See the holiness of God – Leviticus 10

Holiness isn’t an idea we appreciate much these days. And yet it’s a core characteristic of God.

As Christians, God is our Father. We know that that means a high level of intimacy – a family, parental love and relationship. We want to be close to our heavenly Father, but as he’s holy we need help to be sure to honour him. Leviticus 10 teaches us about the right balance of fear and intimacy with God.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube.

See the glory of God (v1-3)

You always have to keep in mind the big story of what God is doing with humanity, when reading Leviticus: Remember how Adam sinned in Eden. His sin tainted Eden itself, so that he was banished from it and separated from God – God no longer dwelling on the earth with his people. God gave Moses instructions on how to build the Tabernacle (the tent-temple) in Exodus. The Tabernacle was a reconstruction of Eden – with garden-style decorations, and a place where God would dwell on the earth among his people.

Exodus finished with God’s glory filling the Tabernacle – so much so that no-one could go in. Leviticus began with God calling from within the Tabernacle. God gave instruction for sacrifices:

  • Sacrifices to cleanse the guilty sinner from their sin.
  • Sacrifices for the cleansed sinner then to approach God.
  • Sacrifice for fellowship with God – a meal in his presence.

And last time we saw all those sacrifices being made – for the priests (Aaron and his sons) and for the people. The result was spectacular!

  • Sacrifices were made according to God’s laws.
  • Aaron actually approached God inside the tent
  • When Aaron came back out, the glory of the Lord was displayed to everyone – fire came out and consumed the burnt offering!
  • And everyone shouted for joy and fell face down!

Nadab and Abihu

But then Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu step up.

  • Were they caught up in the roar? Over-excited in the moment? Or just drunk?? We don’t know.
  • But they brought sacrifices not according to God’s law.
  • They approached God in his tent.
  • Before they could, the glory of the Lord was displayed to everyone again – fire came out and consumed them.
  • No-one shouted for joy; Aaron was silent.

The parallels between Ch 8 and 9 are clear. If you’d been there, you wouldn’t have missed it. Read Leviticus 10:1-3.

Does that seem confusing to you? Perhaps a bit awkward or embarrassing? Has God gone a bit over-the-top in his reaction? God is all he is all the time; outside of time, change is impossible. So he is always completely holy and glorious in every way. God gave Aaron and his sons instruction on how to approach.

If they were to try to approach him some other way – say, with unauthorised fire – what would that suggest? It certainly demeans the instruction/law that God gave. Worse, it actually dishonours God by not having sufficient fear and awe.

God is glorified in holiness

But what God did to Nadab and Abihu brings him glory – not awkwardness or embarrassment. God glorifies himself by:

  1. Displaying and highlighting his infinite holiness – he is a consuming fire. You can no more approach him than you can fly to the sun; you won’t make it.
  2. But the moment also displays God’s power to judge and to act for his own honour; nothing may challenge him.
  3. But he also brings glory to himself in highlighting that he has, in fact, graciously provided a way that people can approach him, honouring his holiness with sacrifices of cleansing, approach, and fellowship.

All well and good, but there were two dead men now defiling the Tabernacle… 

Hear the grace of God (4-11)

Things kind of get back on track with obedience. Read Leviticus 10:4-5.

Are we back to square one? If the Tabernacle is a reconstruction of Eden, has the sin of these two men caused a repeat of Adam’s expulsion? The Tabernacle is now tainted by sin and death, just Eden had become tainted by sin and death. The Tabernacle won’t be fully cleansed until chapter 16 (Day of Atonement), but we are given immediate hope: Read Leviticus 10:6-7.

Death comes from sin. God is life. Death and sin have no part in him.

Death comes from sin. God is life. He simply “is”. Death and sin have no part in him. The instruction that Aaron and his two other sons weren’t to show grief might seem harsh at first – but it’s hugely encouraging. It means that these men – who’ve just finished a week of sanctification, ordination, preparation to be priests – are still regarded as holy, separate to God. They are not to grieve because God has not made a mistake – he has acted in accordance with his holiness and displayed his glory; Aaron and his two remaining sons are now “of” God’s holiness, not “of” sin and death.

The nation is to grieve. Because:

  • They are not holy; sin and death is where they are.
  • They are to lament the sin and death, and to fear God in his glorious holiness. This is a huge lesson for everyone.

