Posts Tagged “Leviticus”

The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.”
Leviticus 16:2

I love being a New Testament Christian living in a time when we have embraced the tremendous love God has for us. I believe we have a greater understanding of intimacy with God than most people of previous generations.

Yet sometimes I wonder if we’ve embraced our freedom to approach His throne too whole-heartedly and abandoned the respect and holiness that the One who sits on the throne deserves and requires. The Lord told Moses that Aaron wasn’t to approach the Most Holy Place in whatever manner He desired. There were specific procedures that were to be followed.

3“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
Leviticus 16:2-5 (NIV)

Aaron was to enter the presence of the Lord cleansed, wearing proper clothing, and with a sin offering and a burnt offering. I can’t help but see a correlation to how we ought to approach the Lord.

The Old Testament priests were to wash themselves before putting on their sacred garments. As New Testament believers, we are washed in the blood of Christ, which allows us to be clothed in His righteousness. We are cleansed of our sin by the blood of Jesus, the lamb who has already been slain for us. Because the wages of sin is death – that is, the price required to make atonement for the sin is death, the priests went into the sanctuary to shed the blood of the bull as an offering to cover their sin. Jesus shed His blood for our sins – the price has been paid for our sins.

We are no longer required to take a bull into the sanctuary and kill it. But we would do well to enter the sanctuary remembering that it has been done on our behalf. Such an attitude requires that we remember that we are sinners who are saved by grace. It means entering His presence in humility, asking for forgiveness for our sinful thoughts and actions of the previous week. It is only after we have accept God’s forgiveness that we are clothed in the sacred garments of the righteousness of Christ. It is from that position that we can come before His throne with boldness.

The priests also brought a burnt offering. The burnt offering was a complete offering — the entire offering was burned. It represents giving ourselves totally to God. To do less than that is not worthy of the great price He paid and is disrespectful. Yes, I fall far short of giving all I am to God, but I can enter His presence with the attitude in my heart that says “Yes, God. Here I am, send me. Whatever, whenever. Yes, God.” I know the reality is that when He asks me to do something we’re likely to have a conversation about it – which is a kind way of saying I don’t always respond with such enthusiasm and it may take a while for me to come around to the “Yes, God” action that matches the attitude. Nevertheless, I can have the attitude that I want to be fully and quickly obedient. The reality is that without the attitude, the action will never follow.

Entering God’s presence is about a whole lot more than songs that speak to our hearts and make us feel good. In truth, those songs are probably more about us and how we want to worship God than they are about God and how He wants us to worship Him. Don’t get me wrong. I love worship and I believe it pays a key role in preparing us to enter God’s presence. But I’m afraid that sometimes our focus is too centered on the enjoyment of the music than the proper attitude of our hearts.

Yes, let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let’s also approach His throne with boldness – while simultaneously entering His presence with appropriate reverence and humility and with a recognition of our sinfulness and His holiness. Both are God’s reality. They ought to be ours.

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Christianity in America tends to major on love and minor on obedience. We seek intimacy and try to avoid obedience. We like the soft, feely stuff but hate the hard, uncomfortable stuff. Leviticus 26:14-15 got my attention when I read it a couple of weeks ago.

14“However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, 16I will punish you….”
Leviticus 26:14-16a (NLT)

Don’t get me wrong. It was coming into a greater understanding of God’s overwhelming love for me that set me free to be the person God wants me to be. It was understanding how outrageously passionate He is for me that changed my mental image of Him. I used to see God as always standing in heaven shaking His head at me wondering when I’d ever get it right. Now I know He’s my greatest cheerleader, my greatest encourager, and the proudest Abba Father you can imagine. It’s the over-the-top pleasure He takes in me that brings joy to my life.

That great love frees me to take risks for Him. I know He will always love me, even when I get it wrong.

But that doesn’t mean He is pleased with wrong actions, and embracing His love must not come at the expense of embracing His righteousness and justice. It must not come at the expense of His holiness.

