I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
We are glad to have the opportunity to study the book of Leviticus although the session is brief. Many people stay away from this book thinking that it is largely inapplicable to modern day Christians. But this book is one of the sixty-six books of the Bible, and the third of the first five books of the Bible called the Torah. God is the God of economy. He does not do anything which is not needed. When God included this book in the Scriptures, even in the first five books of the Bible, he had an important need to address.
What then is the need for it? We can find an answer to this question by noticing the position of this book among the other books in the Bible, particularly, the first five. Genesis is the first book. It is the book of creation and the book of the beginning. In it we find the beginning of all sorts of problems we have on our hands, especially, the problem of sin. Next, in Exodus, we see God working for the redemption of his people. As we saw last Monday, through one person, Moses, the Lord God led the Israelites out of Egypt to himself. It is in this context that the book of Leviticus comes in. Having been redeemed (or simply brought to the presence of God at Mt. Sinai), what is going to be the way for the Israelites to live? The key verse for today stands out to answer the question, for in Leviticus 11:45 it is written, "I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy." With this in mind, let us think about the subject (and the prayer topic) we have tonight, that is, holiness to God, in three parts: first, the holy way (1-10) [or, the way to God’s holiness]; second, the holy life (11-25); and third, the holy fruit (26-27).
First, the holy way (1-10).
We know full well that although the Israelites were saved from slavery in Egypt, they had all sorts of problems, particularly, the problem of sin. They were saved not because they had merits that deserved the Lord's salvation, but purely because of God's mercy and compassion for them. This means that they needed to be enlightened; they needed lots of discipline, education, and training.
Since they were far from being holy, the Lord had to come up with the courses by which to instill in them God's holy character. What then is the way of holiness? How is the Lord going to teach the Israelites the Lord's holy perfection?
The first ten chapters of the book of Leviticus address this issue. Here we see the Lord issuing instructions to Moses from the Tent of Meeting: instructions on offerings (or sacrifices), and instructions on the administrators (or mediators) of the offerings. Instructions about offerings speaks about various kinds of offerings and the way in which these offerings are to be offered to the Lord. The kinds of sacrifices they were to make include (and are not limited to): burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. There are instructions regulating the ways in which sacrifices are to be made on the altar. There are instructions by which priests are to be ordained--and they are to administer the way for the Israelites to come to the Lord, not according to their own ideas, but in the way prescribed by the Lord.
These instructions are designed to enlighten, teach, educate, and train the Israelites on the Lord's holy character. Practically, how do these devices generate the desired effect? Simply, these instructions serve as the process to rid the Israelites of the character traits that are inconsistent with the character of the Lord.
We are told that the Lord is holy. Characteristically, God's holiness consists in his infinite perfection. God is holy in that he is infinitely perfect in all areas of perfection - moral perfection, ethical perfection, spiritual perfection, and, of course, perfection in bringing about his infinitely perfect nature into a physical world.
For example, it has been consistently observed and said by saints that God is the God of love. Man's love comes with strings attached. But it is not so with God's love. In his love he seeks that which is perfectly good and pleasing to those to whom he directs his love. Another aspect of his holiness is his goodness. Speaking of God's goodness, Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone." This means that God is infinitely good, so that no one except God can be called as good. Since God is different, and therefore set apart from all in terms of goodness, we can say God alone is holy and therefore he is set apart from all others.
The Israelites were unholy. For example, they served their own interests even at the sacrifice of the interests of their neighbors. From a human point of view, some of them were somewhat good, and others somewhat evil. But compared to God’s goodness, all of them were thoroughly evil. For this reason the Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and "There is no one righteous, not even one."
But, having been redeemed from a slave market, the Israelites were to overcome their unholy character and mature to God's holiness. How are they going to achieve this daring ideal?
The simple reading of the Scriptures in Lev 1-11 indicate that God commanded the Israelites for the purpose of reminding them of their sinful conditions and to consider the consequences of their disobedience, repent and depart from ungodly ways of life, learn of God's holiness, and participate in the holiness of God all through God's provision.
At this moment I would encourage everyone to read Lev 1:3-9 and 5:17-6:13. Put yourself in the position a man bringing a young bull as a burnt offering. Remember that after bringing the offering,he was called to watch what the young bull had to undergo, for he had to see with his naked eye a priest slaughter the bull, let the blood out, sprinkle the blood against the altar on all sides, skin the bull, expose the raw flesh, cut the flesh into pieces, arrange wood, put fire on the altar, and let the pieces burn up until they turn into a handful of ashes!
Leviticus 1:4 reads, "He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him." The phrase "on his behalf" means "in lieu of him." The expression, "to make atonement 'for him'" tells us that the young bull is the man's substitute. It is the sinner who should have paid the penalty for the sin he committed, and yet, on his behalf, the young bull had to be sacrificed. In those days and still in our own day, a young bull is not cheap. It is very costly, even as costly as the price of purchasing a Honda Civic. Yet due to his sin, he had to see that much money going up into thin air. And the consequences of sin are not just monetarily deathly, for the Bible says that the wages of sin is death, and after that you have to face judgment.
