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God Demands and Gives Holiness
The Book of Exodus concludes with the setting up of the tabernacle for the worship of God. This was the place where God met with his chosen people, the place of divine worship, the place from whence the Lord God gave out his word to his people. This tabernacle, being a picture of our dear Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, was made exactly according to the pattern God gave to Moses. The Book of Leviticus gives us the prescribed ordinances and ceremonies of divine worship.
John Gill tells us that the Book of Leviticus was written by Moses 2514 years after the creation, about 1490 years before the coming of Christ. The various sacrifices, rites, and ceremonies here described were typical of Christ, and shadows of those good things to come by him for the everlasting salvation of our souls.
Three Historical Events
There are only three historical events mentioned in the whole Book of Leviticus. But those three historical events are very instructive. The first historical event recorded in this Book is the consecration of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel (ch. 8-9). There is a twofold type here.
First, the Aaronic priesthood represents the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, Aaron, as the High Priest of Israel, foreshadowed the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest before God. He was divinely chosen, equipped, anointed, approved, and accepted. Only Aaron could make atonement in the holy of holies, because he represented Christ our great High Priest who alone could and would put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 7:23-28)
Second, Aaron’s sons represent the church and kingdom of God, as that “holy priesthood” of believers who serve God in the holy place day and night (1 Peter 2:5-9). Everything about these priests typifies and represents believing sinners in this world. These men were specifically chosen by God, portraying our election unto salvation. They were God’s priests because of their relationship to Aaron. Believers are made priests unto God because of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. They wore the garments of the priesthood. God’s priests today wear the garments of their priesthood, too, the garments of salvation, the righteousness of Christ. Aaron’s sons were accepted as priests because of a slain sacrifice. We are accepted because of Christ’s sacrifice. They were anointed with holy anointing oil and washed with pure water. Believers are anointed with the Holy Spirit and washed in the pure water of free grace by the Word of God in the new birth. Aaron’s sons were men who deliberately and voluntarily consecrated themselves to God. Believers are people who deliberately and voluntarily consecrate themselves to God. As Aaron’s sons lived continually upon the sacrifice of God’s altar, God’s sons live continually upon Christ. As they served God and his people all the days of their lives, so God’s “holy priesthood” today serves him and his people continually.
The second historic event recorded in Leviticus is the death of Nadab and Abihu by the hand of God for offering “strange fire before the Lord” (chapter 10). —Let all who would worship God understand the powerful lesson set before us in chapter 10. If we would worship God and find acceptance with him, we must come to him with that which he has provided, Christ alone, and no mixture of anything with Christ (Leviticus 10:1-3). God is sanctified (honored) only by Christ; and the only way he can be sanctified by fallen, sinful men and women is by faith in Christ.
The third historic event recorded in the Book of Leviticus is the stoning of Shelomith’s son for blasphemy (24:10-16). Those who blaspheme the name of God, cursing and denying him as God alone, shall be destroyed by him. Though this unnamed wretch had a Hebrew mother, his father was an Egyptian; and he preferred both the gods and the people of Egypt to the God of Glory and his people. He was stoned by the people themselves, because they judged him worthy of death. In like manner, though our hearts may break and cause us to weep as we behold lost rebels today under the wrath of God, when the Lord God executes his righteous judgment upon the damned in eternity, all shall consent and say, “Amen,” to it.
All the rest of the Book is taken up with the ceremonial laws God gave to Israel by Moses concerning their sacrifices and offerings, meats and drinks, and different washings. By these things God set Israel apart as a people for himself and distinguished them from other people and nations. All these things were shadows of those good things to come, which are ours in Christ. This Book is called Leviticus because it is primarily about the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:11).
We do not have to guess about the central, dominant message of the Book of Leviticus. It is plainly stated in chapters 19 and 20. "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy…And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine" (19:1-2; 20:26).
The message of Leviticus is this: — God demands holiness and God gives what he demands in Christ. All the types and ceremonies, laws and sacrifices, priests and holy things spoken of in these twenty-seven chapters show us that our only way of access to God is Christ. But, blessed be his holy name, we do have access to God by Christ, because we have that holiness which God demands in him, by his obedience and blood (John 14:6; Hebrews 10:14-22).
"And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine…And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy."
This is both the command of God and the promise of God to his people. God commands us to be holy. Without holiness no one shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But that holiness without which we cannot see God is not something we perform. It is something God gives.
The Lord God declares to his chosen, covenant people that they shall be a holy people—not partially holy—not mostly holy—but entirely holy. This is not a recommendation, but a declaration. It is a declaration of grace made to a specific people.
