June 13, 2005
“The Lord Who Makes Us Holy”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter 22. We are continuing a section of the Book of Leviticus that again pertains to regulations regarding the rites of worship, and especially regulations that are directed to the priests. Many of these regulations, especially in the first nine verses of Leviticus 22, we’ve already seen before. These regulations have in different forms already been given to the people of God regarding their approach or non-approach to God in worship in the tabernacle.
But here these are directed specifically to the priests, and in this passage we see not only standing instructions for those who worship the Lord, standing instructions for those who lead in the worship of the Lord, but we also see a beautiful picture of the way in which God will bring about the forgiveness of our sins.
And I want to look at this passage with you tonight in three parts. If you look at Leviticus 22 and the first nine verses, you will note that everything in those verses pertains to specific prohibitions for the priestly order as they approach God in worship. So this section, verses 1-9, deals with ceremonial uncleanness, and not coming before the Lord in the tabernacle in worship in a state of ceremonial uncleanness, by whatever reason that ceremonial uncleanness is caused. That’s the first section.
The second section, if you look at verses 10-16, pertains to the food which is devoted to the priesthood and who can eat it, and especially we find here a prohibition against anyone but the priests and those who are properly part of their families partaking of those holy food gifts which have been brought by the people of God to the tabernacle, and those portions thereof that had been given to the priests.
Then the third section of the chapter, you’ll see in verses 17-33, pertains to the demand for perfect sacrificial animals. Over and over in that section there is repeated this requirement that only perfect animals can be brought in sacrifices. As I’ve said, we’ve seen these rules before. They’re being repeated here in the context of God’s commands to the priests about “right rites” in the worship of God in the tabernacle.
Now before we read this passage together, let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge this to be Your word, and we pray that tonight You would teach us from Your word of Yourself and of our Savior. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’m going to begin by reading verses 1-9, and then we’ll comment on that, and we’ll read verses 10-16 and comment on that, and then we’ll read verses 17-33, and perhaps the shorter readings will help us to digest just a little bit more of what is going on in this passage.
We begin then with God’s word in Leviticus 22:1.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons to be careful with the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they dedicate to Me, so as not to profane My holy name; I am the Lord. Say to them, ‘If any man among all your descendants throughout your generations approaches the holy gifts which the sons of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from before Me. I am the Lord. No man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or who has a discharge, may eat of the holy gifts until he is clean. And if one touches anything made unclean by a corpse or if a man has a seminal emission, or if a man touches any teeming things, by which he is made unclean, or any man by whom he is made unclean, whatever his uncleanness; a person who touches any such shall be unclean until evening, and shall not eat of the holy gifts, unless he has bathed his body in water. But when the sun sets, he shall be clean, and afterward he shall eat of the holy gifts, for it is his food. He shall not eat an animal which dies or is torn by beasts, becoming unclean by it; I am the Lord. They shall therefore keep My charge, so that they may not bear sin because of it, and die thereby because they profane it; I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’’”
Now, that whole passage pertains to prohibitions for the priests. They were not to come into the precincts of the tabernacle, engage in the rites of worship, or partake the holy food set apart for the priests as a part of the sacrificial system when they were in a state of uncleanness. And what we see repeated there are some of the ceremonial prohibitions regarding uncleanness that we’ve already seen before in the Book of Leviticus. And again the main point is very clear: that God is to be approached in holiness and with care, and that that care is to be shown by strict adherence to these ceremonial rites and actions and statuses. That is, if a priest is ceremonially unclean because of one of these various things which are listed here, he is thereby made unfit to enter into the leading of tabernacle worship or to participate in the eating of the holy food which has been devoted to the priests.
