His Presence

             I.      Introduction

Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40.  It’s starts with these verses,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.

 So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church.  This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40.    We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet.  And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod? 

Here is a traditional ephod:

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So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code?  If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood.  And ephods.

But let’s start with this:  Where does God live?

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When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up.  As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him.  Is He close?  Is He far away?  Where does God live?  And what does He look like if I see Him?

Does He look like George Burns?  Morgan Freeman?  And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?

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Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests.  There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear.  We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses.  Turn your bibles to Exodus 38.    Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –

Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high.  He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze.  He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up.  He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles.  He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.  He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.

This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was?  Right, “What is an ephod?”).  My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?”  That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches.  The final altar looked like this:

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And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near. 

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Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times.  Now we wear Astros gear.  I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods?  That would be perfect.

Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.  They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends.  The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.

And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.

What’s the purpose for all these instructions?    The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place.  The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”

But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book.  Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book.  And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin?  How did it end?”  I dunno.  I’m only reading the middle part of the book.

I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation.  Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today.  Shouldn’t take too long, right?  So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. 

          II.      Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God

Genesis 1:1-2,

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

 To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study.  But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.

When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God.  God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect.  And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.  And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation.  And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden.  And there was still no sin.  In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,

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Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment.  But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  And sin entered the world. 

This is important an important change in our relationship with God.  Sin entered the world.  You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along.  But God is not like you and me.  God is holy and pure and good.  He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it.  How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.”  No, God promises to make all things right.

After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man?  God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.

       III.      Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple

But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people.  How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process?   In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock. 

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I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it.  The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.

So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness.  So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord.  All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin.  The dress code was mandatory.  Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea.   God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,

They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.

 So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem.  Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death.  In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.  You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe.  It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles.  And there’s meaning in the robe;

  • The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
  • The gold represents, well, gold.  It’s pure and it’s rare.
  • The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood.  And this is important to the sacrificial system.  Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
  • The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
  • The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord.  One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.

Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body.  I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true.  I checked on Snopes.com.  Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/  ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ.   Dr. Nunnally says,

“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it.  So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere. 

I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –

It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

 But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.  “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.  He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments.  Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

 These are two different places, even though the words are similar.  The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies.  The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites.  Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.

That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –

  • God desires a relationship with His people
  • God is holy
  • Man is sinful. 
  • The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
  • The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.

The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.

          IV.      The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?

Where is our temple today?  Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus changed everything.

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When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins.  It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people.  The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

 What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples.  These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated.  But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many.  This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,

nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future.  His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross.  And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It is finished; sin has been defeated.

If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil.  But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.

So what about the temple?  The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments? 

Jesus, again, changed everything.

For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out.  But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary.  After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

The veil was torn by God from the top.  Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies?  Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.

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In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same.  A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.

But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary.  Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior.  Jesus is our permanent sacrifice.  So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed?  We don’t.

In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned.  And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt.  For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple.  1 Corinthians 6:19 –

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

 Jesus changed everything.  We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.

             V.      The Temple Yet to Come

But this isn’t the way the story ends.  What about any future temple?  Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.

There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly.  The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago.  Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God.   Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple.  While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God.  Why would we need sacrifices to begin again?  This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man.  And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.

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But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future.  John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

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God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears.  That’s something to look forward to.

          VI.      Conclusion

I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements.  We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil.  We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.

And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today.  There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us.  And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.

In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live.  God dwells inside each one of us.

Jesus changed everything.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

What We Offer to the Lord

I. Introduction

I’ve always joked that if I was ever asked to teach a lesson from the book of Leviticus, I would focus on the evils of shellfish. I’m allergic to shellfish – did any of you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? And after another one of his disastrous dates where he eats some shrimp and his face gets all puffy and swollen and they have to go to the drugstore and buy a bottle of Benadryl? That’s what happens to me, I was going to bring in some shrimp gumbo and teach a lesson that would be unforgettable and maybe end in a hospital visit.

Well, we’re studying Leviticus this week, but, for some reason, the Holy Spirit didn’t lead me to do any shellfish experiments. That’s a good thing for all of us, I think. Turns out there’s a more meaningful lesson in Leviticus today.

One of the best investors of the last fifty years was a nice Jewish fellow named Bernard. His clientele was hand-picked; you practically had to be invited to invest with him. He was always generous and never lost money. His background on Wall Street was impeccable, and investors bragged about how well their investments were performing. By September 2009, there was $36 billion invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.

