Allen Jackson - Leviticus - Part 1
Just in case you haven't been watching or you've been distracted, folks, free speech is gone. Zuckerberg this week, Meta, Facebook, whatever the label of the week is, acknowledged that they had taken down over 18 million posts during COVID because at the time they were told they were misinformation. They admitted to taking down 18 million posts around COVID. It makes you wonder how many other millions of posts they took down over other issues with which they disagreed or they had bad information. He now says the information that caused him to take down those posts was most likely not accurate.
Again, you know, when we're living in the midst of it, it's often difficult to understand what's happening, but the civil liberties that we have imagined have been part and parcel of our lives and the freedoms that were guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights, for the most part, have been swept aside. They've become convenient when they're useful for some, but they're certainly not being applied equally for the citizens of our nation any longer. And if you're oblivious to that or haven't been paying attention to that, why we would talk about that in church, it has a great deal to do with who we are. They've already closed churches, they have already demonstrated their willingness to cancel the privilege of peaceful assembly, which, again, is a constitutional right.
And somebody with whom I disagree on many things, Robert Kennedy, said to me, "Once the government assumes an authority that doesn't belong to them, they never yield it again. They simply wait for the next reason to assert the authority they've already established". So it's not that you need to look for further evidence or gain more, the church has to be awakened. And we have to understand that the freedoms and liberties that we have... this is the important part. The freedoms and liberties we have, come from God. They don't begin with governments. I earned a degree in history. Governments are not about freedom and liberty. Governments are about oppression and authority.
What made our nation unique was it was an exercise in something that had never been done before, in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And we're over 200 years into that experiment, and they have found many, many ways to usurp the authority of the people. And the only hope of that returning, I believe, is the church, and a change of heart on our behalf that we would once again submit to the authority of God. If we will do that, I believe our children and grandchildren might, once again, know freedom. If we don't do that in ways we have not yet done, I'm not suggesting we go back to anything. I'm suggesting we have to have a response we have never seen before. If we will do that, I believe we will see God respond.
Please don't be confused. Justice is no longer meted out equally. The Department of Justice and the most powerful law enforcement agencies in our nation are used punitively. Freedom of speech has been suspended until it's convenient. It's a time unlike any that we have seen, and yet the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well, hallelujah. I believe the only resolution is a heart change, which, with enthusiasm, brings me to the lesson tonight. How many of you are doing the daily Bible reading with us? What are the rest of you doing?
All right, I know there's more than one plan. I'm not suggesting the only way to read your Bible is with us, but the systematic, daily, purposeful reading of your Bible is essential to your spiritual health. I don't believe you can protect yourself against the deception that is growing increasingly prevalent if you don't have that routine investment in the Word of God. And I don't mean reading your favorite book over and over again, or a promise from the promise box. I mean a systematic reading of the Bible. Well, if you're doing that with us, you know the good news. We have begun the book of Leviticus, and in honor of that momentous occasion, I wanted to take a couple of sessions and focus on the book of Leviticus.
Now, I know you're gonna clamor for more because it's such an exciting book, but for the moment, be content with two. I think if we can understand the lessons, I would submit to you and what I want to invite you to is kind of a high-level view of the book of Exodus. If we can understand the purpose for which it was written and some of the circumstances around it, I believe it can provide some very important insight for you and me in the midst of the world we face right now. I would suggest to you that the book of Leviticus really is about lessons in repentance: what to do when you need reconcile to God. And it gives us some instructions with a great deal of clarity. But that is never, ever easy. It wasn't easy for the Hebrew slaves that found themselves in the Sinai. It wasn't easy for the audience of Jesus's day. It has not been easy for the church at any point in our history.
And I don't believe it'll be easy for us in the 21st century, but it is essential if God's people are to fulfill his purposes. And so I'll start in Matthew 15 with a passage from Jesus that we've looked at before where Jesus is giving some instructions. "He called to the crowd and he said, 'Listen and understand.'" So that's the assignment. We need to listen to what Jesus is about to share with us, and then we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand it. That's the challenge. Excuse me. "Jesus said, 'What goes out of a man's mouth doesn't make him "unclean," but what comes...'" I mean, sorry, "'What goes into a man's mouth doesn't make him "unclean," but what comes out of his mouth, that's what makes him "unclean".' Then the disciples came to him and said, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'"
Well, it's a little bit blind to us, but for Jesus's audience, they were convinced that their spiritual health, their wellbeing, their righteousness, had a tremendous amount to do with what went on their fork. I don't know, we come from many different backgrounds. On a typical weekend we'll be here for more than 60 different Christian traditions. So we have a lot of different rule sets we've been exposed to, but everybody here has some things in mind that if you saw somebody that you thought was a good Christian doing them, it would disqualify them. Well, for Jesus's audience, when he said, "What's on your fork doesn't matter. What comes out of your heart matters more," they could not get their minds around that. I mean, yes, he could raise the dead and heal the sick and open blind eyes and walk on the water, but now he's just jabbering nonsense, because he's threatening their systems.
