"Don't Try This at Home"

 leviticus aaron priest pic

During our most recent sermon @andrewbluepiano tweeted, "Shoulda started this sermon with 'Do not try this at home' #hcpreach." Haha, he was probably right. I (Pastor Mike) actually got lost but I heard my good buddy Aaron the High Priest of the Israelites showed up to explain to everyone what the sacrificial system (as seen in Leviticus chapters 1-7) is all about. Phew, I'm glad he showed up because otherwise that would have been awkward... no sermon on a Sunday? We can't have that! If you were with us on Sunday, some of these comments  via twitter during the sermon will make you laugh, or cry, or both: 

  • @y_scully152 #HCPREACH. Eli asked me (seriously) "they had cereal back then? Did it have marshmallows?"
  • @Horse_Crazy_Kat There is a goat taped to an elephants butt in the middle of our church... Oh Penza, what are you doing? #hcpreach
  • ‏@andrewbluepiano Cats are better, and what does this have to do with sacrificial offerings... Ohhh boy #hcpreach
  • ‏@andy_dipietro @PastorPenza I heard you were playing dress-up at church this morning?
  • ‏@s7seraphim Small un blemished animal . . . Maybe a cat #HCPREACH
  • ‏@y_scully152 #HCPREACH Thomas & Eli, although laughing, said "make it stop" They are still laughing though!
  • @DMarinone Nice use of corrugated, Pastor Mike. #hcpreach
  • @s7seraphim "Starbucks everybody's a star " #HCPREACH
  • ‏@AllFoto01 #hcpreach heard this... A LIVING sacrifice must choose to withstand the heat. Alas, they tend to crawl off the alter. #whowillchoosetostay
  • ‏@Marvman73 #hcpreach it shows the awareness of Gods Laws back then... We have lost that awareness even in the church these days.
  • @AllFoto01 #hcpreach thank God our Day of Atonement isn't temporary.

Certain topics are just better with props - this was one of them! Thanks for humoring me and hopefully the props made all this Old Testament sacrificial stuff easier to understand. Below are some of the great questions I received following the sermon: 

  • #hcpreach How was the system of sacrifice for the Jews different from the system of the Canaanites and others? You mentioned it was, but how?

Thanks for asking such a cool question! There were certainly ritualistic differences between the different peoples and tribes of the Ancient Near East. For example, for many of the Israelite neighbors, the burning of the animal after it was slain (as well as the idea of atonement through blood) would have been a foreign idea. For all of Israel's neighbors - the sacrificial act was first and foremost a meal offered to a god. For them, the gods were thought to be very similar to men (albeit more powerful!). They believed the gods needed food and enjoyed the flavor of meat. Of course, this is not what the Israelites believed. As well, in last week's sermon I talked about why idolatry was such a temptation for the Israelites and that also showed the difference between Yahweh's covenant with Israel vs. the idolatry of the nations. To get the full explanation you'll have to listen to last week's sermon, but as a summary, I said that idolatry (vs. true worship of Yahweh) was tempting for Ancient Near Eastern peoples for at least 5 reasons: 

1) Idolatry served as a guaranty: If you had a statue in your house - that supposedly guaranteed the essence of the god was w/ you and thus the idol was seen as a conduit of blessings. The idol would make you feel very safe and very connected to the gods. In the same way a modern person might speak into a television camera knowing that signal can be seen by others is the same way the ANE ppl thought about the statue. When they spoke to the idol, they believed they were in essence talking to that god. People in every generation often prefer seeing over believing and idols were the means towards that end.
2) Idolatry was self-serving: Idolatry was a materialistic system built on the idea that the gods could do virtually anything besides feed themselves. The ANE ppls believed if you feed the gods, the gods would in turn be obligated to use their power on your behalf. Idolatry was then a means to get what you selfishly wanted.
3) Idolatry was Easy: In the ANE system, faithfulness was all about feeding the gods. It wasn’t about ethical behavior. If you had an idol, the rules were simple – feed it and then go and live your life the way you want to. This was a huge contrast to the hundreds of laws Yahweh God would give His people.
4) Idolatry was Convenient: The ANE people could sacrifice to the gods at virtually any time and any place. By contrast, Yahweh’s covenant required all Israelites to report to a single, central location 3 times a year, necessitating costly and time-consuming travel. Idolatry was much more convenient than Yahweh’s requirements for Holy living.
5) Idolatry was Normal: Besides the exception of the Israelites - Idolatry was the common way of religion for literally everyone. Idolatry was the in-thing. In fact, it was the only thing. Idolatry was normal. You were weird if you didn’t serve statues or gods. When you live in a culture like that, then idolatry just seems to be the logical choice.