I’m sure you know the name by now. Of that $36 billion, Bernie Madoff reported that he had grown their investments to $65 billion, but he hadn’t. In fact, he had spent or lost half of it. A lot of this money was stolen from Jewish charities like Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Yeshiva University, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation. Thousands of people who thought they had a great retirement invested with Bernie Madoff found their entire savings gone.

If you had given your money to somebody to invest for you – you give them $100 because they promised to make it grow to $200 and give it back to you – but instead you found they invested it in a nice dinner at Perry’s Steakhouse and ate it, how would you feel?

If the court system said that out of the $100 you invested, you can have $50 back but you have to give $30 to your lawyer, would you feel justice was served?

What if the court made the scammer give back your $100 in full, would that make everything right? Would the scammer then be guilt-free?

As Christians, we are saved by the grace of God, and all of our sins are forgiven, paid by the penalty on the cross. And as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that doesn’t mean we have no sin. And even though we are forgiven, solid Christian living and the gracious forgiveness we receive from God does not mean we do not have obligations and repercussion because of our sin. Today we’re going to see what God asks us to do when we have sinned because it’s the right thing to do.

II. Atonement for Sin

Throughout first half of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions for how to lead His people and how to maintain a relationship with the Lord. The concept of sacrifice was established, where the innocent could pay the price of the guilty or as a method of worship. There are several types of sacrifices for which God provided instructions.

Let’s look at the types of sins and the sacrifices that go with them.

Leviticus 1 describes the Burnt Offering. Leviticus 1:3-4,

If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.

What is atonement? Sometimes it’s spelled At-One-Ment. We are sinful people, inherited separation from God because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Atonement is making peace with God, asking for forgiveness. It’s our reconciliation, that we may still have a relationship with the Almighty God even though there is sin in us that He cannot abide.

This burnt offering provides a one-ment with God. The burnt offering required a blood sacrifice of an innocent animal. This offering was not shared by the priests; the offering was completely consumed, completely dedicated to the Lord. Verse1:17 says this aroma was pleasing to the Lord; the Lord is pleased, not for the death but for the reconciliation.

Today, we no longer sacrifice burnt offerings. We now have eternal reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is misunderstood by many of those outside the Christian faith – the sacrifice of the Son of God is not what pleases Him. It is the reconciliation with His children that pleases the Lord.

III. An Offering of Gratitude

God’s desire to have a relationship with us, especially considering throughout history how we have rejected the Lord, should fill us with gratitude that the Lord pursues us until we turn from sin and turn to Him. The offering described in Leviticus 2 is the grain offering and is offer to express our gratitude, our faithfulness to God, our commitment to a life that is pleasing to the One who created us.

Leviticus 2:14-16,

If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.

So our gratitude to the Lord is shown by our willingness to give to God the best of what we have, our firstfruits. And again, when this offering is burned by the priest, verse 9 says the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. Unlike the burnt offering that was totally consumed in dedication to the Lord for our sins, this offering belongs to the Lord and for the use by Aaron and his sons, the Levitical priesthood.

Today, we don’t bring grain offerings, but we still offer our firstfruits in gratitude to the Lord. Today, this is our tithe. Where God has blessed us, we acknowledge our thanks that all things are provided by the Lord, we give thanks for allowing us to be good stewards of His gifts by returning the best of what we have, the best of which already belongs to the Lord.

IV. An Offering of Fellowship

The next offering is one of peace and fellowship. Leviticus 3:5 says the offering should be an unblemished animal from the flock that is burned on the alter as food, and the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. The food is to be shared by all the people, including the priests, and a portion is to be set aside for the Lord.

Our fellowship, one with another, is why we’re here. We learn to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. We learn how to be gracious and giving, as the Lord has been gracious and giving toward us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves in celebration of the Lord’s love for us.

Our relationship with each other is so very important to the Lord. Matthew 5:23-24 says,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Our relationship with each other is so important that if we are at odds, God wants us to forgive each other far more than He wants our offering. Why is this?

I believe there are several reasons for this. A rift between brothers and sisters is like a wound or a sore in the body of Christ. It keeps the church from functioning well, and it keeps us from showing the light of Christ in our lives to others. If we are at odds with one another, it shows that we truly don’t understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died for us, not because we’re basically good people and we deserve a good sacrifice once in a while. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

V. The Sin Offering

We’ve had three offerings so far – the burnt offering for atonement, the grain offering of thankfulness, and then the barbecue, the offering of fellowship. These are essentially offerings of worship for our communion with God and with one another. All three of these were offered on the altar in the compound of the Tabernacle.

