Leviticus Intro ~ 20160410 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/10 Leviticus Intro Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160410_leviticus-intro.mp3
All Scripture is Profitable
Romans 15:4 tells us
The Scriptures give us encouragement and hope to endure. All Scripture is for our instruction. Amen? Do you believe this?
2 Timothy 3 points us to the sacred writings
The sacred writings are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Do you believe this?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. Do you believe this?
What Is Leviticus?
Then turn with me to the book of Leviticus. It's the third book in the Bible, the middle of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, 27 chapters between Exodus and Numbers. Leviticus gets its English title from the Latin Vulgate translation, which comes from the Greek Septuagint, and it means 'that which concerns the Levite', even though the Levites are seldom mentioned in Leviticus. The tribe of Levi was the tribe responsible to set up, to take down, to carry, to care for and to guard the tabernacle in the wilderness (Num.1:47-54). A subset of Levites, those descended from Aaron and his sons, served as priests in the tabernacle.
The book of Leviticus begins with 7 chapters of instructions on the different kinds of sacrifices to be offered in the Tabernacle, then chapters 8-10 give instructions for the consecration of the priests who would carry out those sacrifices, chapters 11-15 give laws on cleanliness for the people, including dietary laws, purification after childbirth, how to handle skin diseases, mold in a house, and bodily discharges. These are all issues of uncleanness that need to be addressed by the appropriate sacrifice. Chapter 16 gives instructions on the great day of atonement and the cleansing of the Tabernacle. Chapters 17-25 give laws for holy living, chapter 26 gives blessings and punishments for obedience or disobedience, and rewards for repentance, and chapter 27 deals with vows.
Remember, all Scripture is God breathed and profitable.
Why Study Leviticus?
Why should we study Leviticus as a Christian? When we finished Exodus a few years ago, I was asked what we were going to study next, so I suggested Leviticus. People threatened to leave the church, or at least find another church for a year or so. Leviticus seems so... irrelevant. We don't have a tabernacle, we don't need a temple, we don't have priests wearing funny clothes and we don't offer animal sacrifices. Most of us don't eat Kosher. The stuff about skin diseases and mold and bodily emissions seem a bit gross. So what's the point? Why take time to study this ancient book?
There is an element of disciplined obedience. If we truly believe that all Scripture is profitable to make us wise for salvation and equipped for every good work, then it is arrogant and unwise for us to stand over Scripture and select the bits that we feel are more relevant or interesting and skip over the rest. A common metaphor used in the Bible for Christian growth and maturity is edification. Build one another up in the faith. This is a construction metaphor, and in building an edifice, the foundation is critical and every stone is important. Imagine if you were having a house built. You come to inspect the progress after the building starts to rise, and you notice a gaping hole in the foundation. When you find the guy who was doing the work, he says 'well that particular stone just didn't capture my attention. It wasn't very interesting or exciting, so I left it out'. It may not be exciting – its a stone! But it's necessary. It helps to hold the building up. We have been given 66 God breathed books that make up the collection we call the Bible, and they are all important. If we believe God spoke and communicated his truth to his people, if he saw to it that it was recorded in written form, if he ensured that it was passed down to us intact and unaltered, do you think it would be wise to disregard any of it?
Jesus in Leviticus
Now that is true of every book in the collection we call the Bible. But why Leviticus in particular? Why would a Christian want to study Leviticus? Christianity is all about following Christ. I believe we don't understand Jesus if we don't understand Leviticus. We are Christians because we follow Jesus, and Jesus said in Matthew 5:
Jesus came to fulfill the Law. The Law was pointing to Jesus. We don't fully understand Jesus if we don't understand how he fulfilled the Law. When Jesus met his disciples on the Emmaus road, we are told:
Jesus after his resurrection opened the Torah, the five books of Moses and interpreted in them the things concerning himself. Leviticus is the centerpiece of the five books of Moses. Leviticus is about Jesus! Leviticus is all about Jesus. Jesus came to die – to die on a cross. He came to die as a perfect substitute for our sins. The cross is central to Christianity. We fail to understand the cross if we fail to understand the sacrificial system. The crucifixion of Jesus was a Levitical sacrifice.