I admit it – I don’t know how and when and where to draw the lines. But I know that our churches are filled with people who praise God on Sunday mornings yet live unholy lives. And that grieves me. Because we, the Church, could have so much more impact. Yet I also know that it is not my place to judge another man’s servant (Romans 14:4). So perhaps the place to start drawing the line is with myself. I must be diligent to embrace obedience and God’s holiness. I must put into practice what I read – which means I must read with the intention of responding.

Apprehending the grace God has for us each day is done in many ways – by seeking Him every morning, by taking what He offers by faith, by receiving His love and by obeying His commands. Obeying God’s commands – that is, making daily life and lifestyle choices that are consistent with God’s Word – is just one way of bring more of His grace into our lives. It pleases Him. Even when we don’t get it all right.

Conversely, disobedience displeases God and brings punishment. He is our heavenly Father and He disciplines us as a father.

5And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

10For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11 (NLT)

In the midst of celebrating God’s great love, it’s critically important to remember that He is also a holy, holy God who disciplines His children. When things go wrong in our lives perhaps sometimes we are too quick to give the enemy credit for hassling it – perhaps we should be asking if God is punishing us.

At the risk of diluting the message of obedience in this blog, I want to provide balance. There are people who haven’t embraced God’s passionate love for them. There are those who see Him as I used to – as the One who always sees the flaws in their actions and whose standards are so high I can only feel condemned by them. Condemnation is from satan. Conviction is from the Lord. You can read about the difference in this Apprehending Grace blog about how very much God loves us.

If you fall into that category, I highly recommend that you read books by Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out is a great place to start. Brennan Manning died just a couple of weeks ago. This blog by Steve Wiens captured Manning’s message. Check it out and don’t miss the compilation video at the end.  It’s long, but it’s worth listening to. You will be inspired by God’s message of compassion and love spoken to and through his servant Brennan Manning.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Reading God’s Word is the best way to get to know God. We learn who He is and how He works. It is His love letter to us, His instruction manual written for us, and it breathes His Spirit upon us as we read.

You’ll find our April reading schedule in the March/April bookmark and in the table below.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the March-April bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the March/April 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

What treasures have you found while reading this week? Share them with the rest of us. You can email me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for April is below.

Resting at the River's Edge April 2014 Reading Schedule

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

God’s Word allows us to see God at work throughout history…and that allows us to get to know Him in a greater way. Through reading His Word regularly we learn who God is, how God thinks and how He wants us to live.

Resting at the River’s Edge provides a schedule that enables you to read through the entire Bible over a two-year period. During those two years we read through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. Our schedule includes “Additional Readings.” If you read through both the scheduled and additional readings, you will read through the entire Bible in 2013.

Join us! Let’s read through the Bible together this year. God will speak to you personally as you read. Since God usually speaks to me as I am reading His Word, you’ll find that many of the blogs I write relate directly to the Resting at the River’s Edge readings for that week.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the March-April bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

 

Click here for the March/April 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

Join us as we read, then e-mail me, leave a message on my Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog. Tell me about the treasures you’re finding in His Word. I look forward to hearing from you.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for March is below.

Resting at the River's Edge March 2013 Reading Schedule JPG

 

 

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Palm FrondsPalm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was a time of great celebration. I was fascinated to learn this week that there was almost a mingling of Jewish festival celebrations and a foreshadowing of heavenly celebrations in that single event. In Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we see elements of the Passover celebration, the Festival of Tabernacles, and heavenly worship.

First a brief review of Passover and the Festival of Tabernacles.

Passover
In the Old Testament, the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians, and God sent Moses to deliver them. Moses repeatedly went to the Pharaoh with a message from God: “Let my people go so that they might worship me.” Well, we know that Pharaoh had a hard heart – he didn’t care about God or what god wanted. So God sent the ten plagues to try to convince Pharaoh to change his mind. There were plagues of frogs, gnats, boils and all manner of other unpleasant (and deadly) plagues. The first nine didn’t go very far toward softening Pharaoh’s heart.