See, I think we've got to be prepared for God to shake some of our systems. We're gonna have to learn some new ways. We're too comfortable. We're too boxed in. We're too smug. We think we're too, you know, we're good to go. There's problems in the world, yes, but it's not us. Folks, it's our watch. This is our watch, we're the salt and light, so if the darkness overwhelms us, it's on us. The disciples come to Jesus and they said, "You know, Jesus, you didn't understand. You offended them". Bless their hearts. You know, it's very clear with just a casual read of the Gospels, the disciples struggled to keep up. "And Jesus replied, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.'" Pulled up by the roots, destroyed. "'Leave them; they're blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.'"
Now, these are orthodox, observant Jewish leaders. They read Torah portions in every Sabbath in the synagogue. They're fastidious in their observance of the Mosaic law, more than 600 rules. They tithe on the spices they buy in the marketplace. Of all the people on the planet, they're a group of people making an extraordinary effort towards God, and yet Jesus's description of them is they're blind guides; leave them. Are we ready for that kind of a reorientation? The Messiah is in their midst. God is moving in the most remarkable ways, and they're protecting their turf, their allegiances. "And Peter said, 'Explain the parable to us.' And Jesus said, 'Are you still so dull?'"
And we've laughed at them before. Let's not do that. We're gonna see them one day. We don't wanna spend our entire life laughing at the portions of scripture where they got it wrong. They got it right a lot of times, amen? But yeah, some days we're all pretty dull. "Jesus said, 'Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?'" No, they didn't see that. They didn't see that. That's why I take a minute from time to time to say to you, "Do you see what's going on"? We talk about free speech but we don't have it. We talk about civil liberties but they've been suspended. We talk about justice that's equal before the law but it's not practiced. Don't you see?
No, it's hard to see, 'cause we're busy and we have dreams and aspirations and we're reasonably affluent and we have food to eat and, in the same way, Jesus said, "Don't you see, what enters your mouth goes into your stomach and out of the body"? No, they didn't see that. "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander". Jesus wasn't trying to be political, but he's talking about things that are bantered about in our culture. "These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands"? That doesn't make you unclean. It might make you sick, but it won't make you unclean. A lot of the dietary rules that were given to the Hebrew slaves en route to the Promised Land was to help them flourish physically. We turned them into expressions of righteousness, wrongly.
Now, from that we can understand a couple of things. It's difficult to learn when God is teaching us. He's going to push our boundaries and our expressions and we're gonna chafe at that. Tradition, far too frequently, trumps God's truth. Self-righteousness is a very powerful deception. Our enemy will use it. I can show you how difficult it is. Peter was very much engaged in that interaction in Matthew 15. That predates Jesus's betrayal, it predates his passion. That means this is before Gethsemane, it's before Peter draws his sword and cuts off an ear. It's before he denies the Lord. It's before the Crucifixion, it's before the Resurrection. It's before the Ascension.
There's a lot of learning to go on. They had a 40-day seminar with Jesus after his Resurrection on the kingdom of God. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit was poured out and thousands of people in Jerusalem were baptized. He and John are on the way to the temple to pray and a man stops them, begging, and he's healed and the whole city is stirred. There's such an anointing on Peter's life that they're bringing people from all the surrounding villages to be prayed for and it's overwhelming, so they just put 'em in the street and if his shadow falls upon them, they're healed. Peter's on a roll. And we get to Acts 10. Peter has a vision of a sheet let down from heaven filled with things that he's not supposed to eat. And God said, "Kill and eat". I put Peter's answer in your notes.
"He said, 'Surely not! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' And the voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'" This is Peter, the one that cut off the ear, the one that's reinstated at the end of John's Gospel. "Peter, feed my sheep". Peter that preached on the Day of Pentecost. Peter that's the rock in Jerusalem. And he still understands his righteousness is to be linked to what's on his fork. Man, if Peter can be struggling with that, with the experiences and opportunities he had, can we have enough humility to admit there's a very high degree of probability we're going to struggle to embrace what God needs us to become in this most unique season? You see, we wanna believe everybody else is the problem. It's the politicians and it's them and who and so on. No, there's enough of us on this campus tonight to change the course of a nation, if God could change our hearts. It's true.
So let's go to the book of Leviticus and see if we can understand some lessons in repentance that can unleash God's purposes in us. In us. I'm gonna suggest to you that it's a book of instruction regarding repentance and holiness. I'd like to be better at repenting. I'd like to know how to walk uprightly before God in a greater way than I know now. I would, I'd like to know how to walk in holiness and purity and integrity before the Lord. It's a book that addresses a pretty narrow window of time. It really, it's a message that was given to the former slaves of Egypt while they're in the Sinai between the Red Sea and en route to the Promised Land. I mean, it really comprises about a month or so, which is very different.
