Leviticus 5:1–6:30

Third Avenue Baptist Church

Louisville, KY

Leviticus 5:1–6:30 — Leviticus Series

October 24, 2021

Good morning. Good to see you all. Just as we drove in, the sun peaked through the sky, it was a good thing to see this morning, but it’s a wonderful thing to be together as we continue in our verse by verse study of Leviticus. To that we will turn in just a moment–but first, let’s pray.

Our Father, with grateful hearts we thank you once again that we have the privilege of being together in this place, at this time, for this hour, dedicated to the study of your word. And Father, we pray that this hour will be for the increase of our knowledge, and for the increase of our godliness, and the increase of your glory. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

I had the privilege of preaching at a college church in Wheaton three times this past Sunday. I was talking to folks, and then they would say, “I want to thank you for your studying Leviticus.” And I’m thinking, “well, you’re there, I’m here, but because of the internet, there are folks who are following the study of Leviticus.” And they said, “well, what’s the biggest surprise?” I said, “well, I think, I think the biggest surprise has been for those in the class. The fact that we spent so many weeks, and we’re only in Leviticus four,  I think that’s probably a surprise, because it’s just much richer material than a lot of Christians would anticipate.” But we are looking towards one of the hinge chapters in the book of Leviticus. We’re going to find references back and forth, even as we’re going to find references back to Leviticus in the book of Deuteronomy, you’re going to find Leviticus cited as we go forward. Even throughout the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, amazingly enough, Jesus is going to quote Leviticus when he is asked, “what is the greatest commandment?” So we’re not there yet. But we are going to pick up the pace a bit this morning, because we are headed towards something in the text ahead. That is just vital for us to know. 

I think one of the insights of studying Leviticus is that in almost every chapter, there is something that just stands out at us, and we say, “okay, that’s just incredibly clarifying.” The last time we were together, as we were looking at Leviticus chapter four, we saw the objectivity of sin so very clearly demonstrated in the fact that even unintentional sin by a priest means that the guilt has fallen upon Israel. So guilt is not just a subjective experience. Guilt is an objective reality, because sin is an objective reality , and then make atonement–as we saw later in the chapter, the only answer to sin is atonement–but now we start chapter five. 

“If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he is seen or come to know the matter yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcas of an unclean wild animal, or a carcas of unclean livestock, or a carcas of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean and he realizes his guilt; or if he touches human uncleanness of whatever sort of uncleanness this may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him when he comes to know it and realizes his guilt; if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb, or a goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. 

But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtle doves or two pigeons, one for his sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. He shall bring him to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He shall ring its head from its neck but shall not sever it completely, and he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; It is a sin offering. Then he shall offer the second for a burn offering according to the rule. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he is committed, and he shall be forgiven.

But if he cannot afford two turtle doves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin he has committed a 10th of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering, and he shall bring it to the priest. And the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the Lord’s food offerings; it is a sin offering. Then the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he is committed in any one of these things, and he should be forgiven. And the remainder shall be for the priest, as in the grain offering.”

Well, that was 13 verses. Interesting territory here. Notice the very first sin that’s mentioned: “if anyone sends that he hears a public adjuration testify, and though he was a witness, whether he’s seen or come to know the matter yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity. What kind of society was Israel? Just as as God’s covenant people, what kind of society was it? Well, it was a society of law. Now you say we are a society of law, and indeed we are. The difference is Israel was a covenant theocracy. So when Israel was ever asked, “where did you get your law?” Israel would respond, “It was God’s gift to us.”

Now this gift was given, of course, through Moses, and as we see repeatedly in Leviticus, we are told that the Lord spoke to Moses, telling him to tell the people he called Moses out from the tent and spoke to him. He will speak to Moses, and we’ll see this again and again–the Lord spoke to Moses. He gives the law through Moses, which gives us that privileged place, most honored place of Moses in the entire history of Israel. Now was the giving of the law, in the eyes of Israel, a good thing or a bad thing?

