WORSHIP ACCORDING TO GOD

September 24, 2009

Sermon #1 Leviticus 1 with Heb.10:1-4

INTRODUCTION

Imagine it’s my wife’s birthday. We like to make a fuss of people on their birthday in our family. So it’s breakfast in bed for her: coffee and toast laden with jam. Then it’s time to open the presents. First one, mine. A big box. She carefully unwraps it. It’s an electric drill. She looks at me quizzically. “You’re always saying how much DIY needs doing round the house,” I say. “I thought you’d like it.” She says nothing. Next surprise. I tell her I am taking her out for lunch. “Have you booked somewhere nice?” she inquires. “No need to book the Truck Stop,” says I. “The Truck Stop,” says she. “Yes, they do great bacon sannies. And the beauty is, we can walk.” “What other treats have you in store for me?” she asks, her voice peppered with sarcasm. “Tonight,” I say enthusiastically, “we’re going to the flicks. You know how much I’ve been wanting to see the new Die Hard movie.” With that Kim disappears under the covers with a groan. “Whatever happened to ‘It’s the thought that counts’” says I, sensing a distinct lack of appreciation.

BRIDGE

It’s not much of a birthday treat if everything revolves around what the giver wants rather than the receiver. If we truly want to show our love to someone on their birthday we will make every effort to find out what it is they want, what it is that they like. That’s obvious.

Yet strangely we don’t seem to realize that this applies to God as well. How often do we hear someone say something like—I don’t need to go to church, I can worship God my way. It doesn’t occur to folk that God may have an opinion on this, that God himself may have an idea of how he wants to be worshipped. Has that ever occurred to you? When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. We believe that the Living God has revealed his mind to us through the Bible.

He has revealed how he wants us to relate to one another, with love as the guiding principle. He has given us guidance on prayer—that we are to address him as our Heavenly Father; and that we are to bring all our needs and concerns to him.

 He has told us how the Church is to function—with every member exercising their spiritual gifts for the good of the whole. And how the Church is to be governed—with elders acting like shepherds, overseeing the welfare the flock entrusted to them. The Living God has not left us to guess how he wants us to relate to one another. So why would he leave us to guess how he wants us to relate to him? The fact is, he hasn’t.  

The God who reveals himself in the Bible has very set ideas about how we are to worship him. It’s just that we are such self-centred creatures that we tend to imagine that he is bound to be happy with whatever we do; just as Kim should be happy that I even remembered her birthday.

LEVITICUS

More than any other book in the Bible, Leviticus is about how God wants to be worshipped. It’s about how God’s people are to be God’s people. It’s about how people who are sinful and unholy can have a living, vibrant, friendly relationship with the Lord their God. Leviticus is not exactly the most popular book in the Bible. Those of you who follow the “read the Bible in a year” programme probably grit your teeth and take a run at it like a school-boy being forced to run the gauntlet.

Why read Leviticus? Simply because it’s there? There are far better reasons.

Leviticus teaches us how God can be holy and yet merciful. It teaches us about sacrifice. Our Lord Jesus once said that he had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them (Mt.5:5:17). The wonder and the grace and the cost of what our Lord Jesus did at Calvary can only truly be appreciated if we take time to consider what it was he was fulfilling. These sacrifices, with their blood and guts and offal, which we find so disgusting, were in fact pointing forward to the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God.

So as we look at some of these sacrifices we’re going to learn some very important things about our God and about ourselves and how he wants us to relate to him. God does not change. His nature and character never change. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever. The God of Leviticus is not a different God from the God of the Gospels, or the Epistles. He’s the same God with the same expectations. If we no longer need to slaughter animals on an altar it’s not because God no longer requires a sacrifice. It’s because a sacrifice has already been offered that has everlasting and universal power.

CONTEXT

Leviticus is really a continuation of Exodus. At the end of Exodus the Israelites are camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The Lord speaks to Moses, giving him the Ten Commandments, and instructing him to build a portable-temple, the tabernacle, to very exact specifications.

Within the tabernacle was the Tent of Meeting, or Holy of Holies, which contained the ark of the covenant. For a people with no image of their God, the Tent of Meeting provided a visible, tangible focus. Exodus ends with the glory of God filling the tabernacle in the form of a cloud. The very last verse says (40:38): So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during their travels.

