A shout out to the people who have been following my blog for the last three and a half years. I’m going to be taking a break from the blog.
From the start of 2019 I made it my aim to post at least once per month and I’ve consistently stuck to that aim. Whilst sticking to a broadly theological theme throughout, I’ve occasionally ventured off into discussing other cultural and political issues as well. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s helped me to refine my thinking, which is why I started the blog in the first place.
Truth be told, I’ve been struggling with the motivation to write in the last year or so. In the past I’ve often had an article or two ready in draft before the self-inflicted monthly deadline arose. In recent times, it’s been more of a last minute rush to get something written up.
I may return to the blog again at some future point. But for now, I’m going to take an indefinite break – call it a sabbath – from blogging. I’ll leave you with a couple of verses from the book of Hebrews.
“So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)
Over the last few months, I have been sharing some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. This is a reflection on the tenth chapter.
“Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are with me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’””Leviticus 10:3
Samuel the prophet had passed away and all the mediums had been expelled from the land of Israel. So, when the Philistines declared war on Israel, king Saul had no-one to turn to. God refused to hear his pleas because he was still intent on killing David. Instead of repenting, Saul disguised himself in a cloak and went to visit a witch who lived in Endor. He asked her to bring back the prophet Samuel, that he might bring him favour from the Lord in battle. But when she summoned Samuel, he was not happy about it. He exclaimed, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me back?” (1 Samuel 28:15). And even though Saul begged him for advice on what to do, on how to win the battle ahead, Samuel instead assured him that Israel would lose the battle and that both himself and his sons would die the following day.
God had been very clear to Israel that he hated idolatry, that false worship would never be acceptable to him. Visiting witches and mediums was utterly forbidden in Israel and in the case of Saul, it was the icing on the cake which led to his destruction. The same was the case in the days of Aaron. When his sons Nadab and Abihu offered their own fire on the altar instead of waiting for the Lord’s fire to come down (as we saw in the previous chapter), they were both instantly struck down by God, literally consumed by his fire.
God himself establishes worship and he teaches us how it is to be conducted. True worship begins with a holy reverence of God. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews put it: “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28b-29) In worship, we must be concerned first and foremost with what pleases the Lord, and not with our own preferences. In this way, we will ensure that everything we do is for the glory of God.
Over the last few months, I have been sharing some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. This is a reflection on the ninth chapter.
“And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”Leviticus 9:24
King Saul had grown jealous of David and was out to kill him. Seeking protection, David fled to Samuel and all the other prophets in Ramah and stayed with them. When Saul found out where he was, he sent messengers to seize David. But when the messengers arrived, the prophets prophesied and the Spirit came down from heaven and the messengers joined the prophets in prophesying! Saul sent more and more messengers, and each time the same thing happened. Eventually Saul himself came to Ramah, but the Spirit came upon him so mightily that he stripped off all his clothes in the presence of God and prophesied before Samuel!
Did you notice how the Spirit of God acted powerfully to preserve the life of David through prophetic worship? When the fire of the Spirit falls from heaven and consumes us, we become a fragrant offering, acceptable to God. Through this worship, God protects his people, establishes his presence amongst them and renews his covenant with them.
This was the purpose of sacrificial worship. Sin offerings were a confession of weakness and burnt offerings were a symbolic way of ascending into God’s presence. When God accepted the offering by holy fire, he was sanctifying the worship by his own Spirit, showing that he accepted it and publicly committing himself to his people. And now, in the new covenant, God has given his Spirit to each of us individually. In Christ, we are all prophets and we are all living sacrifices to God, through the Spirit who sets us apart for his glory.
Over the last few months, I have been sharing some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. This is a second reflection on the eighth chapter (specifically 8:14-36).
“And he killed it, and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.”Leviticus 8:23
Shortly after David had been anointed as the new king, the Philistines declared war on Israel. Their greatest warrior, Goliath the giant, challenged the Israelites to choose someone to fight him one-on-one. The soldiers of Israel were terrified and didn’t know what to do. But David, anointed with the Spirit of God, stepped up to the challenge. Although he was young, he knew that God was on his side and he killed Goliath, leading Israel to conquer over the Philistines.
Since the fall, it was impossible for anyone to be set apart as a great leader without the shedding of blood. Just as David was set apart by blood, so too had the priests been. Having been clothed and anointed with oil, animals were sacrificed and some of the blood was applied to them. This enabled them to intercede for the people of God in sacrifice, bringing peace to Israel.
In God’s timing, Jesus brought an end to this system. Instead of shedding the blood of another, he offered himself up as a sacrifice. The ultimate priest, he had a crown of thorns placed upon his head, and his hands and feet were pierced with nails. His self-offering is sufficient to bring peace and restoration not only to Israel, but to everyone. And now, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, he intercedes for us, forever set apart by that one offering of himself.
Over the last few months, I have been sharing some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. This is a reflection on the eighth chapter (specifically 8:1-13).
“And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.”Leviticus 8:12
In the days of king Saul, things were not well with Israel. Saul had disobeyed several of God’s commandments for his own selfish ends, leading to God’s displeasure and withdrawing of his blessing. To remedy the situation, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king from the righteous family of Jesse to lead the people of Israel and to represent them in battle. Out of all of Jesse’s sons, God chose the youngest of them all, David, as the new king. As soon as Samuel poured oil upon David’s head, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, equipping him to lead Israel.
Just as David was chosen to represent Israel, so too were the priests in the days of Moses. They were clothed in sacred garments and anointed with oil as a sign of the glory and of the weightiness of their role. They ministered on behalf of the people of Israel, teaching and leading them by the Spirit of God, that Israel would know and obey the commandments of God.
