Day 49: The reaping

Leviticus 26-27; Mark 2

Key Verses

Leviticus 26:45
“But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

Mark 2:17
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Leviticus 26 is difficult. The first half paints a breathtaking picture of a life of obedience. This is the life that God wanted for his people – this is the life that God wants for us!

But I know the story of the Israelites, and I know they fail to obey. God is true to his word. The horrible curses described in the second half of Leviticus 26 come on Israel – so much that the land will be laid desolate and the people will live as captives in a foreign land. But God gives a glimmer of hope…

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:44).

Because the strict language of Leviticus seems so different from Jesus’ love and compassion, it might be easy to discount the Law as obsolete and meaningless to the modern Christian. No! God is still holy!! And our disobedience is still costly!

Fast forward to Mark… The Jews questioned Jesus in Mark 2 several times… “Why do you make yourself unclean by associating with sinners?” “Why don’t your followers obey the fasting laws?” “Why do you break the law and pluck grain on the Sabbath?” On the surface, it seems like Jesus is voiding the law with his actions. But he refutes this in the parable of the wine skins… No, he fulfills the law and deepens it to include what flows from the heart instead of describing only outward actions.

The Israelites disobeyed God’s law and they reaped the consequences.We are no different from the Israelites. We reap what we sow. If you look back at Leviticus 26 (in the ESV translation), God describes the consequences for Israel’s disobedience as “discipline” not “punishment.” Every consequence was brought about with the hope of repentance. Ultimately, God just wants us to repent. He is waiting for the turning… for our hard hearts to be brought low in humility and surrender. What are you sowing?? Humble reliance or hard-hearted independence?? Just like the Israelites, we will reap what we sow.

Day 48: Made clean

Leviticus 24-25; Mark 1:21-45

Key Verses

Leviticus 25:18
“Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.”

Mark 1:27
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Leviticus continues today with more laws illustrating God’s holiness and justice. Remember the purpose of these laws as you read… God was forming a nation that would be set apart from the other nations. They were to deal compassionately with the poor (25:23-55). Laws were established to protect the land (25:1-7) and also give each generation a chance to earn a living in an agricultural society (25:8-17). Judges were to give fair sentences that equaled the severity of the crimes (24:17-23).

Imagine the peace and prosperity that would come to the people if they obeyed all that the Lord commanded! His plans have always been and remain… good.

But for those of us who find it difficult to see God’s goodness in the law… He sent his Son to demonstrate his love in human form. Let’s look at one scene from today’s reading in Mark…

And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean (Mark 1:40-42).

This passage should have deeper meaning after reading through Leviticus… The leper was ceremonially unclean (Lev. 13). According to the law, if Jesus touched him, he would also be made unclean. But Jesus chose to touch him. Why? Jesus’ love and compassion were so powerful that instead of making Jesus unclean, his touch made the leper clean.* Doesn’t Jesus do the same for us?? That’s the gospel! And that’s good news :)

*This observation came from the study notes of the ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles

Day 47: Definitely Not Boring!

Leviticus 23; Mark 1:1-20

Key Verses

Leviticus 23:1
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.”

Mark 1:17
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

I love the fact that God gave his people feasts. The feasts were in essence – holidays. God established “family traditions” for the Israelite nation! Each year is book-ended by two feasts which celebrate the escape from Egypt. The year began with Passover – a solemn memorial in which they ate unleavened bread for a week. The year then ended with the Feast of Booths. This feast was very different. Listen to its description…

And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.

That sounds like a party to me! In fact, this feast reminds me of one big camping retreat (as the people were commanded to live in tents for the week). God is a lot of things, but he’s not boring.

We begin Mark today. Immediately, you should notice a different style of writing than in Matthew. Mark describes in 20 verses what Matthew took four chapters to cover. Mark’s gospel reminds me of a highlight reel that hits you with one power-punched scene after another. Reading it makes me want to hit the pause button! But Mark had a purpose, and it was to encourage discipleship. Matthew’s gospel ended with “The Great Commission” …to make disciples of all the nations. In order to be a disciple of Christ, we must know Him and imitate Him. Mark’s gospel makes this possible!

Day 46: The Great Reversal

Leviticus 21-22; Matthew 28

Key Verses

Leviticus 22:21
And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.

Matthew 28:5-7
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.

