Allen Jackson - Leviticus - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you today. Our topic is "Lessons in Repentance". It's really taken from the Book of Leviticus. We're reading through that together in this season. It's not the most quoted book in the Bible, but the principles of Leviticus populate the New Testament. It leads us to what we need to do to walk uprightly before God, and spoiler alert: there's more to that than just going to church. It's an exciting lesson. Grab your Bible and a notepad; but most importantly, open your heart to the invitation to the Spirit of God. Let's walk in the freedom that's ours in Jesus.
Although the whole point of the incarnation was he understood the frailty and the weakness of our earth suit and our human condition. And he suffered, so he's able to help us when we're tempted. Look at Hebrews 9: "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offer himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, that we can serve the living God"! How do we improve our service to God? By having our consciences cleaned more thoroughly. See, we've wanted to think that was a one-time event. "Oh, yeah, yeah, I repented". No, we still live in this world and the world has too much of a hold on us. There's more of the world in us than there should be and too little of the fear of God. And if we can reverse that, the church will change. The good news is we're empowered for this, folks. God is present to help us. His Spirit is within us. A priest is required. You and I require a priest.
Now, the good news is we have a High Priest. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He's passed through the heavens. The one who offered himself as a sacrifice on our behalf is also the one who is alive watching over us. That's an amazing assertion of Scripture. But our approach to God is through Jesus. It's what makes Jesus unique and why the Jesus story is so essential. It's why people say there are many ways to God, and we shouldn't be so heated up about Jesus, that they're taking the heart out of the gospel. There is no peace with the Creator of heaven and earth apart from Jesus of Nazareth. There aren't many paths to that. It does matter the label we use. It's important, and church, we've gotta have the courage to say that. There's no other name, the Scripture says, under heaven by which men can be saved. It's important.
Now, the New Testament adds to that the idea of the priesthood of all believers. In the Book of Leviticus as you read it, there is a group of people selected by God to serve the people as priests. There are three formal offices we're introduced to in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. The priest represent the people to God; you take your sacrifice to the priest, and the priest present it to God on your behalf, and the levels of preparation for the priest is different than the level of preparation for the general public. There're different requirements for them, because they're the intermediary. They're standing between you and God. They're the ones taking those sacrifices and offering them. You can't just fire up your backyard grill and offer your own sacrifice. You need a priest.
And then there are the prophets, and the prophets give God's perspective to the people. The prophets are not primary future-tellers; the prophets give God's opinion on what's happening in culture. It's why it's a joke, it's a travesty to suggest the current church should not be engaged in current events. Half of our Old Testament is filled with prophets saying, "This is what God thinks about what you're doing". And it wasn't some random opinion, it was gleaned from the Torah, from the first half of the Old Testament. We need that prophetic perspective, not somebody dancing around what's gonna happen five years from now or twenty years from now. Somebody helping us understand God's perspective on today. We desperately need to see our world through the filter of how God sees us.
And then the kings, the expressions of authority in our lives. We're given biblical assignment to pray for those in authority over us, for kings and for all of those who stands with authority over us, whether you voted for 'em, whether you like 'em or not. Sometimes that, you know, the church goes into depression if we think the candidates we chose didn't get elected. Folks, we should be praying for righteousness and holiness and uprightness, period. So, a priest is required.
Now, Hebrews 4:14 says, "Since we have a great high priest who's gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess". As you read Leviticus, imagine your high priest taking your offerings to the Lord. Imagine that, Jesus coming to the Father on your behalf or my behalf. And then we say things like, "Well, you know, I just don't pray much". What do you mean? "Well, you know, when we worship the Lord, I'm just not very extroverted. I don't, you know, that's not my song. That's... I'm kinda quiet". Jesus is waiting for our responses. He's waiting. If you don't wanna worship the Lord when you're in church, okay. Take a walk outside, go sit in your car. Worship the Lord! Push back on the principalities and powers and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Get the Psalms out and begin to read 'em aloud with determination. Use your voice to acknowledge the Creator of heaven and earth, church. Our relationship with God doesn't begin when the worship service is convened and conclude when I say "Amen". This is intended to be a point of encouragement and refreshing and renewal and perhaps even a little bit of learning that we're the church when we leave here 24/7. Use your voice. We haven't been taught, we haven't been coached, we're not really that conscious of it. Let our conversations be turned more to what God is doing and giving glory and honor to him than our favorite sports team, or the prospects for UT's football team, or your fantasy league. And I'm not opposed to any of those, but I would rather my words be effective in the hands of my high priest than just regurgitating the latest round of sports drivel.