And this is where, being Protestant Christians we have to unthink a bit in order to rethink a bit. If we unthink something, it would necessarily be the fact that we have this instinct in us that the law is bad, and grace is good. Now it’s more complex than that, but it just comes down to that. The letter kills, the spirit gives life. The old covenant can bring no salvation–it just holds back the wrath of God, as we see in Romans chapter three. The new covenant brings salvation, the old covenant is just getting us to the new covenant by promise and by contrast. 

But if we go back to the experience of Israel, Israel receives these laws as a most unspeakably precious gift. Now this is true for two reasons. One horizontal, the vertical of course is most important. And the vertical means that the great thankfulness for this law is that they are rightly afraid of God destroying them, as he destroyed the Egyptians, as he destroyed by flood. How do you make certain you don’t do whatever brought on those punishments? You need the law, and you need the law not only in the thou shouts and the thou shout nots, which we certainly need–all of us need that–but you need the law in order to know what to do when there is a transgresion of the law, because there surely there will be transgressions of the law. And then the question will be “now what?” what if a 10 year old shoplifts– I realize that’s a bit anachronistic, but nonetheless let’s assume it’s a shop–if a 10 year old shoplifts, do you execute him? Do you put him outside of the people forever? Do you cut him off from his people? What about if someone lies? In this case, You’ll notice that the law that God gave Israel is in essence a constitutional law. And in this sense, this is one of the great jumps forward of humanity. Now, if you’re looking at this from an anthropological perspective, you’re going to say “here’s something absolutely amazing.  And in this area of the world, kind of the cradle of civilization in the basin of Mesopotamia, and then coming over to the Levant and towards the Mediterranean, and even in north Africa, in Egypt, there is an explosion of law. 

Now, if you’re a liberal Old Testament professor, you say, “See, this is just a human development. All this, necessity of law, society’s now reached the point where the law has to be codified, whether it’s the code of Hammurabi, or it’s the law of Egypt, the  Pharaonic law,  or if it’s the Mesopotamian codes–there are these laws that all of a sudden appear sometimes on clay tablets. You can say, “here are laws,” because eventually if you’re going to have any society that becomes systematized and rationalized as the sociological language, you’re going to have to have “law,” because in order to have any kind of stable society, it needs not just to be a matter of tribal fiat. Tribal fiat means, if you do this on Tuesday, and you come before the elders, and they say, “you’re out,” and you come on Wednesday, and to someone with the same law transgression, they say, “20 lashes,” it’s by fiat. That doesn’t work very well. You can’t really have a society that way. You need advertised laws, and so it’s a part of what you see.

Now, in Deuteronomy, one of the sweetest of passages in Deuteronomy chapter four finds Moses reminding the children of Israel when they received the law, and just reminding them, “has any other people received laws so sweet?” And he puts it this way–”Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking from the fire and survived?” So Israel’s law from the beginning is God’s gift. Israel is a covenant theocracy. The laws are God’s laws mediated through Moses, to the people–their sweet laws. So Israel has received the law as a gift. Now, just think of another context, think of your own home with young children. Your home had better be a theocracy there. It had better be a house of law–a house of grace, too, but a house of law mediated through parents. There are “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” If the child does not learn to live within the “thou shalts” and “the thou shalt nots,” then we shalt not have a society worth living in. But the point is that you’ve got to teach the law–even just putting the law out there is not enough. You’ve got to teach it, which is exactly what’s commanded to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy chapter four, as well as Deuteronomy chapter six with the shema. 

But you also have to have a way of dealing with transgressions of the law. You have to have it in your home. What do you do? The child disobeys you–do you put them out the front door, and slam the door, and that’s it? No, you’ve got to have some way of dealing with it. But the other thing is you need some way of dealing with it to be also as a part of the law. The consequences and penalties should be a part of the law, which it is in terms of American penal code. 

