If you’re following a plan to read through your Bible in 2018, chances are you’re in Leviticus or have just finished it. Maybe it was a hard slog for you. All those sacrifices, all those procedures, all those animal parts. When do we start learning about the Gospel? About Jesus?
Let me encourage you to take a closer look—or perhaps to sit back in your chair and think about the implications of what you’ve been reading. Let me suggest a couple of life-changing principles that spring from what you’ve just read.
The Law Is Impossible
Let’s take a high flyover view of the Law for a moment.
God says that the penalty for sin is death (Rom 6.23). Specifically, he told the Jews that payment for sin required shedding of blood (Lev 17.11). But then he said, graciously, that you could offer the death of an animal in the place of yourself. That’s a huge relief, and it’s a glorious grace.
But here’s the thing. You can’t just go out in back of the house and kill a lamb. No, you have to offer the lamb to God. And in OT times, that means you have to take the lamb to where God is—in the place where he has placed his name (Lev 17.4, 9; Dt 12.5ff). During the wilderness wanderings, that meant wending your way through thousands of tents to the center of camp, where the Tabernacle was illuminated by the pillar of cloud, the sign of God’s presence. During the period of the judges it meant going to the Tabernacle’s more-or-less permanent location at Gilgal or Shiloh or Bethel or Nob or Gibeon or, finally, Jerusalem. And under Solomon and the divided monarchy, it meant going to the Temple in Jerusalem.
During the Babylonian Captivity, when there was no Temple—that was the greatest tragedy of the exile—there could be no sacrifices. But when Judah returned to the Land, the Second Temple, again on the Jerusalem site, served as the location until the Romans destroyed it shortly after Christ’s earthly ministry.
So. You live in Dan, in Galilee, and you sin. You have to offer a sacrifice. You saddle up and head for Jerusalem. It takes two days—longer if it’s after the Assyrian action of 722 BC and you’re too bigoted to go through Samaria. On arrival, you purchase a lamb at the Temple—that’s a lot easier than bringing one from home—and present it at the top of the steps, where you lay your hands on its head, symbolizing the transfer of your sin, and the priest takes it to the altar, where he executes it according to those instructions in Leviticus.
Done. Forgiven. Time to go home.
Saddle up and head north. You get home in two days.
The trip has taken at least 4 days. When’s the last time you went four days without sinning?
Houston, we have a problem.
You’d better move to Jerusalem, my friend, because if you don’t, you’re going to spend your entire pitiable life on the road.
You can’t do this, even if you’re a detail person. Especially if you’re a detail person.
You’re going to need help.
Next time we’ll look at a second life-changing principle, and at the solution to which both of these principles point.
Keep reading Leviticus. It’s a book about love.