The tenth one, however, was the most significant. It was a plague of death to the firstborn of every person and animal. While the Israelites experienced most of the plagues along with the Egyptians, they were protected from this one. God gave them very specific instructions to kill a lamb that was without spot or blemish and they were to take some of blood from that lamb and put it at the top and sides of their door. When the death angel saw the blood of the lamb on the door, he would pass over that house and no death would come to it. From that time on, the Jews celebrated the festival called Passover. It was a time when they remembered that the angel of the death passed over their home, saving them from death and bring deliverance from the Egyptians.

Festival of Tabernacles
The Festival of Tabernacles is in the fall and it remembers the time when God lead the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land. It celebrates His provision for them –food, clothing, shelter and good health. This festival is the biggest celebration of the year. Here’s how the festival begins:

the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 
Leviticus 23:40 (NLT)

Two Festivals Intermingle in the Celebration as Jesus Enters Jerusalem

So, again, we have these two festivals that the Jews celebrate.

  • Passover, representing the time when the blood of a lamb was put on the doorposts of the Jewish households and the angel of death would pass over that household.
  • Festival of Tabernacles celebrated by the waving of palm branches with great rejoicing for seven days. It commemorates God’s provision for the Jews as they wandered in the wilderness, and ultimately bringing them victory after victory as they came into the Promised land.

The symbolism of two events come together in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel of John gives this account:

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

    “Hosanna!”
    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
    “Blessed is the King of Israel!”
John 12:12-13 (NIV)

People were in town to celebrate Passover – what they would experience was Jesus being that Passover lamb – as He was crucified and bled from the crown of thorns on His head and the nail through His feet and two more nails through His hands. Just as the Israelites had to apply the blood of the lamb to their doorposts to be passed over by the death angel, so we have to apply the blood of the lamb of God to the doorposts of our heart to pass from death to life. We have to say “Yes, Lord – You did that for me – Save me – I will follow You!”

But before the actual observance of Passover, Jesus came into town riding on a humble donkey. It is unmistakable that the crowd recognized Him as the Messiah they were waiting for – the One who would save and deliver them. Yet He didn’t come into town riding a horse or chariot. He came in riding a donkey. He was sending a message that they didn’t yet understand. He was sending the message that He was the Messiah who came to serve, not conquer. He came to be the lamb of God who would be slain so that the death angel could pass over all who would apply his blood to their hearts and souls.

They didn’t understand that yet. But their celebration makes it clear that they recognized Him as their Messiah.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” They shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

“Hosanna” means “save us now!”

“Son of David” is a phrase that had come to mean the Anointed Messiah – the One who would deliver them.

 So they cut palm fronds and waved them. And threw down their coats and the palm branches before Jesus as he rode into town. They were honoring Him as they would celebrate and honor a king.

What I found fascinating is that cutting palm fronds and celebrating with them is exactly what they did every fall when they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles. They celebrated God’s provision and their deliverance through the desert to the Promised Land with palm fronds. Now God was providing their ultimate deliverer and they instinctively used palm fronds to celebrate!

The Celebration with Palm Fronds Continues
What I also found fascinating is that this celebration was a precursor of things to come. This was the earthly celebration that preceded the heavenly one. Jesus knew this celebration would be short lived and He would soon die on the cross. He knew that in just a few days He would become the Passover lamb whose blood protected all who took shelter behind it.

Christ became that perfect sacrifice so that we might have eternal life. We look forward to next Easter when we’ll celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. In the book of revelation, John the Apostle was taken up to heaven. This is part of what he saw:

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…8And…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….9And they sang a new song:
    “You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
    because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased men for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Rev 5:6-9 (NIV)

Hallelujah! Even in heaven, Christ bears the look of the Lamb who was slain and they are worshipping Him because He was slain and His blood, shed on the cross, made salvation possible for men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation. If you know Christ, if you have applied His blood to the doorposts of your heart, you will be among those people who worship Christ in heaven.