The fourth offering is similar to the offering of atonement, but it’s not made so much in worship but in payment for our sins. And like Jesus, who paid for our sins on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, this offering is made outside of the camp. Leviticus 4 describes the offering in payment for our sins.

The common word throughout this chapter is the word “unintentional.” This offering assumes the follower has the right heart and is following the Lord’s commands, and the sins he commits are unintentional. While the Lord will not look upon sin, this indicates that not all sin is viewed the same way. The unintentional sin can be atoned by a sacrifice to the Lord as payment. The defiant, intentional sin is different. Look at the book of Numbers, chapter 15 for a moment. Numbers 15 also addresses offerings made to the Lord, and Numbers 15:22 also addresses offers for unintentional sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says,

But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.

We talk about sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is something we do. Lying, cheating, stealing are sins of commission. And then there is the sin of omission – something we should have done, but didn’t. We should have tithed, we should have shared Christ, we should have offered help to our neighbor. Unintentional sins can be either be by omission or commission.

There is no offering prescribed for a defiant sin. One cannot praise the Lord with all his heart, yet at the same time thumb his nose at the Lord’s commands. His guilt remains on him; how awful, how terrible, to pay the price for one’s own sin, for Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. A defiant sin acts like a wedge between us and the Lord and drives us away from His love and compassion. Romans 1:21 talks about defiant sin; it says that while wicked men knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but instead claimed to be wise and instead made themselves foolish. God therefore gave them over to their own sinful desires.

God doesn’t force us to love us. In fact, God gives us exactly what we want. If we want an eternity in the presence of Jesus, we can have it simply by confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior. And if we do not want God’s influence in our lives, He will make that part of our eternity instead. Defiant sin is a terrible thing. But the unintentional sin of the Christian is paid for by the blood of Christ.

VI. The Guilt Offering

The last offering described by Moses is the guilt offering. This is repayment of the harm caused by the sin. While many times sin can be against another person, sin is always against the will of God. Leviticus 5 says that if one sins, one must make full restitution.

Leviticus 5:1-5 mentions several ways one could sin; verse 1 talks about keeping silent when he should speak, perhaps of witnessing a crime but choosing not to do anything about it. Verse 2 and 3 talk about our actions, of doing things that offend the Lord. And verse 4 talks about the sins of the tongue, of cussing and swearing and breaking oaths. Look at the last part of verse 4 –

even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.

When does a sin become a sin? When you commit the sin, or when you learn about the sin?

A couple of months ago, headed to work out Highway 59, I exited Williams Trace. I approached the intersection; the light was red but there was nobody in the intersection. After looking carefully, I turned right on red, a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas.

The red light camera thought different. They took not only a nice picture of my license plate but also a nice video and posted it on the web for me to see. And I watched the video and had no idea why they were sending me a ticket.

I didn’t come to a complete stop; while that camera has been there for years and I’ve worked there for years, I apparently had never approached that intersection on red with nobody in front of me. Since I didn’t come to a complete stop first before turning, I got a ticket. I was guilty. Was I guilty when I first received the ticket, or when I turned the corner on red without coming to a complete stop?

We are guilty of sin when we commits the sin, whether we realize we did it or whether we even knew it was a sin. But when we realize we have committed a sin, we are to confess the sin.

When I was growing up, apparently I was a boy. Boys can be trouble sometimes, so I’ve heard. But not me. When something bad happened around the house, when the lamp was broken or, say, you were five years old and tipped over 2 50 lb bags of dog food in the garage and ran over it with your tricycle, making wonderful little crunching noises until all the dog food was a fine powder that covered the entire garage… hypothetically, of course. My mother would line the three of us kids up, my sister, my brother, and me, and say, “If one of you don’t confess, all three of you will get a spanking!” And my sister would crack under the pressure and confess. Every time. So… she was really the guilty one, right?

My sister and I are close and we joke about this now, but I realize studying for this lesson that it’s a long ago sin, but I’m guilty. I’ve never made restitution, and I should leave my offering on the altar and make sure things are right with her after all these years. I would have apologized earlier, but it was all her fault I didn’t. No, no, I mean I confess my transgression and go make things right. It doesn’t matter when I knew it was wrong, it’s never the wrong time to go apologize and make things right.

When the sin is committed against another person, restitution must be paid more than in full. Look at Leviticus 5:16 –

He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven.