Leviticus 21-22 are difficult passages for me. Taken alone, they could portray God as uncompassionate and harsh. Especially difficult are the passages referring to “without blemish.” No priest or animal could have a blemish. That meant no blind priests in the tabernacle. Hunchbacks were not tolerated. Even if your hand was injured, you were not allowed. This seems like a different God than the one who made the blind see and the lame walk.

But I have an idea… What if God is painting a picture of his original design? What if he is pointing back to what should have been – before sin entered the world… Sin corrupted everything… even our physical bodies. Disability, sickness, and death were not part of God’s original plan. There was no “blemish” before sin.

But the resurrection of Christ undoes the effects of sin. It is the resurrection which begins the great reversal. What did C.S. Lewis write in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?

Though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. But if she could have looked a little further back… she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.

Yes! Death is working backward. We live in the time after the resurrection… when God takes our blemishes and redeems them – and he transforms them – and then he makes them into something…good.

Day 45: The Deep, Deep Love of God

Leviticus 18-20; Matthew 27:32-66

Key Verses

Leviticus 20:26
You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Matthew 27:50
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

I see God’s character ringing loudly through these chapters. I see the goal of restoring the world to its original creation design. I see compassion for the poor, reasonable dealings with others, jealousy for the worship of His people, a passion for purity and the grand plan to distinguish a people for His glory. And then we see the ultimate sacrifice… As God, himself dies to redeem his oh-so-lost-children.

And to think that I’ve doubted His goodness. And I’ve dared to doubt His love. Oh Lord, forgive me.

Day 44: Life-blood

Leviticus 17; Matthew 27:1-31

Key Verses

Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Matthew 27:13-14
Then Pilate said to [Jesus], “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

God tells the people: life is in the blood (Lev 17:11). The shedding of the animal’s blood, its sacrificial death, is a substitute payment for the sinner. For the consequences of any and all sin – is death. God graciously allows a substitute. The life is in the blood. The life of the animal is poured out on the altar as a payment for sin.

Jesus, standing before Pilate, offered no defense. He knew his role. When he was mocked and spat upon, he did not retaliate. He was the substitute. His life-blood would be poured out for our sins. Do you believe this? Do not belittle the sacrifice with indifference. Come to the cross and find rest for your soul.

Day 43: The Story of All Stories

Leviticus 16; Matthew 26:57-75

Key Verses

Leviticus 16:34
“And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.”

Matthew 26:65-66
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He, [Jesus,] has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement. It was this day, only once a year, that the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and make atonement for himself and for the people. The sins of the people were ceremonially transferred to a goat, the scapegoat, and it carried the iniquity of the people away to the wilderness.

The temple, the ceremonies, the High Priest… all of it pointed forward to the Messiah. But the people didn’t expect the Messiah, their Savior, to be a suffering servant. Even Peter, compelled by fear and crushed by the grief of unmet expectations, denied knowing Jesus in the end. And ironically, it is the High Priest, the appointed mediator between God and the people, that sentences the Messiah to death. Christ is left alone to accomplish what He alone could do.

John Bloom writes from the September 18, 2010 entry of the Desiring God blog: “Jesus turned out to be far more than the Messiah had been expected to be. He was the consummate temple, Passover lamb, sacrificed goat, scapegoat, high priest, prophet and the King of kings.”

God can write a story! God is the ultimate author, originating all literary techniques such as irony, foreshadowing, symbolism. And to think… we are actually characters in His story. Amazing…

But when Christ came as the high priest of the good things we now have, he entered the greater and more perfect tent. It is not made by humans and does not belong to this world. Christ entered the Most Holy Place only once—and for all time. He did not take with him the blood of goats and calves. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin forever. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a cow are sprinkled on the people who are unclean, and this makes their bodies clean again. How much more is done by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14. NCV).

Day 42: Cleanliness Laws

Leviticus 11-15

Key Verses

Acts 10:28
And [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

A brief word about this section of Leviticus as the reading is long. It is important to understand the meaning of clean vs. unclean. It was not a hygienic term, nor did it refer to moral standing. It simply referred to a ritual state. The ESV Study Bible compares ritual cleanness to being registered to vote. If you’re registered, you can vote. Similarly, if you are ritually clean, you are permitted in the camp – or community. If you are ritually unclean, you must stay outside the camp until which time you are made ritually clean.