And let me show you one more thing. A few chapters later in Revelation John writes this:

9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God,
    who sits on the throne,
    and to the Lamb.”
Rev 11:9-10 (NIV)

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people waved palm fronds and laid them at His feet. They shouted “Hosanna”“Save us Now!” There is a day coming when saints from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the throne of God – stand in front of the Lamb who was slain but is alive. And we will wear white robes, which symbolizes that our sins have been washed away, and we will be holding palm branches in our hands. And we will sing in a loud voice “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” Hallelujah!

The celebration of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem is a dim reflection of the celebration we will be a part of in heaven. What a glorious time that will be, friends. We will worship like we have never worshiped before. With palm fronds from earth, we will worship in heaven. With full understanding that Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of every Old Testament promise and practice. With the experience of a new life that lasts forever.

This is Holy Week and I encourage you to reflect and celebrate the week. Celebrate Christ’s rule and reign today – that is, the ruling and reigning of Christ in and through your life. And celebrate knowing that there is a day to come when we will celebrate Christ together in heaven.

Hosanna! Save us now, Lord!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord

And blessed are those who call on His Name. I hope you’re one of them.

Special thanks to Real Life Blog for the image. Check it out here.

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“If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands…
Leviticus 26:3 (NLT)

Blessings Follow Those Who Obey God
Leviticus 26 is all about the consequences that the Israelites would experience if they kept their covenant with God. Let’s briefly look at what He promises to those who kept His laws and obeyed His commands

I will send the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees will produce their fruit….
Leviticus 26:4 (NLT)

The Lord promises provision – abundant provision.

6“I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep without fear. I will remove the wild animals from your land and protect you from your enemies…
Leviticus 26:6 (NLT)

The Lord promises protection – from those who might do harm, whether man or animal.

“I will look favorably upon you and multiply your people and fulfill my covenant with you. 
Leviticus 26:9 (NLT)

The Lord promises enrichment of your family and the fulfillment of all His promises.

11I will live among you, and I will not despise you. 12I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. 
Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT)

The Lord promises His presence living among His people. This is an awesome promise to those who keep their covenant with God. It is a promise that continues to this day. The Apostle Paul repeated this passage in 2 Corinthians. In encouraging the Corinthians to separate themselves from unrighteous people and things, he said this:

And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
2 Corinthians 6:16

God’s presence follows those who live the way He instructs them to live.

Curses Follow Those Who Turn From God’s Ways
Leviticus continues:

“However, if you do not listen to me or obey my commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my laws and treating my regulations with contempt, 16I will punish you.
Leviticus 26:14

Just as there are blessings for obedience, there are punishments for disobediences. I’m not going to spell out the punishments – you can read them for yourselves. They’re not pretty.

When faced with such clear delineation of the consequences of our actions, you would think we would never choose anything but blessing. But the Israelites did and so do we. But God loves us so much, that He gives us still another chance:

44“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out. I, the LORD, am their God. 45I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of Egypt while all the nations watched. I, the LORD, am their God.”
Leviticus 26:44-45

God will remember His covenant and He will continue to be their God. He will continue to be our God. If you have turned your back on Him, He still waits for you to return. Waits with open arms. Waits with forgiveness. Waits to pour out the blessings of Leviticus 26:4-13.

A generation later, Joshua challenged the Israelites saying “choose today whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) We each face that decision daily. I’m siding with Joshua who said “as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) I’m siding with the Lord.

Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant Today?
I hope this series of blogs on the book of Leviticus has helped you to answer that question affirmatively – yes, the book of Leviticus is relevant for us today. Perhaps not in the same way that some other books are, but relevant none the less. It is a book that encourages us to be holy, as God is holy. It is a book that shows us God’s heart to bless us. It is a book that shows us how to worship in a greater way. I need those lessons.

