Sunday, August 30, 2015

Living or Dead Sacrifice

Imagine yourself entering the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Meeting, for the very first time.  Your priestly garments are brand new.  You can still smell the new sent of fresh lanolin on your cloths.  You are a part of one of the greatest stories ever told.  You witnessed the wrath of God devastate Egypt by plague; the deliverance of your nation, Israel, at the Red Sea.  You were there when Moses went up to receive the Law. You even saw the very image of God on Mount Sinai.  As the tent of the meeting is consecrated, and you enter the holiest of places for the first time, how would you approach the Mercy Seat of the Living God?

This is the very situation found in the book of Leviticus.  (Oddly enough Leviticus is one of my favorite books of the Bible.)  If I were to summarize Leviticus in one word that word would be “holiness.”   The main theme the book is addressing is how do people (pre-Christ) approach The Living God, while being in a fallen state?  The regulations from skin diseases to the Day of Atonement all deal with the issue of Holiness.  How do you become holy, how do you stay holy, and how do you approach a holy God. 

The first few times I read this chapter I had a rather typical response, “that seems awfully harsh to kill the two sons of Aaron over some incense!”  The question I asked was, “why would God do something so terrible over something so small?”  As I studied this passage I realized that Nadab and Abihu did something rather serious and destructive for themselves, and worse Israel, in the presence of the living God.  

Nadab and Abihu were not oblivious to the movements of God.  Anyone living today would pay all they had to be witnesses to even a fraction of what Nadab and Abihu witnessed.  Let me chronicle it for you. 

Beginning with the exodus.  They were present to see the plagues that decimated Egypt.  There is no doubt in my mind they watched as their father Aaron and uncle Moses leave to confront Pharaoh. I believe they saw Aaron and Moses return as the sky grew dark over their shoulders.  They participate in the very first Passover, as the Angle of Death took the first-born in Egypt, and they were spared.  They stood with their father at the edge of the Red Sea, and witnessed God’s second greatest act of deliverance in history.  They stood on Mount Sinai and saw the God of Israel and were allowed to live!  They saw God!! (Exodus 24:9)

They witnessed all of these.  With their 5 senses, they saw the one of the greatest fulfillments of God’s faithfulness to his people in history.  After this revelation of God they descended Sinai and built a calf to worship (Ex 32).  What lack of faith they had!  Maybe Nadab and Abihu did not want to follow a God they could not control. They wanted gods like the ones they had in Egypt. 

Either way, they were the spiritual leaders of Israel, and they led Israel back into idolatry.  Actively lead them back into idolatry.  By the hands of Aaron and his sons, a false god was paraded around to worship, in place of the true God, whom they just saw! 

With this understanding in mind my sympathies for Nadab and Abihu are greatly diminished.  These spiritual leaders of Israel, who had first hand knowledge of the one true living God, lead Israel into worship of an evil false god.  So when they were given the regulations (in Ex 30) on how to approach the living God with offerings they clearly had no interest in following God’s requirements. 

Nadab and Abihu entered into the tent of the meeting they still had the blood on their right ear and oil on their forehead from when Moses consecrated them as priests.  In Exodus 30.1-10; 30.34-38 the regulations for the appropriate offering of incense were given.  The incense was specific, only in the tent of the meeting was this incense to be used.  Only the incense commanded by God was to be used in the tent of the meeting. 

These two children of Aaron knew the regulation, they had the revelation, and they felt it necessary developed their own way to do things.  With their own incense they came before God.  Only two reasons I can see for their decision.

First, their friends in Israel were constantly complaining that they left Egypt.  Many wanted to return because they did not like following the direction of the Lord.  They may have sought the approval of their fellow Israelites and brought Egyptian incense before God.  There is no doubt in my mind that this incense was incense used in worship of idols.  

Second and more dangerously, they thought they could control God!!  We never do this do we?  They had the specific requirements of the incense.  They knew what the power of the Lord meant and they wanted to demonstrate that they could control that power for themselves. 

I submit to you that God did indeed accept an offering from the two sons of Aaron. We see the same Leveticus 9.22-24 a correct offering was accepted. Compare that to what happened to Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:2,5-6.  I submit to you that that the offering accepted was not incense.  The two sons of Aaron became the sacrifice that God accepted. 
response from God in

In the Chronicles of Narnia Aslan is a character that represents God the Son. Aslan is a lion who is personally involved with Narnia.  Throughout the volumes of this story the characters say something about Aslan.  The refrain from those in Narnia is, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”  “God is not a tame Lion” Nadab and Abihu, in a very painful, way discovered that God is not tame, and will not be subject to the arrogant, who want to own His power. 

