were to be gracious and generous to one another.
You must not act unjustly in a legal case. Do not show favoritism to the poor or deference to the great; you must judge your fellow Israelites fairly. Do not go around slandering your people. Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed; I am the Lord.
They were to deal with each other righteously. Notice, ‘Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.’ Every person in that community is responsible for every other person. No one gets to say, ‘That’s their business.’ If there’s a problem in the community, it’s everyone’s business.
You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your fellow Israelite strongly, so you don’t become responsible for his sin. You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. ~Leviticus 19:9–18, CEB
Again, love your neighbors and don’t hate them. If they’re doing something wrong, rebuke them. Notice, he says that if you allow a brother to continue in sin, you become, ‘responsible for his sin.’
One of the worst things that could happen to an Israelite was that he would be, “Cut off from his people….” Being a part of the community of God’s people was so important. It was a social value.
And this is something that really hasn’t changed. This was written about the early church, 2000ish years ago,
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. ~Acts 4:32, ESV
There’s something about being a part of the church that should cause us to unify on this level.
What would it look like if we were so likeminded at Sonrise that people could say we operate with one heart and one soul? What would it look like if we were so generous as to consider our personal property not so much our own property, but community property? What would it look like if each one of us prioritized our schedules around the needs of the church family?
And then this.
What would it look like if we protected each other from the sins of the world? And what would it look like if we corrected each other when we sinned? And what would it look like if we were vulnerable enough to share our sins and our struggles with others in our church community?
Can you imagine what that might do for our holiness?
The Israelites were supposed to be like that and so are we. That brings us to our second Next Step.
You might need to consider reconciling differences with one of your brothers or sisters in Christ. If you have a dispute with someone, it’s time to shake hands and move on. God doesn’t tolerate division in His Kingdom or in the church.
This week might be the right time for a phone call or a visit with someone to make amends and bring healing to the body of Christ.
Mark that box if you need to do that and we will be praying for strength and grace for you this week.
So, the book of Leviticus showed the Israelites how to be purified and how to be restored in unity to one another. And finally, it also showed them how to be…
And this is probably the most important aspect of the book of Leviticus, although all three elements work together. There’s lots of different sacrifices for sin. Some are for intentional sin. Some are for unintentional sin. There’s an offering for sin you committed without realizing. And there’s special sin offerings. For instance, in Leviticus 6, there is an offering for committing sin against your neighbor. The Lord says,
If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor…or if he has oppressed his neighbor…in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby; if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore…he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it…And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. ~Leviticus 6:2-6, ESV
So, notice, based on our last point, that the relationship with the neighbor is very important. There’s a law here on how to restore the Israelite to his neighbor if he has wronged him in any way. He is supposed to restore whatever was lost because of whatever happened, and as a gesture of goodwill to restore friendship, he is supposed to return a fifth of the value of whatever compensation is payed.
But, notice what the Lord says. He says, ‘If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord.’ To sin against neighbor is to sin against the Lord. And there’s tons of ways to sin against your neighbor. That’s why he says, ‘in any of all the things that people do and sin.’ The Lord knows that we are inventors of evil and we come up with all sorts of things so that you could never write them all down.
So then since the Israelite has sinned against his neighbor he has to pay compensation to the neighbor. But, then since he has sinned against God also, he also has to pay compensation to God. And here’s what God requires: ‘a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering.’
God wants them to sacrifice a ram and do the whole ritual of sprinkling the blood on the alter and carving up the carcass and burning some parts. Honestly, when I read the book of Leviticus it sounds like a giant mess. There had to be so much blood at the temple.
So, why all this blood? What’s the big deal with blood?
Well, Leviticus covers that pretty succinctly. The Lord says,
If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. ~Leviticus 17:10–11, ESV
Believe it or not this is one of the most important verses in all of the Bible. From the first sacrifices offered in Genesis in the early days of humanity up until this point there had been little or no understanding of the purpose of animal sacrifice. We can’t know for sure, but I suspect that the earliest people on the earth offered sacrifice more out of obedience than understanding.
So, this is where understanding comes into the picture. And when we get to the New Testament, there’s a lot said about the sacrifice of animals, and more importantly, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and it all hinges on this passage. So, let’s unpack it a little bit and then we’ll look at what it means for us a little, but that’s really the message for Easter, so you’ll have to wait for the fulness of it until then.