In this way the Israelites were taught to remember and appreciate the grace of God's sin-forgiveness. They were trained to depart from the life of disobedience,and live as children of obedience, all according to God's provision.
Ultimately, these sacrifices listed in the Old Testament Scriptures foreshadow of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Levitical priesthood is a copy of the original, that is, Jesus, the eternal high priest for all who believe in him. [Since we covered this point at length in the study of the book of Hebrews so far we are not going to reiterate the point.]
Thanks and praise be to God the Father who sent Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Speaking of this thanks topic, the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:3, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."
The Lord called us to live as missionaries to this land. May the Lord bless us to deeply mediate on Jesus, the Way to God the Father, so that through his grace and power we would all depart from the life of sinful rebellion, participate in his holiness, and live as children obedient to him.
Second, the holy life (11-25).
In Chapters 11-25 the Lord sets forth in detail what it practically means to live as a holy nation. In Leviticus the word 'holy' is repeated 74 times. Again, the word "holy" means "different from" or "set apart from others”.
In the case of the Israelites, who were about to get into the Promised Land, the call to live a holy life meant that they were supposed to live lives that are different from the ways in which the local people, such as the Egyptians or the Canaanites, lived. These local people worshiped idols. Naturally, they adopted flesh-oriented, animalistic, and even sub-animalistic lifestyles. Some examples of their practices are so shameful that it is difficult to even mention (Lev 18).
The Israelites were to depart from the flesh-oriented, unprincipled, barbaric, uncivil, and ungodly ways of life. They were called to incorporate into their lives God’s holy standards. In all practical aspects of their lives they were to put God at the heart of their activities, so that God's name would be glorified.
This should be true on matters involving food (11), child-bearing (12), personal hygiene both in body (13-15) and soul (16), respect for and sanctity of life (17), sanctity of human sexuality (18), godly relationship with God, family members, neighbors, animals, nature and land (19,20), worshiping the Lord with integrity both on the part of the priesthood and laity (21,22), spiritual gatherings in celebration of the freedom of worship in the Lord (23), the life of constant prayer and supplication to the Lord at the Lord's temple (24), and keeping both the land and people free from slavery (25).
In this way, in Chapters 11-25, we see all different kinds of regulations regulating all different aspects of the life of the Israelites. But the overriding theme is this: "Be holy, because I am holy" (11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26).
Third, the holy fruit (26-27).
What then will the Lord do for the Israelites when they live a life that is holy? Let us read Lev 26:3-13 responsively. Promises include material blessings (vs. 3-5,10), peace and security (6-8), increase in number (9), and the Lord's presence among them (10-13).
These four categories of blessedness are going to be true individually and collectively. These are the biblical constant which the Lord God decreed to become applicable to all generations - past, present, and future. And the biblical constant is: holiness comes with fruitfulness. The Lord enforces the rule with mathematic precision.
The other side of the coin is equally true. When they put God out of their lives and live like pagans, becoming humanistic, seeking what is materialistic, and abandoning the holy mission as the members of the kingdom of priests and a holy nation, what will happen to them? A quick reading of Lev 26:14-39 will give us a clear idea.
When we think about the life in this so-called great nation America, we are truly concerned because on all the four accounts we cannot say that God's blessings are upon us. Financially, the United States of America is the greatest debtor nation among all nations. Recently, Fox news published the list of deadliest campus shootings in the United States, and the situation appears to be getting increasingly worse. Yesterday Shepherd Terry invited me to a dinner fellowship at his house. There he reminded me that we have over 90 children in the ministry. When I think about each of them, my thoughts fly out into the future like five, ten, fifteen years, when our children like my granddaughter Christyn or Marie go through junior or high school and college. What will they go through? What the environment will look like? These thoughts only make me scared.
But tonight we are greatly encouraged and even comforted to learn that when confess our sins, repent, and turn to the Lord, and be faithful to the holy mission, God will certainly remember his promises, and prove himself to be faithful to his promises.
So the future rests in our hands, not in the hands of political leaders, not in the hands of someone outside of the Downey ministry, but in your hands and in my hands, in the hands of each parent, and certainly in the hands of "young" missionaries.
[Chapter 27 teaches the Israelites the blessedness of the life that is dedicated to the Lord. Be it human services or materials that they choose to dedicate to the Lord, whatever they dedicate belong to the Lord, and the Lord taught them the preciousness of the life that is fully devoted to him.]
In conclusion, let us all read the key verse, Leviticus 11:45, “I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” Tonight then let us all pray together that America would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Let us pray that each of us would repent of self-seeking, materialistic, and carnally oriented ways of life. Let us repent of the sin of abandoning or ignoring the Lord's world mission command. Let us pray to deny ourselves, take up the holy cross of the holy mission, and follow Jesus who is the Lord of lords, and King of kings.