We need a different... "Well, Pastor, I go to church. What do you want me to do, be like a fanatic"? We need a realignment. Remember Jesus, audience? "What do you mean, my fork doesn't matter? My fork does matter. It mattered to my grandparents and my great-grandparents. Makes me better than the people who don't pay attention to their fork. What do you mean, comin' to church in the know? What do you want me to do? Come twice a week"? Hooo! We've gotta have a paradigm shift. We gotta see our world differently. We're still waiting for an election to change us. The hearts of God's people is what will rewrite our future. I promise you. I promise you. While you're reading Leviticus, pay attention. The requirements of the priest, 1 Timothy 2:5, "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus", there's only one mediator, "He gave himself as a ransom for all men".
What an amazing message. Revelation 1, it's a revelation "from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth". Our High Priest is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Putin doesn't know it, and Kim Jong Un doesn't know it. And tragically, many of our leaders don't know it. But the one we worship is their ruler. "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and he's made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father". He's made us to be kings and priests to represent our generation to the Lord. See, we can't represent them if we're angry at them, bitter with them. God, be merciful to us. Pour out your spirit upon us, God. I know you said it's a narrow way and a small door and few enter in, but in our generation, Lord, expand the door. Make room for more people. Give us understanding hearts, God. Let it be a generation of renewal and harvest.
Then in Leviticus in that first chapter, we're introduced to this idea that in verse 17, "It's a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord," that the goal is to please the Lord. As you're reading through Leviticus, all of that, all the detail, all the stuff, it's about pleasing the Lord. So, I don't know what this is about, and what we really say is that I really don't care that much. It's why we haven't read it. It's about pleasing the Lord. John 6, Jesus is speaking. Verse 38: "I've come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me". Are you kidding me? I laid aside my glory and my power and my prestige. Most of us spend our lives trying to accumulate those things. We do our best to orchestrate our lives so that we can get our will done on earth. And Jesus said, "I did just the opposite. I came down here to be with you, to do the will of my Father".
What would happen if we meant it, and we said to the Lord, "More than anything else, I would like to do your will in the next six months". I don't have any cards anywhere. I'm not signing you up for anything. Again, we have all this rhetoric, but it's not really, you know, what got me into this fine mess of ministry was I had a plan for my life. I knew the career I wanted. I understood the resources that it would make available. I mean, I had a pretty good grip of what that meant, and I heard myself saying with too much frequency that the Lord was the most important thing in my life. But I knew that I was putting all of my energy and thought and effort and focus and planning into getting what I wanted. And the gulf between what I was saying and what I was really doing became more and more evident to me.
I didn't like church. I certainly didn't like preachers. Honestly, I didn't like Christians all that much. It's because there was so little of Jesus in me. It wasn't your fault. But when I was willing to reconcile that, it changed my life. Do we really intend to do the will of God? Or do we intend just not to commit some gross sin? We're not gonna steal or cheat on our spouse or physically abuse our children or someone else's. We'll do business with integrity, kind of. Better than most. Folks, that doesn't mean it's the will of God. We're still measuring our righteousness with a fork. Do we have that courage? It would change our world. It would. It is.
Jesus gave us a pretty stern warning in Matthew 27:21. He said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven". He says it's not so much about your words. And then finally, as you read Leviticus, you're gonna find it's filled with some very, very specific instructions. I mean, really specific stuff. You're gonna think, "I don't understand and I don't", I'm not sure that the specifics of every offering is as significant as understanding that God was not random. That to participate, to benefit from that relationship, you had to meet the criteria.
As you read Leviticus, let that reality settle upon you. And then I'll bring you to the New Testament, 1 Corinthians chapter 9. This is Paul. He said, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I don't run like a man running aimlessly; I don't fight like a man just beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I won't be disqualified for the prize". That's not the way we practice our faith for the most part. We talk about our faith in terms of our conversion experience and our baptism, and then we're lookin' for kinda minimal daily requirements.
That's the church that I was aware of as a young person. I wasn't aware of serving the Lord with the kind of intentionality and specificity that the Book of Leviticus talks about. Fact, just reading it seems like intimidating. But I don't believe God has chilled out. I don't believe his standards for righteousness or holiness or purity are less today. I don't think when God finished Malachi, he took the latest version of antidepressants and wrote Matthew. In fact, I think another way of understanding the Book of Leviticus is it's a discussion on how to walk with God. It's gonna introduce us to ideas like clean and unclean, holy and unholy, justification, a way to God, sanctification, what it means to walk with God.
