Holy God, Holy Lives
Leviticus is one of the most underread and underappreciated books of the whole Bible. Pastors who choose a sermon text from Leviticus might expect their listeners’ eyes to glaze over as they anticipate a scholarly description of outdated laws pertaining to everything from mold and mildew to skin disease and bodily fluids. Leviticus also includes descriptions of violent and bloody sacrifices, thou-shalt-not rules on shellfish, and instructions for days set apart for special observance each week, month, and year.
What should Christians living on the other side of the cross make of all this? In a word: Holiness. The golden thread woven through each paragraph is God’s call to holy living in every area of lives. Our worship planning team saw an opportunity during Lent to use Leviticus to challenge our congregation to pursue God’s desire for holiness in every aspect of our lives. Each week focused on a different aspect of holy living as described in Leviticus, and we chose songs, visual aids, and responsive readings to emphasize the holiness theme.
Here is a glimpse of our services. Though our holiness series was linked to the Lenten season, you could easily adapt this for any time of year. We used the thematically appropriate Week Six service as our Good Friday service.
“When God Moves In”
Leviticus reveals to God’s people how God’s presence transforms every area of our lives and calls us to live as holy people.
If your worship space allows, consider constructing an abstract tent. Set up a white sheet to make it look as if a certain space is accessible but restricted.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” Heber, LUYH 538, GtG 1, PsH 249
“We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” Dearman, SNC 12, WR 651
“I Exalt Thee” Sanchez, WR 47
“Not What My Hands Have Done” Bonar, LUYH 624, PsH 260
“God Is So Good” (children’s song) Traditional, LUYH 777, GtG 658
“Take My Life and Let It Be” Havergal, LUYH 863, PsH 288, PH 391
“Sent Forth By God’s Blessing” Westendorf, LUYH 936
The book of Leviticus may not seem to have anything to do with our daily life. It can read like a bunch of rules that seem outdated and irrelevant to us. But Leviticus shows us how we are to live as God’s holy people in response to God’s coming to dwell with us.
Leviticus 1 picks up where Exodus leaves off: The Shekinah glory of God’s presence has just moved into the midst of the Israelite camp, and now an inherently sinful people must grasp how they will live with a holy God dwelling among them. The point of this message is to illustrate both the holiness and the graciousness of God. God’s holiness is such that anything unholy is not fit for his presence. Leviticus was necessary to illustrate the reality of sin that permeates humans’ thoughts, actions, motives, and desires. At the same time, God makes provision to cover the sins of God’s people. This is the basis of holy living! Holiness isn’t obeying a series of rules (such as we find throughout this book) in order to work our way up to God. Rather, we pursue holiness in response to a holy God who descended to Israel in the wilderness and to us at the cross, graciously providing the holiness we cannot earn on our own.
God gives his people a mediator to bridge the gap between us and God, allowing us to experience the joy of God’s presence in our lives.
We wore all-white garments —white T-shirts and white exercise pants—to imitate the priestly garments.
“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship” Doerksen, LUYH 526
“Be Still, for the Presence” Evans, LUYH 532
“Here I Am to Worship” Hughes, LUYH 567
“What Wondrous Love Is This” Anonymous, LUYH 164, GtG 215, PsH 379
“Father, I Adore You” (children’s song) Coelho, PsH 284
“There Is a Redeemer” Green, LUYH 833, GtG 443
“Lift High the Cross” Kitchin, LUYH 264 GtG 826, PsH 373
People have an inherent need to confess. In the Old Testament, however, sinful people could not approach a holy God on their own because purity consumes impurity. So God set apart a group of people to serve as priests. They underwent meticulous ceremonial preparation to enter God’s holy presence on behalf of the people, make sacrifice to atone for sin, and bring the prayers of the people. Today we have the true and greater priest, Jesus, who allows us to access God’s presence through him, whose finished work on the cross made full payment for our sin, and who continues to pray for us even when we don’t know how to pray.
