April 27, 2005
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Leviticus, chapter 14. Sometimes you get to passages in the Bible that
are unfamiliar, and they’re difficult; and you study them, and you come away
from them still not quite sure what the Lord is saying to you, having studied
them. Well, I’m happy to say that this is not one of those passages tonight! It
is not the most familiar passage in the Scriptures; it’s not the most familiar
passage in the Book of Leviticus; but it is the counterpart to the passage that
we studied the last time that we were together.
The last time we were together we were together in
Leviticus 13, and we saw the problem of these various skin diseases which caused
people to be ritually unclean, and therefore unable to come into the presence of
Well, Leviticus 14 gives us the provision (or the
solution) to that particular problem. The diseases of Leviticus 13 prevented a
person from being ceremonially clean, and therefore prevented a person from
being able to come into the presence of God’s people and into the company of
God’s people at the corporate worship of the living God. And therefore the
disease was a double curse, in that it cut you off from fellowship with your
family and with the community of faith; but even more dramatically, it cut you
off from the experience of the manifestation of the presence of the living God
in the gathered worship of God’s people. And you can imagine how discouraging
that would have been to someone who had fallen prey to one of these dread skin
conditions or diseases.
Well, Leviticus 14 stood as a standing marker of
hope for all those who are in that condition, because it described how, in God’s
mercy, He provided a way that a person who had been declared unclean would be
once again declared clean, and not only re-enter into the life of the community
of faith, but re-enter into the presence of God in the gathered worship of God’s
people. And so every time that that person who was fallen ill of those ailments
described in Leviticus 13 and who had been declared ceremonially unclean
contemplated his or her condition, he or she could also contemplate that in the
mercy of God if there was healing, there was a way… there was a provision for
that person to come back into the presence of God. And Leviticus 14 offers the
sufferer hope of restoration to fellowship with his family, fellowship in the
covenant community, and fellowship with the living God in worship.
So this is a great chapter of hope, and, very
frankly, having looked through it over the last week or so, there is more that I
would like to say to you about it than I have time to say. So what I want to do
is very quickly to go to the reading of God’s word. And before we read God’s
word, and even before we pray before we read God’s word, let me outline the
passage for you.
It’s such a long passage–it’s not quite as many
verses as last time: we have 59 verses in Leviticus 13; we have 57 verses in
Leviticus 14–but it outlines fairly simply. If you look at the first nine
verses, what you’re told there is what is to be done in order for a person who
has been declared ceremonially unclean to be declared ceremonially clean outside
the camp before they can be brought back inside the camp.
So in verses 1-9 we have the ritual which
actually brings about the person’s being declared ceremonially clean, and thus
admitted again into the camp–into the fellowship, into the community–of God’s
Then, if you look at verse 10, all the way down
to verse 20, you see the offering of atonement or reparation which must be
offered by the person, who has been cleansed now and admitted into the camp, as
his very first act in corporate worship. Isn’t it interesting? First, there is
ritual cleansing, then there is an atonement offering. Very interesting. We’re
going to ask what the logic of that is, and what it might teach us about the
work of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. But that runs from verse 10 down
to verse 20.
Then if you’ll look at verse 21 all the way down
to verse 32, here is a provision for those who are too poor in the people of God
to be able to offer the atoning sacrifice described in verses 10 to 20. And
doesn’t that remind us again of how tender and compassionate our God is towards
those in need? He makes a special provision for those who do not have enough,
they don’t possess enough, to be able to offer the atoning sacrifice described
in verses 10 to 20. He provides an alternative for them so that they, too, may
come before the Lord and offer the sacrifice of atonement.
Then, from verse 33 all the way to verse 57, the
fourth section of the chapter, we have a description of what is to be done in
the case of house and garment infected by either the skin condition or mildew,
or some other manifestation of decay. So those are the four sections of the
chapter. Let’s look to God’s word.
And before we do, let’s pray.
Open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in Your
law. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
[Now, here’s the ritual that’s given for a person who has
been healed, and has presented himself to the priest, and the priest has said
‘Yes, this person has been healed.’ Once that declaration has been made by the
priest, the priest then introduces him through this ritual back into fellowship
with God’s people. Now, once that is done, a second ritual is performed, and we
see this in verse 10.]