You turn over the page, and the next thing you read, literally is: And the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting

Our modern translators don’t like starting a sentence, let alone a book, with the word “and”; but that’s what it says in Hebrew. Having given them instructions on building the tabernacle, God isn’t going to leave the Israelites to guess how to use it. The last time they were left to their own devices they constructed a golden calf.

Do you remember that incident back in Ex.32? And do you remember how they claimed that this idol of theirs was none other than the Lord God, the Lord who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt? But the Living God has very clear ideas on how he is to be worshipped. He doesn’t want his people constructing images and statues and icons of him; for the True God should never be compared to anything he has made.

Also interesting is the way the Israelites went about worshipping this golden calf. They made their sacrifices and then launched into a drunken revelry (Ex.32:6).

But again, that’s not how the Holy God wants to be worshipped. Worship involves the whole of our being, including our minds, and we can’t do that if we are drunk and out of our minds. More than that, the Holy God demands a high degree of ethical integrity from his people.

The phrase Be holy for I am holy, runs through Leviticus like a motto through a stick of rock. And it is repeated in the New Testament. With nothing else to go by, the Israelites were merely imitating what they’d seen in Egypt and in the surrounding pagan nations. They had picked up human ideas of worship. If they were to be the covenant people of God, with all the benefits that flow from that privileged status, they had to learn how the Living God himself wants to be worshipped.

I hope it’s a lesson you are willing to learn too. Almost unthinkingly we so easily adopt the world’s standards. For example, this notion that we don’t have to be in church to worship God. People say, “I can worship God when I’m out hill-walking or when I’m in the garden.” On the face of it, that’s true. We don’t need to be in a church building to worship God.

 But when we are out hill-walking, and when we are in the garden, do we worship God? Do we raise our minds towards heaven in prayer and thank him for the glory of nature? I suspect not. I suspect if we do consciously praise anything, our praise is aimed at nature itself, rather than her Creator.

But even if we do consciously praise God when we’re surrounded by the beauty of creation, that can never be an alternative to coming together with fellow believers to sing and pray and learn from the scriptures together. The Biblical pattern is that we do this at least one day a week. And I deliberately say one day a week, not one morning, or one evening a week, let alone one hour a week. One of the great gifts this church offers its members is a Sunday evening service, to help you keep the whole of the Lord’s Day. Where did we get the notion that having been at church in the morning our duty to our Maker is done? The commandment clearly states: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God (Ex.20:8,9)

Leviticus is going to help us think through our relationship with our God. How much of that relationship has been on our terms rather than his?

TEXT

So Leviticus begins: And the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting The Lord calls Moses and says to him (v.2): Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. And then what follows are specific instructions on how the Israelites are to offer their burnt offerings. A couple of preliminary observations.

First, note how Moses is instructed to speak to the Israelites, that is to all the people, and not just the tribe of Levi, the priests. The whole people were to be informed of God’s will, not just a professional class of clergy. The rites and rituals were not a closely guarded secret. The priests had their responsibilities and so did the people; and both knew what was expected of the other.

Surely one of the greatest curses to befall the Church of Jesus Christ is when her members start regarding the clergy as a breed apart, or as the guardians of certain mysteries. It amazes me how, even among Protestants, this attitude can prevail.

Friends, all the Word of God is for all the people of God. My duty is to exercise my gift in preaching it to you so that, as Paul says in Eph.4:12, you in turn may serve God according to your gift.

My second observation is based on the words When any of you brings. In other words, there is an expectation that the people of God will want to bring an offering to the Lord. There are numerous reasons why someone would want to make an offering. They may want to give thanks for a bumper harvest; they may be seeking forgiveness of sins.

The point is, the Lord expects his people to want to approach him, to draw near to him, to want to be in fellowship with him. So he makes provision for this. That in itself raises a question: Why does God need to make provision for us to approach him? Why can’t we approach him any way we like?

Answer: he is a holy God but we are not a holy people. Sinners just can’t go barging in on God.

In chapter 10 there is the sobering story of Nabad and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, who worshipped God the wrong way, and were consumed with fire. Approaching God can be dangerous. What Leviticus teaches us is that God himself has made approaching him possible. He has made it possible for sinful men and women to come into his presence. More than that, he has made it possible for us to be at peace with him.

How? By the offering of a sacrifice. And not just any old sacrifice; but very specific sacrifices, offered in very specific ways. They may seem unnecessary to us. The rules may seem tediously heavy on detail. May I suggest that this is because we so minimised the effect of our sin upon our God that we fail to understand just how wide the gap is separating us from him. It is because we have such a poor appreciation of what our Lord Jesus Christ achieved for us on the cross.