Chapter 4 caught my attention. It says four times in the first half of chapter 4, "Say to the Israelites: 'When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden". In fact, it says this to every level of the Israelite community, if the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally, when a leader sins unintentionally, if a member of the community sins unintentionally, all of the sacrifices, all of the offerings in the Book of Leviticus that you're going to read about are for those people who stumbled into those things unintentionally. Wasn't like they made a life plan that said, "Look, I'm goin' to ignore God for six months, and I'm gonna get in the fast land and get ahead of this, and then I'm gonna come back and go, 'Sorry.'"
All those offerings are directed at very one specific segment of the group, and that's those who've made a choice, who sinned unintentionally. The ones who sinned intentionally, they're not gonna do so well. Aaron'll lose two sons one day, and God will look at him, you'll read it in the next few days, God'll look at him and say, "You just be quiet. They knew better. They ignored me". The offerings of Leviticus are given to those of us who sin unintentionally. That's a very important point, and that's not just an Old Testament point. Look at Hebrews 10 verse 26: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we receive the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left". If God's awakened you to right and wrong, and you say, "I choose wrong," you're not deceived or confused or emotional. You just said, "I would rather be wrong".
That's a dangerous place with the Lord. We have practiced sloppy grace. I don't want you to live in fear of your salvation. I do want you to live with a very high degree of reverence and respect for God. Romans 1. Romans 1 gives this lengthy digression, this deterioration of human character, and when it gets to the conclusion, it says this in verse 32: "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but they approve of those who practice them".
He's not writing about people ignorant of what's in the Book of Leviticus. He's not writing, Paul's not writing to the church in Rome talking about people that are ignorant of the things of God. He said they know God's righteous decrees. They understand the outcome. They just think they can game the system. They can time the market. They'll follow their gut. God'll grade on a curve. They're better than somebody else. Well, who's to say what's right and wrong? God is. As you're reading Leviticus, listen to the intentionality of it. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do them, but they approve of those who practice them.
I've been telling you for months now that we have to lead with our faith. But that doesn't begin with arenas filled with people or great stadiums. It begins at our kitchen tables. We have to have the courage to bring our biblical perspective and wrestle with it with the people that we do life with. We've winked at sin, and nodded at sin, and tolerated sin, and excused sin, and even facilitated sin. We've said, "Oh, it'll be better in a while," or that it's just a phase or a stage, as if there's really no consequence to it. We treat God as if he's a fool, as if he didn't mean what he said, and the boundaries he gave us really weren't boundaries, they were just kinda hints. And we don't understand that erodes our authority and limits our liberties and our freedoms.
I wanna close with a prayer. It's an individual that I believe learned the lessons of the Torah. We've prayed this prayer together before, but to me it's a template for prayers to change the course of nations. It's in the Book of Daniel. I've adapted it from the Book of Daniel. Daniel spent the majority of his life as a slave. There's no triumphant story that Daniel is liberated at the end of his life and returns to Jerusalem for a parade. He spends his life as a slave, but he had such a revelation of God that we today study the Book of Daniel to understand what's happening before us. Daniel was so trusted by God, on more than one occasion God sent an angel to Daniel to tell him he was highly esteemed.
Now, I've come to understand something. God does not waste communication; and if he sends you an angelic messenger to tell you you're highly esteemed, what do you suspect that Daniel felt? Less than esteemed. Do you believe you could do significant things for the Lord and still struggle? Well, in Daniel 9 it says that he discovered by reading the Scripture, by reading the prophet Jeremiah, that the time for the exile of the Jewish people was about over. The priest didn't discover it. The religious leaders didn't discover. It came from somebody serving in the court of a pagan king, listening to the app, doing his daily Bible reading. He realized it was time to go home. And he began to pray and fast and seek the Lord.
It wasn't something arrogant, demanding something of God. And what intrigues me, if you read Daniel 9 and the prayer that he prayed, he prays it as if he was the most vile sinner amongst the Israelites. It's filled with pronouns that include Daniel, and as you read Leviticus, you'll understand that. He was living what he'd been taught. And so I borrowed a bit of his prayer, and I brought it for us tonight. Why don't you stand with me, and we'll read it together. Have you found it? Here we go.
O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps the covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your direction. Now, O Lord our God, hear the prayers and petitions of Your servants. For Your sake, O Lord, look with favor on Your people. Give ear and hear; open Your eyes and see the desolation of our day. We do not make requests because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For Your sake, do not delay, because Your people bear Your name, amen.