Lent 2- February 25, 2018

“Levitical Rules” – Genesis 17:1-7,15-16


Lent 2 – February 25, 2018



Introduction: The Leviticus issue

OT lesson – renaming of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, BUT… skipped the verses in between. Those verses feature God establishing the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his descendants for generations to come. So, like cancer, this is another one of those dreaded, unspeakable ‘c’ words… at least for men and boys. I don’t want to talk about it hardly at all, except to say that it was the outward sign for males that they were part of God’s covenant people of Israel. (Any woman that was part of a circumcised male’s family was also included among God’s covenant people.) The sign, the oath, was that any male who has not been circumcised would be cut off from the Lord and His people.


Now, I’m just using this as a springboard to another topic suggested by one of you last year – Levitical rules and regulations, and are they still valid for us as Christians. The e-mail actually read like this: “What do we do with Leviticus, and how do we counsel others who are confused by it? I have one friend who started to read the Bible, but simply couldn’t get past the apparent contradictions Leviticus represents. Non-Christians often accuse Christians of being hypocritical on the basis of Leviticus: ‘you guys eat bacon, don’t kill your kids if they talk back to you, wear gold, what gives?’ We as Christians generally understand (I think) that this was the law of the Levites, but I’m a little fuzzy on what we as Christians should take from it today, and I’m sure others are as well!”


  1. Types of laws

First, we need to understand that there are three general divisions of the Mosaic law: the moral laws, the ceremonial laws, and the civil / judicial laws. The moral laws have been summarized by God for us in the Ten Commandments, and they are both the Old Testament reading and the sermon topic for next Sunday. The civil / judicial laws have to do with property issues, injustice issues, retaliation issues – like an eye for an eye – and they were not commanded to other nations. Neither were the ceremonial laws, which were given to the people of Israel for that time in order that the political and religious structure would continue until the birth and life of the promised Saviour.


  1. Levitical laws

First… what are Levitical rules and regulations? The ceremonial laws? Background – Jacob = Israel; 12 sons; Tribe of Levi = priests. Book of Leviticus = rules and regulations relating to priests and worship: the tabernacle (tent of meeting as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land) and later the Jerusalem temple; the various rites and garments and worship furniture and objects and cleanness / uncleanness and laws and offerings and sacrifices and feasts and holy days. That’s what the book of Leviticus is filled with.


Circumcision isn’t specifically a levitical law, because it was instituted in the time of Abraham hundreds of years before Moses, but it can be lumped in with all those things that the Jews were supposed to observe for all generations as part of the holy, set-apart people of God. The catalyst for this sermon subject was a flowchart entitled “This Flow Chart that Destroys Religion’s Case Against Gay Marriage is So Easy Any Zealot Can Use It.” Essentially it said that if you are against gay marriage on Biblical grounds, then – because that prohibition is found in Leviticus – you must accept all the other levitical laws including not eating pork or having tattoos or wearing gold jewellery or divorcing and marrying a second time. The last statement on the flowchart said, “Before joining a major religion, you should really read [the fine print].”


So, some of those old Jewish laws are timeless moral laws; others are time-bound religious laws that pertained only to the Jewish people. Yes, there is a law that threatens death for a man who lies with another man. In the very same context and chapter are death penalties for one who curses his father or mother, one who commits adultery, one who has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law or his mother-in-law or an animal. There are not quite as strong punishments for a man who sleeps with his sister or his aunt or his sister-in-law or with a woman during her monthly period.


The flowchart was suggesting that it’s gotta be all or none – either kill a boy who talks back rudely to his dad, or cut gay people some slack if they want to get married.


OK… since those of you who don’t have tattoos or haven’t remarried are probably wearing gold jewellery today or at least eat bacon for breakfast from time to time, we are all in deep trouble. Or are we?


  1. The Sabbath

Last Sunday someone placed a Vancouver Sun article (“We owe it to you.”) at my office door – by group of disgruntled former 7th Day Adventists: a very literal interpretation of events referred to in Revelation; prediction of a celestial invasion of demons posing as aliens; the pope holding up Sunday as a universal day of worship. Guy in Calgary – we’re breaking the 3rd Commandment by worshiping on Sunday. Same kind of Leviticus issues. Same kind of issues we heard about a month ago from Acts 15, where some people were saying that Gentile converts to Christianity had to abide by all the Jewish laws, including that ‘c’ word. So, how do we wiggle our way out?


  1. The purpose of the laws

The purpose of those laws: emphasizing timeless right and wrong (mostly moral laws); and foreshadowing (mostly religious / worship laws). The emphasizing of right and wrong was spoken in very strong language – wickedness, detestable, abomination, death threat punishments – because other nations (like the ones currently living in the promised land) were already practicing some of those terrible things, and God wanted his people to be set apart and holy. The ceremonial laws were the ones that ended up being foreshadowing.  So let’s consider those…


  1. Levitical foreshadowing of Christ

In literature or movies, the purpose of foreshadowing is to signal or prepare people for a plot twist or revelation later in the book or play or movie.

Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet: when the Capulet’s party is breaking up, Juliet sends the Nurse to find out Romeo’s name. As the Nurse chases after Romeo, Juliet says, “If he be married. / My grave is like to be my wedding bed.” She means that if Romeo is married, she will die unmarried, because she will never marry another, but she is also unknowingly foreshadowing her own fate, in which her grave does become her wedding bed.


