SERMON TITLE: Finding Jesus
TEXT: Leviticus 16:1-34 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week 3 of our Finding Jesus series — where I’m covering an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. And we’re looking at the first five books of the Bible — which are also called the Pentateuch — the books written by Moses.
And one of my goals — in doing this series — is I want you to be familiar with all of the Bible.
I want you to be able to see how the whole Bible tells one story.
I want you to know how to find Jesus — no matter where you are in the Bible.
And the idea behind this series, comes from a story found near the end of the gospel of Luke. After Jesus was killed on the cross, he appears to two men who had great hopes for him — but his death kind of ruined everything. And thought they thought he was still dead — they were talking to Jesus — somehow — Jesus hid who he was from them. And in this conversation — Jesus gives them — and us — a hint as to how we’re to read and understand the whole Bible.
“And he (Jesus) said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 And he (Jesus) said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And (watch what Jesus does here...and...) beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:17-27 ESV)
That’s why we’re doing this series — where I help you to find Jesus in all of the Bible — because Jesus tells us that the whole Bible is about him — he even began with the writings of Moses — the books we’re looking at in this series.
So here’s what we’re going to do today. I’m going to introduce you to a book of the Bible that may or may not be familiar to you. I’ll begin by giving you an overview of the book — and then we’ll focus in on one section which I’ll use to show you how to find Jesus — how to find the one story the whole Bible is telling — the story of Jesus.
So let’s turn to our book for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Leviticus chapter 16. We’ll be looking at the entire chapter.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
OVERVIEW OF LEVITICUS
OK — by a raise of hands — is Leviticus anyone’s favorite book of the Bible? Well I bet this next question will get a raise of hands. How many of us have ever started reading the Bible only to bail once you got to Leviticus?
So — my hope — is to help us understand this book better and how it points us to Jesus. So let’s start with an overview of the book — and this overview is going to be different than the others I’ve done in this series — because this book isn’t full of stories and narratives.
HOLINESS OF GOD
But first — we have to recognize something about God — what? That he is holy. What does that mean? One theologian has said, “Holiness...is God’s capacity and right to arouse our reverent awe and wonder. It is his uniqueness, his transcendence as our Creator. It is his majesty, for the holy God is like a great king, whom we dare not treat like other persons. Indeed, God’s holiness [compels] us to worship in his presence.” (John Frame, Systematic Theology, 278.)
Others have simply said that God’s holiness means that he’s set apart — that he’s unique — that he’s completely pure — and untainted by sin and corruption. And the question — the book of Leviticus is answering — is this: How can unholy people — people who are sinful — people who are rebellious — you and me and everyone else — how can unholy people be in the presence of a holy God?
And the reason why the book addresses this is because there’s a paradox to God’s holiness that most of us don’t think about. You see — most people — when we think about God — we think about his characteristic of love — that God is loving. And he is — which is great news! But though God is love — God isn’t only love — he has many characteristics — including his holiness. And his holiness means that God is pure, and good, and powerful. And that means he’s a danger to those who are impure, not good, and weak.
Now you may be thinking, “Wait a second. You just said a bunch of stuff — that I’ve never really thought about — but what stuck out to me was you saying that we’re not good.” And the reason why — you may be thinking this — is because something ingrained in us is the idea that people are basically good. We’re taught to believe that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with us. Sure some people — on an honest day you may even admit that you’re part of the “some people” — sure there are some people who make mistakes or bad choices, but underneath all of that — Josh — what you’ll find is a good person.
Now there’s a sense — because all people are made in the image of God — and one implication of this — is that all people have been created to reflect God’s image in his creation — including God’s goodness.
But — and this is obvious — though it’s something many deny — something is seriously wrong with us.
We don’t just make mistakes — we hurt people.
We don’t just make bad choices — we willfully choose to do things knowing they will cause harm to others.
From the words we say to our spouses or friends in a heated moment.
To the way we show impatience to the elderly or those with handicaps.
To the way we want others to serve us instead of serving them.
And what the Bible calls all of this — what the Christian faith calls these things — isn’t mistakes or bad choices — the Christian faith calls it sin. That though we’re made in the image of God — and should be demonstrating his goodness to the world — we’ve sinned against God and — our sin — has affected every part of us — meaning there’s no part of you uninfluenced by sin — not the things you think — not the things you long for — not the things you do. This is what theologians have called totally depravity — which doesn’t mean — we’re as bad as we can be — it means there’s not one part of us unaffected by sin. And because of our sin — we’re unholy and this is why God’s holiness should frighten us.
