In our first moments today, let's dive into conversation.
What is it that separates a difficult class/test/task that you love from one that you hate?
Last week we talked about why we talk in church. It’s not so that everyone can be given the “correct” answers. It’s so process can begin. In the process is where identity is found, and in the process is where it is lived out.
Faith, spirituality, relationship with Christ, church community–they are not about obtaining all the information. Information has become cheap: “Just google it!” Process and processing is where the value is, where the higher levels of learning are.
Today we are walking into a new series: Leviticus. Believe it or not, Leviticus is not the Most Boring Class Ever!
Today we focus on chapters 1-7, and you as you read it you may be wondering about the engagement factor and applicable content to 7 chapters on sacrifice.
Again, this series is an invitation to process.
And as we process Leviticus, we need to remember that it is about two things. First, it’s about God’s love for humanity and His desire for relationship with humanity. Second, it’s about how humanity’s actions matter in that–how actions matter in that relationship with God.
God set apart Abraham and his descendents with a covenant:
“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:17-18)
Abraham's descendants were Issac and Jacob.Genesis is not an overly glowing view of these patriarchs, but God desires relationship with them and with humanity.
Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. While Rebekah was pregnant with them, it was like a battle happening inside her. She asked God what was going on. God answered:
The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
It was foretold that the younger–Jacob–would be the “blessed.” But then the narrative of Jacob’s life is his trying to take / get / buy / steal what God had promised to him already.
Jacob had 12 sons. Joseph was favored, and he had a big head about it and a nice coat. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery, which brought him to Egypt. Joseph had his ups and downs but rose in power, and when famine came, his brothers came for help. Jacob and family came to Egypt and they did well and grew in number and in stature.
Joseph was long forgotten when the new Pharaoh saw the descendants of Jacob’s family flourishing and subjected them to slavery, servitude, oppression, and infanticide.During htt time, Moses was born of an Isrealite, but when placed in the Nile to die, he was rescued and adopted by one of Pharaoh's daughters. Moses as an adult murdered to protect “his” people and was forced to flee. From there he married into a family and was a shepherd in the middle of the wilderness when God spoke to him in a burning bush:
“Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)
God used, empowered, entrusted Moses. It was an epic showdown between God and Pharaoh the “god”: Calling for release. Denial. Greater persecution. Plagues. Passover. Release. Chase.Crossing the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). Freedom!
But almost immediately the freedom is tied to grumbling:
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:22-24)
There was God’s provision. There was clarity of relationship (the commandments). There were struggles and failures. There was grace and relationship with God.
In all of the highs and lows, in the successes and failures, in the victories and defeats, God was with them. This presence was signified in the constructing of the Tabernacle, which signified the presence of God in Israel. And this is where Leviticus lies.
Leviticus takes place within the story of the Israelites' Exodus after they escaped Egypt and reached Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1). The Book of Exodus narrates how Moses led the Israelites in building the Tabernacle (Exodus 35–40) with God's instructions (Exodus 25–31). In Leviticus, God tells the Israelites and their priests, the Levites, how to make offerings in the Tabernacle and how to conduct themselves while camped around the holy tent sanctuary.
Leviticus takes place during the month or month-and-a-half between the completion of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:17) and the Israelites' departure from Sinai (Numbers 1:1, 10:11).
And in all of this again we see God’s love for humanity and desire for relationship with humanity, and that humanity’s actions matter in that–how actions matter in that relationship with God.
In Leviticus 1-7 there are repeated instructions on sacrifice and offering. What does this have to do with us? Animals, blood, altars… We might be tempted to skip it, but I think there is really something to process. Start to feel it as we process today.
Let me ask you a question. Think about how often sacrifice is part of cinematic story. Dig deep into this:
Why is personal sacrifice a common and compelling part of story?
Scripture says many things about God and who He is.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. (Psalm 145:17)
For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20)
“There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2)
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. (Psalm 147:5)
As we process the greatness of God, let’s bring God’s desire to have a relationship with us into the mix. Biblical narrative from the beginning is not a story of humanity trying to get to God, but of God coming to humanity.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelations 3:20)
In Leviticus the people were just months from their time in Egypt. They knew Pharaoh as the “god.” Joseph was long forgotten.
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.” (Exodus 1:8-9)
And Pharaoh oppressed the Isrealites. He was uncaring and unempathetic. They were seen as subhuman. He subjected them to infanticide. He was definitely not wanting relationship!
There was the showdown between God and Pharaoh. God won. And now as we pick up Leviticus, God–the exact opposite of Pharaoh–desires relationship with the people.
What does it tell you that God, in His greatness, wants a relationship with us?
The word “offering'' is used 28 times in the first 7 chapters of Leviticus.
There were several different offerings with different instructions. There are burnt offerings. There are grain offerings. There are fellowship offerings, which are related to the Hebrew “shalom” meaning “wholeness” or “peace,” and they are therefore also known as peace offerings. There are also sin offerings and guilt offerings. Offering as a gateway to relationship.
What does Old Testament sacrifice communicate about God and humanity?
Then there is the now. When Jesus died on the cross, the Temple curtain tore.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split. (Matthew 27:51)
This was so much more than God-vandalism. It was a picture of what was happening. The old covenant, as in Leviticus, changed with Jesus.
Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:1-15)
What does Christ’s sacrifice communicate about God and humanity?
The Jewish understanding of sacrifice was not giving up something of personal value; it was giving up what God already provided.
God provided all.
Sacrifice was not a call to give up what you produced or earned or did. The call to sacrifice was a call to trust God–trust that He would provide again.
Paul says in Romans 12,
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)
We have processed these things today: difficult classes we have despised and those we loved, why sacrifice is a compelling part of story, and what it tells us that God wants relationship with us. We started the process of understanding us and God better through the lens of Old Testament sacrifice and through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice.
In all of this, here’s one more thing to process:
Why and how are we called to see our lives as living sacrifices to God?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Hebrews 9:1-15.
- When you were a child, what places or things were off limits for you?
- What is your gut-level response to guilt? How is it similar to or different from other people in your world?
- How would you explain Jesus’ sacrifice to a nine year old?
- How would you like to have it explained to you?
- What is the value of relationship with God? What is the cost to relationship with God?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- 1 Samuel 13
- 1 Samuel 14
- 1 Samuel 15
- 1 Samuel 16
1 Samuel 17