Bernie Madoff stole billions that he can never repay, and for his crime he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Remember the $100 that our so-called friend promised to invest for us but spent it at Perry’s steakhouse? If we discover that we have sinned against another and we have to make restitution, do more than what is expected to make up for it. Pay back $120 instead of the $100 borrowed. And if they want you to walk a mile for them, walk two. And if they strike you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek, too.

VII. Conclusion

We talked about five offerings in Leviticus 1-5. An offering for the atonement of sin so that we may have fellowship and worship of the Lord. An offering of gratitude, to give to the Lord the best we have to offer. An offering of fellowship, of loving our neighbor as ourselves and a celebration of belonging to the body of Christ. And then an offering for our sins and an offering for our guilt and to make restitution and go over and above to make sure things are right between ourselves, the Lord, and between each other, no matter when we discover we have sinned.

And we can give thanks that God himself loved us so much that He provided the ultimate offering as payment for our sins, His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Love Wholeheartedly

Our next minor prophet is Malachi. In Hebrew, Malachi means “messenger of Yahweh” or “my messenger.” Was Malachi the name of the man who wrote this book? Some scholars believe “Malachi” was simply the title of the book, as in “my message” to the people. We don’t know anything about the man himself, but it’s helpful to think of Malachi as the name of the prophet who wrote it. Verse 1 tells us that the book of Malachi is “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” The word “oracle” implies a burden, a heavy message from the Lord.

Malachi came after Haggai and Zechariah and probably wrote this about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah. Here’s a probable time line —

538 BC — Zerubbabel leads the first return of Jews from Babylon (prophets Haggai and Zechariah)
521–486 BC — Rebuilding the temple
458 BC — Ezra leads the second return of Jews from Babylon
445 BC — Nehemiah leads the third return of Jews from Babylon
433 BC — Malachi rebukes Israel

After admonitions from the earlier prophets, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, but over time the people became lazy, earlier spiritual reforms were abandoned, and conditions declined. Jerusalem fell into poor shape, both economically and spiritually. Nehemiah mentions in Nehemiah 5:5 that conditions were so poor, some parents sold their children into slavery to pay debts. That’s not legal today, though goodness knows I once tried. (No, no, no, I’m just kidding.)

The people had turned away from their faith, marrying non-Hebrews and practicing in the occult, and blaming their own poor conditions on God. Malachi challenges this mindset — the people can’t neglect their faith and then blame the resulting poor conditions on God. God’s love is unchanging, forever faithful. It’s the people; it’s us, that are not consistently loving.

Do You Trust God’s Love?

Let’s start with Malachi 1:2-3 —

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God says He loves us, and the people respond “How? How do you love us? We have no prosperity, we’re selling our children into slavery, and times are tough. What do you mean you love us?” They people of Jerusalem had a lot to complain about. They had been in captivity by the Babylonians for over 80 years, then 70 years since they had returned to Jerusalem, but they were still not independent. For 150 years their destiny was manipulated by the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and now, even though they had rebuilt the temple and rebuilt the walls under Nehemiah, they didn’t have the manpower to defend against their enemies. From their point of view, God had allowed them to be dragged off into exile, and only through their own hard work did they return, rebuild the temple, rebuild the wall, and rebuild whatever prosperity they could muster. Where was God? How could God possibly say He loved them when so many bad things had happened?

Bad things happen to us today. We complain about them. In Afghanistan, there were 23 South Korean Christians captured by the Taliban; two of them, including the pastor, have already been killed. Where is God? I once lost my job and was unemployed for 2 months. Does anybody here have some health issue that doesn’t seem to have any Godly purpose? What sort of bad things are happening to us or in our society right now?

Do these bad things mean God doesn’t love us? Do they mean that God isn’t paying attention to us?

The people of Jerusalem must have a lot of nerve to say that God doesn’t love them. When he says, “Yet I have loved Jacob,” God is reminding them that God chose His people and has given them preferential treatment. If you remember the book of Obadiah a few weeks back, the people of Esau, the Edomites, share the same father as Jacob. Esau’s people, though, were not chosen by God, and the people of Edom openly rebelled against God. When Moses led the Israelis to the Promised Land, the people of Edom would not allow them to pass. When Nebuchadnezzar attacks, the Edomites tell the Babylonians where the Israelites are hiding, then join in the sacking and plunder. The Lord reminds the people of Jerusalem of His preferential treatment of Israel. The Lord God parted the Red Sea, had an angel of fire to protect them, provided manna in the dessert, but to the Edomites, God promises destruction. God reminds the people of Jerusalem that He loves them, but it appears the people do not remember or do not appreciate what God has done for them. It is true that God allowed their captivity, but only to cure them of their persistent idolatry. God had preserved them, though, and kept them from being destroyed. The people of Jacob only have to look to the people of Esau to see how much God loves them. Without God’s protection, they would have been destroyed.