So first, “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.” This issue of blood was so important that God took the person who violated the blood by eating it and he excommunicated him from his people. He got sent away from God’s city and Gods people, never to be restored again. And it’s not just the people and the city. When the Israelite was ‘cut off from his people’ he was cut off from God. He lost God in his life. And he lost God in his after-life.
In the New Testament, this issue of blood came up again. We often look at Christianity and Judaism as if they are two separate religions. But, the early church didn’t see it that way. In the early church, they saw themselves as Jews whose Messiah, whose savior had come. The Jews were already waiting for a savior. And when Jesus came, many of them believed he was their savior, their messiah. So, in their minds, they didn’t stop being Jews. They were just fuller Jews.
But, then people who weren’t Jews started following Jesus and that got really confusing. So some people looked to the Old Testament and said that when a Gentile—a non-Jew—wanted to worship God, he had to conform to the law pretty much like a Jew had to. There were little differences here and there, but for the most part, the Old Testament laws applied to Gentiles who wanted to become Jewish.
So the Jewish Christians followed that teaching and told the Gentile Christians that they had to follow all the Old Testament laws and practices. It’s actually pretty logical if you think about it.
So, the dispute was causing all sorts of problems, so they went to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem so that they could make a judgment on whether the non-Jews had to keep the Old Testament laws.
So, it seems that James, who is the key leader of the church in Jerusalem, believed that the Gentiles should have to follow all the laws. But, after hearing from Barnabas, Paul and Peter, he makes this judgment:
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. ~Acts 15:19–20, ESV
James decides that there are a handful of laws that are so important that it would defile the church as a whole if the Gentiles didn’t keep these laws. These laws all had to do with Gentile worship practices—eating meat sacrificed to idols, temple prostitution, eating animals that were strangled, and blood.
The last one is pretty obvious. The Gentiles may have believed they could inherit the life of the animal by either drinking the fresh blood of the animal or by eating coagulated blood. Further to strangle an animal rather than slit it’s throat as was instructed in Leviticus would be to leave the life-blood in the animal when it was eaten.
James saw these practices as so detestable that no Christian could possibly do them. And so he forbid it.
So, the second thing is that the life is in the blood. The gentiles knew that, but they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do with it.
The Lord says that the blood is supposed to be burned on the alter not eaten. And in this way the blood provides atonement, “for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”
See, the Gentiles were trying to steel the life of the animal. But, God is the giver of life. You can’t get life from the animal. The animal is sacrificed and the blood burned on the alter so that the life of the animal becomes an atonement for the person offering the sacrifice.
Okay, I’ve said that word a couple times. Atonement. Let’s talk about what that means. Atonement means to be made one or to be made whole.
The world around us is broken and people do things that broken people do and they continue to break the world that God created good, and the people that God created good. Atonement is the picking up of the pieces.
Atonement takes broken relationships and reconciles them. Atonement takes broken people and strengthens them. Atonement takes broken social institutions and brings the people back into community.
The Israelites were to offer the sacrifice of atonement in order to heal all the wrong they had done. And in so doing, they were redeemed by God. And in the New Testament we are told that Jesus is our once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice … but that’s Easter’s message.
For now, I want to end with this. The Israelites were commanded to offer all of the sacrifices in the book of Leviticus. But, history tells us they never really did, at least not for very long at a time. God commanded them to do these things in order to be atoned for, in order to be restored to one another, and to be purified so they could enter into the presence of God. They didn’t do it.
And I don’t think it was a lack of faith or a lack of belief. The Israelites just didn’t seem to want God. So they went off and sacrificed to gods who are not God and they did all the things that God said were detestable.
So I want to kind of end there with those questions.
Do you believe in Jesus, that he is the only way into God’s presence?
And do you want God … and to be in God’s presence?
I hope you do. And maybe you’ve never experienced God’s presence because you’ve never made a commitment to follow Christ. If that’s the case, I’d like to encourage you today to…
COMMIT To Christ
Our final Next Step today is to Commit to Christ.
If you’ve never considered what it would be like to be in God’s presence and you want to know more about how Jesus purifies you, redeems you and brings you into the community of God’s people. I’d encourage you to check this box and one of our pastors will contact you this week to talk more about it.
And Maybe the Spirit of God spoke to you in another way today and there is a different step you believe you need to take. If that’s the case, please mark the SOMETHING Else box and let us know what step you will be taking.
For now, let’s pray.
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