Today we are finishing our walk through the book of Leviticus. Reading through the Old Testament has come to a screeching halt many times as people come to Leviticus. We start at Genesis, which has so much story and is pretty fun: creation, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Next is Exodus, which also has so much story and is also pretty fun: Moses, Pharaoh, slavery, a burning bush, plagues, the Red Sea, the wilderness, manna, Mount Sinai and Moses up and down the mountain connecting with God, the golden calf, and the tabernacle…lev
Then you turn the page to Leviticus, and it feels like reading someone else's operation manual, and it’s tempting to just skip ahead. The thing is–and the focus of our walk-through on Sundays has been in building perspective and pulling in hyperlinks–understanding the concepts of Leviticus.
Exodus gives us the context from which they came–life “under” Pharaoh’s regime. Pharaoh was uncaring, not wanting relationship. Pharaoh was an oppressor. He was not interested in their needs but only in what he could get out of the Israelites. And relationship with God stands in stark contrast to this: God desires relationship with us, and what we do in that relationship matters. It has value in relationship with God.
Here’s what we’ve looked at in Leviticus so far:
The offerings. God desired and loved what they could offer. It mattered.
The priests. The priests had responsibility, to manage the tabernacle, to offer sacrifice for the people in relationship with God, and to speak the blessing of God on the people. Now Jesus is the high priest and we are the dwelling place of God.
The calling to be set apart. They (and we) were not set apart to be above, superior, or better than, but set apart in order to be a blessing.
The theme of atonement. Over and over again, the theme of atonement persists. Breaking of relationship with God happens, but the theme persists–atonement, a reconciliation to God through an offering. It is so easy to focus on the valid question of how it works, but it is key to bring into focus the realization that “I can’t believe it works!” As we see atonement happening, let’s marvel that it is an option.
Responding to relationship with God with appreciation and adoration. Being forced to appreciate is ineffective. Seeing what is worthy of appreciation and responding is effective. So we work to have perspective and let adoration and appreciation well up from there.
And today we come to the the plan moving forward: life in relationship with God. It is a plan of ongoing trusting of God, of intentional resets, of needs being met. It is a plan of justice and of continued dedication to the Lord.
Remember that Exodus ended with the tabernacle and God’s presence descending upon it–and Moses could not enter–and the question, IS IT ALL OVER? And now Leviticus ends with instruction moving forward, BECAUSE IT WAS NOT ALL OVER.
Today we are going to start off with a foundational, starting-point conversation. Here’s a phrase you’ve probably heard: “There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.” The idea is that it is impossible to get something for nothing. Whether or not anything free exists:
Why are people often suspicious of free things?
Today as we come to the last chapters of Leviticus (25-27), there is a sabbath of the land, a Year of Jubilee, a call to be obedient, a warning to not be disobedient, and a dedicating of things to the Lord.
Remember our theme: God desires relationship, and what we do in that relationship has value. As we come to the end of Leviticus, the hanging question is, are things all good with God now?
Let's move in this direction. I want you as a group to start building a list of injustices in our world. Big or small, historic or new, obvious or subtle, unusual or universal–grab a piece of paper and take 60 seconds to make a list.
Start building a list of injustices in our/your world.
There are many injustices. You might have included racial or gender injustices, or voting rights, or healthcare, or refugees or income gaps or gun violence or food insecurity. Injustices like these elicit responses–action, emotion, shame, rage, fear–and sometimes the response is obliviousness. (A non-response is still a response.) Sometimes those responses are extreme. Sometimes the response is internal. Sometimes that response is that non-response.
How is a response to an injustice impacted when injustice is unfair to you or to someone you love? Or when injustice works in your or someone you love’s favor?
It would be nice to think that my response would be the same either way. But the truth is, when an injustice negatively impacts me, I can’t NOT see it. But when an injustice doesn't impact me or works in my favor, I can be completely oblivious.
Reach out and grab that obliviousness. Hold it. Observe it. Inspect it. Feel it.
Now process this. Paul talks about the impact of what Jesus “did” and the impact on us:
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
This is beautiful! Grace. Freedom. Atonement. Amazing!
Now, injustice is defined as a lack of fairness or justice. Process this: Because of Jesus, we are given favorable injustice as we are forgiven. Paul says over and over and over again that because of Jesus, justice is overcome and right relationship with God is given.
Ready to process? I say it again: When an injustice doesn't impact me or works in my favor, I can be completely oblivious.
How does this obliviousness impact our understanding of God’s grace?
Christianity–our faith–has many tensions: faith and works, struggle and blessing, persecution and favor, humility and strength, God doing things apart from us and God doing things through us.
Paul in Romans 5 and 6 brings a tension into focus, one that is not necessarily intended to be resolved. A need for more grace is met with limitless grace–AND–limitless grace does not mean actions don’t matter.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)
The whole point of Leviticus again is that God desires relationship with us, and what we do in that relationship matters. Leviticus is building this theme, which is built through all of Scripture: as humanity can (and often does) spiral away from God, God is fervently working to open the door and make a way back to relationship with Him.
God desires relationship with us. So AMAZING!
As sin grows, grace grows. As we separate ourselves from God, He reaches out to us all the more. As we drift, He reaches. Then Paul asks a dialogue question:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1)
Grace is free. Relationship with God is available. God longs to have relationship with us. He will not fall short in being available for relationship with you, me, us, all…. What then? Let's talk through Paul’s dialogue question.
What is the impact of manipulating (abusing) God’s limitless grace?
Exodus ends with Moses not being able to enter the Tabernacle. This came after the failure of the golden calf (Exodus 32). But Leviticus is a process of restoration of what was broken. This is the tension–while the atonement was free, undeserved, and from God, it came with expectations.
Now in relationship with God, with Jesus as our High Priest, feel these words that feel like they have been pulled right from Leviticus:
Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:13-14)
It’s time to process. Keep in mind the theme of Leviticus that we have said over and over and over in this series: God desires relationship with us and what we do in that relationship matters. Let’s look at the tension.
There is a theme of free in relationship with Jesus:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:18)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22)
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)
Free, free, free! But there is the other side of the tension:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
What happens in a person as he or she fully embraces both the freeness of relationship with God and the cost of relationship with God?
As Leviticus comes to an end, there is an incredible statement made by God:
“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands: I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Leviticus 26:3,9-13)
This is in contrast to how Exodus ends. The initial hearers of this would have known the brokenness firsthand. Moses was up on the mountain, hearing from God, and the people gave up on him and God, and they made a golden calf:
He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4)
This was a moment of brokenness.
And as Leviticus comes to a close, there is a shift back to reality: I am God. I desire relationship with you. I was with you in the past. I am with you now.
We have talked about a number of things today: the suspiciousness of something being free; injustice and our differing responses to it; the ways our obliviousness affects our understanding of God’s grace; the impact of manipulating God’s limitless grace; and what happens in a person as he or she fully embraces the freeness of relationship with God and the cost of relationship with God. Here is our final question of this series:
What changes in a person as he or she moves from knowing to believing that God desires a relationship with us, and that what we do in that relationship matters?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Romans 5:20-6:14.
- What is the closest you have come to losing your life?
- What motivates you to live a good life?
- What has warred against that motivation in your life?
- What does it mean for you to be dead to sin? What does it mean to be alive to God?
- How does this text influence your perspective on what is a healthy relationship with God?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Samuel 12
- 2 Samuel 13
- 2 Samuel 14
- 2 Samuel 15
- 2 Samuel 16