In Leviticus 17 we’re presented with something of what it is to live a life oriented towards God. We need to recognise that there is only one way to come to him (the way he has given) and that that shapes our whole life.
Jesus said, “No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and, “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved” (John 10:9). Christians ought to be clear on that.
But it’s possible to have a clear, high view of Jesus as being the only way to God and yet still trust in other things for life. Worse, you can come to him to become a Christian and then think you can live your life somehow separate from him. Leviticus 17 is a shadow, a sketch of what that looks like.
Be careful what you worship (v1-7)
Last time we looked at Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement. It was the pinnacle of Leviticus, and of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible):
- The High Priest had entered God’s presence.
- He had atoned for the sins of himself and the whole nation (cleansed from guilt, sins sent far away, forgiven, atoned).
- It’s the centrepiece of the law – God’s at-one-ment with his people; a God-given means for people to approach him.
Back in Chapter 10, Aaron the High Priest had been told by God that he was to teach the people about what is clean & unclean and what is holy & common.
- Chapters 11-15 dealt with laws about clean/unclean.
- Then we had Chapter 16’s Day of Atonement ceremony.
- Now chapters 17-20 are about personal holiness.
The idea of “ceremonial cleanness” was so that you could be in a state of readiness to approach God. Now the idea of “holiness” is so that you are actively belonging to God – you are ‘of’ him. And if you belong to him then that will and must be worked out in your ethics and worship. You must change.
Leviticus 17 shows you that to live a holy life is to live oriented towards God in everything you do.
Don’t kill just anywhere
Now read Leviticus 17:3-4. The word “sacrifice” in v3 is literally “kill”. And notice that the animals you weren’t to kill were the kinds that were used for sacrifices at the Tabernacle. You and I might have meat in the fridge at home. Many of us have some kind of meat most days. In the world of Leviticus, you might have a few animals but they’d be more use to you alive for milk for years than dead for meat.
But if you did want to have some roast lamb, you weren’t permitted to kill it at your own tent. You had to take it to the Tabernacle so that it would be a peace offering. Some would be burnt up to the Lord; some would go to the priests; the rest would be yours (and your family’s). Why? Two reasons are given.
In Leviticus 17:5, remembering that it was a luxury to eat meat, it was entirely right to enjoy that luxury in God’s presence. The Lord gives all good things. If you have something to celebrate or give thanks for, then go to him. Celebration is to be oriented towards him.
Then in Leviticus 17:7 we’re given the second reason you were only to kill your animals at the Tabernacle for a peace offering: People had been killing goats as sacrifices to other gods. That had to stop. There is one God and creator; he has provided one means by which you may approach him.
Even the High Priest’s two sons died when they approached in the wrong way, too casually. There is one God and one mediator, one sacrifice for sin only.
Instinctive orientation to what you worship
Even you can put your foot wrong on this point.
- At a simple level, you might simply say things like “touch wood” or “fingers crossed.” “It’s just instinctive habit,” you say. But is it? You mean it when you say it.
- Change your instincts: “Oh Lord, please!”
- Many of you became weary of online church services in Lockdowns – but some people actually preferred it. Church with your feet up, in your pyjamas, all cosy and comfy.
- In Hebrews 9 & 10, the writer makes it clear that Jesus is the utter fulfilment of the Day of Atonement
- His application for God’s people is that we gather together.
- If you prefer your sofa, what are you worshipping?
- An idol is something you turn to to get something you should be going to the Lord for; or something you turn to instead of obeying the Lord.
- Where’s your security for life? Home/pension/etc?
- What gives you meaning? Your job title?
- What brings you hope? Your family?
- An idol is a good thing that becomes a god-thing.
- These things are good, but they’ll all pass.
Israel were to live oriented towards God – even in they way they ate – to remember the one from whom all blessings flow.
Be careful what you worship. And then:
Be careful how you worship (v8-9)
The previous verses said you weren’t to kill an animal that could be used for a sacrifice anywhere other than at the Tabernacle. But now we get the question: what if you killed a goat at home but somehow dedicate it to God – a sacrifice at home, as it were.
Read Leviticus 17:8-9. Clearly, that would be a serious offence. But why?
You need to keep remembering God’s big plan, and the theme of the whole Bible: God will dwell on the earth with his people. He gave the sacrificial system to Israel so that he could dwell on the earth among them and that they could approach and have fellowship with him.