This starts out with something as formal as the law process of determining guilt, requiring testifying and testimony. And in this case, someone has failed to testify. We’re not going to dwell on this for very long, but this is a very sophisticated at the law code. It’s very sophisticated. This implies a court process. It implies in evidentiary process. It implies the, the weighing of evidence, and it requires testimony. Testimony is important. You’ll see it repeated in the structure over and over again. Thus, it is a sin not to testify when you should testify, but then very quickly it turns to the purity code in verse two: “if anyone touches an unclean thing,” and notice the comprehensiveness here, “whether a carcas of an unclean world animal, or the carcas of an unclean livestock, or a carcas of an unclean swarming thing,” death  is something that simply is to be avoided. Death is uncleanness.

Mary and I were at a visitation at a funeral home just recently, and, having grown up in our teenage years in south Florida, this was something we were not shocked by, although it was still kind of shocking. There was a Christian family, which is the reason that we were there in this funeral home, and there was a Jewish visitation next door, and it’s shockingly different. If you walked in the wrong room, you will see the body just on a board with a sheet over the body. Of course it’s following the Jewish burial ritual, which means the body has to be buried basically within 24 hours, and so it’s a very quick process. And it is because the body is itself now unclean, because it is dead. 

Death is to be avoided. The death of an animal, and all the rest. This is not so much in the process of the slaughter of an animal for the ritual purposes or for food. This is when you come across the carcas of a dead body. That’s why you go around it. Now this will show up even in the New Testament and something like the parable of the Good Samaritan. There’s a lot of moralizing in the parable, but we tend to over-moralize it and miss deeper theological significance when the people cross to the other side of the road, because they think he’s dead. They’re doing nothing but following the instinct that has been driven into Judaism for centuries–you avoid dead things even if they look dead, because you become ritually unclean, but it’s not just the dead. You notice what follows: “If he touches human uncleanness of whatever sort, the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean.” 

Okay, this is great. 10 year old boy comes in. Can you just imagine mother looking at him and saying, “son, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which you have become unclean…” There are all kind of ways to become unclean. This refers basically, however, to things that come out of the body that will make one unclean–contact with any number of things. Then you come to know that sacrifice is necessary. Verse four– “a rash oath, whether for good or for evil.”So this implies there’s an oath that’s rash, right? If it’s a rash oath, that’s the bad oath. That implies there’s a good oath. And on this, the Bible is complex. 

And we can just say in summary, there are contexts in which an oath is necessary. Even God takes one in his own name, but oaths are theologically, morally risky, and it is just dangerous to make them unless uniquely necessary. But you’ll notice that if there is to be the sacrifice for what is discovered to be sin, or realized to be sin, or remembered to be sin, then it begins with a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat for a sin offering. Now again, a female is a less expensive animal. So we are not dealing with the kind of transgression that would require a male from the herd, unblemished. So in this case, it can be a female, and it can be a lamb or a goat. The goat, the more expensive, the lamb, the less expensive in this case and the more numerous.  So there would’ve been more sacrifices of lambs than of sheep. And that also points to our Christology. But as verse seven tells us if the sinner cannot afford a lamb, then two turtle doves will do, or two pigeons. And one will be for the sin offering, one for the burnt offering. But then in verse 11, we’re told if you cannot afford two turtle doves, or two pigeons, he shall bring is his offering that he has committed, a 10th of an  ova of fine flour. So that again is the grain offering. So basically this covers everyone. So all of Israel is covered within the provision for this sin offering. It will be repeated. It will be made necessary often. Thus there will be lots of pigeons, lots of turtle, doves, lots of goats, lots of lambs, lots of flour, but this covers everyone in the social and economic system of Israel. No one is outside of this provision is made for everyone. And here’s the thing, God knows the heart, right? So God knows what you can bring. If you can afford to bring a goat and you bring the flower, God knows. 

Now in verse 14, we shift from the sin offering to the guilt offering. Basically, the very best Old Testament scholars and theologians are hard pressed to explain exactly what the difference is. That’s because when we think of sin, we think of guilt. We think of sin. The one goes with the other. The context appears to make the distinction. This is again a new section, because in verse 14, the passage begins “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying ‘if anyone commits to breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a Ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shackles, according to the shekel, the sanctuary for a guilt offering,’” continuing in chapter five, ‘“if anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord,’” And this refers then to the sacrificial system, the priestly system, “he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish of, of the rock valued in silver shackles. According to the shekel, the sanctuary for a guilt offering, he shall also make restitution for what he has done a miss in the holy thing, and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering. And he shall be forgiven if anyone sins doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though, he did not know it, then realizes his guilt. He shall bear his iniquity. He shall bring to the priest to ram without blemish out of the flock or it’s equivalent for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering. He has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord.” 