Jesus is the one who mediates between us and the Father. Hebrews repeatedly (2:17, 3:1; 4:14-15, 5:5; 6:20; 7:26-28; 8:1; 9:11) calls Jesus our great High Priest. We fail to appreciate Jesus as our great High Priest if we don't understand the role of a priest in the Old Testament. We don't appreciate the sweetness of the New Covenant if we aren't familiar with the Old Covenant that it supersedes. The New Testament book of Hebrews is a rich commentary on Leviticus that points us to Jesus, the better Priest who offers a better Sacrifice in the better Tabernacle.
My prayer as we study Leviticus together is that we will fall more deeply in love with Jesus, because Leviticus is all about Jesus.
Not only will we grow to appreciate Jesus, Leviticus will teach us some practical things about how to approach God. God is holy. The main theme of Leviticus is holiness. God is holy, we are sinful, and that makes him dangerous. But true joy is found in relationship with him. Leviticus gives instructions on how a sinful people can approach a holy God and experience the joy of his presence safely.
A dangerous tendency among many Christians is to treat God casually. We are saved by grace, and we begin to take grace for granted, we get careless, we presume on grace, thinking it is no big deal. It's okay to sin; God will forgive me. Leviticus communicates to us the seriousness of sin. God hates sin. All sin. Every sin is serious. And all of life matters. We cannot compartmentalize and think that when we are with church people we live to a different standard than when we are with our family or our friends or our co-workers. God is present in all of life, and all of life matters. A holy God must punish sin. Jesus calls us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48). Lest we think this is limited to the Old Testament, Ephesians tells believers that we were chosen in him “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (1:4). Peter cites Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2, 20:7, 26 and applies it to believers.
The goal for believers in Jesus is to become holy. Leviticus helps us to see what that even means, and it helps us understand how that happens.
Imperative Follows Indicative
Our holiness is always only a response that flows out of our sins being covered by sacrifice. We don't strive to be holy in hopes that God will recognize our effort and accept us. We approach God through sacrifice that covers sin, because we aren't neutral, we start out sinful. Then, because our sins have been covered, this creates in us a desire to please him in all things. It is fascinating to note that the outline of Leviticus looks a lot like the outline of many of the New Testament letters. They begin by proclaiming the good news of Christ, who met our need, washed us clean, set us free, made us whole, and then as a result of the gospel transformation that God works in us, this births an outflow of practical holiness that permeates all of life. The imperatives, the commands to live a certain way always follow and flow out of the indicatives, the statements of what God has done for us. Romans begins with 11 chapters of the good news of what God has done for us, and then concludes with 5 chapters that give us instruction on how to live in response to the truth of the gospel. Ephesians chapters 1-3 give us a rich overflow gospel indicatives, proclaiming what God has done, and then concludes with 3 chapters of practical instruction, imperatives that naturally flow as fruit out of the deep root of gospel transformation. If we look back at the broad outline of Leviticus, we see it begins with sacrifices that allow us to approach God, with who is qualified to offer those sacrifices, with what sacrifices address which specific issue of sin or uncleanness, and then the book concludes with practical instructions on how to live holy lives as those who have been forgiven by a gracious God.
It is my prayer that as we study Leviticus, we would deepen in our appreciation for the gospel, that we would increase in our hatred of sin, and it would birth in us a desire to please and glorify God in all of life.
Let's look at the first verses of Leviticus.