Mold, Mildew, Sores, and Infectious Diseases
God communicates our need for holiness in all areas of life by giving rules for the transmission and elimination of unclean matter. This pointed God’s people to a greater spiritual reality: Living in God’s presence requires holiness in all of life, and ultimately God provides holiness for us.
We purchased bandages, ointments, and other products used to care for the illnesses described in Leviticus 13.
“Come, People of the Risen King” Getty and Townend
“The Wonderful Cross” Watts, Tomlin
“Give Us Clean Hands” Hall, LUYH 628
“Whiter than Snow” Nicholson
“O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E” (children’s song) Greene
“Purify My Heart” Greco
In Old Testament times, all of life was categorized along a continuum ranging from unclean to clean to holy. These states were not necessarily good or bad; rather, they indicated relative nearness to (and thus fitness for) God’s presence. These categories applied to persons, places, or objects, and each of these things could move back and forth along the continuum, becoming unclean by touching something contaminated or becoming infected, or becoming clean or holy by bathing or offering sacrifices. So why did God care about mold in the shower or sores on your hands? In part, God was telling the Israelites that living in God’s presence is not a part-time job. Holiness envelops all of life, and no area of life is excluded from God’s call to holiness. God also shows that unholiness could spread by way of indifference or tolerance, so God’s people must take impurity seriously, taking the necessary steps to remove it from the camp. Ultimately, though, holiness cannot be achieved, but when we are joined to Christ, his holiness is gifted to us, and thus we may live it out.
“Power in the Blood”
Throughout the Bible, blood represents life. God designed the sacrificial system to show that life must be given to pay the debt we owe to God’s justice. In the fullness of time, that debt would be paid with the blood of Jesus.
Rather than using dead animals (!), we used flour, oil, and a flour sifter to illustrate fellowship offerings.
“Nothing but the Blood” Lowry, TH 307
“Lamb of God” Paris, GtG 518
“Just as I Am, Without One Plea” Elliott, LUYH 627, GtG 442, PsH 263
“My God Is So Great” (children’s song) Anonymous, SWM 40
“Behold the Lamb” Getty and Townend, LUYH 840
While admittedly strange, the place and significance of blood is key to understanding the message of the whole Bible. God told his people that blood represents the life of a creature, and thus any creature that shed its blood had given its life. In this passage, life is described as a gift: “I have given [the blood of a creature] to you.” Thus, life—all life—has immense value and must be treated with utmost dignity and honor. At the same time, blood could become a way of reconciling God’s people with God. What sets Christianity apart is that God does not merely demand a sacrifice as payment for sin; God actually provides the sacrifice. Jesus became the true and greater sacrifice who poured out his blood—his life—so that in him we might be reconciled to a holy and just God.
God calls us to holiness in every area of our lives, so we must practice holiness in the area of sexuality.
We used a unity candle with a wedding invitation embossed on it to illustrate the bigger reality of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people.
“Marvelous Grace” Johnston, LUYH 696
“Once Again” Redman
“I Surrender All” VanDeVenter, LUYH 739
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” Latin, LUYH 168, GtG 221, PsH 383
“In Our Lives, Lord, Be Glorified” (children’s song) Kilpatrick, LUYH 861
“Christian, Do You Struggle” St. Andrew of Crete, PsH 575
“Amazing Grace” Newton, LUYH 691, GtG 649, PsH 462
Encountering the holy God is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time: We experience awe and wonder at the beauty before us, yet we feel incredibly vulnerable. In any case, we do not act cavalierly or irreverently. God reminds Israel of the actions God took when God liberated God’s people from Egypt, and then God uses that as the reason for calling God’s people to holiness. So when a holy and majestic God acts to redeem us, we will not live recklessly or indifferently before that God. Instead, we surrender ourselves to the one who redeemed us. This includes obeying God in the most intimate areas of our lives.
Week Six (Good Friday)
“The Greatest, Most Dreadful Day”
Leviticus 23:26–32 (see also Leviticus 16)
Theme: The Day of Atonement communicated the gravity of human sin, but it also pointed to the hope of God’s provision in dealing with our sin—a hope realized at the cross of Jesus Christ.
