Summary: No one can escape the emphasis of Holiness in the book of Leviticus. The overarching Theme is "Be Holy because, I your LORD am Holy. Do all the instructions of the book of Leviticus hold any relevance to us 21st century Christians?
Getting Close to My God, Part II – Experiencing His Holiness
Charles Spurgeon said this “ If you ask me how to shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say” We have already seen what George Whitefield said “ To preach for more than half an hour either the preacher should be an angel, or he/should be preaching to an audience of angels” I am not sure if I have spent enough time studying the subject of today’s sermon. I will wait to see your reactions when I finish.
Last time I spoke on the book of Leviticus, I had tried to look into the relevance of Leviticus for us in the 21st centaury. We had seen that the book of Leviticus is supposed to be the hand book for the Levites, and hence the name. It is broadly divided into two parts, the first part deals with instructions for worshipping a Holy God, and the second part deals with instructions for leading a Holy Life. The overarching theme of the book is “Be Holy, because I , the LORD your God am Holy” ( 19:2)
So why should we read or understand the book of Leviticus. The obvious answer is that it is the word of God. We had seen that there are some other reasons for doing that . As a reminder, understanding the book of Leviticus, helps us to
1. Experience the Presence of the Lord
2. Honor Him through meaningful Worship
3. Experience His Holiness, and
4. Renew the covenant with Him
Over the whole of 2008, a few of us have gone through this amazing series of bible studies on Intimacy with God by Rev Vasudevan. Last Thursday, some of us got together again, and were reflecting on the key learnings and how to apply them to ourselves and to our church. These four concepts that are listed above help us to get closer to our God, so that we can enjoy the intimacy with God.
We had dealt briefly on the first two aspects last time. Let us go through the third one today. If I get another chance we will look at the last one later.
Experiencing His Holiness:
Like I said at the beginning, the overarching theme of the book of Leviticus is Holiness. The term holiness is repeated as many as 152 times in the book of Leviticus. Many more times than in any other book of the bible. The book of Leviticus brings for the concept of holiness from various angles and perspectives. The fact is that, unless we try very hard, we cannot escape the call to Holiness when we look at the book of Leviticus. May be that is one reason why this book is ignored so often in Churches. Churches prefer to be preached to on comfort and care, than Holiness. I am encouraged by the words of John Henry Newman, who said “Those who make comfort the great subject of their preaching seem to mistake the end of their ministry. Holiness is the great end. There must be a struggle and trial here. Comfort is a cordial, but no one drinks cordials from morning to night”. (I think he is referring the fruit concentrate when he says “Cordial” here). I also hope that this will not be the end of my pulpit ministry at BBF because of the subject I have chosen today.
What we need to understand here is that Holiness is not abstract concept, but it is one that needs to be concretized in relationships, in our day to actions, in our daily living. It has practical implications too. Let us look at some of the aspects of Holiness dealt with here.
How real is the concept of Holiness in our relationships. Leviticus tells us that Holiness is important in both Vertical and Horizontal relationships. Holiness in the vertical dimension is manifested in obedience to His laws and total commitment and faithfulness to Him. Leviticus 11:44-45 tells us, “ I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (also 19:2, 19:3, 19:4, 19:5-6, 19:26-28, 19:31 etc). Holiness in the horizontal dimension is manifested in our relationships with others. This should encompass our social, economic and political areas of our lives. This should cover both our religious aspect and secular aspect. (19: 32, 19:9-10, 19:14, 19:16-18, 19:20-22, 19:33-34, 19:19, 19:23-25, 19:15 etc). This should not surprise us. Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandments, gave two, Love your God and Love your neighbor. The entire gamut of Behavioral science concepts, and leadership Theories based on behavioral science, center around the robustness of horizontal relationships that we have. Aristotle said that the proclaimer of any message needs to have the three characteristics of Ethos, Pathos and Logia. The horizontal relationships also encompass the other creations around us. The concept of Holiness described in Leviticus distinguishes between the Holy and the common (or ordinary), and between the clean and the unclean things/objects or creations (10:10). God also asked Israelites to set aside certain times as Holy. The whole concept of Holidays come from this practice. Actually in the Book of Leviticus, God gave a whole calendar of Holy days to the people. The entire chapter of 25 is dedicated to specific times that the Lord asked Israelites to keep as holy. So the concept of holiness is across the time dimension too. We see the Holiness concept impacting the physical dimension, the emotional dimension, and the time dimension. That is why I stated earlier on that we cannot separate Holiness into Spiritual and secular segments. It has to be present in both. In short, there is no dimension where the Israelites could have escaped being unholy. The requirement for Holiness is all encompassing. Obviously, people like Ramalinga Raju did not realise this.