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1The LORD said to Moses, 2“Give the Israelites instructions regarding the LORD’S appointed festivals, the days when all of you will be summoned to worship me.
Leviticus 23:1-2 (NLT)

Imagine! The Israelites worshipped God not only on Sunday, but there were festivals throughout the year – “appointed festivals” – when they set apart time to worship God. I want to live in that society! Sure, we worship God every day…but how many days a year do we set aside to focus solely on Him?

You may work for six days each week, but on the seventh day all work must come to a complete stop. It is the LORD’S Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day to assemble for worship. It must be observed wherever you live. 
Leviticus 23:3 (NLT)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am a big fan of practicing a Sabbath. I’m a fan…but I don’t do it as well as I’d like. Now before you voice the objection, let me clearly state that I am also not that Sabbath be Saturday, as it is in Judaism. I prefer to call it a Day of Rest (DOR at our house), and in the Christian culture that’s often Sunday. You may call it the Lord’s Day. Call it what you want, and make it whatever day you want, just do it! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater because we’re no longer under the Law. Scripture is full of injunctions about keeping the Sabbath – and I’m convinced it’s a principle God instituted that remains in effect.

Back to Leviticus 23:3. Words that strike me in this verse…“complete rest,” “worship” and “wherever you live.”

In Exodus 34:1 God instructs the Israelites to observe the Sabbath “even during the plowing season and harvest.”

No matter where you live,

No matter how busy you are…

Complete rest.

Lord, help me. Complete rest. Once a week. Even when my schedule is over-the-top. Help me get better at it, Lord.

I do pretty well with the “worship” part. I sometimes struggle to define “rest”. The word used there generally relates to occupational work and “creation” type work. Remember, the Lord practiced a Sabbath Himself – after creating the world we live in, He rested on the seventh day.

What Counts as “Rest”?
So, what kinds of activities can I be involved in that honor God? I am firmly convinced that visiting family falls within the boundaries of activities that would honor God on the Sabbath…but do they still honor God if they leave me drained? Somehow I don’t think so. So what needs to change – my perspective (so that I’m not so drained by visiting) or my activity (not visiting family on my day of rest)? I’m working on that one. (I mean no disrespect to family with this example – I have to travel an hour or more to visit family and doing so after church just makes for a long day that often tires me out.)

Is writing a blog a violation of the Sabbath? I am both energized and drained by writing blogs – I love hearing from God, but the act of getting the thoughts on paper is hard work. If I can write the blog, can I post it? While writing a blog is often enjoyable, posting it is drudgery.

Is mowing the lawn a violation of the Sabbath? Does it matter whether or not I enjoy mowing the lawn? Is taking a walk in the woods an acceptable activity? Is exercising? Is organizing a room if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?

I am not becoming legalistic about this…I understand the principle of staying God-focused and providing rest. I also understand the value of the Sabbath being a full day, not just the hours we spend in church or the day and an afternoon. Whether or not we like to admit it, our bodies were created to need down town. Our brains also work better when rested – and I don’t mean when we get the sleep we need. Our brains work better when they are given a break from thinking about the issues associated with our work, regardless of what that work is. I recognize that everyone’s work is different, so defining what constitutes not working will differ from person to person.

It’s important to recognize, though, that most of us are so un-Sabbath oriented, that our tendency is to violate the concept. I try to combat that by being very conscious of what I’m doing (and not doing) on my Sabbath.

Not only are we un-Sabbath oriented, we are as a culture to me-oriented. For example, a few paragraphs ago, I asked if I could organize a room on the Sabbath “if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.” Do you hear how me-focused that is? The Sabbath is supposed to be God-focused. It’s not about my accomplishments – actually, it’s supposed to be an anti-accomplishment day! (I’m thinking organizing the room violates the whole Sabbath principle.) God commanded the Sabbath as a blessing for us – a time toget away from our world and enter into His. What a great God He is!

Festivals! More Occasions to Worship God
In addition to the Sabbath, God identified annual festivals:

  • Passover
  • The Festival of Firstfruits
  • The Festival of Harvest
  • The Festival of Trumpets
  • The Day of Atonement
  • The Festival of Shelters (or Booths)

Each of the festivals focused on a different element of God’s goodness. Each involved worshipping God, although in different ways.