We’re like those who curse their computer for taking more than 10 seconds to send an e-mail; forgetting that not so long ago we were doing well if a first-class letter arrived the next day. Because we are unfamiliar with the Old Testament sacrificial system we take for granted the momentous achievement of Calvary.

Our sins are so offensive to the Living God that the only just penalty is death. The Apostle Paul says, For the wages of sin is death. (Rom.6:23) If a sinner approaches the Living God he will die. What happened to Aaron’s sons is what should happen to each and every one of us. The fact that we don’t is down to the grace and mercy of God. He has devised a way for sinners to be made right with him. Something still has to die. But instead of the sinner, the Lord allows a substitute.

You want to come before me? says the Lord. You want to be at peace with me? Then don’t just come barging in. And don’t come empty handed. You must bring a sacrifice.

The rest of chapter 1 explains the procedure for making a burnt offering; that is, the kind of offering that was totally consumed by fire on the altar. There were other kinds of sacrifices where only parts of the animal were burned, and the rest was eaten by the worshiper. The fellowship offering in chapter 3 was like that. It was as if you were sharing a meal with the Lord. The burnt offering, however, saw every part of the animal, except the skin, totally consumed. This was the most basic sacrifice and though it could be offered for various reasons the most common was for the forgiveness of sins.

Look what had to be done. The worshipper had to bring an animal from his herd (that is a bull) or his flock (a sheep). If he was not wealthy enough to own either cattle or sheep, he could offer a bird. So no one was excluded by reason of poverty.

That said, do not underestimate the cost to the worshipper. He couldn’t bring a wild animal he had captured; he couldn’t bring a defective animal that no one wanted anyway. He had to bring a male without defect, the best he owned. And it had to be alive; it couldn’t be something that had died of natural causes anyway. It was a real sacrifice.

The worshipper had to lay his hand upon the animal’s head, symbolising that this animal was taking his place, that it was his substitute. He would slit the animal’s throat and the priest would collect its blood in a basin before splashing it on the sides of the altar. The animal would have been skinned and then chopped into pieces which were then placed in the fire which always burned on the altar.

It couldn’t have been easy for the worshipper to watch something that constituted a valuable investment literally go up in smoke.

That having been done v.4 tells us that it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. God’s anger at man’s sin is now placated. There can be peace between the sinner and his God. v9 puts it like this: It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. That phrase is repeated at the end of each paragraph. The Lord is assuring the worshipper that if, by faith, he follows these instructions, believing the Lord’s promise that this is how to approach him, he will be accepted; his offering will be pleasing to the Lord.

CHRISTIAN APPLICATION

As Christians we no longer need to bring the pick of our herd or flock to receive forgiveness of sins. But that’s not because God changed him mind about how sinful men and women are to approach him. We still need a sacrifice.

 What the New Testament teaches us is that our Lord Jesus Christ is that sacrifice. We read earlier from Heb.10. v.1 says: The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. The law was preparing us for the One who was coming who would do more than simply allow sinners to approach a holy God. He would deal with our sin once and for all. Heb.10 tells us the limitations of these animal sacrifices. They did not cleanse, they did not lift the burden of guilt, they could not take away sins.

But Jesus does. Later in Heb.10 we read (v.22) that because of Jesus we can draw near to God in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We have been redeemed, says Peter, not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1Pet.1:19)

Do you want to be at peace with God? Do you want a living, vibrant relationship with him? Do you want the sin that prevents such a relationship with him removed? In by faith you must come to him with the sacrifice he has provided. You must come to him believing that his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave his life for you. He is your substitute; and therefore he is your Saviour. It may not be your idea of how to approach God or relate to him. But the Bible tells us it that it’s God’s. He wants us to come to him by faith in his Son who, as Paul says to the Ephesians, gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph.5:1)

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Preaching Leviticus

September 23, 2009

A few weeks ago I began a series of sermons from Leviticus.  As someone said, “That takes a lot of guts.”  And another confessed he thought it would be “offal.”

I’d been thinking about it for a while; but it’s only because we now have an Assistant that I’ve felt I have the time to ponder the text of what is one of the least accessible books of the Bible.  I just don’t think I’d have had the time to do that if I were still preaching twice a week.

