Mission, Atonement, and Holiness in Leviticus
As Christians, we’re not supposed to have favorite books of the Bible. But if we are honest, we all do. And in the reformed world, they almost always include Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and John. They present themes like faith, righteousness, sanctification, and more, all major tenets of our particular corner of the Christian faith, and ones we rightly hold dearly. And yet, how often we neglect the foundation of all of these, which is the Levitical law. This spring semester, I challenged myself homiletically, spiritually, and pastorally, and decided to preach through Leviticus to the college students I pastor in small-town New Mexico. They were curious, some skeptical. I was nervous. How would I take the book famous for confusing laws, old covenant themes, dated purity rites, and more hard topics and make it relevant to a room of college students who struggle to put their phones down for 3 minutes, let alone think about faith and theology with any level of intention? What I’ve found has been one of the best preaching experiences of my life, and a treasure trove for the Faithful. Leviticus is rich ore, full of grace, and full of application to the contemporary Christian, and deserves your attention.
There are three major emphases I’ve explored in Leviticus. Mission, Atonement, and Holiness. Those are the guiding themes of the book, and unsurprisingly, the apply today.
The first key to understanding Leviticus is remembering its historical context. Leviticus was written to the just-freed Israelite nation. They had been enslaved for 400 years in Egypt, had likely all but forgotten the Living God of their forefather’s Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his 12 sons. Suddenly, a prince of Pharaoh’s house appears, says their father’s God would rescue them, levels the superpower of the world with 10 plagues, guides them across the sea, and now leaves them at the bottom of Mt Sinai. The major question on their mind was this: “Who is this God, and who are we in relationship to this God, since this just happened?” And then in Exodus 19, God tells them: “If you will keep my covenant and obey my voice, you will be to me a treasured possession among the nations, and I will make you a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” How? Through their obedience to the covenant and
Perhaps the single greatest question in the Israelite mind was: “In the presence of a holy God, how do I deal with my sin and guilt?” After all, in Exodus 40, Yahweh descends into the newly completed
The next major sections of Leviticus are how to deal with
Leviticus shows us that God is consistent. He is consistent in his intentions for his people, to show his goodness, mercy, love, and peace. He is consistent in how he deals with sin; through substitutionary atonement. He is consistent in his command to continual moral and spiritual improvement, our sanctification. Leviticus shows us what God values in his people: justice, love, peace, righteousness, and mercy. It shows us his grace by providing sacrifices for sin. All of this is in the New Testament. But when we read it through the lens of Leviticus, it is like adding color to a black-and-white movie; it comes to life with a new vitality, application, and vigor. I heartily encourage you to read Leviticus, deeply, prayerfully, and Christologically. I promise you won’t be disappointed.