Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 29, 2013
This morning we are in the book of Leviticus and focusing on holiness.
Leviticus is one of those books that doesn’t get preached from very often. Its kinda of like those fly over states - Nebraska - Iowa - states that people fly over on their way from California to someplace on the east coast.
Leviticus is tons of heave this and Bar-B-Que that. Rules and regulations - bulls and rams and lambs oh my. Which we tend to get lost in. Not the easiest devotional reading.
BUT - Leviticus is a hugely important book in the Bible. Hugely relevant for us even today.
One of the reasons we struggle with a whole lot of the Old Testament is because we’re trying to read it with a western mindset. We tend to think linear - a Point A - Point B - outline presentations of facts. Just get to the point and tell me what to do.
But the Hebrew Eastern mindset is big on stories and illustrations and examples that can go on for chapters. One reason Jesus spoke in parables.
We can miss a whole lot of what God has for us in the Old Testament because we’re getting lost in the illustration - trying to process it with a western mindset - impatient for God to get to the point and 5 easy bullet point steps to a more abundant life - rather than experiencing the illustration - letting it unfold - and staying alert for God to give us the teaching behind the illustration.
Because if we’re looking for it - in the midst of all those regulations and lists of people and places - usually there is a short pithy statement that is the explanation of what all that is all about. Which is what we’re looking at this morning - Leviticus 11:45.
Leviticus is essentially a “How To” manual for priests. All those instructions - heaving and Bar-B-Queing are hugely important for doing what God requires of His people - think Old Testament sacrificial system.
Behind the scenes of all those sacrifices - Leviticus at its core - is God teaching His people about what means to live in relationship with the holy God. Which is of crucial importance for us today.
Leviticus 11:45 is the essential “you need to get this” pithy theme statement of Leviticus. Would you read this verse with me: For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Notice that there are two essential parts to this theme. One looks backwards. One looks forwards. Which in many ways where we are today. New Years. Right? Looking backward. Looking forward. Where have we come to? Where are we going? What can that look like for us? Thinking about 2014 and what God may have for us - how we live moving forward following God in the year ahead. Are we together?
The looking backward part is this: For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.
Two questions: What does it mean that God has brought His people up out of the land of Egypt and what can that mean for us today?
God’s people were where? Egypt. Living as slaves. Back breaking bondage. Building cities for the Pharaohs. Crying out to God. God sends Moses with the message for His people, “I hear your pain.”
Ten plagues later Israel is leaving Egypt overloaded with parting gifts. God parts the Red Sea and takes out Pharaoh’s army. Humbles the most powerful nation on earth. And God’s people are heading out across the desert for the Promised Land.
Which is the “I brought you up out of Egypt” part of this verse. God doing for His people what they never ever could have done for themselves.
They’re in bondage. Slaves. If God doesn’t step in and do something they’re going to keep on being slaves. There is no way out of Egypt. Its hopeless. And yet God steps in and does for the Hebrews what they really had no part in doing for themselves.
We need to hold on to that. “I brought you up” in the Hebrew is all about God. God Who is sovereign - almighty - and yet loving and gracious and merciful to His people. God delivers His people.
In the Bible Egypt is often used as a symbol for sin and our being in bondage to sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Sin becomes our master - we end up serving sin - mind, soul, and body. Jesus goes on, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34,36)
When we were living in bondage to our sin - totally unable to help ourselves - meaning if God doesn’t step in and do something we’re going to keep on living in bondage to our sin. Meaning we without hope - totally worthy of God’s condemnation and punishment - by our sin bound to eternal separation from God in Hell. Helpless and hopeless.
God, knowing every ugly thing we’ve ever done - are doing - and ever will do - knowing that we could never measure up - never earn or achieve salvation or anything even coming close to what we needed to be right before God - Jesus goes to the cross - dies in our place taking our penalty for our sin - so that as we confess our sin, trust God with our lives, and claim Jesus as our Savior - God puts on Jesus all of the sin, condemnation, and wrath that should have been ours and gives to us the righteousness of Jesus.