Just work backwards from that last sentence–”he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord.” So here’s the thing, brothers and sisters, it is vitally important that we know if we have incurred guilt before the Lord, it is just incredibly important. It’s between us and our creator. Something has come between us and our relationship, and because of the holiness of God, our relationship is not only imperiled, it is directly and eternally threatened by this guilt. We need to know the guilt. The law is a gift in telling us both what the guilt is and how the transgresion may be forgiven in this case, looking at the guilt offering, which continues by the way into chapter six. You’ll notice again, that a lot of this has to do with things that are even unintentiona, in this case, bringing to the ram to the priest. That is a ram. So now you’re talking about a more expensive animal. The ram–like the bull–is a sign of power, and it may well mean that the power there is pointing to the powerful nature of sin. The more powerful the sin, the more powerful the substitute that is required in the sacrifice. A ram is understood to be very powerful. 

Another statement to Moses in chapter six, verse one: “the Lord spoke to Moses, saying ‘if anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a manner of deposit, or security, or through robbery, or if he is oppressed his neighbor or found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely, in any of all the things that people do and sin, thereby…’” You’ve got to love that verse, that little phrase in verse three. There’s one of those comprehensive verses. Like, “we’re gonna be absolutely specific. We’re gonna be exhausted, but we can’t actually be totally exhaustive.” There are sins that are not listed here, and they simply come under this clause in verse three: “in any and all the things that people do and sin thereby, if he has sinned and realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him, or the lost thing that he found or anything about, which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and add a fifth to it and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt.”

A  couple of interesting things there. By the way, “finders keepers” is not a part of the Old Testament law. That was a part of the playground law. But finders keepers is actually not a part of the law. If you find something that belongs to someone else in the covenant community, you have the responsibility to return it to her, to return it to him. This comes down to ways people have financially–or in items of value– cheated their fellow members of the covenant  community. They’ve either held a deposit and not given it back. They have stolen robbery that could be extortion. It could be just theft. It could be just about anything, even squaring falsely at someone’s loss. If he ascend to realize his guilt, you have to make restoration and you have to make a restoration with a half tithe, did you notice that? Only it’s not a half tie. It is a double tithe. I’ve heard people say it’s a half tie, but a fifth i twice as much as a 10th, not half as much as a 10th. And that’s real compensation. That’s paying back a restitution and recognition of loss. Verse six–”And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock or it’s equivalent for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord. And he should be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.” Again, the comprehensiveness, “any of the things that one may do.” And we do–not only may we, we do–and thereby become guilty. 

Now, all of that through chapter six verse seven, over the last several chapters has been just extremely interesting, because it’s given us a catalog of the different kinds of offerings: the burnt offering, the sin offering, the wave offering, the guilt offering, and all of these offerings.They’re brought with regularity, and we understand the system. Again, there’s a part of it where we  just don’t fully understand the total distinction between a sin offering and a guilt offering, but it appears, as I said, even there’s a horizontal, and there’s a vertical element to this. It appears that the guilt offering in this case might well have to do with something that is more often sending against a neighbor or another, another member of the covenant community, but in any event, even that’s a sin against God. 

We understand that sin at the horizontal level is always sin at the vertical level. There’s never a sin against another that is not ultimately a sin against God. All sin requires atonement, catalog of all of these matters of sacrifice and atonement, but there’s a shift. I said we were headed towards something this morning, and we see this shift in verse eight of chapter six. Now we’re talking about the priests and the offerings. “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying ‘command Aaron and his sons…’” okay, here, we have something else. So you have the priest and you have the prophet. Moses is the prophet. Aaron and his sons are the priests. Who commands whom? The Lord doesn’t speak to Aaron what he should say to Moses. The Lord says to Moses–reveals to Moses–what he is to say to Aaron.

