Learning from Leviticus

Having read through and preached a sermon on the entire book of Leviticus, I made the startling conclusion that it’s one of the most powerful books in the Bible. It’s such a powerful display of God’s holiness and the call for God’s people to be holy, all pointing to Christ. I’ll be posting some thoughts on Leviticus this week. To begin with, I wanted to share some reflections on the priesthood.

God gave a temple where he could be worshiped. Then he gave sacrificed that were to be offered up at the tabernacle in worship. Finally, Israel was given a special group of men to serve as spiritual leaders, overseeing the worship of the Holy God. These were the men of the priesthood. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was called out by God to be the high priest of Israel. And it was from his tribe, the Levites, that all the priests were to come.

The priests’ duty was to ensure that God was worshiped in such a way that his holiness was not compromised. Not compromised that he would cease to be holy, but rather that his holiness was taken seriously. This involved two things. First, it involved teaching. In chapter 10, God says, “you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (10:11). This would have meant some organized way of instructing the people about the Law given to them by God, as well as making decisions about the outworking of that Law in everyday life. Beyond that, though they were to serve the people by offering their sacrifices to the Lord and maintaining the tabernacle. This is covered in much more detail in the first chapters of the book.

Because of this special service to Israel, the priests were supposed to be especially holy before the Lord. Both ceremonially and morally. The priests were to like their sacrifices – whole and without physical defect. They were to be like elders whose children would not bring them to public shame. And they had to maintain the Law of God like the rest of Israel.

Sadly, it’s right after the institution of the priesthood, that we see one of its failings. In chapter 10, we read of Aaron’s sons who are priests, yet they decided to take it upon themselves to do things the way they wanted in the worship of the Lord. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. [2] And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. [3] Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”

Nadab and Abihu offered something – we really don’t know what it was – but it was something foreign to the instructions God has given to the priests. They wanted to worship the Lord I the way they thought best. And it cost them their life.  They weren’t the only one who sinned, but in their roles as priests, they were held to a high accounting. They were to serve as mediators between God and his people. They were to display his holiness to Israel. Their sinful actions were going to disgrace God’s holiness so they were judged more harshly.

Now that Christ has come, there is no more formal priesthood. He alone is the one who offered the perfect sacrifice for sin, ending the need for any other. Nevertheless, the New Testament shows that in one way, the priests are like our pastors today.  Furthermore, there is a sense in which every Christian serves together as a priesthood. The New Testament calls the Church a “kingdom of priests” and says that we are called to mediate God to one another and the world.

Baptist theologian, Timothy George, helps explain this. He says, “in the community of saints, God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other. We stand before God and intercede for one another, we proclaim God’s Word to one another and celebrate His presence among us in worship, praise and fellowship. Moreover, our priestly ministry does not terminate upon ourselves. It propels us into the world in service and witness. It constrains us to ‘show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9).’”

When I was in college, there was a young man in my dorm who came to school – like many freshmen (including me!) – very immature. And knowing that I was in training for ministry, one of the things that he always used to do was get on me about my Christian witness. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he always did in such a way as to excuse himself from godly behavior. So it was like, ‘It doesn’t matter if I do this or that, but you can’t do this or that because you’re going to be a pastor!”

There is a sense in which he’s right, but he’s right in a distorted way.  Above all, the pastor is to be holy.  But those same moral obligations are actually put on every Christian because the call to the Christian life is not one of lazy morality and cheap grace. It’s a calling to holy service before the Lord. Just as he is holy, all of God’s people must be holy.   Even more so in this new covenant, every Christian is called to a high standard of living because of the high standard of ministry we have – to encourage one another and give witness about Christ to the world.

Through the power of the gospel, by faith in Christ, may we fulfill God’s holy calling on our lives.

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