Hmmm, am I going to start each post with a remark about how long it’s been since I last posted? Really, one month, that’s not too good. Does it help that I’ve been thinking about this post that entire month? I’ve been thinking about the topic ever since my friend Cathy commented on the last post that she’d be interested in my take on the book of “Leviticus”–but this Christmas week gave me the extra push to get this written.
So, Cathy, and everyone, the Book of Leviticus. A robust Old Testament listing in 27 chapters of laws relating to a right relationship with our God, given to Moses and the Jewish people as a set of crucial codes for their living, with a special focus on the sacrificial system for forgiveness from sins and on the Tribe of the Levites whose mission was decreed by God to minister the processes within the Tabernacle and served as priests. In fact, this Book of the Old Testament for Christians is a primary source for Jewish Law. But for most of us Christians, it’s a piece of the Bible we feel comfy to pick and choose our way through and often ignore wholesale…
Here’s what I think causes a problem for us, though. As Christians, we really celebrate and rest on our status of being forgiven people, dependent on the wonderful grace of God. This status is an amazing gift, one we didn’t earn, and one that is solely by God’s choice. Truly a wonderful thing. Jesus has solved the problem of forgiveness for every one of us forever if we accept that gift. This is actually a perfect parallel with the Leviticus chapters that deal with the various sacrifices for sins–the extent to which the Jewish people were adhering to the prescribed sacrifices determined the forgiveness they experienced. And like us with Jesus’ gift of permanent redemption, the Jewish people were very ready to rely on this periodic redemption process as the key to a godly and worthy life. In the most extreme version of this, they and we could all feel like how we lived wouldn’t matter so long as there was a great redemptive process in place.
The problem arises in that God didn’t just tell us about how to be forgiven for our sins, He also told us about how He wants us to live. On a mountain while wandering in the desert, Moses was given God’s instructions for living–the Ten Commandments–which tell us to live with Him and each other in a way that is distinctive from the rest of the world. And this list didn’t claim that the rules were for our redemption, they were about how we can truly be God’s people here on earth. So, also did Leviticus not only give the Jewish people their approach to gaining forgiveness, but also a great many examples of how to live in a godly manner with God and each other. And, note, these were truly simply a list of examples of how to live God’s way, not replacements for the Ten Commandments. For us Christians, we can regard Jesus’ teachings like The Sermon on the Mount as the same thing–while there are teachings there about the redemption Jesus provides, it is so much more about living as God’s people among all people for His glory and their benefit.
So, for the Jewish people, according to so many of the Old Testament prophets’ words, their key failing was not in following the sacrificial system–in fact, in many cases, God informed them that their dutiful sacrifices were just not acceptable. Their failing was in not living righteous lives, with care for the poor, orphaned, widowed, hungry, imprisoned, marginalized of their world. Similarly, Jesus story of the sheep and goats warned us Christians of the same thing. And the complaints against the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were not about whether the church members are redeemed, but instead about how they live out their faith.
Given all of that, where Leviticus for the Jewish people had been a stumbling block when they centered in on the sacrifices, neglecting the instructions for living in a Godly manner, we Christians can fall into the same pit of focusing on the forgiveness Jesus gained for us while neglecting to live with love and care for God’s beloved people. About a week ago, comedian Jim Gaffigan posted on Twitter a quip that “Christmas is like finals week for Christians.” I read this to mean that Christmas is certainly a time when the behavior of Christians is particularly evident to those around them. I don’t think their judgment of the depth and value of our devotion to God is going to be most heavily based on the beauty of Christmas displays or volume of our Christmas caroling–but the things that we do to show true care for our neighbors far and near, especially those marginalized by society, will lead to more favorable views of the value of a Christian lifestyle. And how it is that we regard the instructions for living as God’s people in like of the Ten Commandments, Leviticus, the Sermon on the Mount, and Revelation 2-3 are what might best guide these actions for us.
Hey, I hope and pray your labors during this “finals week” bring you closer to who God calls us to be!
One follow-up note: I now have an HD video recorder which makes it much easier for me to record the PSA I mentioned in the last post, which I hope to do this week while off from work. When I post it, I’ll make sure there’s a link on this blog!