Be honest, when was the last time you looked forward to hearing about Leviticus? In fact, be really honest, when was the last time you cringed when someone quoted this book out of context? It’s true much of this book is anachronistic. At the same time it is part of the foundational scripture (Torah) from which all Judaism and indeed Christianity flows. And as such, we owe it to ourselves to understand what was happening then, so that we might better understand what God is doing now. Let’s make Leviticus interesting.
Part 1 - Bending the Rules: Lev 1
We are going to try to explore the major themes and movements in this book, and in that we’ll try to understand what God was teaching this ancient culture about himself. As we do that, sometimes we’re going to see how God was preparing the story of Jesus and the connection is going to make a lot sense to us. Other times we’re going to see how just how completely Jesus upends these ancient assumptions about God, and we’re going to see just how incredibly revolutionary the Christian story was in bringing God’s character closer to his people.
However, in the midst of all the rules and the regulations, all the blood and the sacrifice and rituals that seem archaic, there is still present this gracious invitation. The welcoming presence of God that says “bring what you have and it will be enough.“
Part 2 - Thanksgiving: Lev 2+3
Taken together in this opening sequence of Leviticus, we have a personal offering that announces our presence before God and our commitment to engage with him, we have a grain offering where we remember God’s promise and we become part of how that memory is unlocked and remembered in others, and we have a peace offering where we pause to be thankful for all that God has gifted to us, lest that realization slip away.
Leviticus is not a one note song - there is this surprising symphony of images and ideas that are being brought together and blended in sometimes unpredictable ways.
Part 3 - Contamination: Lev 4+5
In Leviticus there was always a concern that we might bring some contamination, unintentionally or otherwise, into God’s presence. In Jesus we learn that God is Spirit and therefore God is with us, and in us, and through us at all times and in all places.
Through that, we come to understand that sin does not contaminate God. In fact, God wants to enter into our brokenness so that he can heal it. But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook when it comes to sin. In one sense the Jesus story shows us that everything gets easier: no more sacrifices, no more rituals in order to be forgiven, but on the other hand we must now recognize that we are always in the presence of God and we every choice we make is 'before' him.
Part 4 - Love and Shellfish: Lev 8+11
Distinction and difference, these ideas were very important to the ancient Israelites.
The point of the levitical purity code was to signal a people set apart for God. Once upon a time that looked like ritualized religion and rule following. Today what that looks like today is the counter-cultural, boundary-crossing, surprising love of Jesus. A love that shocks the world into noticing just how near God has come to each of us.
Part 5 - Scapegoats: Lev 16+17
Part of what we need to explore in the Day of Atonement is how these ancient Levitical rituals informed how the early Christians thought about the death and resurrection of Jesus. We always need in the back of our minds as we read Leviticus the idea that God was seeding the story even in this ancient primitive culture but that the story would only fully blossom in Jesus.
Part of the good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to participate in these scapegoat rituals anymore, because in a single, perfect act of love, God has made them obsolete.
Part 6 - Sexual Ethics: Lev 18
God is revealed in the totality of scripture; but God is revealed perfectly only as the story comes together and reaches it’s culmination in Jesus. And when Jesus comes and looks back on the law, when God himself interprets the law for us, what he sees is a mission to love the world.
You can’t follow God by not sinning. You can only ever follow God by living and loving and allowing him to transform you as you move through the world. Especially those who didn’t seem to be your neighbour at first glance.
Part 7 - Sabbath: Lev 23
The two perspectives on the origins and meaning behind sabbath hold two complementary views: on one hand sabbath is about stopping and resting in God’s presence that we might know him and be formed by his holy character, and on the other hand sabbath is a reminder that we were not created to be slaves, in rest we remind ourselves of everything that God has done for us.
In Jesus, we get reminded that ritual is never really just about ritual, and we are invited into the heart of the ritual by both God in chapter 23 of Leviticus, as well as Jesus in the way he models rhythms of resting in God with caring for those in his world.
Part 8 - Social Justice: Lev 25
This week we concluded our study of Leviticus. Every week in this series we have pointed/oriented ourselves back toward Jesus because without that the story is incomplete.
This week we talk about the Year of Jubilee, a full socio-economic reset in Israel every 50 years. In much the same way that the day of atonement was designed to wipe the slate clean when it came to sin, jubilee was designed to wipe the slate clean economically.
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus arrives on the scene and he tells us a expanded imagination of jubilee starts with him. Jesus says he is here to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour for everyone. Jesus democratizes religion by eliminating the very idea of an outsider.