Heres something else about the old Testament priesthood. The old Testament priesthood is bound by law. There is no creativity to it whatsoever, the task of the priesthood. This means the entire priesthood. But in this case, you can think perhaps especially of the Levitical priesthood, but the entire priesthood is to do the same thing every time, exactly the same way. According to the law, to innovate in no direction to turn neither to the left, nor to the right now, the same thing was emphatically true of the prophet. The prophet was not to say something like what God had told him to say, but rather was to say exactly what God had told him to say. Exactitude on the part of the prophet, exactitude on the part of priest. But the priest is absolutely dependent upon the prophet who mediates the word of God. Now they’re being told what they are to do. 

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying ‘command Aaron and his son saying, this is the law of the burnt offering.’” So this is giving us the priestly side here. “The burnt offering shall be on the hearth of the altar all night until the morning. And the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put his linen undergarment on his body.” We read about all that in Exodus. When we went verse by verse through Exodus, we saw all of the clothing that was dictated concerning the priesthood, including the undergarments. “And he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn it on the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually. It shall not go out.” That’s just another important thing. The fire is just to be kept burning. This is a sacrificial system. The fire’s going to keep burning, because the people are going to keep sinning. The fire’s going to keep burning because this is a continual process, which also helps us to look forward to the cross. And, and when in the holy of holys, the veil was cut in two, in theory, a fire was to be kept burning from Sinai unto Calvary. That fire is not to go out the fire of what will be required as perpetual sacrifices. 

You’ll know what is the attention to the garments worn by the priest. And again, we saw this in anticipation in Exodus, when we were told exactly what they are to be, how they are to look, what is to be the length of the hem, exactly what color is to be where, and that was when we saw the attentiveness to under garments. And you say, “well, why all the attention under garments? no one sees them. That’s the purpose of under is not to be seen, but why the undergarments of the priests, why are they so important?” Because the priest is human and human things happen, and whatever happens must not get near the altar.  Does that make sense? 

And so the undergarments are to protect the outer garments, lest the outer garments become themselves unclean, and the priest administration would be nullified. It’s interesting, this comes up right here because this is instruction to Aaron and his sons in verse 14. “This is the law of the grain offering the sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord in front of the altar. And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flower of the grain offering and it toil and all the frankincense  that is on the grain offering and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” So that means he receives the sacrifice, a pleasing aroma. As we see in the New Testament, we’re to offer under God a sacrifice, a pleasing sacrifice of praise.

verse 16: “and the rest of it, Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in the holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting. They shall eat it. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy like the sin offering and the guilt offering every meal among the children of Aaron may eat of it as decreed forever throughout your generations from the Lord’s food offerings. Whoever touches them shall become holy.” Okay, a lot here, but just consider this. No leaven,  even after the offering has been offered. So, you know, it was to be brought unleavened and it is to be according to this command, given by God, to Moses, for Aaron and his sons, it is to be kept unleavened.  Why? Unleavened bread is a reminder of the Exodus. It is a reminder of the haste with which the children of Israel left Exodus. It is a sign of haste. The absence of yeast is  a sign of haste. They are to maintain that.

Now I, I like bread. I know we cannot live by bread alone, but we can try. There are a few things more pleasant than bread, warm bread with butter. Mary makes it, I eat it. That’s the deal. And there are just few things more pleasant. We sometimes go to places just because of the bread, but I like leavened bread. I like bread that rises. I like bread with lots of stuff in it. There are people who like plain bread. I like bread with all kinds of stuff in it. I like this bread that I get every once in a while when I’m running around and I’m traveling, and I just need something when I’m traveling. I like this bread called good seed. It’s made by–maybe you’ve seen this–It’s made by a bakery of a man who had been a convict, a prisoner. And he got out of prison and started a bakery. He bakes good bread, and good seed is really, really good bread. It’s got lots of stuff in it. It makes me feel righteous when I eat it. Unlike the wonder bread I ate as a boy, because I wanted to build my body strong 12 ways. Like the big strong kid whose picture was on the package. But basically,  I was eating air, that white bread, so I I’ll eat good seed. 

