Full atonement—can it be? Yes!

If Leviticus seems incomprehensible, a closer look at that book reveals amazing gospel truth about God, our sin and our redemption from a hopeless state.

A short reading in a difficult book

The schedule last week assigned a relatively short reading (Leviticus 1-16) in a book of the Bible which many modern readers find perplexing.  This allowed time to read helpful introductory notes from a good study Bible such as the ESV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible. I rely on these plus Ryken’s Bible Handbook for help with books like Leviticus.

Exodus brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to covenant nationhood at Mt. Sinai.  The covenant which God made with Moses and Israel included law: moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.  The ceremonial law laid out the details of the priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices.  Now in Leviticus, God specifies to Moses how Israel must  make the offerings of the sacrifices.  Various kinds of sacrifices are designated: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Priests and worshipers had to pay close attention to these instructions.  God demanded clean and unblemished animals offered according to His law.  The blood was important as it was the life of the animal.

Illegal worship brings death

In the middle of all these instructions, the violent deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, show that God would punish violations to His law concerning these sacrifices and the tabernacle. Not only must the offerings be made properly by the designated priest, but those making offerings were to take care to be ceremonially clean as they came to the tabernacle.  God gave instructions so that all could approach the holy God in a holy way.

Chapter 16 describes the day of Atonement on which the high priest would annually enter behind the veil of the Holy Place.  On that day, he would make offerings for himself and for the people.  The writer to the Hebrews showed how that holy day points to the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Takeaways

Here are some observations from this week’s reading:

  1. God is holy and demands holiness in His people. The biblical doctrine of God does not allow for any theology that holds God to be complacent or ambivalent about violations of His law.
  2. Sin is serious. Israel had a problem.  Indeed, all mankind has a problem.  Neither they nor we are holy.  God does not find our transgressions cute or excusable.
  3. Atonement is the only solution for sin. God required a blood sacrifice of an unblemished animal. He set up the old covenant sacrificial system to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Praise God that His Son secured reconciliation with God for all who believe. As the nineteenth century hymn, “Man of Sorrows” by Philip P. Bliss says so well.

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we,

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement—can it be?

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

He deserves all praise, always. Our guilt is forgiven. Peace with God is ours through Christ who offered Himself for our sin.  That is complete atonement–the price paid for our freedom from sin and guilt. What a Savior!

This week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12.

 

 

Reflections on Hebrews and James

The New Testament teaches us how to read the Old.  Hebrews and James are rich in instructions that open up the purpose and meaning of the Books of Moses.

The Unique Contribution of Hebrews

What if the Epistle to the Hebrews were not in our Bibles?  Hebrews makes a unique contribution to our understanding of the purpose and meaning of the Old Testament law.  In Hebrews we learn how the Aaronic priesthood and the tabernacle and sacrifices were all given to point the Jews (and everyone else) to Jesus Christ.  Here we see the glory and majesty of Jesus who is the Creator of the world and the heir of all things.  The writer goes on: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

If this is true, how could anyone doubt that Jesus Christ is superior to angels and Moses?  Who could doubt that Christ’s priesthood surpasses the Old Testament priesthood which was a mere shadow of His? He made a once-for-all offering for sin.  This makes Him our High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and saves us to the uttermost as we draw near to God through Him.  Jesus lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:22-28).  He guarantees for us a better covenant with God than the one Moses had. This covenant cannot fail or be broken.  God has secured it Himself by His Son.

Why Believers Cannot Be Lost

I hope your heart thrills as mine does with the promises and declarations of the letter to the Hebrews.  All this fills out the deep meaning of Jesus’ cry on the cross “it is finished” (John 19:30).  God’s work to redeem all His elect people was complete.  It could never be undone or reversed.  It cannot fail.  You, my believing friend who hear His voice and follow Him as your shepherd, cannot be lost because the Father and the Son hold you securely in their hand.  Nothing and no one can snatch you away.  You cannot perish. [See John 10:28-29.]

The Exhortations of James

James fills out another important truth for believers: that faith without works is dead or, to put it more positively, true faith is active. Paul makes a strong case that faith alone saves (Romans 3:21ff), but James adds that faith which saves is never without works (James 2:14-26). We are secure in Christ but we should not be complacent because of that security. James exhorts us to live out our faith by showing our love and humility toward others (like the poor, widows, orphans), in our speech and actions, in our enduring trials with patience and joy, in our seeking godly wisdom, in our dealing honestly in business, and in confessing our sins to others.  He closes his letter with an exhortation to prayer and to a ministry to those who are spiritually lost (James 5:13-20). James is an exhorter, for sure, but in his exhortation he also reassures us that God gives all good things and He gives them generously whether wisdom, grace, His presence, or exaltation (James 1:5,17;4:6,8,10). And He hears and answers our prayers.  Pray confidently and let the faith in your changed heart flow out in good works and wise attitudes.

This week’s reading: Leviticus 1-16.

 

God’s Glory Revealed to an Idolatrous Nation

It seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But do we have room for pride? Are we any different?

Note: Last week’s reading was Exodus 21-40.

In reading through Exodus we see the truth of that statement.: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” They grumbled about water and food after crossing the Red Sea on dry land.  They became impatient with Moses and asked for an idol to worship.  Aaron produced a golden calf which they worshipped. God would have destroyed them and started over with Moses had he not pleaded with the Lord to spare them.

And God heard Moses.  The book ends with the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle which was completed down to the last detail that God commanded (Exodus 40).

Yes, it seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But are we any different?  Are we any less prone to fashion idols and trust in them over our God?  John Calvin wrote “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes 1.11.8).  God’s mercy and grace was great to the Old Covenant Jews and also to us who come to Him only by the atoning work of His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Reading or Skimming?

If you are like me, you find these long chapters with details about the tabernacle and its furnishings to be hard reading.  This week I was asked, “Is it disrespectful of God’s Word to skim through chapters 25-31 and 35-39 of Exodus?”  That is a question for which we will each have to seek God’s wisdom.  I do know God inspired the sixty-six books of the Bible.  He revealed them to us for our salvation and sanctification. We may not disregard them.  We are not being commanded to make a tabernacle or a temple in order to worship God today.  That was for Moses and ancient Israel.  Jesus Christ is our temple and we have come not to Mount Sinai but to Mount Zion and to Him who is our mediator (John 2:18-22; Hebrews 12:18-24).

This week our schedule takes us to the Epistle to the Hebrews which sheds much light on the purpose of the Old Testament priesthood and temple.  Meanwhile, when reading Exodus 25-31 and 35-39, we can get help from a good study Bible (like the ESV Study Bible) with illustrations of the tabernacle, the furnishings, and the priestly garments.  You might find yourself reading more than skimming. And you might find yourself saying, “how odd of God to choose me.”

This week’s reading: Hebrews and James.