The book of Genesis spans an enormous amount of time, the book of Exodus spans matters of decades, but the book of Leviticus is a relatively narrow window of time. It represents a short period of time where God is providing essential instructions to his people that will help them for generations to come. And a primary theme has to do with offerings. It's instructions around offerings in a great deal of detail. The kind of offerings to bring, to whom you should present them. What to do with the offerings after they're presented. If they come from a flock or a herd, if it's cattle or sheep. But if you'll allow me, I would suggest there are some categories around offerings that we wanna take just a moment with. One is that the offerings have to be unblemished.
Now, that seems obvious, if you're gonna offer it to the Lord, you have to bring something that's good but, human nature being what it is, how many of you know it's not very long before the Israelites started bringing the culls from the flock? They didn't bring the best. The best were worth more. They were worth more in the marketplace, so they brought the ones that were worth less. Well, let's not shake our heads, folks. We all understand the battle within our hearts to give with generosity. The offerings were about atonement. The best definition of atonement, or the simplest definition I would know is it's about restoration. Kind of the modern version of that is it's at one-ment. It's about being at peace with God, but that's really inadequate, particularly in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.
Atonement is about restoration, restoring something. The offerings require a priest. You can't just make an offering to God because you were in the mood or you need to. There were specified individuals that could receive the offerings. You have to let that settle in a little bit. We've been so inundated with this egalitarian idea, one person, one vote. Everybody's equal before the law, you know? We used to talk about that stuff. That it's encroached on our faith life. God's not like us. God has given us the instructions on how to approach him, how to engage with him, how to have a relationship with him, the same way you would need instructions if you were going to survive exposure outside the earth's atmosphere. You can't just do it because you want to. There's an objective to these offerings, and the real objective is to be pleasing to the Lord.
Do you understand the primary objective of your life and mine is to be pleasing to the Lord? We've perverted that and we think the objective of a relationship with God is that he would please us. How much time do we spend telling God he's not doing his job? And then there are some very specific instructions around these offerings. I mean, very specific. What you do with the animals, how they're to be slaughtered, what you do with the parts. Again, I wanna try to stay above that a bit, but let's just take these for a moment and put them in a larger context of scripture because they're not just Old Testament ideas. They don't go away with Malachi. It's a pathway to repentance and holiness and humility, and the power of God in the midst of his people.
As long as God's people walked in the truth that's presented to them in the book of Leviticus, their enemies were powerless to overcome them. It didn't matter how greatly outnumbered they were, how much more sophisticated their adversaries may have been. It didn't matter how under-resourced the Israelites were. God in their midst made them be triumphant. When they forfeited their relationship with him, they lost the authority they needed to be victorious. So when we see a defeated church, we understand it's not our enemies that have grown powerful. We have lost a sight or vision of what our source of authority is. The sacrifices had to be unblemished.
Look at Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word". Jesus gave himself up for his church. "To present her," the church, "to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless". If you've never read the book of Leviticus, you might not know why that matters. Jesus met every righteous condition of any sacrifice that was ever directed to be brought. "Without blemish, without stain or wrinkle," and his intent is the church would reflect that. So as long as we're still creating blemishes and stains and wrinkles, we've got to be coming with attitudes of humility and repentance.
1 Peter 1:18: "You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect". Jesus met the righteous requirements of the law for the sacrifice to redeem us, but that's intended to be reflected in our lives. And we have limited that to the point of conversion. We are birthed into the kingdom of God that we might learn how to walk uprightly before God. Our goal is to attain to lives without blemish. It's hard just to get out of the parking lot that way. The second part of those offerings is they're all centered in this notion of atonement or restoration.
Leviticus 1:4, it's not in your notes, but it is in Leviticus. It was in your reading today. It says: "The priest 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 point of all these offerings, from the flock or the herd or the grain or whatever, is to make atonement for sin. See, we've got to be honest enough to acknowledge there's a breach in our relationship with God. Creation has been badly damaged or altered. What we watch in the world is not what God intended. Our world is not in the condition that God created us to be. We're fallen, and we need a power beyond ourselves to bring redemption. The hubris of human beings to suggest that we will make the world better apart from faith, apart from a living God.
You see, I think the church, the people I interact with most frequently, we're a bit intimidated by the so-called intellectuals, the World Economic Forum, or the group that meets here, or the group that gathers there, and they're gonna dictate how to make the world better, and we're a little reluctant to say, "Well, I believe God created us male and female and he established marriage and established an authority in the home, and that would make the world better".
There's no more important component of our lives than having peace with God. If we have peace with the Creator of heaven and earth, everything else in our lives is negotiable. So at the heart of our faith is how do we establish that peace? Do we earn it? Do we go to church frequently enough? Do we read our Bibles? Are we kind or polite? Well, the short answer is it's centered in the redemptive work of Jesus. But then we have to give application to that. We have to take it and believe it, and we have to continue to live that out. That is the journey of a Christ follower. I wanna close this session today with a prayer with you and if there's anything that we need to lay at the foot of the cross, we wanna relinquish that now before God so we can walk uprightly before him. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you for the blood of Jesus, that it cleanses us and washes us and renews us, that through his sacrifice we have been redeemed from the hand of the enemy. We come today and thank you for that, in Jesus's name, amen.