What impressed me most about the establishment of the holy days is that they developed a culture of worshipping God in special ways throughout the year. They took the people away from their daily lives to focus on the God who delivered them, who provides for them, the God who forgives them. These festivals were in addition to the practice of the weekly Sabbath.

We have lost that culture. We rush through church to be off doing our own thing. We take vacations (designed to help us “vacate”) instead of setting aside days and weeks throughout the year in which we worship God. I know few people who set aside a day or more during their vacation to celebrate, worship and honor God.

God is most honored by His people honoring Him. In America, I’m afraid we honor our time more – insisting that it be OUR time that we schedule Him into.

I don’t have answers in this blog – just questions about how we ought to live in a way that honors God. We’re not required to keep the festivals God instituted in Leviticus. But I think they reflect an approach to living that keeps God at the forefront of our life, and that requirement remains for all Christians. Lord, challenge us to return to You.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ramblings here. Comment below or on Facebook.

In the meantime…enjoy God!

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Set Apart for Holiness

7So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the LORD, am your God. 8Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the LORD, who makes you holy….

23Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things that I detest them so much. 24But I have promised that you will inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the LORD, am your God, who has set you apart from all other people.
Leviticus 20:7-8, 23-24 (NLT)

While these chapters may seem tedious, there are several things that I really like about them:

  • These chapters are all about God teaching the Israelites how to live a life worthy of being God’s chosen people. The repeated theme is “Be holy.” I love that God teaches us what we need to know. We aren’t expected to always know what is right and what is wrong. When we don’t know, we simply go to God who gives wisdom generously.
  • God tells the Israelites, and us by extension, to “set yourselves apart to be holy.” We are to live differently. We are to be proactive about it – we’re not to go with the flow, join the crowd or do our own thing. We’re to follow God’s approach to living. Sure, many of the verses in these chapters don’t apply to us today…but their underlying principles do. We’re to live more circumspectly, always aware that our God lives among us and He is a holy God.
  • Not only are we to set ourselves apart, God also makes it clear that He has set us apart. God is always the one who moves toward us first. He sent His Son so that we might have life…long before we were ever thinking of turning to Him. He set us apart to be His very own people…so we’re to set ourselves apart.

God is so good! He didn’t have to set us apart – He didn’t have to choose us. He doesn’t have to help me to become holy, but He does.

Loving Your Neighbor
These are the major principles of the chapters that I like, but there are also some individual verses that jump out at me. Did these verses wake you up as you read them?

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)

A few words catch my attention…Neverbear a grudgeagainst anyone…OK, Lord. You’ll have to help me with that sometimes. I’ll agree with you, but…please help!

Notice the second half of this verse – This verse didn’t originate with Jesus in the Gospels. He is quoting this verse. You won’t find the phrase “love your neighbor” anywhere else in the Old Testament. Pretty cool, huh? That buried in the midst of all these laws in Leviticus is the law Jesus said was the second most important one (Mark 12:31).

It’s a Life-Giving Law

If you obey my laws and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:5 (NLT)

Obeying God’s laws brings life. The stereotype, of course, is that God’s laws are restrictive and lead to a life that lacks joy. Not so. They bring life – LIFE! I’m reminded of this verse in the book of James:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:25 (NIV)

When are we going to get it through our heads (and hearts and wills) that making God-choices leads to blessing? I want the blessing. Lord, help me to make Your choices. Today we studied the book of 1 John with a group of friends. One of the promises this book carries is that if we pray anything according to God’s will, we can have confidence that He hears us and answers the prayer. (1 John 5:14-15) Asking God to help me make His choices is undoubtedly a prayer that is within His will. Praise God! I can have confidence that He is answering that prayer!

Living a set-apart life, pursuing holiness and seeking to make God-choices – three different ways of saying the same thing, actually – requires diligence and reliance on the Holy Spirit who is alive in us. He will teach us and enable us to live such a life. I want LIFE – how about you?