God uses foreshadowing in the Bible to prepare the people of Israel for the Promised One. Already in Genesis 3, for instance, God signals to Adam and Eve the coming of one who would crush Satan’s head. In Deuteronomy 18, God promises to raise up, in the future, a prophet like Moses. (A couple of Sundays ago, we heard about how Moses showed up at that future prophet’s transfiguration.) In the Book of Numbers, while the people of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land, the people grew impatient, grumbled against God, and God sent venomous snakes to bite them. When they repented, God advised Moses to make a bronze snake and set it up on a pole, so that all who looked at it could live. (The snake on a pole is still today a symbol of the healing profession.) Just before the famous John 3:16, Jesus said that this Old Testament event pointed to Him, foreshadowed Him, lifted up on the cross, that everyone who looks at Him with belief will live eternally.


But some of the main foreshadowing things come in those Levitical worship laws. And Jesus made clear in one of the very early sermons of His ministry that He had not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them – EVERYTHING in them.


For instance, the whole Passover event and meal. OK, it first took place in Exodus, not Leviticus, but it was definitely a ceremonial event that took place during the same time frame as the rules in Leviticus were issued and that the Israelites were to retell and really relive every year with very specific words and ceremonies. Egypt – last plague – Passover Lamb – blood shed; meal of remembrance (more than remembrance, telling the story – getting involved in it, taking to heart the freedom, identity, new life, promised land – ALL given by a gracious God). But what it really foreshadowed was the coming of the Lamb of God – pure, spotless, without blemish, who would die to achieve freedom, identity and new life for all who trust in Him. When He was celebrating the ceremonial event of the Old Testament Passover with His disciples, Jesus turned the meaning of it for us… urging them and us to retell and relive the story of His great deliverance – through His body and blood spilled on the cross of Calvary. Holy Communion. Receiving the forgiveness Jesus offered so freely, and the Promised Land of heaven.


Scape goat – The idea of a “scapegoat” is mentioned in Leviticus 16 as part of God’s instructions to the Israelites regarding the once-a-year Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would first offer a sacrifice for his sins and those of his household; then he would perform sacrifices for the nation. “From the Israelite community [the high priest was instructed] to take two male goats for a sin offering…” The priest brought the animals before the Lord and cast lots between the two goats – one to be a sacrifice and the other to be the scapegoat. The first goat was slaughtered for the sins of the people and its blood used to cleanse the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar. After the cleansing, the live goat was brought to the high priest. Laying his hands on the scapegoat, the high priest was to “confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. [Then he would] send the goat away into the wilderness… carry[ing] on itself all their sins to a remote place.” Symbolically, the scapegoat took on the sins of the Israelites and removed them. For Christians, this is a foreshadowing of Christ.

Christ is the complete atonement for our sins. He is the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” as a sacrifice for our sins. And He is our scapegoat. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our sins were laid on Christ – He bore our sins just as the scapegoat bore the sins of the Israelites.


OK… for all the bacon lovers out there, let’s deal with that prohibition against eating pork (and other animals). Both Jesus and God’s vision to Peter undid that prohibition. Jesus said that things that go into a man’s mouth and then stomach don’t make a person unclean, because they don’t affect his heart. The editorial note in Mark 7 adds, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’” In Acts 10, Peter saw a three-fold vision of unclean foods (presumably including pork of some kind) that God told him to kill and eat. Peter knew better, according to the ceremonial laws of clean and unclean foods, but this was a lived out parable that told Peter that all foods were now considered clean, and that all people – including Gentiles – were also clean in God’s eyes, and could receive God’s grace through the Gospel. So, according to Peter and Jesus… bacon, ham, pork chops, sweet and sour pork ribs – they’re all kosher!!


  1. Christ – the Reality!

One more thing we should deal with is the Sabbath, the topic addressed by my parishioner in Calgary and by the Vancouver Sun ad. Are we truly breaking the Third Commandment by worshiping on Sundays? Besides the New Testament evidence of Christians worshiping on Sundays to honour and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Colossians 2 deals clearly with this topic. Listen: First, Paul sets aside both circumcision and the Levitical laws saying that “[God] canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us…” God canceled it!! For us who live under the new covenant, the new testament in Christ, the old ceremonial laws are null and void. But then Paul goes on quickly to address the festivals, and holy days, and specifically the Sabbath. He writes, “Do not let anyone judge you… with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath Day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” That deals with it in a nutshell. The Sabbath, the day of rest, is just a shadow, a foreshadow, of the spiritual rest that we have in Jesus. During His own ministry, Jesus had spoken of the same issue when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, God didn’t make a holy day and then make people to honour it. On the sixth day of creation, God made human beings, and then on the seventh day, He set aside the Sabbath as a day of rest and refreshment for people in their bodies and their spirits. Luther, too, emphasized that the Sabbath was not so much about the holy day as the holy Word of God that we honour and hold sacred on the Sabbath as we gladly hear and learn it. The ceremonial laws were just shadows, but the reality, Paul said, is found in Christ and is Christ.


“What a wonderful world” hand shadows video.


We see the shadows, but they are really just the absence of light… the reality is the hand. The Jews experienced the shadows of the Sabbath and the ceremonial laws, but they were just the absence of the real meaning. The reality, the meaning is found in Jesus. We, as Christians, live in that reality of Jesus, that love of Jesus, that grace of Jesus, that life of Jesus. That’s the fine print of our religion! Amen!!


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