Why? Well, throughout the Book of Leviticus, you remember, one of the priests’ main jobs is to do what? To distinguish between clean and unclean. Now, why is the priest to distinguish between clean and unclean? Because the ceremonial status of cleanness and uncleanness is tied to the worship of the Lord, so that those who are clean are able to come into the worship of the Lord and participate, and those who are not are not able. It’s part of the way of illustrating to the people of God the importance of their distinctness from the nations around them, their distinctness from the behavior, and the actions and the attitudes of the worlds around them. They’re not to be sucked into the lifestyle, into the manner of living of the unbelieving cultures around them; they are to be distinct and separate. If the priest is to be careful in distinguishing between what is clean and unclean in the people pertaining to whether they can come to the Lord, isn’t it doubly important that the priests themselves observe those statutes of cleanness and uncleanness? It would be the height of hypocrisy, if their main job is to determine whether the people of God have met the standards of approaching the Lord and participating in tabernacle worship by either keeping the laws of cleanness or being in a state of uncleanness, and thus needing to be cleansed...it would be the height of hypocrisy for them to administer those while not observing those laws for themselves. And so in this passage it’s being stressed that the priests themselves must live out the very distinction that God has called upon them to enforce in the people of God. It is a basic call for the priest’s life to be in accordance with the priest’s duties, and the priest’s teaching, and the priest’s responsibilities. And so we see a very basic reason for these rules being stressed here. The priest’s own action and life must be in accordance with his calling and his duty as a priest.
Let’s pull back from there again and ask again, Why these distinctions between clean and unclean? And aren’t some of these fairly stringent and unfair? For instance, what about a person with some sort of skin disease, or even leprosy? That person hasn’t asked for that skin disease or for that leprosy. Isn’t it a little bit harsh for the Lord to keep that person from participating in the tabernacle worship of the living God because they are in a state of uncleanness that, at least, perhaps, in the short term, cannot be cured? And in some cases, in the long term cannot be cured?
Well, again remember that throughout Leviticus the idea is that what comes before God in worship must reflect who God is; and so anything which represents less than wholeness and fullness and perfection is excluded by the ceremonial law from participation in the tabernacle worship.
Now, that means that those who have these certain diseases are themselves excluded from participation in tabernacle worship, and it makes a very, very clear point: that if we are going to commune with God, we must be like Him.
But still, your heart goes out to those who are excluded through no fault of their own from participation in that worship. Well, your heart is right to go out to them, but understand that that point is powerfully made through the provision of the ceremonial law, and the New Testament shows the Lord Jesus Christ reaching out precisely to those who have been excluded because of that ceremonial uncleanness, and He is healing them and bring them into the experience of the presence of worship of the living God. And so both the Old Testament picture and the New Testament picture show us things, which are true about God and important to learn, that we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate unless both aspects were there in the Scripture.
And so in this passage we’re reminded again that behind these ceremonial requirements for cleanness is ultimately a moral requirement for cleanness. The ceremonial requirements for perfection entering into the presence of the Lord are designed to illustrate that holiness communes with holiness, and that if we wish to fellowship with the living God, it requires that we be made right with Him and that we be like Him; that we be morally transformed so that we are like Him.
But in this passage, in verses 1-9, it is especially stressed that the priests themselves must be living examples of approaching God in holiness and in care.
Now, I can think of many, many applications of that today, but let me come back to the very one we talked about last week. Though there are no ceremonial requirements for elders in the New Testament, there are plenty of moral requirements for them. We looked at I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The Lord does not give ceremonial requirements of elders in the New Testament, but He does give moral requirements of all those who are going to serve Him. So notice how the New Testament takes a principle that was illustrated in the ceremonial law, but its application is moral. So, elders who serve the Lord and who shepherd God’s people are to be morally upright. They’re to be holy in their family life, in their relationship with other Christians, and even in their reputations with the outside community. And all elders are given that charge in the New Testament to be holy. They’re called to the same kind of consistency as the priests. Even as the priests were to be consistent to obey the very ceremonial laws that they were supposed to be enforcing on the people, so also elders in the New Testament (elders and pastors, all of us who are called to the work of shepherding) are called to live morally the way that we are encouraging the people of God to live in accordance with His word. So in order not to be hypocritical, we’re to live out the truth that we are calling the people of God to embrace and live out. And so there’s one application – New Testament application – of this truth in Leviticus 22:1-9.
There’s a second thing I want you to see, though, and it’s in verses 10-16.