Now, every once in a while we have unleaven bread. We’ll go to a restaurant and they’ll serve pita or something like that. Or, you know, just mildly leavened bread. t’s just not bread. You know, this will be a lot better with yeast, but the point is uneven means haste, and they’re not post sacrifice to allow yest inside the holy place ever, for to bring it is to desecrate it. In verse 19, “the Lord spoke to Moses saying…” and, and what’s interesting here is how these new statements, these new revelations by God, through Moses come more repeatedly here. Verse 20, “This is the offering the Aaron and his sons shall offer to the Lord. On the day when he is anointed, a tenth of an efa of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning, half in the evening, it shall be made with oil on a griddle. You shall bring it well mixed in baked pieces, like a grain offering and offer it for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The priest from among Aaron sons, who is anointed to succeed him, shall offer it to the Lord as decree forever. The whole, all of it, shall be burned. Every grain offering of a priest shall be wholly burned. It shall not be eaten.” Now, why would that be the case? Why would they be able to eat the burn offering that is brought by someone other than a priest, but not this offering? It is because they are to receive nothing from the sacrifice for their own sins. If this sacrifice is with reference to a priestly sin, then the priests have no access to the food. It is all to be burned.

Verse 24, “the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘speak to Aaron his sons, saying, this is the law of the sin offering. And the place where the burn offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord. It is most holy. “Now, You’ll notice what why and most holy is the holy of holys, which in the Hebrew is the most holy place. So this is the closest you get to the presence of God. The closest you get to the judgment of God, most holy and items can become temporarily most holy because of their proximity to God’s presence and his wrath and his justice. 

Verse 26, “The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it in a holy place. It shall be eaten in the court of the tent of meeting, whatever touches its flesh shall be holy. And when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place.” Notice the repetition of holy set apart under God and the earth and where vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. “But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, it shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It is most holy, but no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought to the tent of meeting to make atonement for the holy place. It shall be burned up in the fire.”

Well, as we’re looking at this, something shall jump out at us. People need a priest. People need a sacrifice. The habitual sin of the people requires this habitual cycle of all kinds of sacrifices and all kinds of offerings to be made to the Lord. This circumstance requires this offering. This circumstance requires this sacrifice. It is to be done exactly this way. The priests are not to be creative in any way. They are to follow the law scrupulously. The priests themselves fulfill not only a priestly function, but they are a part of the sacrifice. They are not apart from it such that if they become unclean, the sacrifice is nullified. Furthermore, if they become unclean or they act, and as we know, even unintentionally, if a priest should sin in the midst of this process, not only does the priest sin and bring guilt upon himself, he brings guilt upon the people by his sin. This is a representational ministry, which again helps us to understand Christ, but there’s something else here we just have to notice. And that is the fact that we do not have a priestly class that is separated in its sinlessness and thus in its lack of need for sacrifice, that would be something indicative to us. That would be very important. That might be the way we might think it would happen. 

I mean, it’s hard to imagine having a judge who’s a criminal, right? We wouldn’t want to nominate to the Supreme court someone who had done time for extortion or embezzlement, that just wouldn’t happen. Because we’re Christians, we know that our judges are sinners, but they better not be criminals.  If we we’re inventing a priesthood, we’re going to invent a priesthood immune from sin. Right? I mean, I would, because how am I gonna trust a priest who keeps sinning? 