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Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, is the holiest, most reverent day of the year for Jews. Leviticus 16 records God’s institution of this holy day. It is the only day of the year in which the High Priest went past the veil inside the Tabernacle (and later the temple) and entered into the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. It was this veil that was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross (Luke 23:45). In the Old Testament, only the High Priest was permitted to enter the presence of God. Under the New Covenant, we are all welcomed to come boldly to God’s throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16) Hallelujah! Only God could tear the heavy veil from top to bottom. Only God could remove the separation of His presence from His people.

On the Day of Atonement the priests wore only simple linen clothing instead of the more decorative, richly embroidered tunic and sashes and gold medallion (or plate) they typically wore. One writer interpreted this as a picture of Christ who laid aside His glory to be born as a child who would one day be crucified for our sins (Philippians 2:7).

The Day of Atonement also introduces the scape goat. Two goats are presented to the Lord. One is slaughtered as a sin offering for the people of Israel. The other is presented to the Lord alive.

20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
Leviticus 16:20-22

The High Priest lays both hands on the goat representing that he is placing the fullness of their sins on the goat. The following passage is a prophecy about Jesus:

5    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.

6    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to his own way;
      and the LORD has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 55:5-6

Just as the sin of Israel was laid on the scape goat, our sin, in its totality, was laid on Jesus. He has carried our sin away from us just as the scape goat carried the sins of the Jews away from their camp.

The symbolism and imagery in the Day of Atonement ceremony clearly point to Christ. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who knew and followed the Law. Read this passage in light of Leviticus 16 and what we’ve learned about the Day of Atonement:

19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:19-28

The copies of the heavenly things are the manmade tabernacle and everything used in it. They were required to be purified with the earthly sacrifices. The heavenly things required better sacrifices – the sacrifice of Christ, who died for our sins and appears before God on our behalf. The High Priests had to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement every year, but Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to take away the sins once for all. Hallelujah! Do you see the cohesiveness of the whole Bible? The New Testament becomes so much richer when we understand more of its background. That background isn’t necessary for us to understand that Christ died for our sins, but it helps us understand the awesomeness of God as He unveils the mystery of His plan from beginning to end. The rituals of the Day of Atonement were repeated year after year – for over a thousand years. Then Christ came to earth and the ritual was fulfilled and a New Covenant was introduced. Again…Hallelujah!

Speaking of awesomeness – here’s a cool fact I learned. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known as the High Holy Days or Yammim Nora’im. Yammim Nora’im means “Days of Awe.” God reveals to us some of the mysteries of His presence and we are awed. Awed.

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The laws given in these chapters are quite some laws! It is probably my least favorite portion of the Bible. I typically eat breakfast while reading my Bible in the morning…except when I hit these chapters. I move to the New Testament reading, perhaps even reading a bit ahead…until I find an evening to read through this material. I appreciate that God is giving the Israelites laws for cleanliness, some I believe for healthy living and some to identify the Israelites as set apart from the nations around them.

Those who serve the God of the Israelites are to live differently – we are to live differently. Sometimes that means abstaining from certain foods or drinks, sometimes it means abstaining from certain activities. Always it means being more loving toward one another than those who don’ know our God.

I’m studying the book of 1 John with the folks at a local nursing home. This week we were in chapter 4.

“Beloved, let us love one another.” 1 John 4:7a

F.F. Bruce wrote the following about this verse in his commentary The Epistles of John:

“The love which the New Testament enjoins involves a consuming passion for the well-being of others.”

“A consuming passion for the well-being of others.”  That’s a radical way to live! It’s a biblical way to live!

As you can see, sometimes God uses Scripture to teach me, encourage me, convict me, or inspire me using the direct meaning of the text. Sometimes, as in the case of these chapters, He uses it circumspectly – to teach a tangential or underlying point – reminding me of another teaching that He wants to reinforce. All Scripture is profitable…

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