Deviation is Death (but grace…)

To be honest, Leviticus usually gets short shrift from most Bible reading plans.

Not that it isn’t included as one of the books to be read along with fan favorites, but believers who come along Leviticus in those plans, or who are looking for devotional material to start or end their day, don’t typically remain there long.

All Scripture, it is said, is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Theoretically, then, it is also profitable for preaching, though one who goes looking for examples in all the sermon outline resources will find that Leviticus is among the least represented. When I undertook to preach through Leviticus at Covenant Grace Baptist Church [Troy AL], I knew of only two other pastors who had done so, neither of which I actually knew, and one of which had been exposed as a heretic. Those facts did not give me much with which to persuade the congregation that the project was worthwhile.

Sample logic chain: all pastors who preach through Leviticus are either unknown or heretics; you are a preacher; therefore, if you preach through Leviticus it will make you either insignificant or apostate (and listening to it can’t be good for us, either).

Fortunately, the premises of the syllogism are untrue: it isn’t “all pastors,” and preaching doesn’t “make” the results.

What, then, does a Bible-believing congregation of Christian believers do with Leviticus? It’s Law, after all, and we are “not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

What one finds in Leviticus is, among other things, a corrective to a “law-less” grace, a grace that gives ample room for additional sin in order for grace to abound (Romans 6:1). More on that later.

Deviation is Death

A bird’s eye view of Leviticus, with its many provisions for sacrifices, cleanliness, festivals, behavior and temple accoutrements, leaves us with the immediate impression that DEVIATION from the standard of God means certain DEATH. Deviating from God’s standard of holiness results in the death of animals in the burnt offerings, purification offerings, reparation offerings, and others. Sons of Aaron, who offered “strange fire” to the Lord and deviated from his command, suffered instant and dramatic death (during a worship service!). And many violations of God’s commands carried the death penalty.

But Grace is Life

It would be easy to think that Leviticus is no place to find grace, but to do so would be a terrible mistake.

It is, after all, the same holy God who judges sin who also gives instructions for men to be able to come into his presence and not be burned to a crisp. It is the same God who sends unclean people outside the camp who also provides for the manner in which they can re-enter the camp. It is the same God who punishes his people repeatedly, severely, and dramatically who also promises that he will not “forsake them utterly” (Leviticus 26).

One of the first things we see as we come to Leviticus is that we must come without seeing God according to the caricature of God: in the Old Testament, God is angry; in the New Testament Jesus has softened him up.

Furthermore, DEVIATION is still DEATH: either our own, for our sin, or else Christ’s, for our sin. And, while grace is most completely demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus Christ, Leviticus shows us that even in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the penalty of death for law-breakers, God was showing his grace to people who did not deserve it.

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