So compared to her neighbors, the Israelite sacrificial system was based on an entirely unique view of God and an entirely unique view of humanity. But the most crucial distinction between Israel's covenant with Yahweh vs. idolatrous sacrificiality is that Yahweh's covenant makes up the only system in the world which provides grace through justice as opposed to grace in spite of justice. I cannot stress this point enough. Of course we shouldn't be surprised at this since Yahweh God is completely Holy, Just and Righteous but He is also full of Love, Grace and Mercy. The sacrificial system proves to the Israelites that God is always all of the above. God is not ever not fully Himself. Yahweh God is the only sort of God who can be both perfectly just and perfectly full of grace - all at the same time. The sacrificial system highlighted that crucial, crucial point to the Israelites. To me, that is the most significant point of uniqueness to keep in mind as we compare Israelite's sacrificial system to all others in the Ancient Near East. 

And lastly, we must not forget that for the Israelites, the laws of sacrifice were not laws of working your way to God. They were laws created to help the people remember how Holy God is, how unholy they are, and how much God wants to be with them. Every sacrifice highlighted God’s perfection and it highlighted God’s grace. That is where you see the uniqueness! 

  • With no temple and no sacrificial system - how do true OT following Jews purify and draw near to God? 

A great question. Unfortunately, my answer has to be "I don't know." If I were you, I'd go to a local synagogue and ask! Most Messianic Jews would agree with just about everything Aaron said on Sunday. But if you are talking about other sects of Judaim then I'm not sure. I'd personally love to know how different sects of Judaism would answer that question... but I've never asked so I don't know myself. 

  • Leviticus talks about a "scapegoat" which is let go. Why isn't this animal sacrificed rather than go in the wild? What is the significance of this? 

I believe the scapegoat in Leviticus 16 is a symbol of God's unmerited grace available towards all humanity through faith in God. Essentially, the scapegoat helps us perceive a shadow of the character of God which we see much clearer in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Before this particular scapegoat is let out of the camp, a bull is sacrificed on behalf of the sins of the high priest and then another goat is sacrificed on behalf of the people. At this point, as you mentioned, the scapegoat is not sacrificed. Instead, it is brought out of the camp. Why? I believe this symbolizes the result of the previous sacrifices through faith. The goat leaving the camp is a sort of climactic event making evident the result of the previous sacrifices. Because of God's justice and His mercy working together on behalf of the Israelites - The Israelites end up not having to pay the due penalty of death for their sins. 

So, the scapegoat is not sacrificed because it was a unique and different sort of symbol than all the other sacrificed animals. The goat leaving the camp didn't affect atonement (it wasn't trying to). Instead, it showed the result of atonement. I.e. all the sins are led out of the camp and then never to be held against the people for as long as they sinned again. So as Pastor Aaron said on Sunday, this was a representation of full reconciliation with God, but it was necessarily temporary.

But with Christ, things changed and Christ enacted for us and for all people full atonement forever through his life, death and resurrection. In Christ we see full atonement because Christ affected permanent atonement. The result of Christ's life, death and resurrection is the Day of Atonement on steroids since it is good for all people forever. As both God-and-Man Christ affects atonement for us by fulfilling all the required roles inherent in the sacrificial law system. Christ did this in a way no other human could since no other human ever lived a perfect life. Christ was the true Priest, the true worshipper and even the true sacrifice. And thus through his actions any human can receive a new legal identity. Now all humans can be "in Christ" if they repent of their sins and associate themselves with Christ. As Scripture makes clear: When we put our faith in God we become new creatures. We find ourselves reconciled to God.

The scapegoat of the Day of Atonement prepared us for what Christ would do. If the scapegoat was the pre-game exhibition... Christ is the lombardi trophy. 

- Pastor Mike (I'm sure Pastor Aaron's answers would have been so much better!) 

 

 

 

 

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