It’s a shallow Christianity that says, “Yay, I’m saved, I’m going to heaven where it will be beautiful forever.” Our God is the end of the journey. Orient towards him. Revelation 22:3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.
Means of grace, access to God
What’s the point of Israelites offering sacrifices anywhere other than God? The whole point was that the sacrifices meant they could approach him and enjoy him. The sacrifices were a means of grace from God. Not hocus pocus, think happy thoughts, good luck charms.
Even things like your own private prayer and bible reading aren’t an end in themselves: “There: I’ve said my prayers and read by Bible. What a good Christian I am.” That’s dead. They’re given to you as means of access to God himself!
Beware even saying things like “prayer works”. You can’t separate prayer from the God who answers. Much better to say, “The Lord answers prayer.” It might seem like a subtle shift, but we mustn’t ever separate these things from God himself – they’re means by which you come to him.
Because the Bible shows you Jesus when you can’t see him. Prayer gives you access to Jesus while you can’t touch him. Because there is only one way to the Father – and that is through the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
You cannot come to God through works of any kind. Nor can you approach through any false religion – no matter how “Christian” it might appear. Jesus has some chilling words in Matthew 7:22-23 “On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’… But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me…’ Any hope of reaching God that isn’t by faith alone in Christ alone isn’t the real thing. It’s a parody. Revelation makes it clear that Satan will parody God and mislead millions. Paul says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Don’t be a tribute act Christian
You probably know there are lots of ‘tribute act’ bands. There’s Noasis, Take All That, The Bootleg Beatles – loads. They’re often amazingly talented and just like the real thing. But they’re not the real thing.
There is only one way to come to God. And he gives you means of grace to continue to come to him. And one day you will see his face and be with him forever. In fact, he will gather us together into the Bride of Christ and he will dwell on the earth with his gathered people. Prayer and Bible study that doesn’t approach God is a parody. Coming to church but not actually worshipping – in song, in prayer, in obedience to his word – not actually interacting with God, is a parody of the real thing. Choosing to watch on YouTube instead of gathering physically with his people is not what he calls any of us to (though some don’t have a choice, we all understand).
Be careful how you worship. Don’t go through the motions. Meet with God. He has given you one way to come to him, through Jesus. Orient your life to Christ, not Christianity.
In private and together, you and I must be careful to approach God in a true and living way in Jesus. Don’t be a tribute act.
Live for Jesus (10-16)
This whole chapter is in the context of a life of holiness – a life belonging to God, a life ‘of’ God (of godliness), oriented to him. And they were to remember how that life came to them – and the prohibition on eating blood was a key reminder. Read Leviticus 17:10-12.
Notice there are two reasons why they weren’t to eat blood: First, the life of the body is in its blood. Second, it’s that blood (that life) that goes to God to make atonement – forgiveness and cleansing from sin, taking the punishment of death in your place.
Remember, when you took an animal sacrifice to the Tabernacle you laid your hands on it and killed it yourself: “You are me. I deserve to die. Your death is my death.” In the sacrifice, its life would be poured out and presented to God at the altar. “Your” life approaches God through the sacrifice.
So each time you came to eat an animal you were to remember that the only reason you live is that God has not taken your life for your sin. You would pour out its blood because you have no right to life yourself – only what God has given you. Lifeblood that can atone for sin is truly precious.
More precious blood
Jesus’ words are all the more remarkable: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you” (John 6:53). At the last supper, he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). And, “I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved… I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:9-10).
You’re not saved by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the precious lifeblood of Jesus Christ. He has taken the punishment of death in your place. And he did it so that you would live.
Can you eat meat with blood in? 1 Corinthians 10:25 you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Jesus came that you might have life in abundance. But not life separate from him; life in him. Holy to him. Alive in Christ, everything you do is to be to his glory, oriented towards him.
- Enjoy your roast lamb and bacon to the glory of God.
- Use your home to the glory of God.
- Excel at your job to the glory of God.
- Raise your children to love God, to his glory.
Don’t separate your life into compartments with your Christian stuff over here and the rest over there. He is at the centre now. Holy to God, worshipping him, glorifying him in everything. Truly to God, not a parody or pretend Christian, but actually coming to him, approaching him by the blood of Jesus.