Why preach Leviticus?  I suppose one answer could be, Just because it’s there.  It is, after all, as much part of Holy Scripture as any of the other 65 books.  Paul’s observation in 2Tim. 3:16 that all Scripture is God-breathed applies as much to Leviticus as it does to Genesis or the Psalms.  And if our Lord explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus what was said about him in all the Scriptures beginning with Moses, Leviticus must have been included.(Lk.24:27)

Derek Tidball in his very helpful little commentary in the Crossway Bible Guides series gives some answers.  Leviticus helps us to understand that God is holy yet merciful.  It teaches us the meaning of sacrifice and of being living sacrifices.  It encourages us to give the best to God in worship.  It instructs us in the qualities leaders in the church should have.  It leads us to Christ who makes atonement for our sin.  It sets out for us principles of family, sexual and social behaviour.  It teaches us to celebrate the faithfulness of God as our Creator and Saviour.  It helps us to understand the true meaning of liberty.  It show us that our faith has implications for our views on politics and economics.  And it teaches us the importance of obeying God’s commands.

For me there is another reason.  In recent years Leviticus has become the most reviled, mocked, derided book in the Bible.  Only recently a student taking a course in Religious Studies told me this story: The lecturer began by asking if there were any Christians in the class.  Several raised their hands.  To hoots of laughter from the rest of the class he attacked them: Then why are you wearing clothes made from more than one fabric?  A reference to a Levitical ban.  We’ve all read the so-called letter asking for an explanation as to how one goes about stoning one’s rebellious son and whether or not one should boycott the local fishmonger for selling prawns. 

In short, there has been a deliberate and sustained attack on the Levitical code.  And why?  Because it states that a man lying with a man is abhorrent.  The argument goes—it is inconsistent to still believe homosexual practice is abhorrent if one enjoys a prawn cocktail. 

What is particularly sad is that such attacks have come from ministers of the Gospel, ministers of Word and Sacrament, who, of all people, should have studied scripture and be at the forefront of defending it. 

So, for the sake of my congregation, who like so many others, want to believe that all Scripture is God-breathed, but find Leviticus incomprehensible, I felt duty bound to have a go at expounding it.  I’ve preached three sermons so far which I’ll post in the next three days [note—there is nothing in them about the CURRENT DEBATE].  I hope you find them helpful and if you have any constructive comments don’t hesitate to make them.  I’m not doing line by line, chapter by chapter; but rather picking out key themes and moments from the book.

So far, for me, the most important lesson has been that God hasn’t changed his mind.  He still requires a sacrifice to be made for the forgiveness of sins, and we still require a priest to present it on our behalf.  Leviticus has much to teach us about our God, our Saviour and ourselves.

Setting the record straight

September 15, 2009

Here is the official FCC rebuttal to the nonsense that was in this weekend’s Sunday Herald.  You should also have a look at coffeewithlouis.

http://www.confessingchurch.org.uk/press-reporting-and-the-fellowship-of-confessing-churches/

The missing link

September 11, 2009

1. Many thanks to those of you who have contacted me regarding the story about Scott Rennie thinking about the USA.  It wasn’t posted by Affirmation Scotland after all – for which I apologies.  My memory wasn’t serving me well.  And when you see that it was a post by Kim Cran, a leading in light in AS in the early days, I trust you will understand and even forgive my mistake.  Thanks to David R for finding the link. 

http://groups.google.com/group/oldsouthlgbtandfriends/browse_thread/thread/ae64a6a27e5f4dd6/c430a8a5ca47dc80 

2.Now for something completely different.  You may be familiar with CS Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters” where he imagines letters from a senior devil to a junior.  Gavin Brown in Aberdeen has tried doing something similar.  Here’s a link to his site. 

http://starlingford.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/screwtape-and-the-temptational-synod/ 

Finally, just a word to regular readers.  I’m giving it a break for the weekend.  If there are any developments I’ll let you know on Monday.

Affirmation Scotland

September 11, 2009

I have been asked by Blair Robertson of Affirmation Scotland to point out that AS has never been involved in discussions with another denomination. 

He denies that there ever was a post about Scott Rennie moving to the USA on the AS web-site.  I have no doubt that such a post existed, but it may be that it was a personal post by Rev Kim Cran who helped found AS but has returned to the USA.  Did anyone else see it?