[I simply want to make one comment about that passage. You
noticed if you looked at the Prayer Reminder tonight that I’ve named this
sermon “Amazing Remedies.” Now, there’s a play on words there, because you will
have noticed that in this passage this intricate and somewhat strange
description of ritual is not the way the person is healed. It’s not a
remedy for their disease. It is a ritual done because they have been
healed of their disease, so the remedy that it provides is not the healing of
the disease. The remedy that it provides is the ritual cleansing of the person
so that he can come back into the presence of God in worship. Now, that’s very
important, and I’ll tell you why in just a few moments. But there’s the second
section of the chapter. Now the third section, beginning at verse 21.]
[So there’s the law for the poor who has been healed and
now comes before the Lord. Now for the fourth and final section of the
passage. It begins in verse 33, and here we see the laws for the cleansing of
what we might call ‘a leper’s house’ or ‘leper’s garments.’]
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
There are six things that I want to emphasize
from this passage tonight. There are so many more than that that I would
like to talk with you about, but I’m going to have to restrain myself because I
only have a few minutes to do it.
I. These rites are not physical
remedies to heal disease.
The first thing I want you to see here I’ve
already intimated, and that is this: these rites, this ritual, these rituals
that are described here are not physical remedies to heal disease. They are
theological remedies: they are ritual remedies for those who have become unclean
by way of disease and then subsequently been healed.
Now, why do I mention that? Because you can look at
comparative literature of pagan nations around Israel, and you can see
instructions given to their priests regarding incantations and rituals which are
designed to heal people of certain maladies. And it is striking that in this
passage not once does God even vaguely hint that these rituals bring about
healing. They do not.
They bring about ritual cleansing. They bring about
the person being declared to be ceremonially clean in the sight of God, and thus
suited to come back into the fellowship of God’s people, and into the fellowship
of God’s people in the worship of the living God.
Well, why is that so important? Well, one
thing: it distinguishes the ritual of Israel from the magical, mystical
practices of the pagans. This ritual was no magic. God was not giving
spells or potions, or occultic remedies to the priests of Israel to perform on
people in order that they might be healed. No, He had a very different purpose
in mind. He desired to teach them a very different lesson, and we’ve already
talked about this lesson before.
The lesson was that these maladies which
are described in Leviticus 13 were maladies that remind us of the un-wholeness
that results fro the fall of Adam into sin, and of the introduction of sin into
this world. Because these people are affected in a visible way by
this un-wholeness, they are not fitted, ceremonially, to come into the presence
of God’s people and into the presence of God, because to fellowship with God
requires wholeness. It requires purity, it requires a person to be in a
condition of being clean; and these things mark a person out as being unclean.
And so the purpose of the ritual is not to provide a mystical cure: it is to
highlight the way that God provides for a person to be declared again clean and
accepted into the community of his people and into the worship of the living
II. Only God can heal.
But there’s another application of this
truth, and there’s a second point that I want to bring to your attention.
The first thing is this: these are not physical remedies, and so when I
called this sermon “Amazing Remedies,” I’m not calling it “Amazing Remedies”
because by these ways the priests cure people. I’m calling it “Amazing Remedies”
because these rather strange rituals are God’s way of remedying uncleanness that
has been caused by disease after the disease has been healed. So that’s
my first point.
But the second point follows on it, and it is
this: Isn’t it interesting that the very fact that the priests of Israel have
no rites, no incantations, no rituals given to them by which they can heal,
points to the truth that only God can heal. Israel was being told in
Technicolor in Leviticus 14 that priests can’t heal you: only God can. The
priests can only instigate these rites once God has healed you.
Isn’t it interesting how the passage starts? Look
back at Leviticus 14:2:
“This is the law of the leper in the day of
The priests can’t even get into this
until the Lord has healed. Now, that doesn’t mean that the Lord wouldn’t use a
doctor. He might well have used a doctor. Whether the Lord used a doctor or
whether the Lord healed the person directly, Israel was to understand this: God
heals. And if the Lord used the doctor, praise God for that doctor; but that
doctor was provided by God, and ultimately the healing comes from God. Or, if
the Lord healed directly, how much more does the person healed realize that it’s
only God who can heal? The priest–he can’t do anything about that disease until
God has acted. The remedies come after the healing has come, and so Israel
learns in Technicolor this lesson: Only God heals. And, my friends, that is
hugely important for my third point.