I delivered the Paige lectures at Southeastern seminary this week on the Christian witness in  a post-Christian age and had to take time defining what a post-Christian age means, and what it doesn’t mean. Just trying to present to young seminarians the challenge of what it’s going to mean to live in a rapidly changing culture in which history is split into three, in the Western mind now, before Christianity, then Christianity now after Christianity, it’s a totally different  field, and a big change. I used as my main illustration of where you can see this most graphically, the nation of Ireland, because it’s Ireland that demonstrates this probably better than any other place on planet earth, because Ireland had a clearly pagan pre-Christian past. There there’s evidence of it all over Ireland. Yet Ireland also represented at least institutionalized Christianity, this absolute dominance of Christianity in what is now the Republic of Ireland, overwhelmingly the Roman Catholic church up in the Northern provinces and what is now often referred to as Olster or, Northern Ireland, very Protestant, with a significant Catholic minority.  But in any sense, it was so overwhelmingly Christian that. You should hear the lecturers. Trust me, you’ll find, you’ll find them fascinating. I’d give little advertisement for it. Why? Because I found it fascinating. I really enjoyed giving the lectures, but one of the things I pointed out is that the very height of the troubles in, in Ireland as they were called, it was said that Irish people were so Christian, that if they met a Jew Jewish Citizen of Ireland, that citizen will be pressed to say, “well, are you Catholic Jewish? Are you Protestant Jewish?” That’s how dominant Christianity was. Those were the limited options, but now Ireland is post-Christian in a way that is just very difficult it to explain lots of reasons. But the post Christianity of Ireland is seen in the fact that a generation ago, church attendance was above the nineties. And now it is below the twenties and plummeting, and morally, there has been a complete revolution in social mores and even in the law of Ireland in the 1980s, Ireland by referendum overwhelmingly outlawed abortion. Then by referendum, just in more recent times, it has is passed a far more liberal law. Ireland’s the only country on earth that by referendum has adopted same sex marriage and had an openly gay prime minister, et cetera. 

This is unthinkable. You used to see priests everywhere. Now, priests don’t appear in public in any priestly garb, priesthood just disappeared. That’s a big thing, but a part of what in the Republic of Ireland in the Catholic tradition is now at least partly an explanation for the disappearance of Christianity on the ground for this post-Christian status is the failure of the priesthood time is leaving us here. But the failure of the Catholic priesthood in Ireland has been catastrophic. This is because of the Magdalene Laundries. If you’re familiar with the homes for unwed mothers, where it turns out horrible, horrible things were happening, and they still find burial grounds for both the mothers and their babies. It’s just devastating to know what was going on there, the pedophilia crisis  in the priesthood, just a general imorality in the priesthood. The point is the entire credibility of the church. And of course, that’s a priestly church. If you’re going have a sacred little ministry in your priestly church, those priests better priests, but it’s the collapse of the reputation and the credibility and the integrity of the priesthood that meant that everything just fell apart. 

That was a danger for Israel. If the priest did not have integrity, if the priesthood did not fulfill its responsibility, then the entire people would be severed from the God who had made covenant with them by their sin. But there’s more to it than that. And this is just what I want us to see. And we’ll pick this up next time we’re together because is time is running out, but here’s the most important thing we need to understand. This is the whole point of following through this and stopping here. It is because we need the recognition that the priests need a priest. It’s astounding. The priests need a priest. And by the way as we shall see, a priest sins, there are sins for which atonement can only be made by the high priest, by Aaron or his appointed son as high priests. So priests need a priest. In Hebrews, we will see the need of a priest for a priest is made very clear by the fact that the high priest, when he inter solely representing Israel into the holy of holies, because there’s no human priest to whom he can now turn for priest. He has to go into the holy of holies and offer sacrifice not only for the sins of the people, but with reference to his own sin, the priests need a priest. So this is crying out. This entire system is crying out for a priest who needs no priest. The book of Hebrew, says that when Jesus entered that tabernacle not made with human hands, and when he shed the blood, his own blood, not taking the blood of an animal, he made full atonement for sin, because it is only when we come to Christ and the new covenant that we find a priest who needs no priest until then God’s people were dependent upon these priests. The priests were dependent upon the priests and nothing was finished because the human priesthood could finish nothing. 

Let’s pray. Father, we thank you so much for even the detail of what we read for the shocking nature of this kind of text, from how we would compare the Old Testament to the New. Father, help us to find joy in reading the book of Leviticus word by word, help us to find joy and knowledge, even in knowing the details of the law, but above all, help us to yearn for Christ and find satisfaction in Christ alone, our prophet, our priest, our king, we pray in his name, amen.