Jesus gets our death. We get life with God. God totally changing the direction of our lives. Totally changing our relationship with Him. Because God steps in and frees us we get to live forgiven of our sins. To live free of the penalty of sin. Freed to live out God’s great purposes for our lives. Freed to forever living with God.
That reality is a truth that we need to embrace at the core of who we are every day and every second that God gives us breath to live. To let that truth - that we are receivers of God’s grace - God’s undeserved stepping in on my behalf to free me - to embrace that truth at the core of who we are and how we do life.
Are we together? If God sets us free - having brought us up out of Egypt - choosing to lavish His grace on us - doing for us what we had no part in or ability to do - setting us apart as His people - freeing us through the blood of Jesus - our Passover lamb - then we are - present tense - done deal - we are free indeed.
Second Question: What can that mean for us today?
God brings His people out of Egypt - why? What does He tell them? To be their God. Which is about God choosing His people out of all the people’s of the earth. To be sovereign over them. To protect and defend them. To provide for them. To take care of them. To give them all the good things that would be proper for them to have. To dwell with them.
Which is how this plays out. Right? Along the way to the Promised Land God’s people live totally trusting God - living in complete devotion to God. Right? Not exactly.
Even knowing what they knew about God and what God had delivered them from - there was the whole golden calf thing. The whole we don’t have water and food thing. We like Egypt better. Moses and Aaron are a couple of shlameals. Even back in Egypt when God was taking out Pharaoh they were whining about how God was doing it. Basically God’s people turned out to be a bunch of whiners.
And yet time and time again God comes through for His people. Proving that He - their God - is trustworthy and totally beyond able to do whatever is necessary to take care of His people and fulfill His promises to them.
Finally this bunch of whiners gets across the desert to where they can see the Promised Land. They’re right there on the border of Edom. Are we there together? Between God’s people and the land God’s promised His people is the land of Edom.
And God’s people - several million strong - a huge irresistible force - knowing all that God has done for them and all that God has promised them - God’s people send a message to the king of Edom - not demanding his surrender - “Go fall on your sword before we wipe you out” - but God’s people plead with the king of Edom to let them pass through his land - promising to stay on the main highway - not to touch or take anything - or be offensive in any way. They even promise to pay for damages or to pay for anything they might need.
In response - when king of Edom shows up with an army, God’s people stick their tails between their legs and head off back into the wilderness - dejected and defeated. (Numbers 20:14-21)
Why? Why didn’t they just trust God and go in a slaughter their enemies - enemies that for generations to come were going to be a huge problem for them? Example: One of the last Edomites was Herod who attempts to kill Jesus. Why not move forward into all that God had promised them instead of whining about giants in the land and retreating?
Grab this: You can take slave out of Egypt but its way harder to take Egypt out of the slave. They’re still thinking like slaves. Not the conquering people God has freed them out to be.
Which is where we struggle today. Even though God has separated us - redeemed us - set us free from our former passions - we still live thinking that we’re bound by all that crud that’s leading us to Hell.
Does this make sense? God frees us from bondage to our sin so we can go on stumbling around in sin - trying to find our own way through life - like life in the wilderness - the journey is all about us. Devoting ourselves to our old self- focused - self-pleasing - sinful ways of living. Trying to care for and provide for ourselves. Does that make sense?
God frees us from our bondage to other gods - including worshipping ourselves as god - God frees us so that He will be the God of our lives. Period.
We need to embrace the truth of God’s grace - to get our hearts and minds - the core of who we are - wrapped around the reality that God has freed us - separated us out from all of what once was. So that He is to be our God. Not us. Not anything else. God and God alone is worthy to be the God of our lives.
That means we need to make a choice. Right? Who gets to be God? We need to choose let go of the mentality of a slave and to embrace the mentality of one set free by God.
