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).

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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!

 

Day 39: Our Compassionate God

Leviticus 4-6:7; Matthew 25:31-46

Key Verses

Leviticus 5:17-18
“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 a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven.

Matthew 25:34
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'”

The parable of the sheep and the goats has always scared me. I’m just not “sheep” material. I don’t visit prisons or volunteer in soup kitchens. I’m totally a goat… Right?

Thankfully, Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 can’t be interpreted in a vacuum. We know from New Testament teaching that salvation can not be earned. You could be the most altruistic person on the planet – but you would still far short of admittance to heaven. The standard is perfection. None of us can reach it.

So we know that the sheep are those made righteous by faith alone. But Matthew 25 does reveal what the definitive characteristic of a Christian should be… Compassion.

Why compassion? Because the Lord is compassionate.

What motivated God to set apart the Israelite people, to give them rituals and laws? Why did He deal with their grumbling and stubbornness? Compassion.

Today’s reading in Leviticus is a bright, full-colored picture of His compassion toward His people. First, we see that sin is serious. It can’t be overlooked. It provokes the wrath of our holy God, and his wrath must be appeased. But God, knowing that we are by nature, sinful, provides a way to deal with sin. The sin and guilt offerings are pictures of making atonement for the sin – and ultimately they point forward to the Savior, who will offer the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin.

God is holy; therefore, His wrath is justified. God is holy; therefore, His compassion is sufficient. Compassion for others comes from a correct view of oneself: I am tainted by sin. Therefore, I am in desperate need of compassion! And having received the abundant, flowing compassion from God, I should be compelled to let that compassion overflow into others’ lives. That is the mark of a “sheep.” That is the mark of Christ!

Day 38: Waiting Well

Leviticus 1-3; Matthew 24:15-25:30

Key Verses

Leviticus 1:3-4
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”

Matthew 24:44
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

We begin Leviticus today! Leviticus is actually a continuation of Exodus. The setting of the entire book takes place at the base of Mt. Sinai after the Israelites have erected the Tabernacle and its court. Leviticus is difficult, simply because the unfamiliar rituals and laws sound foreign to our modern ears. But there are several valuable reasons to study Leviticus…

  1. Leviticus teaches “that Israel is sinful and impure. On the other hand, it describes how to deal with sin and impurity so that the holy Lord can dwell in the people’s midst” (ESV Study Bible, pg 211, Theme).
  2. The sacrificial system of Leviticus points forward to – and has been fulfilled by – Christ.
  3. Many of the moral requirements listed in Leviticus reflect the kind of moral conduct that is pleasing to God today.
  4. Leviticus can help the Christian develop a godly framework for justice.

With these purposes in mind, let’s begin our 11 day trek through Leviticus :-)

Leviticus 1-3 begins to detail the types of offerings the priests and people make to the Lord. Leviticus 1 describes the burnt offering. The burnt offering was the most costly of the offerings because the whole animal was burned on the altar. In addition to the priests’ daily duty of giving the burnt offering to the Lord both in the morning and evening, the people could also bring a burnt offering for the purpose of petition or praise.

Leviticus 2 describes a grain offering. A grain offering was simply an offering of flour with oil, spices and salt. The offering could be cooked or uncooked. Typically a grain offering wasn’t brought alone – but was offered alongside another offering, such as a burnt or peace offering.

And finally, Leviticus 3 describes a peace offering. This offering resulted in peace between the offerer and God. The ritual symbolized a communion meal between the offerer, officiating priest and the Lord. Only a portion of the offering was burned and the rest of the animal was consumed by the offerer and priest.

It is tempting to discount Leviticus’ relevance because we know the entire sacrificial system has ceased. We no longer have to bring burnt offerings to the Lord. Christ’s “once and for all” sacrifice is sufficient for eternity! But we learn more of God’s character as we walk in the steps of our forefathers who lived before Christ. These rituals graciously gave the people a way to deal with sin until the promised Savior came.

In Matthew, we read more of Christ’s words describing the end of the age. There are varying interpretations of Jesus’ words depending on your end-time theology. I think there are two important applications we can learn from today’s passage.

  1. We do not know when Christ will return.
  2. In the interim, we are to wait well.

Jesus gives four parables on how to wait for his return. What do we learn from each of these parables?

  1. Matthew 24:43-44. The thief comes at an hour you do not expect. Therefore, we must be ready for Jesus to return at any time.
  2. Matthew 24:45-51. The faithful servant obeys his master even when he is not present and is greatly rewarded! The foolish servant ignores the master and does as he pleases. His fate is dreadful.
  3. Matthew 25:1-12. Half of the virgins were prepared and ready when the bridegroom came. The other half were not and missed him. We are each responsible to be ready for his return.
  4. Matthew 25:14-30. We are all given talents, and we are all called to be faithful with those talents.

The Israelites were waiting for Christ to come. We are waiting for Christ to return. The Lord’s expectations were the same for the Israelites as they are for us today. Wait well. How do we wait well? By obeying the Lord’s commands and being faithful with all He has given us!

Day 36: The Tabernacle

Exodus 37-38; Matthew 23:1-39

Key Verses

Exodus 38:21
These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

Matthew 23:17
You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

The Law was born on the glory of the mountain, written on stone tablets by the finger of God and encased in the ark. The ark was made of pure gold and it alone was found behind the veil – in the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies. It was behind the veil where the presence of the Lord came down and His glory shone above the mercy seat of the Ark.

Just on the other side of the veil, in the Holy Place, stood the Altar of Incense – which would continually burn the holy Incense, pleasing to the Lord. Inside the Holy Place were also the  Table for the Bread of the Presence and the Golden Lampstand – both pointing forward to Jesus, the Bread of Life and the Light of the World.