The title in of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible comes from the first word of the Hebrew text: 'wayyiqra'; it means 'and he called'. Leviticus begins with waw-consecutive; which means that the first syllable of the first word is a conjunction. How often have you picked up a book to read, and the first word on the first page is 'And'? What would you do? I would turn back a few pages to see if I missed something, turn the book over to see if this is the second book in a series, because a conjunction like 'and' usually connects with something that went before. This is true of Leviticus. The 'and' is an indicator that Leviticus continues the story from the last paragraph of Exodus. So it will serve us well, as it has been several years since we studied Exodus, to use our remaining time to review Exodus to locate ourselves in the story. Exodus, of course, follows Genesis, so maybe we should begin at the beginning.
Genesis begins with God, who has always been there, creating everything that is. Everything he creates is good. He creates man to reflect his character to all creation, to rule under him, to be in relationship with him, but man rebels. Man brings sin and its ugly consequences into God's perfect creation. But rather than immediately destroy rebellious mankind, God promises a rescue. Mankind gets worse and worse, to the point where God washes the earth clean with a flood, but shows grace to Noah and his family, and preserves them through the global catastrophe. Again mankind gets worse, but God extends grace to Abram, makes outrageous promises of land and descendants to this childless migrant, and promises to make him a blessing to all the nations of the earth. God gives him a son in his old age, his son Isaac has a son Jacob, and Jacob has 12 boys who become the 12 tribes of Israel. This family is a mess, with rival wives and favoritism to the point where the brothers gang up on the youngest and plot to kill him but instead sell him as a slave and lie about it. Famine strikes the land, so they move to Egypt, where God has providentially placed their younger brother to provide for them.
Fast forward 400 years, and we get to Exodus. They are now slaves in Egypt, cruelly oppressed by a tyrant king, and God hears their groaning and comes to their rescue.
Chapters 1-14 explain God's redemption of his people, setting them free from slavery and destroying their enemies. Chapters 15-18 show God's care for his people, providing for their every need in the wilderness, in spite of their constant grumbling. Chapters 19-24 outline God's covenant with his people, explaining what it means for him to be their God and for them to be his people. Chapters 25-40 show God's presence with his people, how he comes to live among them.
The focus of the entire book of Exodus is God's presence with his people. God saved his people from slavery, cared for his people in the wilderness, entered into covenant relationship with his people, so that he could dwell in the midst of his people. The last section, chapters 25-40, culminating with God's presence with his people, is broken in half with chapters 32-34, which recount the covenant treason of the people who worship a golden bull idol and break all of God's laws, and Moses' prayer of intercession for the people. God with mercy upon mercy renews his covenant with his people. The first half, chapters 25-31, detail God's instructions for the construction of his tent in the midst of the camp, the tabernacle. The last half, chapters 35-39, recount the faithful, precise obedience of the people following the commands of the Lord down to every detail. This demonstrates the total, complete forgiveness and restoration that God graciously extended to his undeserving but broken and repentant people. Chapters 35-39 read as if nothing had ever happened. The book of Exodus ends with the tabernacle set up according to God's instruction at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the glory cloud of God's presence filling the tabernacle in the middle of his people.
This is where Leviticus begins. A stiff necked disobedient, complaining people, prone to wander, and God's holy presence in the middle of their camp. God's presence with his people is dangerous. And
Leviticus is the account of God speaking to Moses from the Tabernacle, giving him specific instructions on how he is to be approached by his people. This phrase 'The LORD spoke to Moses' permeates the book, occurring some 37 times. Leviticus, in the most literal sense of the term, is God's word to his people.
It is my prayer that this increases your affections for Jesus, the one who loves sinners so much that he goes to the cross as a sacrifice for us, the one who forgives even the worst offenses. I pray that if you see yourself today as a sinner, you would approach God through the once for all sacrifice of Jesus and find forgiveness and acceptance and freedom.
I pray that this would empower you to loathe sin, to recognize your relationship with God as a weighty matter, to rightly value your relationship with him and as an overflow of his transforming grace in your life, to pursue holiness.
I pray that this would whet your appetite and made you hungry – hungry for more of God's word.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org