I read a quote attributed to Soren Kierkegaard. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
Put slightly different: Faith is easier if we’re looking backwards trusting God for what He’s already done. But that really isn’t faith. Faith is faith when we’re moving forward trusting God and we have no idea what’s coming next.
What we should be learning from the past - what Israel should have learned by looking back at what God had done - what we need to embrace is that the gracious sovereign God Who has freed us is trustworthy in whatever is ahead of us in life.
Which before we even get to tomorrow is a choice we have to make for ourselves today. A choice that’s foundational - the basis of how we will live tomorrow. Today - right now - Who’s God? Has God really brought you up out of Egypt? Who are you really trusting with your life?
The second part of verse 45 looks forward to where we’re going. “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” What does meant that God is holy and what can that mean for us to be holy?
What we understand of God’s holiness is that God is “other than” His creation. God is completely separate.
We have holy matrimony because two people commit themselves to a unique intimate relationship - separating themselves from others and uniquely to each other in a marital relationship. We have the Holy Scriptures because God the Holy Spirit inspired authors to write what is totally unique - separate - from anything else that’s been written.
But we need to be careful. The bottom line reality is that none of us can really wrap our minds around the true meaning of divine holiness. Its not like we can imagine someone or something as being holy - like totally pure - and then raise that idea to a higher level and that’s God’s holiness. God’s holiness is not the best we can imagine and better.
We know nothing about God’s holiness. It is totally - infinitely apart from - unique - unapproachable - incomprehensible - unattainable.
A.W. Tozer - in his book “The Knowledge of the Holy” - Tozer writes: “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because He is holy, all His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy.” (1)
That’s mind numbing. Isn’t it?
What can that mean for us as we move forward into 2014?
What is hugely difficult is knowing that while God is holy we’re not. Right? God’s holiness is the moral standard of creation. And, we’re not even on the scale.
Read God’s command again with me: You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Notice that God says “for I am holy” not “as I am holy.”
Being holy “as” God is holy is a God thing. None of us can ever be absolutely holy “as” God is absolutely holy. Which is not what God is calling us to.
God separates His people from all the other people’s of the world because God chooses to do so. God chooses Abraham. Chooses to make his descendants into a great nation. God chooses to preserve His people in Egypt. Chooses to deliver them out of Egypt. Chooses to give them the Promised Land - which is about God’s people dwelling with God.
What God - here in Leviticus - what God is calling His people to is to live separate. God’s people are to be uniquely separate as God’s people because the holy God has chosen them - separated them out - to be holy - His holy people - for a holy - unique - relationship with Him.
Hold on to that. “For” is about our relationship with God who is holy. Holiness is about how we live out our relationship with God in the day to day places of where we live our lives.
Pause with me on that. Its important that we get at least some of what that can mean for us.
Holiness - the meaning of the word at its origins in English - the Anglo-Saxon root has to do with being “well” - “whole.” Meaning to be a whole person. A complete person living out the purposes for which we’ve been created.
Which is what we long for. Isn’t it? Living with wholeness of mind and soul? To live fulfilling lives of meaning and purpose?
Anything less than that is sickness - disease - a hopeless despairing emptiness of life. Which is where so many people are living their lives today.
Simply put: Living holy is what makes us a whole human being. Holiness is wholeness.
That’s why God sets boundaries - Levitical laws - limits on our lives - and says “Don’t get involved in that. You’re going to get defiled. Your humanity will be rendered unclean - destroyed. You’re not going to be able to fulfill the purposes for which you’ve been created and placed in this world.” Sin is self-destructive behavior.
Ray Stedman said this: “Its not the religious activities you go through, nor how much time you spend in Bible study that God is really interested in. He is after the expression of His character in the midst of where you work, and in your home, and among your family and your neighbors and your friends. He desires that the character which comes through to others from you is that of love and joy and peace, and of tenderness and willingness to forgive and forbearance and understanding, and of the absence of grudge-holding and bitterness and hatred and enmity. That is the character of a whole person.” (2)
That’s why God says, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Why God teaches and illustrates for us what it means to live holy in relationship with Him. God wants for us to be whole and to fulfill our humanity - to fulfill the purposes for which we’ve been created and called - living separated from sin - living as His people in the places where we do life.