On behalf of One Kirk

September 10, 2009

Yesterday, while I was cooking dinner (pasta carbonara) I received a phone call from a member of the One Kirk steering group.  He was upset about my statement on yesterday’s blog about “the Scott Rennie camp” speaking to another denomination.  He categorically denied any knowledge of this.  I am happy to acknowledge that this married man with children knew nothing of the discussions referred to.  However, I stand by what I said.  I only mentioned these discussions because it’s always the evangelicals who are accused of threatening to leave, when in fact others are doing the same.  Before the Assembly there was a post on the Affirmation Scotland site stating quite openly that Scott Rennie was actively contemplating ministry in the USA should the decision go against him.  That’s quite understandable; as are discussions with another British denomination.  But this has never been reported in the press.

The plot thickens

September 9, 2009

Brian Donnelly is certainly working over-time on this one.  Read today’s story in the Herald and then I’ll comment. 

Threat of plot to split kirk over gay ministers

Brian Donnelly

0 comments

Published on 9 Sep 2009

Evangelicals are plotting a split with the main body of the Church of Scotland over gay ordination and have held “large gatherings” across Scotland, The Herald can reveal.

The schism the Kirk tried desperately to avoid by postponing an open debate on appointing gay ministers and gagging members from discussing the issue at this year’s General Assembly is moving towards reality.

Churches opposed to the appointment of gay ministers have indicated their movement is growing and that new “leaders” are emerging.

Already, nearly 40 parishes have stood defiant against the Kirk by joining the evangelical group the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, saying they will not accept gay ordination.

They have posted covenants in churches supporting male/female relationships.

The Rev Louis Kinsey of St Columba’s in Aberdeen was one of six ministers in north-east Scotland that joined the fellowship after Rev Scott Rennie, who lives with his male partner, was confirmed to his appointment at Queen’s Cross Church in the city.  Rev Kinsey, a married father of two who has been a minister since 1991, defied the gagging order to declare that he believes a schism is “the only logical response to the Church of Scotland’s procrastination at the General Assembly”.  He said: “Groups of evangelicals have met; large gatherings in the north and in the central belt.   “My feeling is that some leadership is now beginning to emerge. A lot of serious and prayerful thought is happening but an obvious way forward has not become clear. “One or two ministers have left the Kirk. Even more members of the Kirk have done so. The summer break has been providential. It has offered time to think and discuss. We are all still in the process of weighing up the possibilities. “No obvious and overt activity should not be taken as a sign that nothing is going on.”

Parishes in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, the Western Isles and Inverness have joined the fellowship.  Ivor MacDonald of Kilmuir and Stenscholl Church in the Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery, said: “The proponents of homosexual ordination are pushing the Church on a rocky road. Their position is essentially a schismatic one.”  The fellowship’s covenant states that supporters “recognise God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family”.  One minister in Glasgow, who asked not to be named, said: “The ministers in the north in particular are almost rebelling. They are talking of a breakaway at the meetings.”

It would be the largest schism in the Kirk since 1843 when a breakaway group formed the Free Church of Scotland after a clash over state intervention in the appointment of ministers The Free Kirk, which advocates male/female relationships, said while it would not wish to capitalise on the Church of Scotland’s crisis new members are welcome.  The Church, which said it is unable to discuss disciplinary breaches such as breaking the gagging order publicly, confirmed that at least one parish, which it refused to name, has indicated that it will withdraw congregational funding to the central Kirk.  Contributions from congregations are a key component of Church of Scotland affiliation and a move to withdraw funding is seen by some as the first step towards a split.

First of all let me make clear that I am not the anonymous minister from Glasgow.  I am not talking to the press. 

Secondly, as the minister of a church which has just voted to join the Fellowship of Confessing Churches we are not plotting to leave the Kirk: at least not yet.  We plan to stay and to argue for what we believe is Biblical orthodoxy in the matter of human sexuality.  If we leave, we don’t have a voice.  We have joined the FCC on that basis.  Our understanding is that the FCC gives like-minded congregations the opportunity to stand together in this matter.  Leaving the Kirk will be the last thing we do! Nor have we a policy of withholding funds. 

Having said that, we are not so naive as to imagine that our argument will necessarily win the day.  So evangelical ministers have been meeting to discuss what happened at the Assembly, how we are going to act during the course of the next two years, and what we might do post-2011.  No-one I know has made any definite plans to leave.

However, you might like to know that at one of those meetings, attended by nearly 200, it was stated authoritatively that before the Assembly the Scott Rennie camp had been in discussions with another denomination with a view to jumping ship should the decision go against him.  So please don’t point the finger at evangelicals and question our loyalty to the Kirk. 

Finally, let me encourage you to join the FCC.  The web-site will tell you all you need to know.