Looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “the scapegoat”

The Word for today:
Leviticus 17

mark this: Leviticus 16:21-22
Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.
The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

Many of us who know the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world should get to know the goat of God, who takes those sins so far away—as far as the east is from the west—that no one, including God himself, can find them anymore.

In Leviticus 16, it takes two goats to completely represent what Jesus has done for us. One goat is sacrificed, because the wages of sin is death. But the other goat, symbolically bearing all the sins of Israel, was led away into the wilderness.

Thus the people not only saw the price that was paid, but they saw the total forgiveness that was purchased.

The scapegoat is an illustration of God’s declaration that he has chosen to erase from his memory the sins we confess:
No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

When this understanding finds its way into our hearts, it is exhilarating and liberating because many of us still worry that God is keeping score. He is not. He’s already settled the score with Jesus.

Most believers know this intellectually and doctrinally, but their understanding hasn’t made it all the way to the deepest part of their souls. They sometimes think that the Totally Good News is too good to be true, and that God is disappointed in them because of what happened a decade ago, or months ago, or yesterday.

In Psalm 103, God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your transgressions from you.” In Isaiah 38:17, God says, “I have cast your sins behind My back.” Isaiah 44:22 tells us he has blotted out our sins; Job 14:17 says that he puts our sins in a bag and sews it up; Micah 7:19 says that he casts all our sins into the depths of the sea.

What the scapegoat pictured symbolically and temporarily, the Lamb of God achieved in reality and for eternity.

Every now and then, when we want to honor and commemorate the complete work of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf, we should put our crosses away and wear a necklace with a goat instead. That probably sounds like blasphemy, but that’s what God has done.

Just in case a goat necklace is beyond your budget, or clashes with your fashion sense, Stand in the Rain has gathered the verses from this article and dropped them to the bottom of this printable page,  just like God gathered your sins and dropped them into the middle of the deep blue sea.

God’s forgiveness of sin

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.

The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)

1. God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)
2. God completely cleanses us from the stain of our sins. (Isaiah 1:18)
3. God throws our sins behind His back. (Isaiah 38:17)
4. God remembers our sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)
5. God treads our sins underfoot.  (Micah 7:19)
6. God casts our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

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looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “clean and unclean”

The Word for today:
Leviticus 16

Leviticus teaches in picture language, using physical examples to illustrate spiritual concepts.

When we are shown the difference between clean and unclean, for example, it doesn’t have anything to do with soap! That’s why Jesus told the Pharisees, who washed all the time, that they were the opposite of clean:
Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. (Luke 11:39)

We are spiritually cleansed–from sin–by faith in Jesus. His blood is the only spiritual cleansing agent:
On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. (Zechariah 13:1)

The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

When we turn in faith to the cross of Jesus Christ, we are transformed. The Bible depicts this transformation in various ways. We go from darkness to light, from old to new, from dead to alive; from clean to unclean…

Say it as you will, the end result is that God is repelled by the ”uncleanness” of unbelief and he is drawn toward the “cleanness” of faith. Today, Stand in the Rain will illustrate the powerful effects of these spiritual polarities with (of all things) industrial strength magnets…

When I was a kid, my Dad gave me two big  magnets. They seemed like magic to us, because they contained an unseen force. No one, not even the strongest man, could push those magnets together. They were impossible to connect.

We used to have the greatest fun with them. We’d ask all the big high school guys to push them together. Never suspecting our ploy, they’d casually take them out of our hands to show us how weak we were. But as soon as they got one magnet about four inches from the other, they were stopped–by NOTHING!

Or so they thought, because it looked like there was just air between the magnets. So they’d push harder and harder. Then their faces would get red, their blood vessels would bulge, their arms would start to strain, they’d adjust their stance, they’d brace their backs against a tree—and none of them could do it! It was the Revenge of the Runts, part 1!

When they’d exhausted themselves trying, I would take the magnets off their hands and (without their knowing) turn one of them upside down. The magnets now were very powerfully attracted to one another. (You would not want your finger to get between them!) With their polarities now correctly aligned, they would forcefully come together if they got anywhere within half a foot of each other.

Then I’d hand them back to our unsuspecting neighborhood tough guy, and ask him to pull them apart. He’d get red in the face again, but couldn’t pry them apart. When he’d had enough, I’d take them back and easily get them apart by slightly twisting them as I pulled. (When their polarities reached a certain point relative to one another, they’d spring apart.) Revenge of the Runts, part 2!

***

That’s a physical example of what happens when we turn from our own ways to go God’s way.