Are we together? Thinking forward - about living holy in 2014 - holiness is wholeness. This is also true - wholeness is holiness - meaning to be a whole person means living wholly God’s.
If God - who frees us from Egypt - if God gets to be God of our lives then to live holy means that our lives are to be wholly God’s. “You shall be holy” in 2014 is about the daily - moment by moment - the removal of anything from our lives that keeps us back from being wholly God’s.
The Apostle Peter writes about living holy. Peter - in 1 Peter touches on how that removal can take place in our lives. Peter writes - 1 Peter 1:14: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (1Peter 1:14,15)
Being conformed means allowing those former passions to shape our lives - to mold us - to squeeze us into their image - to bind our hearts and minds in an unholy alliance to this world. Forming and worshipping golden calves - longing for the things of Egypt.
To not be conformed means choosing to break free of whatever binds us - enslaves us - to our former passions.
Physically we may not be there. But mentally we’re very much tied to the past. To Egypt. To our patterns of sin.
Not conforming means rejecting the lies of sin. The lies we accumulate and hang on to as we go through life. “You’re stupid - worthless - human garbage. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re a failure. You’re damaged goods. Look how you’ve messed up. Once a sinner always a sinner. You can’t get free of that.”
Or maybe more of mind bender, “You’re better than those people. We expect great things from you. Don’t let us down.”
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31,32)
As God’s people - followers of Jesus - grab onto the truth what God says about you. You are the one that God has lavished His grace upon - who He makes holy through the blood of Jesus Christ. Who God forgives and restores to live out His great purposes through you - now and forever.
Maybe tradition binds you. Traditions in our culture. Traditions in our families. Our world is focused on self and self-gratification - sexual immorality - drunkeness - drugs - gluttony - greed - and we could go on. In some of the places we’ve come from those are part of the way things are - traditions - customary expectations of how people live. Former ignorance that needs to be turned from.
Jesus speaking to the great tradition keepers of God’s people - Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of tradition?” (Matthew 15:3).
When it comes to sin - even generational sin - lifestyles and attitudes and examples of sinful behavior that we’ve picked up from our upbringing and we’re passing on to our children - generations that have been living in Egypt - when it comes to sin we need to turn from all that - reject it - to choose a totally different direction.
God calls us to repentance. Repentance is a choice we need to make. An opportunity to choose a different direction for our lives.
Repentance meaning not that we want God to free us from the guilt feelings we have over our sin so that we can go on living however we want to keep on living. But repentance meaning that our desire is to turn from that sin - to renounce it - to reject it - and to never go back. To place our lives in God’s hands to do with whatever He needs to do to free us from bondage to that sin.
Let’s be clear. Repentance isn’t about our being clever about dealing with our sin. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place. Repentance means choosing to turn from - to renounce - to reject our sin - and grab hold of God’s hand and letting Him lead us out of the crud of our sin whatever that takes. God gets to be God.
Dealing with what binds us to our sin means repenting of whatever needs repenting of - confessing whatever needs confessing - seeking restitution and forgiveness and resolution of whatever needs restituting - forgiving - and resolving. Cut off relationships and behavior and opportunities for sin. Don’t hide it. Deal with. Do whatever God leads you to do. Bottom line: Turn to God. Follow God. Do it.
If we do not honestly deal with our sin and the lies and traditions of sin then that sin will bind us - keep us enslaved. Our Adversary will use it and keep on using it to tear us down and keeping us living for Hell when we should be living separated - wholly - as God’s holy people.
Embrace this - “If the Son has set you free” - what are you? Free indeed. In Christ - you are holy - separated. Freed to live wholly as you were created to live. So choose to live separate - wholly - for Him. Let go of Egypt.