The word “holy” has two distinct meanings. Both definitions of the word must be understood and applied here. To be holy is to be separate, distinct, peculiar, separated and severed from all others. And to be holy is to be pure or purified.
The Lord God here declares to his Israel, to all who stand before him as his covenant people, “You shall be separate, distinct, peculiar, separated and severed from all others, pure and purified before me.” We know that this is the intent and meaning of this statement by comparing Scripture with Scripture (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 11:44; 20:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 2:7-10).
The Lord God almighty, by the work of his sovereign, free, distinguishing grace, takes such things as us, such things as he finds in the dung heap of fallen humanity, and makes them holy. God makes sinners holy by the total removal of all sin and guilt from them and the imputation of righteousness to them in free justification by the precious blood of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). He makes us holy in sanctification (regeneration) by imparting holiness to us (creating a new, holy nature in us) by his almighty grace (Romans 7:14-23; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:9). And we shall be made holy in resurrection glory, when our very bodies are changed into the likeness of his glorious body (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 5:25-26; Jude 24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 49-58).
Without a doubt, the Scriptures teach us that God requires holiness and God gives holiness to his people; but what is this holiness? Because we are so universally inundated with false, free will, works religion from our youth up, we commonly think that holiness has something to do with what we do. We tend to think of holiness in connection with austere, weird behavior. We tend to think that "holy" people are people who look and act as if they were weaned on dill pickles and daily bathed in embalming fluid.
We are that little city girl, we’ve all heard about, who on her first visit to the country saw a mule looking over a fence at her with his long, sad face. She had never seen a mule before, and she said, "I don't know what you are, but you must be a Christian—you look just like Grandpa."
Holiness is commonly associated with grimness, strangeness, oddness, something ugly and unappealing. And, frankly, as I have heard it described from the pulpit and read about it in the writings of men, I must acknowledge that such thoughts are justified. But that is not holiness. That is nothing but religious self-righteousness and religious delusion.
The Word of God speaks of holiness in a different way. The Bible speaks of holiness as a beautiful and delightful thing. Four times we are called to worship God in the beauty of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; 96:9).
Holiness has something to do with wholeness. Holiness means wholeness, completion, entirety, perfection of being. There are no degrees to it. Either we are whole or we are broken and unwhole, complete or incomplete, perfect or imperfect. As a general rule, when reading the Bible, if you will think wholeness every time you read the word holiness, you will get a better picture of what holiness is.
That is what the Lord is talking about in Leviticus. He says to his covenant people, "You shall be whole, because I am whole." God is complete. He is perfect. There is no blemish in his character. He exists in perfect harmony with himself. He is perfect in beauty. He is perfect wholeness. He looks upon his chosen in great, boundless grace, and says, "You, too, shall be whole."
I do not deny, suggest, or imply that holiness does not involve separation, distinctness, and peculiarity. It certainly does. What I am saying is this: — Wholeness is that which separates God’s elect from a ruined race. Wholeness, the blessed wholeness of grace and righteousness in Christ, is our separateness, distinctness, and peculiarity.
Nothing is more desirable, nothing more beautiful, and nothing more rare than wholeness. We long to be a whole people. The whole Book of Leviticus, indeed the whole Word of God tells us how that God demands this wholeness and gives it to poor, helpless, broken, ruined sinners. He declares, “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” And he heals us by the sacrifice of his dear Son. It is written, “with his stripes ye are healed.” God almighty heals the broken, ruined state and condition of his people by the five things described in this great Book of Leviticus: — (1) Sacrifice — (2) Priesthood — (3) Atonement — (4) Restoration — (5) Liberty.
Sacrifice (Leviticus 1-7)
As I have been trying to demonstrate, the purpose of Leviticus is echoed in verses such as 11:44-45, 19:2, and 20:26: "Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The word "holy" appears more often in the Book of Leviticus than in any other book of the Bible. The Book of Leviticus both calls God's people to be holy and shows us how sinners are made holy by Christ.
In chapters 1-7, God gave Moses specific instructions about the sacrifices and offerings by which his people would be allowed to approach him. In these five sacrifices, Israel was ceremonially provided with everything needed to make them whole, holy. These sacrifices represent the Lord Jesus Christ, in and by whom the Lord God gives us everything needed to make us whole, complete, holy before him (Colossians 2:9-10).
The burnt offering shows us the way to God (1:1-17). We must come to God by faith in Christ, who was consumed by the fire of God’s wrath as our Substitute. Let it ever be remembered that our Lord Jesus Christ is that Burnt Offering who, being consumed by the fire of God’s wrath, consumed the fire of God’s wrath for his people. Because his fury was poured out like fire upon our Substitute (Nahum 1:6), he declares, “Fury is not in me” (Isaiah 27:4).