This concept is foreign to us because the cleanliness laws have been made obsolete by the new covenant. The purpose of these laws was to set Israel apart as a holy nation, different than the surrounding nations. Now that the new covenant has made the gospel available to all nations, the need for laws that make the Israelite nation unique is no longer needed. (For a New Testament example, see Acts 10, the story of Peter and Cornelius.)

So, enjoy today’s reading ;)

Day 41: The Priesthood

Leviticus 8-10; Matthew 26:26-56

Key Verses

Leviticus 9:7
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded.”

Matthew 26:27-28
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

As first instructed back in Exodus 29, Leviticus 8 records the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests. It is a glorious time – a monumental event in the history of the Israelite people! The priesthood has been established! God has provided a way for a sinful people to draw near to a holy God!

Leviticus 9 records Aaron’s first priestly duties. It sets forth a model of worship that remains relevant to the believer today…

  • He begins by offering a sin offering first for himself and then for the people. Having atoned for the sins of the congregation,
  • He offers a burnt offering as a sign of total devotion and thanksgiving to the Lord.
  • Finally, Aaron offers a peace offering as a symbol that God and the people have been reconciled through the blood of the offerings.

God was pleased with Aaron, and the offerings were accepted! Aaron and the priesthood would now act as the mediator between God and the people.

Leviticus 10 is a severe reminder that worship is not just a list of duties to be performed, but must come from an undivided heart. All four of Aaron’s sons failed to keep a portion of the priestly duties. Aaron’s oldest sons were killed for offering “unauthorized fire.” The implication was that they were cavalier in their duties. God does not tolerate flippant pride. Aaron’s younger two sons did not eat the sin offering as commanded. But they were spared because their motivation was out of fear for the holiness of God. God has always been more concerned with the heart than with outward actions.

In fact, Jeremiah prophesied that there would be a new covenant and it would be written on the heart.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jesus is the mediator of this new covenant – the covenant of grace. He institutes “the Lord’s supper” as he eats his last meal with the disciples recorded in Matthew 26. Jesus says that this is the “blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). We celebrate this new covenant each time we take communion. It is a meal that points forward to a day when we will eat and drink with Jesus face to face…

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

Until that day, we are called to worship our God with all of our heart…

  • Because of Jesus’ perfect sin offering, we can draw near to God.
  • We make our burnt offering as we devote our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord (Rom 12:1),
  • And we make our peace offering as we confess the gospel of reconciliation to the world.

According to Peter, we are now the priesthood! And we are to offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5).

Day 40: Extravagant Love

Leviticus 6:8-7:38; Matthew 26:1-25

Key Verses

Leviticus 7:35-36
“This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day that he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations.”

Matthew 26:13
“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

These verses in Leviticus recount the previous five offerings from a different perspective. This time, they focus on the priests’ responsibilities and portions of the offerings. One interesting side-note (that is not immediately obvious from the text) is the meaning of the word “fat.” The “fat” of the animal was considered the finest portion – the “filet mignon” type portion. All the “fat” of the animal was given to God as a food offering, so the Lord got the best part of the animal. Reserving a lesser part of the offering for the priest ensured the welfare of him and his family.

But let’s transition to today’s New Testament reading. Matthew made a literary choice to sandwich Mary’s anointing  (that occurred earlier in the week) between two scenes of shocking betrayal. Contrasting Mary’s sacrificial act to Judas’ and the Priests’ self-serving hatred only highlights Mary’s enormous love for Jesus.

We know from John 12, that this is Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister. Her devotion to Jesus is unmatched. Jesus’ disciples, his closest companions, are still refusing to believe that he will actually die, but Mary mysteriously gets it. She’s willing to sacrifice a year’s wages to show her love for Jesus, her Lord. She breaks her precious alabaster jar over Jesus’ head (Mark 14). She bends and wipes the oil from Jesus’ feet with her hair. She has prepared him for burial. Jesus says it is a beautiful thing.

Sweet Mary. Just as the priests were commanded to offer the “fat” of the animal – the best part – as an offering to the Lord, so did Mary offer the best of all she had. Her love was extravagant.

Are we giving God the best of what we possess? Do we love Him extravagantly or are we shackled by social norms and cultural expectations? Do we love our reputation, status, wealth, security, possessions, family, comfort, pleasure or a sense of control more than we love our Lord? Jesus demands our all  – but not out of priestly duty… No! He wants our extravagant Love!