Of course, all of this is fulfilled in Jesus. He was anointed by the Spirit of God as our king and our priest, to teach and to lead the people of God to obey his commandments. Even today, he ministers amongst us by the Spirit, teaching us to honour God the Father and to apply his word to every area of our lives. And this same Spirit he has given also to us, that the people of God might be united as one, sharing in the blessing of God.
Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a reflection on the seventh chapter (specifically 7:11-38).
“And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering.”Leviticus 7:15a
It was no ordinary day in the house of Levi. Many visitors had come to eat and drink with him, people from all kinds of different backgrounds. But the most special guest of them all was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Not only was he the famous preacher everyone was talking about, earlier that day he had personally asked Levi to follow him, to join him as one of his disciples. Being a tax collector, and therefore a Roman traitor to many of his fellow Jews, Levi had never even imagined that a famous Jewish preacher like Jesus would have thought so highly of him. And yet here he was – eating and drinking with him.
Not everyone was pleased about this. Some of the local religious leaders and teachers were appalled at the fact that a famous preacher like Jesus would eat and drink with tax collectors and other wicked people. Jesus’s response to them was devastating: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
The gracious gift of God coming amongst us and eating with us was precisely what made peace offerings so glorious. Not only could the priests eat a portion of the sacrifice, but ordinary Israelites could do as well. Through the sacrifice of the peace offering, God came and ate with ordinary sinners, just like you and me. This was to demonstrate the universal love of God, a God who feeds and nourishes his children.
Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a reflection on the sixth chapter (specifically 6:8 – 7:10).
“Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”Leviticus 7:6
Jesus had many confrontations with the religious leaders of his day. On one occasion, he was walking through the cornfields with his disciples, and they were plucking and eating some of the corn. The religious leaders, who were nearby, asked Jesus why he allowed his disciples to do this. After all, it was the Sabbath, and gathering food in this manner was not permitted on the Sabbath.
Jesus’s response to them was unexpected. Instead of arguing about the technicalities of the Sabbath commandment, Jesus reminded them about a similar incident in the old testament, where David and his mighty men went into the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which was only for the priests. The implication was clear – this sort of food would normally be holy, normally off-bounds. But in special circumstances, it could be made holy by an anointed one. And just as David’s holy status applied also to his men, so too did Jesus’s holy status extend to his disciples.
This story teaches us a general principle about the sacrificial offerings under the old covenant. With a few exceptions, priests were permitted to eat a portion of the food offered at the altar. Even though such offerings were holy, God extended his holiness to include them. And through Jesus, God does the same with us. In him, we have become priests of the living God, sharing in his holiness and bringing it with us wherever we go.
Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a second reflection on the fifth chapter (specifically 5:14 – 6:7).
“And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.”Leviticus 6:7
One day, early on in the ministry of Jesus, he began to teach the people of Capernaum about the kingdom of God. His teaching was so incredible that more and more people were pouring into the house to hear him speak, until there was no more room for anyone to enter. Suddenly, as Jesus was still speaking, a light appeared above the people’s heads. They looked up, only to see that part of the roof had been removed and that a crippled man was being lowered through the roof on a mattress.
What was Jesus to make of this interruption? By now the healing ministry of Jesus was famous all over Israel. Much to everyone’s astonishment, he announced to the crippled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven!” The shock wave unleashed by this bold statement reverberated throughout the room. The religious leaders were furious that a man should claim the authority of God to forgive sins. The ordinary people were probably confused, wondering why Jesus hadn’t healed the man instead.
Jesus did go on to heal the man. But he knew that mankind’s greatest need is not good health, or wealth or any other such things. No, mankind’s greatest need is forgiveness. And Jesus had come as the true lamb of God – the true ram – to bring forgiveness and healing to the lost. Just as the Israelites who sinned brought a ram as a guilt offering, so too is Jesus our guilt offering, the one who makes atonement for us.
Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a reflection on the fifth chapter (specifically 5:1-13).
“Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.”Leviticus 5:7
In the days of John the Baptist, people from all over Israel were flocking to him to be baptized in the Jordan river, as a sign of their repentance. Amidst the crowds, one man stood out from the rest. As soon as he stepped out of the Jordan river after his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove and a voice was heard from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) This man was of course Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of the world.
Why did the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove? The dove was a sacrificial animal, so it teaches us something about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry. But it wasn’t just any sacrificial animal, it was the animal offered by poorer Israelites, who couldn’t afford a lamb or goat for a sin offering. This teaches us that Jesus came especially on behalf of the poor and needy of Israel. As Jesus announced in one of his first sermons in the synagogue, quoting from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)
Indeed, all of us must be “poor in spirit” in order to truly be members of God’s kingdom. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) True humility means putting God and his kingdom first, before our status in this world. This is our calling and our joy.
Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a reflection on the fourth chapter.
“Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering.”Leviticus 4:25
After the flood had wiped out all living creatures on the earth, God made a new covenant with humanity. In it, He promised never again to flood the earth as He had done before. The rainbow was a sign of this covenant, since it resembled a war-bow being hung up in the clouds. God also re-stated the commission first given at creation, to “be fruitful and multiply”, that a new humanity might fill the earth once again.
God also gave two commandments relating to blood. The first one was a requirement that the blood of animals not be eaten, since blood contains the life of a creature, and the life belongs to God. The second one was a civil law punishing murderers: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6). This principle of blood for blood was at work in the sin offering as well. When an Israelite committed an unintentional sin, they were to bring a goat as a substitute. Its blood was presented to God in place of the Israelite, being applied to the four horns of the altar and then poured out at the base, in order to make atonement for sin.
Becoming a sin offering is precisely what Jesus did for us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus is our sin offering, made on our behalf, that we might receive forgiveness and new life. His blood was poured out for us and his body was broken for us, that we might receive his righteousness.