“‘No layman, however, is to eat the holy gift; a sojourner with the priest or a hired man shall not eat of the holy gift. But if a priest buys a slave as his property with his money, that one may eat of it, and those who are born in his house may eat of his food. And if a priest’s daughter is married to a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the gifts. But if a priest’s daughter becomes a widow or divorced, and has no child and returns to her father’s house as in her youth, she shall eat of her father’s food; but no layman shall eat of it. But if a man eats a holy gift unintentionally, then he shall add to it a fifth of it and shall give the holy gift to the priest. And they shall not profane the holy gifts of the sons of Israel which they offer to the Lord, and so cause them to bear punishment for guilt by eating their holy gifts; for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’”
Now this chapter, or this section of the chapter, basically says that no laymen in Israel are allowed to partake of the food gifts which are specifically dedicated to the priests, and the whole purpose of this section is to define who is a member of the priest’s family; and you understand that that could be complex, and it even gives a couple of examples. For instance, if a servant is brought into the priest’s family, that person is reckoned as a member of the priestly family, and therefore allowed to eat of the food which is dedicated to the priest. But if a daughter gets married, she marries a layman, she marries a non-Levite...well, he’s got the responsibility to feed her then. But if she’s widowed, she comes back home to live with her father, well, she’s then considered to be part of the priest’s family and she can partake of that food.
Well, what in the world is all that about? Why can only this priest’s family eat these holy food gifts? Why the care in defining who is and who isn’t the priestly family? Well, again it’s all about distinctions, isn’t it?
The whole of the ceremonial law is designed to draw distinctions or boundaries between what is clean and what is unclean, what is holy and what is profane, what is allowed and what is not allowed; and that distinction between clean and unclean, and holy and profane, and allowed and not allowed, all of those distinctions are designed to heighten the idea, the understanding, of the holiness of God: that God is distinct; that holiness is different from sin; that God is not like the sinful world; that God’s people are not to be like the sinful nations.
All of these distinctions in the ceremonial code are designed to emphasize the uniqueness, the separateness, the distinctiveness, the holiness of God over against this sinful fallen world; and they are to show us that God is to be treated holy. So in this case, if God has specifically dedicated certain foods only to the priests, to partake of those foods is to blur the distinction that God has established in devoting those foods just to them, and that blurring of the distinction undermines the illustration God is bringing to bear in the ceremonial law. He is to be treated holy, and therefore that which is holy and that which is profane is not to be mixed. And only those who are part of the Levites, or the priests who have been specifically given the right to eat of this particularly designated food, are to take of it; else, God’s distinctions which set forth His holiness are blurred and God is not treated as holy as He ought to be treated.
And so that’s what this strange section is about: defining who can and who can’t take of that food dedicated to the priests, because it is important to observe the proper partaking of that food in order to keep the distinction that God has made Himself in the ceremonial law. So once again the ceremonial distinction, the ritual distinction, is designed to illustrate a moral principle regarding God’s holiness.
And then finally, if you look at verses 17-33, there’s a third thing we need to see here.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons and to all the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘When any man of the house of Israel or of the aliens in Israel, who presents his offering, whether it is any of their votive or any of their freewill offerings, which they present to the Lord for a burnt offering, for you to be accepted, it must be a male without defect from the cattle, the sheep, or the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you. And when a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a special vow, or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. Those that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the Lord, nor make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the Lord. In respect to an ox or a lamb which has an overgrown or stunted member, you may present it for a freewill offering, but for a vow it shall not be accepted. Also anything with its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the Lord, or sacrifice in your land, nor shall you accept any such from the hand of a foreigner for offering as the food of your God; for their corruption is in them, they have a defect, they shall not be accepted for you.’’
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be accepted as a sacrifice of an offering by fire to the Lord. But whether it is an ox or a sheep, you shall not kill both it and its young in one day. And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, you shall sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten on the same day; you shall leave none of it until morning: I am the Lord. So you shall keep My commandments, and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel: I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord.’’”
You notice again for at least the fourth time in the Book of Leviticus, we have seen this God-motivation to holiness: I am the Lord; I sanctify you; I brought you out of Egypt; therefore, you be holy; therefore, you observe holiness; therefore, you keep the distinction between the holy and profane. Over and over, there is this God-motivation to holiness. Our God is holy, so we are to be holy. And that point is driven home over and over in Leviticus.
But it’s the first part of this section that I want to concentrate on. The first part of this section basically says that only perfect animals need apply for the job of being a sacrifice. In this section, it is repeatedly stressed that the animals which are used for sacrifice – whether they’re sheep, whether they’re from the herd, whether they are goats – they are to be perfect.