Nadab and Abihu were the sacrifices that God accepted.  In their attitudes before God they became DEAD Sacrifices.  A dead sacrifice becomes useless to God.  Nadab and Abihu were useless to God.  Their burned up carcasses dragged outside of camp and left to rot. 

I am captivated by this passage.  The incredible untamed power of God’s glory is released against those who thought they could tame God.  

Let us look at a jar of water.  I can hold a jar of water. It is under control.  It is with in my power to take the water inside the jar where ever I desire.  I can drink the water, and have it become a part of me.  Do I really think that I have tamed water?  Now, if I take my jar of water and head over to the falls in Niagara, NY (or more preferably in Canada) and think for a second that I can tame that water, you would call me a fool. 

If you stand by the edge of Niagara Falls for even a short time you will feel the sheer magnitude, and power, of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge.  Now, if you take your jar hop the rail, keeping you from the edge, and jump in to the falls you will be consumed by the majesty and power of one of the 7 wonders of the world. 

Aaron’s sons did just this.  With what is the equivalent of a jar of water, they approached the God, who formed enumerable galaxies, stars and planets; who holds the balance of atoms and molecules together with mere thought; and intimately formed humanity with the breath of life.  They approached thinking they could take their jar of incense and jump in.  Read verse three again. 

Leviticus 10:3 “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.”
Keep that in mind and read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans

After telling us all about the beautiful plan of salvation from our sin, and God’s wrath you can hear shades of Leviticus 10 in Paul’s words.  I almost hear Paul asking “Can you tame God?”  God cannot be tamed but he loves us. 

Just like the Hebrews, delivered from bondage of Egypt, we were delivered from the bondage of sin.  Nadab and Abihu did not treat God as Holy and Powerful they mocked him and were consumed.  But we, as it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  We have access to God in a way that is beyond or ability to conceive or grasp.  

We are bought with a price!  Do you not know that Jesus was that price, the Holy and final sacrifice?  Does that change how you live?

What is a living sacrifice? Remember your life was bought with a price you no longer are your own but belong to God.  Paul uses this image of a living sacrifice to demonstrate three things:

First, becoming sacrifice is an all or nothing proposition.  On the Day of Atonement the bull did not say well this was fun I am going to go back to my grazing.
Second, humility is essential.  You have to place yourself in a great position of humility to consider your life a sacrifice.  The humility of a sacrifice serves others.  A sacrifice is done for the good of a community, and by being a living sacrifice your life now has purpose for God and His Community. 

Third, above all a sacrifice requires holiness.  The offering of a sacrifice required a spotless animal.  I not saying that we are going to achieve a sinless state in this lifetime but our goal and pursuit should be holiness.  If we are called to be a living sacrifice, like Paul suggests here, then we should pursue holiness.  We should not pursue holiness because it will gain us anything in this earthly realm; we should pursue holiness because GOD IS HOLY

Nadab and Abihu were dead sacrifices they brought their idolatry before God and sought to control the Lord with their own sacrificial worship.  They became useless waist dragged outside of Camp. 

Knowing that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, do you bring your incense before God?  In this syncretistic world we often do not take seriously the idea of idolatry.  Everyone is entitled to their own belief.  Specifically in America we do not directly bow down to gods of wood, clay, or stone.  We worship a more seductive god whose face looks at us from inside the mirror. 

Several years ago I saw a commercial were people in a crowed held up a sign that said “I am.”  I realized they were not making a statement about autonomy but a statement about theology.  The self centered society that claims there is no god of consequence will soon begin to worship itself.  And that is what we are doing.  I challenge you to be conscious of how often the ascription “I am” is used in reference to people in our culture. 

We are taking the name of God and claiming it for ourselves.  By doing so we are bringing incense of idolatry into the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are bringing the reckoning of Nadab and Abihu upon ourselves!

As living sacrifices we are called to humble, holy living.  Please, I too often hear excuses for our sin, “It is not that bad.” “At least I didn’t do that” (ok Meatloaf). “I can do what I want God will forgive me.” Why should we want to wallow in the death of our Idolatry?

Examine yourself what incense do you allow into the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Is it late night internet surfing?  Is it conversations with a woman that is not your wife?  Is it your secret thought life? Is it the profanity you use when no one is around?  Is it craving the approval of sinful men?  What incense do you bring before God? 

Imagine yourself walking through the most luxurious gates ever cast.  Imagine the smell of new flowers lightly perfuming the air as you walk through the gates.  Imagine the sound of a new song in your ears that started with the beginning of the world.  Imagine yourself now standing face to face with Jesus Christ our heavenly Savior and Lord.  Will you fall to your knees and give Him the worship He is due, or will you bring to him the incense of your idolatry and expect him to smell the putrescent odor of sin? 

You should live a holy life not because you will gain anything (but you will); you should live a holy life because the living God of this universe is holy, that should be enough.

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