God speaks to Aaron

To underscore the point, God now speaks to Aaron. It’s the only time God every spoke directly to him alone (usually Aaron is either with Moses, or the message comes through Moses). For Aaron, this moment is hugely honouring and important. Read Leviticus 10:8-11.

The Tabernacle is tainted by sin and death – that will need to be sorted (in chapter 16). But – and this is really good news – Aaron isn’t tainted. He’s actually confirmed as High Priest. And he’s given instruction that actually shapes the rest of Leviticus:

  1. First, neither he nor any of his descendants must drink any alcohol when they enter the tent – or they’ll die. Why?
    • Some have speculated that Nadab and Abihu were drunk, though that’s not actually stated.
    • More likely, they are to be completely focussed and clear-headed when they approach God. There is to be no fuzziness, no dishonour – only reverence.
  2. Then (v10) Aaron must distinguish between what is sacred (holy) and common (not holy), and what is clean or unclean.
  3. Knowing that, he is to teach the people (v11). Why? 
    • Not so that sinners will keep away. 
    • Rather, that sinners will come to God in the manner he has given

This isn’t “Eden all over again” – it’s much more hopeful. The overriding theme throughout is that God will dwell on the earth with his people. He is overwhelmingly holy, so much be approached only with fear and awe. But he is also abundantly gracious. He has provided a way to approach him and calls you to come.

But you no longer come to a Tabernacle because all this stuff is a template of God’s cosmic realities. All this is given to you as a picture of a spiritual reality you can’t yet see:

Experience the Son of God

We’ve seen a number of times how Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are all pictured in the Big 5 sacrifices of Leviticus.

  • By Christ’s blood and death, sinners are cleansed from sin
  • By Christ’s death and ascension, and by union with him, you are seated with him – not in an earthly tent – but in the heavenly realms
  • And by Christ sending his Spirit, we have fellowship with him at all times – better than they had at the Tabernacle.

But Christ’s ascension in particular demonstrates not only that his sacrifice is acceptable and worthy, but also that he is effective as a great High Priest. The old system with descendants of Aaron is superseded.

Daniel 7 gives a picture of Christ’s ascension: Read Daniel 7:9-14.

Notice the fire! Will it consume the one like a son of man approaching the fiery throne with its river of fire?! No, Christ has entered heaven and gone to his Father, where he has received all power and authority.

Revelation 5 is a different picture of the same event, as Christ approaches the throne of God the Father. He looks like a lamb that has been slain but is now alive and he opens up these latter days until he returns.

Nadab and Abihu thought you could just go up to this God any way you thought fit. But this is the God who sits on a fiery throne with a river of fire flowing out. And they thought they could offer him fire!

Christ is the 3D reality

But Christ has entered by his own sacrifice into the presence of God in heaven. He is the way and the truth and the life. You may approach God in his reality only in Christ:

  • Christ is now the only sacrifice that is acceptable for you
  • Christ is now the only High Priest who can represent you
  • But now (as then) you are invited to come to God in the way he has given: Come to God through Christ.

Repent of your sin. Cry out for forgiveness for your sin. Praise him for giving so great a sacrifice, such a perfect High Priest! And you must. I can’t say it with enough urgency or passion.

You must come to him. Because he is coming to you.

You must come to him. Because he is coming to you.

  • In Revelation 18 & 19 we’re given a picture of God again bringing glory to himself through judgment.
  • In judging Nadab and Abihu, God displayed his holiness and power – and glorified himself through it.
  • He will do so again. Rev 18 and 19 show how God will be glorified because of his grace to his people, and because of his judgment on all those who rejected him today.

Approach God in his holiness

So how can you approach?

Come in faith in Christ; come in awe, boldness, and love.

  • By faith in Christ. He is the only way. The only sacrifice. The only High Priest. You bring nothing to the party. Repent. Cry out for forgiveness. Turn to God today.
  • Approach him with reverence and awe.
    • In Acts 4, all God’s people were thrilled and excited by the Good News of Christ and the growth of the church. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives because (like Nadab and Abihu) they did not fear God. Acts 5:11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard.
    • In Hebrews 12:28-29, the writer reflects on the security of God’s people given that Christ will come again: Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
  • And yet, because you are united to Christ your great high priest with God, you can come with boldness!
    • Hebrews 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
  • Perhaps most amazing of all, you can actually approach this terrifying, awesome, glorious and holy God and call him Father: 1 John 3:1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!

So come in faith in Christ; come in awe, boldness, and love.