The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place comprised the tabernacle which was made of the finest linen with blue, purple and scarlet yarns. The Tabernacle was surrounded by the court. The Bronze Basin, used for ceremonial washings, stood between the Bronze Altar and the entrance to the Tabernacle. After offering a sacrifice on the altar, the priest would then wash in the basin before entering the Holy Tabernacle.

Each act – every priestly duty – was ordained by God to daily remind the people of their sin and His holiness.

Time marched forward and God’s word was diluted. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ day distorted God’s holy law to exalt themselves and to line their pockets with the people’s guilt offerings. Jesus was disgusted. The holy tabernacle was defiled by pride.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in  (Matthew 23:13).

Jesus, who perfectly fulfills every requirement of the law… Jesus who would become the final Passover Lamb… Jesus, the God of the Covenant laments over His people.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:37-38).

The word “house” was an expression for “temple.” The temple, the dwelling place of God, is desolate. And Jesus weeps.

Day 35: Who is This God?

Exodus 34-36

Key Verses

Exodus 34:6-7
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”

Who is this God we worship? He is merciful. He is gracious. He is slow to anger. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. But he will not let the guilty go free.

Who is this God we worship? That Moses’ face shone with glory after speaking with Him on the mountain?

Who is this God we worship? That he sovereignly placed skilled craftsmen among the Israelites so that His tabernacle could be built perfectly.

Who is this God we worship? He is the God who condescended to us. He made us His people by the sacrificial work of His Son. We are His people, and He. Is. Our. God.

Day 34: God’s Fierce Love

Exodus 31-33; Matthew 22:23-46

Key Verses

Exodus 32:16-17
Moses said to the Lord…”For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

Matthew 22:37-39
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In Exodus 24:7, the people promised to obey the all of the “Book of the Covenant.” It doesn’t take the people long to break their covenant promise to the Lord. The people throw aside Moses and implore Aaron to make them an idol. The fickle people choose to worship a calf made of gold in the absence of Moses. It turns my stomach.

I think, however, the focus in these chapters should be on Moses, and his intercession for the people. Moses is the mediator. He’s the mediator of the covenant and he’s the mouthpiece of God. Moses intercedes twice on behalf of the people in these chapters… First, he pleads for their lives and secondly, he reminds God of His covenant promise to be their God in order to convince Him to go with them to the promised land.

Moses doesn’t change God’s mind. God is molding Moses to have the same thoughts, the same ways, to be more like Himself. Think of the transformation from when Moses first encountered God in the burning bush – to now – when he is boldly pleading for the people. Moses was afraid to stand before Pharaoh, and now he’s able to reason with God. The change is remarkable. This is the work of God in Moses’ life. It is a work of grace.

You see… God made a promise.

I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God (Exodus 29:45-46).

He will not break this promise. His promise does not depend on the faithfulness of  His people. It depends on the faithfulness of One. That One will not break covenant. That One will not sin. And that One will become the once and for all sacrifice and rise to sit at the right hand of the Father where he makes intercession for all the saints. Yes, Jesus, intercedes for you just as Moses interceded for the people. How much more will the Father listen to the perfect mediator?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-35; 38-39).

God’s anger burned against the Israelite people because He loved them. His anger matches the fierceness of His love. He is jealous for you!

Day 33: A Holy Garment

Exodus 29-30; Matthew 22:1-22

Key Verses

Exodus 29:45-46
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

Matthew 22:8, 9-12
Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless.

Wow. Exodus 29 is the ceremony of all ceremonies. I’ve never heard or seen a more intricate ceremony! Have you?

First, Aaron and his sons are consecrated (set apart) and ordinated as priests. They are washed and dressed in the priestly garments and anointed with oil…

And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:9).

Aaron is a descendant of Levi (Ex 6:16-20). He is the first of the High Priests. Later, when the Israelites inherit the land and Joshua allots pieces of the land to the tribes of Israel, the Levites are not given land because they are to serve the nation as priests.

Next, Aaron and his sons must make a sacrificial offering to atone for their own sin. They place their hands on the head of the bull to signify the transfer of their sin to the animal. They then slaughter the bull and the insides of the animal are burned on the altar, but the outside of the bull… its flesh, skin, and dung, is burned outside the camp – away from the tabernacle. These parts of the animal symbolically bear the sin. And God does not tolerate sin. (Exodus 29:10-14)

Then we see two rams being offered. The first is a burnt offering in which the whole ram is given as an offering to the Lord. The 2nd ram is the ram of ordination. (Exodus 29:15-27)

The ordination ceremony is to last seven days, and each of the seven days, the priest must make a sin offering. God also gives instructions for how to purify the altar. The consecration of the altar would be part of the regular duties of the priests – to offer both a morning and evening sacrifice. (Exodus 29:38-42)

But why must the altar be consecrated daily? It stands just outside the Tent of Meeting which contains both the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. And it is there where the Lord will meet with the people. (Exodus 29:42-46)

What do we learn from these chapters? God is holy. He can not be in the presence of sin. The word “holy” is used 19 times in these two chapters alone!! And just in case you think that God relaxes on this “holy” thing when Jesus enters the world… Just read what Jesus has to say from today’s reading in Matthew… Only those with the proper garment, a holy garment, are invited to His feast. The man found without the proper garment was “[bound] hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13).

Friend, do you have the proper garment? We can not manufacture this garment from our own good works. This garment is a gift. It is the righteousness of Christ, received by faith…

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

God’s holiness is to be feared. We can not approach him without the proper covering. Christ covers us with His righteousness so that He might “present [us] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22 NIV). That’s good news. That’s the gospel!