III. Jesus is God because He can
And for my third point, I want you to turn
with me to the New Testament, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter eight.
What has just happened in Matthew 5 to 7? (I’m really asking!) Sermon on the
Mount! Jesus has just preached the Sermon on the Mount, and what does Matthew
say happens right on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount? Look at Matthew
“When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And
behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are
willing, You can make me clean.’ And He stretched out His hand and touched him,
saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the
priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to
Now, there’s a passage which is a whole sermon! We don’t
have time for a whole sermon, but you see what’s going on. Every good Jewish
hearer of that divinely inspired message from Matthew 8:1-4 knows what truth?
Only God can heal you! When that Jewish hearer sees that Jesus stretches out
His hand and touches a leper and makes Him clean, what does that Jewish hearer
know that that good Jewish Christian, Matthew, is trying to tell him? That
Jesus is God, because He can heal.
Jesus doesn’t say ‘Go to the priest, let him do some
ritual incantations, I’ll pray for you, and maybe you’ll be healed.’ The man
says ‘I know that if You want it, Lord, You can heal me.’ And Jesus says ‘I do
want it; be healed, be cleansed. You’re clean.’ And immediately the man is
cleansed, so that passage is testifying to the fact that Jesus, in His capacity
as the God who spoke the world into being, had the power of cleansing.
Now, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus commands
the man not to tell anybody about this. This factors into the very point that
this is a testimony that He’s God; because if this man starts telling other
people that he was cleansed by Jesus from leprosy, they’re going to know
immediately the significance to that claim with regard to the person of Christ,
and Jesus was not ready yet to explain in detail that reality to His disciples,
much less to the multitudes. Remember, it would be at Caesarea Philippi many
months later before Peter would begin to get it:
‘You’re the Christ; You’re the Son of the living
‘Right, Peter. Flesh and blood
hasn’t revealed this to you. My heavenly Father has revealed this to you.’
Jesus wasn’t ready to make this kind of a broad
announcement yet, but He was ready to send this man back to the priests–as a
what?–as a testimony to them, because those priests knew the laws of
Leviticus 14, and they knew they couldn’t heal: Only God can heal. And when that
man came to them and they said ‘Well, how did you get healed of your leprosy?’
and he said ‘Well, there is this man named Jesus, and He’s from Nazareth; and
all He did was touch me and I was healed,’ wouldn’t that create a stir amongst
the priests? And of course, Jesus was quietly beginning to make a testimony to
the priesthood as to who He was.
So when Jesus heals the leper here in the New
Testament and elsewhere, He’s giving us a beautiful testimony as to who He is:
God in the flesh.
IV. This points us to the grace
and graciousness of God.
I’d better hasten on to my fourth point. My
fourth point is this: This passage points us to the grace and graciousness of
God. This ritual provision which is given for the priests to perform–the law
that Jesus calls ‘the offering commanded by Moses’ in Matthew 8:4–this ritual
itself is a reminder of God’s graciousness to His people in need.
Why do I say that? Because it shows how God himself
provides a way of restoration for those who have once been declared unclean, and
then healed. Their fate is not sealed when they are declared unclean. There is
yet hope for them, and God provides this way whereby they may be declared clean
and again welcomed into the assembly of the saints.
Now, my friends, that stands as a reminder to every
sinner upon whom the just judgment of God has fallen, upon whom the sentence of
“unclean” has been pronounced, that there is a way that has been provided by God
himself back into fellowship with Him and with His people. And so this Leviticus
14 passage is a passage of grace in the law. It’s a gracious provision of God
in His law.
V. Atonement has to be made so that we can stand in
But fifthly, in this passage we’re reminded
that in order to be ushered back into the presence of God and His people in
worship, what has to happen? It’s repeated three or four times in Leviticus 14:
Atonement has to be made. Isn’t it interesting? The man is healed!