Peter goes on writing about living holy - in 1 Peter 1 down at verse 18 he writes: “knowing that you were ransomed - meaning God has set us free from bondage to sin - ransomed us… not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18,19)
Choosing to let go of anything that keeps us from holiness - repentance is not only what we choose to turn from but what we choose to turn towards - choosing to be wholly saturated with all of what God offers us in Jesus. We need to daily - moment by moment - focus on Jesus and the freedom that is ours in Him.
This is what? The Great Wall of China. Took hundreds of years to build. With all its branches - it measures around 13,000 miles in length. A gigantic structure which cost an immense amount of money and labor to build. When it was finished, it seemed impregnable.
But the enemy breached it. Not by breaking it down or going around it. They did it by... bribing the gatekeepers.
“A fence is only as strong as its’... weakest link.” Satan looks for our weakest links. The place we are most vulnerable to attack. And then he’s very subtle.
We need to choose to remain focused on Jesus because our primary battlefield is our mind. Our Adversary sets his sights on our minds. If Satan can get us focused someplace else - what’s coming at us - wounds - how others let us down - past sins - looking backward at our failure - if he can get us focused anyplace else rather than the hope we have in Jesus we’re toast.
If Jesus isn’t our Savior we’re still a slave to sin - a slave bound in this world heading for Hell. Realize it or not. Admit it or not. Without Jesus we’re in bondage to our desires, impulses, and ignorance - spiritually blind - shackled by sin - tossed around and abused by the world and demons. Life is futile and frustrating. There is no point and no purpose to our life.
And there is no way we can help ourselves. Our only help must come from outside.
Jesus provided that help - provided the only solution - the only payment valuable enough - not silver and gold - but His priceless blood. Paid that ransom on the cross to buy our freedom - to break our chains - to give us the wholeness of life we were created to live.
The only thing keeping any of us back from that life - that freedom - is our own pride - our own selfish reluctance - to accept God’s gracious offer of eternal life - to step by faith out of our futility and darkness into the light of the life God has purchased for us through the blood of Jesus.
There is no other solid basis for faith and hope in this world than the reality that Jesus took it all on Himself and rose triumphant - ready to lead us in His victory.
Like Peter who when he stepped out of the boat - focused on Jesus - he was walking on water. When he focused on the storm - he sank. When we focus on ourselves living in this world we’re toast. When we focus on Jesus and His victory we’re triumphant in Him. Toast or triumph?
Peter warns us: Don’t let our Adversary mess with your mind. To live holy means we must stay focused on Jesus. Focus on where God is taking us today in the year ahead.
For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
That’s a lot. Isn’t it?
Thinking about what it means to be brought up out of Egypt and what it can mean for us to live holy in the year ahead - let me suggest two steps that we can take as we walk forward into the new year.
First: Let God be God.
God being God doesn’t just happen on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. while we’re singing and worshipping here at Creekside. Right? God being Go should be a 24/7/365 - God my life is wholly yours. Messed up - broken - wounded and wanting - my life is yours to lead me today and to do with as you will. If He’s freed you. Let Him lead you.
Second: Choose to live holy.
The world is constantly putting out a culture of sin without mentioning the disastrous consequences of that sin. Grab on to the consequences. What life was really like in Egypt. Think through the reality of what it will mean if you don’t deal with your sin. So deal with what needs to be dealt with. Repent of what needs to be repented of. Be careful with what you let into your mind. Choose to separate yourself from sin.
Choose to focus on Jesus. Whatever that may mean for you. A verse of Scripture on the bathroom mirror. Listening to Christian music in the car. Reading a devotional or Scripture at lunch. Whatever works. Keep focusing on Jesus.
Bottom line question we can ask ourselves: Is the daily - moment by moment - focus of my life leading me towards God or away from God?
1. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge Of The Holy,
Harper & Row, 1961, pages 112,113.