When we align our lives with Jesus Christ, we do not go from spiritual negative to spiritual neutral. Instead, we go all the way from negative to an absolute, powerful positive:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This re-polarization energizes a spiritual force field that pulls us ever closer to God. The force is so strong that no power in heaven or earth can ever separate us from Him:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

There is cleansing–and power–in the precious blood of the Lamb.

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looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “substitute”

The Word for today:
Leviticus 14:33-15:33

mark this: Leviticus 1:4
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.

One of the sweetest and most thoroughly misunderstood gestures in the Bible is the laying on of hands.

Some people have made it out to be a sort of Christian voodoo, where something is transferred, through our fingertips, into another person. All I can say to that is, Get me out of here! God does not do abracadabra!

First of all, the power in the Christian life does not come from the outside in.  The power comes from the Holy Spirit, moving (if we get out of his way) from the inside out.

The beautiful ritual of laying on hands means that the victim stands in the offerer’s stead. Laying on hands means identifying and designating another as your representative:
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. (Leviticus 1:4)

***

Our power is spiritual–not chemical, kinetic, or electric. Nothing is transferred by the laying on of hands except an intention–that this Lamb would take my place.

Jesus reciprocated when, waiting to be baptized, he stood in line as if he were, well, just a carpenter from Nazareth.

John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus, needing no repentance, took a place with repentant sinners in the Jordan River, just as he would take their place on the cross.

When John questioned him, Jesus said it must be so in order to fulfill righteousness—not for himself but for you and for me.

Today will present you with an opportunity to identify with him–to stand with him and for him, to tell the world he’s the choice you’ve made.

Look for that opportunity, and take it.

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looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “holy,” part 2

The Word for today:
Leviticus 13:47-14:32

mark this: Leviticus 11:45
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

If there is one word in Scripture which sums up the character of God better than any other, that word would be “holy.”

But what does” holy” mean?

Yesterday, we attempted to convey a sense of that beautiful, misunderstood, and awe-inspiring word. Today, we offer some practical suggestions about how we might fulfill God’s command to “Be holy, for I am holy.”

***

I inherited my suspicion of doctors and hospitals from my mother. When she retired, she was head nurse at a large hospital. She knew the good, the bad, and the indifferent. She inculcated our family with a healthy skepticism towards medical institutions.

I also inherited her high blood pressure.

I know I did, because she warned us to watch out for it. So when I worked as a teacher, every year I’d ask the school nurse to take a reading. Later on, when I worked as a social worker, I’d go to the public health nurse and get my once-a-year blood pressure check.

Those yearly moments were the only “doctor appointments” I made for nearly thirty years. Over that time I watched my blood pressure slowly rise into the danger zone.

Shelley, who runs the universe whenever Jesus is on vacation, put her foot down the other day and told me that I’m going to the doctor and I’m going to take medicine if the doctor says so.

All of this talk of checkups got me wondering why we don’t get a spiritual checkup every year like many of us get (or should get!) a medical checkup.

When was the last time you had a spiritual checkup? What would such a checkup even look like?  There’s a word in the Bible which is an overall measure of spiritual health. The word is “holy.”

“Holiness is the fundamental descriptor of who God is. It is not merely one of his many attributes; it is the key to his very being. Calling God “the Holy One” speaks to the transcendence of his nature, in sharp contrast to the finite creation, whose creatures are bound by time and space. God speaks of himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14), defining himself by himself. God is the Wholly Other, the One who is completely self-sufficient and distinct from the created order.” (1)

As the passage says, God’s most all-encompassing name (Jehovah/Yahweh/LORD) conveys the idea that he can only be described in terms of himself. That is holy!

He’s not only holy, he’s holy, holy, holy! (2) He’s other-ly and Only.

And then –oh, dear–he has to go and tell us to be holy, too:
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45; cf. 1 Peter1:16)

What does that mean?

First, here’s what it does not mean: the cartoon image of the man atop a mountain thinking deep thoughts is about as far from the biblical definition of holy as one can get, because the word holy is a call to action. It implies that something or someone is set apart to serve. The man on the mountain is just apart. He isn’t serving. And he wasn’t even set there. God doesn’t set anybody on a mountain to serve.

“Be holy, because I am holy” can sound intimidating, unattainable. But God doesn’t set the unattainable before us. Here’s the same command, expressed in terms we can grasp:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. (3)

Instead, our holiness is wholly dependent upon our relationship with Him. (Relationship can be a sort of fuzzy new-age word–there are relationships good and bad–so a stronger way to express this idea is to say that our holiness depends upon whether or not we are rightly related (as children of God through faith in Jesus) to Him.