And we need to ask ourselves a question: Why, in the ceremonial law, were perfect animals required? And there is more than one biblical answer to that question. One reason that perfect animals were required was because the animals were to represent to the people who were offering them the quality of perfection in God. Since God is perfect, what is offered to Him needs to be as near to perfect as is humanly possible to offer. In other words, the very thing that Israel was offering to God was to be reflective of the God to whom they were offering it.
Secondly, in connection to that, the offerings had to be perfect because the perfection of your offering represented your own estimation of God. If you brought something that was less than perfect, or in this maimed or spoiled condition that is described here in the third part of Leviticus 22, it says something about your esteem for God. It says that you have a low view of God. It says you don’t think that He deserves the very best that you can offer. And so certainly, for at least those two reasons perfect sacrifices were required in the sacrificial system. But because we’re New Testament Christians, we’re beneficiaries of all the blessings and the fullness of the new covenant, we know that there is another reason, as well, because the Book of Hebrews tells us that in the end, even those perfect animal sacrifices did not in and of themselves bring about the forgiveness of sins. As the author of Hebrews says, “The blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sin.”
So why, then, all the emphasis on the perfect sacrifice? Ah! That brings us to our third and final and most important reason, and it is this: Because those perfect sacrifices pointed to the perfect Savior. It is stressed over and over in the Book of Hebrews, in the Book of I Peter, in the Book of I John, over and over again, that Jesus was...what? A perfect, unspotted, unblemished sacrifice; that there was in Him absolutely no imperfection.
Now, let’s think about that for a minute. The point of the New Testament is not that Jesus was simply ritually perfect, that He met some sort of ceremonial standard of cleanliness. In fact, very often Jesus seems to be pushing the envelope in regard to ceremonial standards in His dealing with the people of God. But what the New Testament stresses everywhere is what Jesus’ moral perfection – that He was utterly unspotted in His obedience to God’s law...that He was not only a sacrifice for sin, bearing the penalty due to us, but He was perfect in His own whole obedience to the law of God.
So once again we see here the ceremonial as a picture of the moral. The ceremonial perfection of the Old Testament sacrificial animals points to the moral perfection of the only real sacrifice, the only Savior, Jesus Christ. He was perfect morally and not merely ceremonially; and, therefore, He is the perfect sacrifice. That is why pastors who are preaching the gospel will emphasize to you not simply that Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins and made a satisfaction for your sins in dying as a sacrifice, but that His whole obedience accrued to His being a sacrifice for your sin.
And not only was He fully and wholly obedient to God’s moral law, He was fully obedient to something that you and I could never have been fully obedient to, and that is the demands for the fulfillment of the covenant of grace; because, as Philippians 2 says, He was not only obedient, but He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, and day by day went into this downward pit of humiliation and degradation on our behalf.
Adam was never asked to go into such a pit of humiliation and degradation as a part of his moral obedience to God. That was never part of God’s requirement of Adam in the Garden before sin: that he go through suffering and pain and degradation and humiliation in order to enjoy communion and fellowship with God. But because Adam’s sin plunged us into a state of misery and humiliation and degradation, the only way to bring us out of that was not only through a sacrifice, not only through perfect obedience to God’s moral law, but a full obedience which entailed humiliation to its ultimate extent. And that whole obedience is part of what constitutes Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. And the perfection of those Old Testament sacrifices points forward to the fullness of the perfection of the Savior whose blood, unlike the blood of the bulls and goats of the Old Testament sacrifice, the author of Hebrews says His blood brings about forgiveness “once for all” because it’s the perfect sacrifice.
And there in Leviticus, hundreds and hundreds of years before the Lord sent His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ into this world, He is drawing the picture of the perfection of His Son and the fullness of His salvation.
That, by the way, my friends, is just one reason why evangelicals can never be satisfied with a view that says Jesus is “a” Savior; Jesus is one among many saviors. No. He is the only perfect sacrifice. Who will step up and claim to have done what He alone has done? And because of what He alone has done, we must only trust in Him. But – all who do fully trust in Him may be fully assured that He is able to save you to the uttermost.
Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the gospel of Your dear Son, and we thank You for the way You preached the gospel to us from the Book of Leviticus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Amen.