What has God done for us? It can be difficult to see what God is doing in our lives with our narrow view of “me, me, me.” We’re too limited in our vision, only looking at the moment. God’s love works over a long period of time, and only over time do we get a perspective of how much God loves us. We get mad at God for something that just happened just now and forget about all His other mercies in the past. Perhaps when I lost my job, God saw that I was dependent on something other than Him, and I needed a reminder that if I was faithful, He would provide all my needs. Perhaps health issues give us empathy for others that have similar health issues; nobody can speak God’s love to a cancer patient like a Christian cancer survivor. Perhaps he uses health issues to remind us that our lives are temporal, short, and that we should devote whatever time we have left to loving our Lord and loving others.

But God does care for us, even in the middle of trials. Jesus tells us (Matthew 10:30) that our Father has numbered the very hairs on our head. One… two… there are a lot of hairs, some of us more than others.

It is God’s discipline in our lives that we have so much trouble understanding. The Babylonian captivity was discipline imposed by God to cure them of idolatry. A parent will punish their child for playing in the street, not because the parent hates the child, but because the parent loves the child. The parent could stand in the street also to direct traffic and protect the child, or the parent can teach the child the dangers of traffic. God often chooses to teach us, not just protect us.

There’s a story about a summer Christian camp for kids, and one of the counselors was teaching that God had a purpose for everything He created. The kids came up with good reasons for clouds, trees, animals, rocks, dirt, rivers, and so forth, when one of the children asked, “Why did God create poison ivy?” There was an uncomfortable pause while the counselor thought, but then one of the other children said, “God made poison ivy to teach us there are some things we should just keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off of.”

The people of Jerusalem clearly misunderstood about God’s love. When we trust in God’s love, it does not mean we no longer have responsibilities. The people of Jerusalem though they were exempt from responsibility and effort. They believed they can slack off, be part-time lackadaisical believers, and God will take care of them. We too, pray for God to just fix things. While God sometimes just “fixes” things for us, most of the time God teaches us not to play in traffic. There was a prayer I heard long ago about how God works, it goes like this —

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws me apart from worldly cares and brings me closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own. But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”.
He said He will give me life, that I may enjoy all things.

I ask God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said “Ah, finally you have the idea!”

How does God love us? Like the people of Jerusalem, in the midst of our lives, we focus too much on the here and now. If we would ask God if He loved us, God would say “Yes.” He gave me his only Son who died for us, and we will be in heaven someday because we believe. That’s how much God loves us.

Question for the class — What helps you trust that God loves you when it seems to you God’s doesn’t hear your prayers?

Consider –
1. I can trust God’s love because…

Do You Honor God’s Greatness?

The real question isn’t whether God loves us. The real question is: do we love God? Malachi 1:6-9 —

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”-says the LORD Almighty.

God asks a good question — with their mouths, the people say they honor God. But God shows them their hypocrisy — they say one thing, but their actions show their lack of respect for God. Starting with the priests; the Lord says the priests are showing God contempt, not honor. The priests are offering blind animals for sacrifice. The animals are crippled and diseased. Where did the priests get the blind and crippled animals? The people offered them. The Lord asks them to try offering them to the governor. Would the governor be pleased? If you were going to a friend’s house for a potluck supper, what would your friend think if you brought an expired can of sauerkraut and a half-open carton of milk?

If we truly believe God is our almighty God, we should honor him with our best. How do we do that? For instance, at work, how should we honor God? With our best service, the best job we can do. As a neighbor, how should we honor God? By loving our neighbor as ourselves. At home as a spouse or a parent, how should we honor God? By loving our spouse, at a minimum, like we love our neighbor. At worship, how should we honor God? With all our hearts; with repentance, reflection, forgiveness. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Let me ask you something — who here thinks they are truly loveable? I mean if we could see everything in your life, what you do, what you say, even what you think, who here believes they are truly warm and fuzzy and loveable all of the time? And yet, God loves us anyway. What do we do to earn this love? Nothing. God loves us even when we’re unlovable. That is a truly extraordinary demonstration of what love is. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action. We love our neighbor, not because he’s necessarily loveable, but because we are called to love him. And it’s a great example of how we are to love our spouses — our spouses may indeed be truly loveable, but that’s not why we love them. When our spouses are loveable, that just makes it easier to like them. We love our spouses because by loving our spouses, we are honoring God.

