There are no shortage of people who turn the pages of Leviticus a little faster because they find no comfort in the words scrawled across the pages.
My personal theory is that we don’t like Leviticus because it reminds us that we are sinners and it reminds us that the penalty for sin is death. We all know we’re sinners and we all know our sin is worthy of death, but we’ve suppressed that truth, muffling it with self-esteem and self-centeredness.
Our deep need to deny that we are worthy of death causes us to read through the Levitical Law with an agenda. We conclude that the Law is immoral and God is unjust. Even as Christians, we put a little ‘New Covenant’ asterisk by each consequence listed for every sin. We set Jesus up in opposition to the Law, as if the Law was the problem. The problem with the Old Covenant was not the Law; it was us.
The pages of the Bible are filled with people who sing songs about the beauty of the Law. They believe it’s God’s kindness: displaying His standard and teaching them the way to walk.
The Law emphasizes God’s mercy.
Here are three ways we see God’s mercy more clearly through the Law:
First: God, in His great mercy, has set before us the standard of holiness. Through the Law, God has proved to us that none of us are good enough; we can’t reach Heaven through keeping the Law.
Here’s the system in the Old Covenant: if you’re a good person, God’ll bless you. If you’re not, you’ll pay the price. Does that sound familiar? It’s pretty close what most people in America believe. If they read Leviticus they may not be such big fans, cause it doesn’t turn out great for those who seek to earn their salvation through being ‘good’. He designed the Law to move us to humbly confess we are not good and prompt us to turn to Him for salvation.
Second, God, in His great mercy, has set before us a path. Through the Law we have a way to walk in that teaches us right and wrong, and despite what so many of us think, that isn’t over once the New Covenant rolls around. Jesus doesn’t denounce the Law; He just summarizes it in a key commands like, loving God and loving each other and caring for the poor.
God’s commands are not burdensome. They are a Creator’s loving instructions for the good of His creation.
Third, God in His great mercy, shows us His justice so that we might value His mercy all the more.
Leviticus is a book filled with consequences. Each action has a repercussion. Each crime, has a punishment. That’s justice.
We live in a time where we can pretend God has given up caring about justice. We watch sins go unpunished all the time. We watch evil deeds seemingly be ignored. Don’t be deceived. God isn’t unjust. He is just merciful. Each and every one of us – believer and non – are currently experiencing the mercy of God. Even those who faced dire consequences for sin under the Old Covenant were still receiving God’s mercy.
Don’t look at Leviticus and be amazed at God’s response to uncleanness. Look at the pages and be amazed at His response to you.
There are two types of people reading this blog today: those who feel like failures and those who don’t. Leviticus is written to remove that second category. There are so many details of so many ways to become ‘unclean’, with so many consequences that seem so crazy.
But at the end of the day, those of you who read Leviticus and feel no fear will find no great joy in the good news of the gospel. Those of you who do not believe in the gravity of sin will be outraged by the Law, offended by my writing and ultimately dismissive of the Cross.
It’s the first category, the group of us who know we are failures, who are still reading now, and it’s the first category that are on my heart as I write. It’s the first category who I wish I could hold in my arms and whisper great truths of a more merciful father and a more life-giving grace than any you could imagine.
In order to grasp the grace of God we don’t have to look away from Leviticus as if it has nothing to do with our glorious New Covenant. We can look at Leviticus and know more deeply the mercy of God. Like our fathers in the faith, we can love the Law for the mercy it brings.
We can know and press into both the temporal and eternal consequence our sin demands, knowing that those demands have been met in full in Christ. We can press into the high standard of God’s Law, knowing that has been met in Christ, and knowing that it will be met in us through the work of His Spirit.
Leviticus was written so that you might know even more deeply the mercy and grace of God. Breathe in air today, sinner, and taste the grace of each breath.