1. Today during our service to the Lord, I thought we'd read from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Leviticus is twenty-four chapters in all. At the center of it is a body of law called "The Holiness Code." It is written from chapters seventeen to twenty-six. I read you one part of it today. The name for this as "Holiness Code" is based on the words that I read you today of "You will be holy. I, the Lord your God, am holy." During this service we want to remember these words especially as a message addressed to us by the Lord.
In Various Areas In [Our] Daily Living
2. Within the scripture passage I read you today, we might ought to look at it as being divided into two parts from verse three onward. First from verses three to eight it is, broadly speaking, a response to the first half of the ten commandments. To borrow from a part of Deuteronomy, we could summarize it with the words of "You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (By the way, the interesting thing is that the phrase of "Honor your father and your mother" is placed at the beginning part. I'd say that when our way of living is molded to love the Lord and respect him, the presence of a parent has a great great deal of significance for us.) Taking a step further with that, to have a lifestyle of loving the Lord does not mean to live just by heart felt emotions, but to live by a life of worshipping him in particular. Thus, it gives here in the text things that pertain to worship, like that of "Keep my Sabbath day," "Do not worship idols," "When you offer up peace offerings to the Lord, offer them up as if to be accepted."
3. As far as this "peace offering" goes, more than enough words have been spent. This is also a feature of Leviticus. As you know, as you first start out reading Leviticus it is a bit much how it goes on at great length in its description about the way to offer sacrifices. The scriptures go from how to divide the sacrificial meat to how to dispose of the innards and stomach contents. Too bad, but many folks up and quit reading their Bibles around this point. But, we should not hold this portion of scripture in such low regard; for, at the least, [scholars] think the people who wrote about how to make these sacrifices and who passed them on had a very important concentration of focus on their minds. That concentration of focus was that "When offering up a sacrifice, we must offer it up so as to be acceptable." Put in other words, it would be that "There is a proper way for offering up sacrifices, to worship God there is a proper way to worship." In brief, God really does have a big interest in how we go about worshipping him.
4. Then, verses nine to eighteen are mainly a response to the second half of the ten commandments. This passage can be summed up in the words of verse eighteen to "Love your neighbor like you love yourself." As you know, Jesus summarized the whole law with these words and the words from before in Deuteronomy.
5. As I've already mentioned, in Leviticus, the rules and regulations of the cult are written in great detail. But, yet on the other hand, as we see here, the commands of God that span various areas of every day life are given in the text. The scriptures go so far as to say, "When harvesting grain and cereals, you should not chop into every nook of the field. You should not gather the gleanings left behind after the harvest. You should not pick every single grape either. You should not pick up the fruit that has fallen in the vineyard. You must let them lay for the poor and the aliens," (verses nine and ten). So here we have God not just being concerned just for worship ceremonies. God is not only concerned for how we are when we are in a place of worship. He is looking at our every day lives. Especially so, he has a great interest and looks at how we live and are concerned for others. What's important to God is not just how we are on Sundays. Mondays to Saturdays are also equally as important.
6. In a sense, we would expect that to be so because as it says in the text at verse two, God's demand is "Be holy. I, the Lord your God, am holy," (verse two).
7. The word "holy" is by nature one that can only be used for God. Only God is holy. "Holy" is not a word that depicts any inherently true human characteristic. No matter how pure and righteous one may be, one will not be "holy" through that [alone]. Things and people become holy "by becoming what belongs to a holy God." The temple tools for the ceremonies were sanctified and set apart for God and became God's, and then they became holy instruments. If they weren't God's, regardless of how fancy a vessel it was, it wouldn't be a holy instrument. People are the same way, too. We become what belongs to a holy God and then we become "holy" as his people.
8. Therefore, the words of "Be holy," which the scriptures have here, mean exactly the same as "Live as God's people. Live as totally God's." So, when it says to live as God's it doesn't only have to do with worshipping God, but has to do with different areas of every day life. Leviticus shows this stuff.
Because You Are Made Into A Holy People
9. With that, I would like for us to think about several things more, so that we will understand even deeper about the meaning of the words of "Be holy."
10. For one, we need to think about how these words are based on the grace of God. "Be holy." It was while they were in the wilderness of Sinai that the Israelites heard these words through Moses. They didn't hear them while in Egypt. God released them from the condition of slavery and lead them out of Egypt. Their release from their suffering role in Egypt was the wish of many. God had heard their voices crying out and saved them with his mighty power.
11. But, [Israel's] freedom from suffering never got passed its what we might call starting point of the great gracious plan that was prepared for them. Please look at Exodus chapter nineteen. On the third month since their departure from Egypt, the Lord told Moses, "Speak this to the house of Jacob and tell the Israelites. You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians and I have let you ride on eagle's wings and brought you to me. Now if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasure among all peoples. The world all belongs to me. You will be as to me a kingdom of priests and a holy people. These are the words you should speak to the Israelites," (Exodus 19:3-6).
12. God did not only set the Israelites free, he made a covenant with them. The covenant that God was about to make with them was a covenant to make them the people of God. Through this covenant, they would be made into the people of God's treasure. They would be a kingdom of priests and would be a holy people. When God set them free from their suffering it certainly was a joyous time for the people. It must have been very joyous when God made the people as His people, when God was about to live with them, and when he had great designs and plans for them. Thus, the message of "Be holy" was a message based on the astonishing grace of God, which expresses a totally God-derived and God-given act [having nothing to do with human ability to be pure].
13. Second, we've got to think about how these words take as granted the limitless patience and forbearance of God. The words "Be holy" were not words spoken to angels, they were not words spoken to dolls that you make move any way you want them to, they were words spoken to sinful human beings actually living on this earth. They were words spoken to human beings who were such that though set free from suffering, their memories were as short as fox hole conversions, and they exclaimed that "Egypt was better. Let's go back." As a matter of fact, right after Leviticus, when we get to reading Numbers, what comes into focus there for us is the figure of God with his astonishing patience still being involved in the every day worlds of a truly sinful people.
14. Then third, we've got to see that in the words of "Be holy" are not only God's patience and forbearance tucked within, but God's passion for bringing to pass what he is aiming towards. We come to see this through Jesus Christ.
15. God made a covenant with the Israelites at Sinai. But, Israel broke that covenant. It is what the prophet Jeremiah said later, (Jeremiah 31:36). But, however untrue people might be, [people] will never frustrate God by it. God has not given up on having a holy people on earth. He has not thrown away his purposes for the covenant. Because the old covenant was broken, God said that he would "make a new covenant" based on the forgiveness of sin. For that reason he sent even his own son upon this earth, and he was bloodied on the cross to grant forgiveness of sin.
16. Because of this new covenant, we too exist here as God's people. Because of the astonishing passion of God, we too today can hear those words of the Lord, those words of Jesus at the Lord's Supper -- "This cup is the new covenant established by my blood. Whenever you drink, do this as a memorial to me." Our participating in the Lord's Supper is but a participation in this cup of the new covenant. Because of that, Peter re-stated the words of the Lord once spoken to Israel and said it again to the church. For, he wrote in scripture, "Do not be dragged about by your lusts as when you were ignorant, but imitate the holy one who called you and be holy in every area of your daily lives. 'Be holy. For I am holy," (First Peter 1:14-16).
17. It is often said of Leviticus and Numbers that [these books] don't not seem to apply to us directly today and they seem so unrelated to us. But, we want to take in further from all these books with the details in them included about how we are to live as God's people, and in what ways we are to live as holy people belonging to God. So, let's seek in prayer together that our daily lives as the people of God will truly be molded and made.