He’s pronounced clean, but before he can come back into the presence of God,
what has to be done? Atonement has to be offered. A guilt offering, a sin
offering, has to be offered in order for him to come back into the presence of
Isn’t that interesting? What do you think that
points to? Well, I want to suggest… (and this is in my sixth point. You could
call it 6a and 6b. I’m cheating. I don’t have seven points, I have 6a and
V. The Atonement reminds us that God is sovereign in
healing and healing requires blood atonement.
I think it points to two things, and here’s my sixth
point (6a). I think it points to two things. And here’s my sixth point–6a!
This ritual atonement, first of all, reminds the person who has been healed of
the sovereignty of God in his healing. Think of it. In this ritual, what
had to happen? Two birds are taken. One of those birds is killed. One of those
birds is set free. And every time a person participated in that ritual, that
person could think back on others of his companions outside the camp who had not
been healed, and he might think ‘Lord, the one bird died, and the one bird flew
away free. And I’ve been healed, and my friend outside the camp has not. And
that comes from You. I could be the dead bird, Lord. I could be the man yet
unclean, diseased. But in Your sovereign plan, in Your sovereign will and Your
sovereign purposes, You have deigned to cleanse me. All the praise goes to You,
and none of the credit comes to me, because I am no better than the man still
out in the camp, unclean, diseased.’
You know, when we got the message at the church this
morning that dear Andrew Vincent had cancer in his lungs, it was one of the
first things that came to mind: ‘Lord, here’s a young man in his twenties; he’s
got a baby two weeks old…two weeks old; he’s got another one under two years;
he’s got a young wife to take care of. Lord, that could have just as well been
me who got that news today. And the only reason I didn’t get that news today,
Lord, is because in Your sovereign plan, that wasn’t in Your plan for me to get
that news today.’
But what a lesson! What a lesson was taught about
the sovereignty of God, when even that ritual of the birds was performed, to
remind of that one bird that dies, and one bird that flies away…. That person
who is being cleansed… ‘Lord, my cleansing comes from You. All praise to
You. I don’t deserve Your mercy. All praise to You.’
Well, my friends, you know the second thing (and
this is 6b)–the second thing that this ritual tells us is this: It tells us
that restoration requires blood atonement. The restoration into the worship
of God, into the community of God’s people to meet with God–it requires blood
atonement. And ultimately, because we Christians have the second part of the
book, the last chapter in the story, we know where that points.
Have you ever thought of it? Let’s say you’re a
leper, and you’ve been healed, and you’ve been declared clean by the priest, and
you have been welcomed into this ritual in the outside of the camp; and the
birds have been slaughtered and freed, respectively, and you’ve been welcomed
back into the fellowship of God’s people. And you start thinking to yourself
‘Am I restored by the blood of that bird? Is it the blood of that bird that
brought me back into God’s presence?’ Wouldn’t you be asking that question?
Did the blood of that bird bring me back into God’s presence?
Well, we’ve got the second book, don’t we? And that
book tells us that the blood of bulls and goats (and we might add
parenthetically, birds) cannot forgive sin.
Or, you might have wondered ‘Lord, since that dead
bird reminds me of the unhealed person on the outside of the camp, and that
freed bird reminds me of the cleansing and healing that You’ve given to me,
could it be that I’m restored because Your judgment falls on somebody outside
Now, you might think that. You might think ‘Well,
maybe, Lord…maybe I’m atoned for by Your judgment on somebody else.’
No. Not on somebody outside the camp in Israel in
1400 BC or 1200 BC Or 1000 BC Or 800 BC, or 600 BC, or 400 BC, or 200
BC….but Someone outside the camp early in the first century, named Jesus. He
was declared unclean. He is diseased in the eyes of the just God. “He who knew
no sin is made to be sin, that you might be the righteousness of God in Him.”
So there’s where this ritual ultimately points.
It points to the blood of Jesus that sanctifies, that declares you clean and
welcomes you back into the fellowship of God’s people and into the presence of
the living God. That’s where this ritual points.
You see, that’s just scratching the surface of
Leviticus 14. You see why I say this is rich soil. May God bless your further
study of this word.
Lord God, thank You for this word, this truth.
Bless it to the nourishment of our hearts and to Your own glory. In Jesus’
Would you stand for God’s blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
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