As children, here’s a picture of the one we’re trying to imitate:
Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (4)

Holiness, the all-encompassing word for the nature and character of God, is meant to be an all-encompassing word for us as well. It’s meant to be an indicator of our overall spiritual condition.

What spiritual shape are you in to run the race, to join the battle set before you? That is how holy you are.

Let’s go back to the man on the mountain. He probably prays. (What else is there to do up there all day?) He probably is strong in scripture study, at least in an academic sense. But he’s not in the race. He’s not using the gifts God gave to serve and strengthen others. He might love God up there, but he isn’t loving his neighbor as himself. (Primarily due to the fact that he has no neighbors!)

He is in poor spiritual shape. He’s nowhere close to holy.

***

Every now and than, I urge the Bible classes I teach to utilize a device–a handy holiness barometer–which can help us make an effective spiritual checkup. This device, if you were to hold up your hand, is right in front of your face!

So open your best hand, palm up:

· If you are in a whole-Bible study program (like Stand in the Rain!) then curl your index finger toward your open palm.

· If you take time each day to pray, curl your next finger toward your palm.

· If you serve others, using the gift God gave you (teaching, compassion, music, administration, helpfulness, you name it…) then curl your third finger inward.

· If you invest your cold hard ca$h–to some sacrificial degree—in the cause of Jesus Christ, then curl your little finger inward.

· And if you love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and your neighbor as yourself (5); then bring your thumb down over your clenched fingers. (Notice that this one covers all the others, just as Jesus said it does.)

If you can clench each finger and cover them with your thumb, you are in good spiritual shape. Now you are ready to fight, to race, to endure, to win.

Holiness is about the daily disciplines of spiritual training. It is more about dirt, sweat, and deprivation than it is about thinking fond thoughts in the rarefied air.

Holiness is about showing up every day, taking your assigned spot on the battle line, and fighting to win. Even when–especially when–the victory is achieved at great cost.

So go, be holy: make a fist, and fight.

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(1) quoted from the NLT Study Bible; (2) Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8; (3) Ephesians 5:1 (4) Hebrews 12:1-2; (5) Matthew 22:36-40

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looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “holy,” part 1

The Word for today: Leviticus 12:1-13:46

mark this:
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.  (Leviticus 11:45)

If there is one word in Scripture which sums up the character of God better than any other, that word would be “holy.”

But what does ”holy” mean?

Today we will attempt to convey a sense of that beautiful and awe-inspiring word. Tomorrow, we will offer some practical suggestions about how we might fulfill God’s command to “Be holy, for I am holy.”

***

“Holy” is the highest description in the Bible. It is a word that literally stands by itself — because when applied to God it means “like no other.”

God is holy because he is like no other god; he is like no other God because there is no other God. God used the First Commandment to tell us that the greatest spiritual mistake we can make is to think  of him as unholy (by lumping him in with other “gods”)– “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

He cannot be grouped with any others; he is absolutely distinct. (Distinct is probably the single English word which comes closest to conveying what ‘holy” means in the Hebrew Scriptures. But it doesn’t come close enough!) The following quotation (from the NLT Study Bible) begins to give us a truer sense of the word:

Holiness is the fundamental descriptor of who God is. It is not merely one of his many attributes; it is the key to his very being. Calling God “the Holy One” speaks to the transcendence of his nature, in sharp contrast to the finite creation, whose creatures are bound by time and space. God speaks of himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14), defining himself by himself. God is the Wholly Other, the One who is completely self-sufficient and distinct from the created order.

As the passage says, God’s most all-encompassing name (as revealed in Exodus and variously translated Jehovah/Yahweh/LORD) conveys the idea that he can only be described in terms of himself. That is holy!

He’s not only holy, he’s holy, holy, holy! (1) He’s other-ly and Only. And then –oh, dear–he has to go and tell us to be holy, too:

I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45)

How can we fulfill that? Where would we even begin? How can finite creatures who have fallen into sin be holy?

The answer is that our holiness does not refer to our own nature and character. Instead, our holiness is wholly dependent upon our relationship with him.

He is like no other, so the more we are like him, the more unique we become. We were ordinary, but now our relationship to him makes us something else!

Because God has designated us for his own purposes, we have a unique, special, extraordinary–holy—role to play. Come on back tomorrow, and we’ll see what holy does, and does not, look like when applied to you and to me.

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(1) Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8

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