Because we celebrated the Lord’s Supper in this Good Friday service, we used the communion bread and cup to remind us of the atonement won for us by Jesus, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
“Go to Dark Gethsemane” Montgomery, LUYH 161, GtG 220, PsH 381
“Were You There” African American, LUYH 166, GtG 228, PsH 377
“Man of Sorrows—What a Name” Bliss, LUYH 170, PsH 482
“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” Townend
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” Latin, LUYH 168, GtG 221, PsH 383
“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” Clephane, LUYH 167, GtG 216, PH 92
“What Wondrous Love Is This” Anonymous, LUYH 164, GtG 215, PsH 379
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, PsH 384
Sin must not merely be kept in check. It must be removed entirely. The Day of Atonement provided for just that. On that most solemn day, the people watched as the priest placed his hands on the head of two goats, symbolically transferring the guilt of the people onto these animals. One animal was then released, symbolically carrying guilt and shame away from the people, never to be seen again. The other was then killed as a way of illustrating that payment for sin had been made. In order to receive this benefit, the people were called to “humble” themselves, a command carrying connotations of afflicting themselves. This Day of Atonement, as powerful as it was, only pointed forward to a greater atonement, when the sins of God’s people would be transferred to God’s son, Jesus. Jesus would carry our sins away, as far as the east is from the west, and his death would pay our penalty for sin. When we humble ourselves today and see our need for a savior, we may then take hold of the One who gave his life for us.
As you tackle the book of Leviticus, it can be a daunting task to track down good resources and commentaries. Unfortunately, many commentators treat this book as though it is outdated and no longer relevant for Christians today. Here are a couple of excellent commentaries that will deepen your understanding of Leviticus and help you as you prepare to preach this book to your congregation.
Jay Sklar, Leviticus, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2014). This scholarly yet practical commentary offers in-depth analysis that explains the original meaning of the text with an eye toward practical living for today’s believers. Sklar also shows how Leviticus consistently points to Christ.
Allen Moseley, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Publishing, 2015). This book offers thorough text analysis but is written more for laypeople, even including discussion questions for each chapter.
Week Seven (Easter Sunday)
Just as God meant for people to experience renewed economic, social, and relational freedom in the Year of Jubilee, in the resurrection of Christ we experience the greatest freedom possible. This freedom is to be expressed in all realms of life.
We used a page-a-day calendar to show that the people had to observe an entire year of focusing on renewal throughout all culture.
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” Wesley, LUYH 182, GtG 245, PsH 388
“Low in the Grave He Lay” Lowry, LUYH 186
“See, What a Morning” Getty and Townend, LUYH 181
“Praise the Savior, Now and Ever” Fortunatus, LUYH 191
“Allelu, Allelu” (children’s song) Revelation
“Rejoice, the Lord Is King” Wesley, LUYH 224, GtG 363, PsH 408
“I Serve a Risen Savior” Ackley, LUYH 365, PsH 405
We often imagine the resurrection to be a New Testament idea, but in fact resurrection was God’s idea beginning all the way in the Old Testament. The Year of Jubilee paints a picture of how wide-reaching resurrection was meant to be. As years and decades passed, sin tore at the fringes of Israelite society. Debt would mount, crippling generations of people. Families could be ripped apart when family members were forced into indentured servitude, and fields could be overworked, minimizing production. So every fifty years was a “reset”: Servants were set free, debt was wiped out, and the land and its workers rested. This practice was meant to show the healing effects of God’s mercy on all of creation. Jesus has accomplished an even greater jubilee (see Luke 4:14–22), both in his life (healing the sick, ministering to the poor) and in his death and resurrection (by breaking the curse of sin and by rising as the firstfruits of a new creation). By faith in Jesus, we are brought into Jesus’ mission and called to practice the jubilee life, restoring the world from the effects of sin in all areas of life. Living in God’s presence sends us into this world to bring the transformative Jesus to the whole world.
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