And I know this can come as a shock because we don’t think of God as a threat to us — but an illustration I heard (Bible Project, Leviticus, https://youtu.be/WmvyrLXoQio) — that was quite helpful — is to think of God’s presence like the sun. God’s pure, he’s powerful, he’s good. And when something unholy — something stained by sin — gets close to the purity, power, and goodness of God — well like anything that gets too close to the sun is destroyed — so to anything unholy that gets close to God is destroyed as well.
So back to the point of Leviticus — the book is telling us how unholy people can survive the presence of God. And something helpful to know about Leviticus — hopefully this will make it easier to understand — is to know that the book is divided into sections that all answer the question — “how do unholy people survive the presence of a holy God?”
RITUALS (Poster board illustration graphics are from the Bible Project.)
The first and last sections of the book talk about rituals. We find the first rituals in chapters 1-7 and — if we narrowed everything down — what we see in these chapters are “thank you God” rituals and “I’m sorry God” rituals. How we’re to tell God how much we appreciate and are thankful for the things he’s done for us and how we’re to ask him for forgiveness for the things we do that are displeasing to him.
Rituals come back up again near the end of Leviticus — in chapters 23-25 — where we find the seven annual feasts that God’s people were to observe. What was the point of the feasts? To help the people remember who God is and who they are. If you ever do a Bible study with me — those are the two questions you’re guaranteed to hear me ask — what does this tell you about God and what does this tell you about yourself? That’s what the annuals feasts were meant to do.
The next two sections focus on the priesthood — you find these in chapters 8-10 and again in chapters 21-22. The initial time the priests are mentioned is when Moses ordains the first priests — when he commissions them to this new role. And quickly we see the consequences for priests who fail to obey God. Aaron’s sons — he’s Moses’ brother by the way — but Aaron’s sons are killed for disobeying God in fulfilling their duty as priests.
The second time the priesthood is mentioned — again this is in chapters 21 and 22 — we find the qualifications for being a priest. They’re to be men of high moral integrity, they’re to maintain holiness by following the rituals mentioned earlier, and one of the most important aspects of the priesthood was their position — for they represented God to the people and the people to God.
And the final sections of Leviticus focus on purity. We find these sections in chapters 11-15 and again in chapters 18-20. The first section is about ritual purity. Here’s where we find a lot of lists about things that make you clean or unclean.
Foods they can and can’t eat.
Now two things about these lists. First, to be impure — or unclean — isn’t sinful. In fact, it’s normal — it’s expected — and it’s only temporary. But what was wrong was to go into God’s presence while being impure or unclean.
The second thing to know about these lists is that they show us how God’s holiness should affect all areas of our life. God wants his people to be set apart from the other nations — just like he was set apart from the gods of the other nations — so these rules made the Israelites unique, distinct, set apart from the people of other lands and religions.
The second section on purity — emphasizes again — that God’s people are to be different — this section talks about how they’re to live because of God’s presence in their life. Here we find things about caring for the poor, sexual integrity, and social justice type issues. Again — God’s presence in their life — was to influence every part of how they lived. And — I hope you can see — that this same principle is true for Christians today. God’s presence is to influence every part of how we live.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
So there’s an overview of the book of Leviticus. And now we come to our chapter — which is right in the middle — it’s not part of any of the sections we just looked at — and — I think it’s in the center of the book for a reason — because here — in the center of a book on holiness — we find our way to Jesus. Here are the words found in Leviticus 16. Beginning in verse 1.
“The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.
So we begin with a warning. Aaron must approach the holy presence of God with care — remember God’s holy presence is good — but it can be tragic — we know this because we’re reminded of what happened to Aaron’s two sons — they were killed because they didn’t take God’s holy presence seriously. Now I don’t know about you — but I wish I remembered this more often — because it’s easy to gather with you all — and be distracted. And I can forget that our gathering together — to be in God’s holy presence — is a matter of life and death. And — in God’s presence — we should all be dead — but because of Christ — we’re alive. And how dare we — how dare I — treat being in God’s holy presence as some ordinary affair? Now this idea applies well beyond our time of gathered worship — so how is God’s holy presence changing the way you live?
So Aaron is warned — that as he enters the Holy Place — the place of God’s holy presence — he must exercise due caution. And Aaron is promised that “he will not die if he is faithful to these instructions.” (Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. James Luther Mays (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002), 126.)