As Christians, we worship God through our service to Him and through our obedience. Not just on Sunday mornings, but Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings, too. Notice that God doesn’t want our gift if we are at odds with our Christian brother or sister. We’re a married class; who is our closest brother or sister? What God says here is that if we’re at odds with our spouse, our gift is meaningless. Our worship to Him is expressed through love to one another. Before we worship on Sunday morning, it should be our reminder to forgive one another, to love one another, to be reconciled to one another.

How strongly does God feel about this? Malachi 1:10 has very strong words about this.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Any outward ritual is worthless. God doesn’t care about outward rituals. God cares about the heart and mind and spirit. If your heart is not right, if your heart is not repentant, forgiving, and full of love, God says He’d rather we nail the church doors shut and go home. He doesn’t want half-hearted worship. He doesn’t want worship from us if we’re angry or gossipy or unforgiving. In Mark 12:28-34, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. What was Jesus’ response?

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The verse after that isn’t quite so well known; the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus —

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This verse doesn’t say that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were unimportant; it says that the offerings and sacrifices are worth less than the love of God and the love of each other. Whatever effort we go through to love God and each other, our offerings are worth less. If you love God half-heartedly, the offering is almost worthless.

I believe the Lord would almost rather we be like Esau, who He hated. I think He would have us hate God and turn our face away from Him. If we’re in church going through the motions of worship, but being a poor example of a Christian to our neighbor, our co-worker, our bible class friends, or heaven forbid our spouses, we are harming God’s church. When we are a poor example of Christ’s love, we hinder the witness of those fully devoted followers of Christ.

Let me give you an example of how being a poor example of an obedient Christian can harm the church and turn away potential believers. There was an article last week from Rome; an Italian politician whose party represents Christian values was caught in a hotel room with two prostitutes and a large amount of cocaine. When he was caught, this was his response:

“So politicians in the UDC [Christian Party] do not make love? Of course, I recognize Christian values. But what has that got to do with going with a prostitute? It is a personal matter. This affair has nothing to do with family values. I cannot be branded a bad father and a bad husband simply because after five or six days away from home, an occasion presented itself.”

In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says this about being a half-hearted Christian —

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

I’m not sure what the theological implications of Jesus spitting us out of His mouth are, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing. Non-committed Christians can be more harmful than non-Christians. Part-time Christians can be distasteful to God. It is not our actions that please God; it’s our heart. If our tongue both praises God and curses men, we are lukewarm, we are dishonoring God. God would have us nail the church doors shut.

Consider –
2. I will honor the Lord’s greatness by offering Him the best of my…
3. I will repent of my unacceptable attitudes and actions that include…

Do You Love God Wholeheartedly?

God wants the best from us. Malachi 1:11-14 —

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

God wants our best; God wants us to lean on Him, not on ourselves. When we hold back from God, like the man who keep the best for himself and offers the blemished leftovers to God, God doesn’t bless that. God says instead of blessings, such a person is cursed instead.

The purpose of our lives is to show God’s glory, God’s excellence, God’s love, in everything we do. Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another question for the class; I assume nobody brought an unblemished goat to sacrifice this morning. What are examples of an unacceptable offering today?

What is the best way to show that we love the Lord with all of our heart?

Consider –
4. I will express wholehearted devotion to God by…

Conclusion

If I truly trust in the Lord and believe He is greatest among all names, if I truly believe Jesus is my Lord and savior and not just a religious figure, then I want to offer my Lord my best. I can trust in the Lord; he has provided great things to me; my wife, my life, my health, my hair number 2,063,425. Most of all, He provided His son to me to that I shall not perish but have eternal life. If we trust that the Lord loves us, even when we’re suffering or when we don’t feel as though God hears our prayers, we still give the Lord our best. A half-hearted effort of going through the motions means nothing to the Lord, He would rather nail the church doors shut than to listen to us mouth off about each other or to give lip-service to His will. Even when we don’t feel loved, we should give our best to the Lord, just like when we don’t feel loved, we should still give our best to each other. For great is His name above all other names, and our actions and worship should recognize that He is Lord.