The meat offering portrays the character of Christ, the God-man (2:1-16). He who is our Substitute is most holy unto the Lord. It also speaks of our consecration to God by faith in Christ.
The peace offering speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Peace (3:1-17). Christ alone can reconcile God and man. Christ alone can speak peace to the guilty conscience. Christ alone is our Peace.
The sin offering, of course, represents Christ our Substitute (4:1-35). Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. There is no forgiveness with God except by the merits of a suitable, slain sin offering; and that Sin Offering is Christ.
The trespass offering sets before us a picture of Christ’s atonement (5:1 - 6:7). Our Lord Jesus Christ made atonement for the sins of his people by paying our debt to the full satisfaction of divine justice.
I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small.
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”
Jesus paid it all! All the debt I owed!
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow!
Priesthood (Leviticus 8-10)
Here is our unwholeness, our brokenness. Sin has separated us from God. We cannot (in and of ourselves) come to him, approach him, and find acceptance with him. How, then, can we come to God and find acceptance with him? We must have a priest, a mediator, a daysman, an advocate. This God has provided in Christ.
None but God’s Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ can represent us before the holy Lord God, make sacrifice for us in the presence of God, and bring to us the blessing of God. But our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, is so great, so meritorious, so effectual, so worthy that he makes us priests unto God! Yes, it is true…
“Near, so very near to God, nearer I cannot be,
For in the Person of His Son, I am as near as He!”
Christ is our unfailing, all-prevailing Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2).
Atonement (Leviticus 11-16)
The Lord Jesus is our great High Priest; but a priest is useless without a sacrifice. Christ is both our Priest and our sin-atoning Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins! He has, by his one great sacrifice for sin, forever put away all the sins of all his people (Isaiah 53:6, 9-11; Hebrews 9:26; 1 John 3:5).
Restoration (Leviticus 17-24)
Leviticus 17-24 shows us typically that which is the result of Christ’s sin-atoning sacrifice as our Substitute. Because Christ has made atonement for us and put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, God almighty sends his Spirit in omnipotent, saving grace and restores us to himself, reconciles us, and brings us into fellowship with him as the sons of God, causing us to walk with him in the obedience of faith, worshipping him. He says, “I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people” (20:24). In other words, he says to you and me, as we come to him through the sacrifice of Christ, “I am yours and you are mine!” Even now, he owns us as his! He declares, "And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine" (20:26). The only thing left is that liberty for which Paul longed, when he cried, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Liberty (Leviticus 25-27
Leviticus 25 opens with the blowing of the jubilee trumpet. I can hardly wait. Soon, Christ shall come again. Then liberty, the glorious liberty of the sons of God! Then, blessed be his name, then we shall be made whole!
Someone told a story many years ago that illustrates what I am trying to communicate. Some poor children put on a little skit at a Rescue mission in Chicago, Illinois. A small boy, six or seven years old, was to give a short recitation. It was obvious, as he walked out on the stage, that he was shy and nervous. He had never done such a thing before. And he had a severe physical deformity, a humpback that embarrassed him and, naturally, made him even more sensitive than other boys his age would be in the same situation.
Two older boys, sitting in the back of the room, laughed out loud as he walked across the stage. One of them yelled out, "Hey, buddy, where are you going with that pack on your back?" The little boy was devastated. He just stood before the crowd horribly embarrassed, crying, and helpless.
Then a man got up from his seat, walked up to the stage, knelt down beside the little boy, and put his arm around him. He said to the audience, "This is my son. He has a deformity he can do nothing about. But he was trying to do this little part because his mother and I wanted him to do it. We thought it would be good for him; and he was trying to please us. He wanted to make us proud of him. Well, I want everyone to know, (I especially want him to know) that this is my son. He belongs to me. I love him just the way he is. I’m proud of him and proud of his effort to please me.” Then, he led the boy off the stage and took him home.
That is what our heavenly Fathers says to us. He sees our hurt, our embarrassment, our heartache, our brokenness over our horrid deformity (sin), and our longing to be whole; and he says, "You are mine." But that is not all. Because our God declares, "You shall be healed, made whole. You shall be holy. I will see to it. All your blemishes shall be removed. All your deformities shall be corrected. All your faults shall be fixed. You shall be whole, for I am whole." That is what the Book of Leviticus is about. That is what the Bible is about (Jude 24-25). That is what God’s amazing grace in Christ does. It makes sinners whole!