Last week we focused on the two complementary sides of salvation: God redeemed Israel out of slavery and into holy life in the Promised Land. The forty years in the wilderness between leaving Egypt and entering the land were a sort of 40-year training plan in how to become a holy nation.
God’s good plans for Israel and the world involved much more than simply not being slaves. His plan was to transform the freed slaves into the most loving, just, righteous people the world had ever seen. It was to be the ultimate ashes to glory story. In fact, they were to become such a special and impressive nation that the rest of the world would come ask them, “What is the secret to your success?” And to this they would respond, “Making Yahweh our king and living according to his good commands.” In this way, they would truly be a kingdom of priests, connecting the rest of the world to God.
So what did this holy calling entail exactly? What did it mean to be holy?
Firstly, holiness was simply to do with uniqueness, differentiation, distinction. Israel was supposed to be an entirely unique nation, a people set apart to live in sharp contrast to the rest of the world.
So, if that is God’s plan for His people, what does that mean for us today?
This is what most of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about. The Torah was to be their guide for living and worshipping God.
Can anyone in the group offer a one-sentence summary of Leviticus? To help you answering, think about: “If the author of Leviticus wanted his hearers to come away with one thing, what would it be? Why did he work so hard to keep and record and pass along this text?”
Can you recall one specific way in which Israel was supposed to do or practice holiness?
One of my favorite images is that of the “scapegoat,” found in Leviticus 16:20-22.
Leviticus 16:20-22, 26
When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.
The man chosen to drive the scapegoat into the wilderness of Azazel must wash his clothes and bathe himself in water. Then he may return to the camp.
How is Christ our “scapegoat?”
Actually, the writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews points out that Christ occupies the position of BOTH High Priest, and ultimate sacrifice.
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.
If you try to imagine being apart of Israel at this time, how would you have responded to some of these Levitical commands? Do you think you would have obeyed? Would you have loved them or hated them?
Take a few minutes to read through Hebrews 10:1-24 together, and talk about why Christ’s sacrifice is better than the Old Covenant system of sacrifices. As you are taking turns reading, feel free to pause for comment, questions, and open reflection.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.
6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin.
7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God— as is written about me in the Scriptures.’ ”
8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). 9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.
11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.
15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,
16 “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.