The wonderful book of Leviticus seems to both bore and baffle many Christians. Allan Moseley (in his excellent commentary) describes the challenge:
Many Christians read along swimmingly until they come to Leviticus. They read about sacrifices that are no longer offered, a priesthood that no longer exists, and laws that we are no longer to obey.
Though Moseley is undoubtedly right, it is nothing short of a crying shame that any Christian should avoid Leviticus. I am so convinced of this that I will be starting a new series on Sunday. Yes, we are going to be studying Leviticus!
Given that many preachers avoid Leviticus (and many who don’t then wish they had!) I thought I would blog a bit about the process. Nothing I share will be terribly profound but I hope it might encourage other preachers to “have a go” at this book. Let’s start with some…
Reasons to preach Leviticus
As well as being part of God’s ‘expired’ Word (2 Timothy 3:16), here are three other reasons to be preaching Leviticus:-
- Leviticus gives you a better understanding of the whole Bible. Have you considered how many Bible concepts originate in Leviticus? The answer is ‘quite a lot’! Consider the fact that the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the operation of the Tabernacle/temple, the day of atonement, the food laws, the cleanliness laws, and most of the Jewish festivals…all emerge from the book of Leviticus! Understand Leviticus and you will be well on your way to understanding the other 65 books.
- Leviticus gives you a bigger view of sin. Sin according to Leviticus is a HUGE problem. Leviticus begins with God in the midst, but man outside the tent (Lev 1 v 1)! To gain access to God, Israel’s sin will need to be atoned for. But atonement will only come at the highest of costs: sacrifice, blood-shedding, death! When we read the book of Leviticus we get a sense of the scale and seriousness of sin. It is a really BIG deal. That’s not a bad thing to remember in a culture where sin is dismissed and downplayed.
- Leviticus gives you a brilliant (shadowy) preview of God’s solution to sin. How can a holy God dwell among an unholy people? How can an unholy people have access to a holy God? The solution is brilliantly previewed in the book of Leviticus: i.e. a substitutionary sacrifice, made by a priest on the day of atonement!!
Before settling on a title, I played around with a number of possible themes. Many series’ on Leviticus emphasise the holiness of God (eg. ‘Holy God, holy people’), but I decided that I wanted to keep the atonement-theme central to the series. I want to drive home the concept that Christ is the fulfilment of all we find in Leviticus. The ‘shadows’ idea comes, of course, from Hebrews 10:1, and speaks to the fact that Leviticus is a brilliant, yet shadowy preview of the Saviour who is to come. The excellent graphic above, by the way, was created by a talented artist in our church (Kirsty McAllister) who developed the motif in picture form. More of her work can be found here.
Outline of series
I am not preaching the whole book – but neither am I doing a short series. There is too much good stuff that I don’t want to miss out! So the series looks like this:
- The burnt offering (Lev 1)
- The grain offering (Lev 2)
- The fellowship offering (Lev 3)
- The sin offering (Lev 4)
- The guilt offering (Lev 5)
- Priests and pointers (Lev 8)
- Strange fire (Lev 10)
- Unclean, unclean! (Lev 11)
- The day of atonement (Lev 16)
- Blood, blood, more blood (Lev 17)
- Purity (Lev 18)
- Feasts and foreshadows (Lev 23:1-14)
- Feasts and foreshadows part 2 (Lev 23:15-44)
- Jubilee (Lev 25)
- Rewards and punishments (Lev 26)
- Wholly devoted (Lev 27)
There are four main books I am using. The first pair will assist me more with the exegesis, the second duo mainly with the application. Of course, we preachers need a good balance between both sorts of books.
Leviticus – Gordon Wenham
Holiness to the Lord – Allen P Ross
Exalting Jesus in Leviticus – Alan Moseley
Holy God, holy people – Kenneth Matthews
Applying Leviticus today
This is the main thing I have been forced to think through in preparation, and it seems to me that there are at least three rails to run our applications along:
a) Christ-centred applications. Our first line of application must surely be to Christ. Leviticus is a shadowy preview of our saviour Jesus’ work.
When we see the offerings in Leviticus, we see a fore-shadow of Jesus’ offering and sacrifice…
When we see priests in Leviticus, we see the shadowy outline of Jesus, the mediator between God and men…
When we see cleanliness laws and food laws, we see the shadowy outline of Jesus who was not just clean but Holy…
When we see the day of atonement, at the centre of Leviticus, we see a shadowy preview of the day of atonement when God’s nation (the church) would be redeemed through a scapegoat…
And when we see the festivals and Jewish holy days, we see a shadowy outline of Christ….who is our Passover lamb, our Sabbath rest, and the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead!
b) Levitical language applications. A great deal of Levitical language is used throughout the New Testament. We are commanded, for example, to offer our bodies as ‘living sacrifices ‘(Romans 12:1) and to ‘offer to God the sacrifice of praise’ (Heb 13:5). We are invited to draw near to God (Heb 10:22) with our hearts sprinkled and our bodies washed with pure water. We are called ‘a royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9), called to ‘be holy’ even as God is holy (Lev 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16-17).
c) Abiding principle applications. I’m not going to get bogged down in the thorny question of how exactly the Old Testament laws apply today. However, every Christian would agree that at least some of the Levitical laws cannot be directly drawn across to the Christian. That being the case, I find it useful to ask the question: what principle lies behind this particular law? Take the food laws, for example. A Christian today no longer needs to resist pork. But it’s still worth asking ‘what principle lay behind that law’? Certainly the food laws were partly designed to make Israel distinctive from all the other nations. God’s people weren’t to look like everyone else, and the food laws ensured that, in a practical way. So the principle is one of being distinctive. Does the New Testament say anything about the church living distinctively? Very much so! That is a line of application that we can develop.