3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. 6 "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. 11 "Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. 15 "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel. 20 "And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
OK — that was a lot — let’s figure out what’s happening here. One goat is sacrificed as a sin offering to God. The other goat will have the sins of the people put on it — that’s what’s happening in verse 10 with the phrase “make atonement over it” — and then the goat — the scapegoat as it’s called — is sent out into the wilderness — carrying the sins of the people away from them — far away from them — to a barren land — a “cutoff land” where the destructive power of their sins can longer be effective. (Balentine, Leviticus, 132.)
23 "Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
And I know that’s a lot of blood — a lot of washing — it all seems so strange to us — so what’s going on? Here’s what all of the blood and washing is meant to show us. God wants his people to understand the totality of their sin. Their sin doesn’t just defile them and make them unholy as individuals — but their sin makes their place of worship unholy — and it needs to be cleansed. You see sin spreads. It has a malignant power. It spreads not only throughout all of who we are as individuals, but sin has spread throughout all of creation — like a cancer — nothing has been left untouched by sin.
29 "And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father's place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins." And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:1-34 ESV)
Notice that here — even in the Old Testament — the way that God’s people live — matters. Their lives are to be a testimony to the “strangers who sojourn among them.” God’s people are to be holy — set apart — different than those who aren’t God’s people. For — God redeems his people — so they might be witnesses to the world — showing others what it means to be loved by God — what it means to love God — and what it means to live in the presence of a holy God.
FINDING JESUS IN LEVITICUS
And all of this is possible because God has redeemed his people. What does that mean? What does the word redeem — or redemption — mean? The word redemption means “deliverance from some evil by payment of a price.” (The New Bible Dictionary) Another definition is “the release of people, animals, or property from bondage through the payment of a price.” (Lexham Bible Dictionary) And redemption is one way we find Jesus in the Bible — God releasing his people from their bondage to sin through the payment of a price.
And God redeemed us — through the shedding of blood — through the sacrifice of his perfect and spotless Lamb — the blood of Jesus paid for the sins of his people. In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews reminds us of what Leviticus was ultimately pointing to.
After reminding us of the old system — the sacrifices in Leviticus — the author of Hebrews writes.
“So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood — not the blood of goats and calves — he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. 13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. 15 That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant... 22 In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. 23 That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. 24 For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. 25 And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. 26 If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. 27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:11-15, 22-28 NLT)
And what this tells us is that God’s solution to our unholiness problem — God’s solution to our sin — was to send his Son — Jesus — to come and cleanse us from our sins. Jesus came to make us right before God — he came to redeem us — to pay the penalty for our sin — and now — having been redeemed — we’re to live for him. You see, Jesus is the answer to the question the book of Leviticus is asking — because he’s the One who makes it possible for unholy people to stand in the presence of a holy God.
Now you may be new to the Christian faith — you’re just starting to learn what it means to follow Jesus. Here’s what you need to know. Jesus is the only one who could cleanse you of your sins. His death is the only way for you to be made right with God. And he’s the only way anyone is made right with God. The world wants you to believe that all religions are the same — that anyone can pick whatever spiritual path they want and things will turn out OK for them in the end. But in response to all that Jesus has done for you — in knowing the price he paid for you to be made holy — he says to you, “Now live for me — tell others about me — show them how I — and I alone — make people right with God. That just as sin influenced every part of who you were — show them — how I now influence every part of who you are.”
Maybe you’re here and you’re in a season of doubt — you believe — but you feel like you’re barely holding on. Here’s what I want you to know. Jesus’ sacrifice — and his sacrifice alone — is the basis for your redemption and salvation. So have assurance — your doubting will not change your status before God. Nothing can take away the gift of faith that God’s given you. Jesus paid the price for your salvation and he said “It is paid in full.” So be comforted and know that Jesus died for you because he loves you and nothing will ever separate you from his love.
Finally — my hope is that we will all be drawn deeper into what Christ’s death has accomplished for us. I hope we’ll continue to grow in our desire to see how the book of Leviticus connects to the one story the whole Bible is telling — the story of a faithful God and an unfaithful people — the story of a holy God making unholy people holy — the story of Jesus — our Redeemer — the Lamb who was slain. For this story is deep and it is wide — it’s inexhaustible. It’s a story that gives encouragement and joy — peace and security — even in the hardest of times. It’s a story that gives power and passion when you dive deep into it. My prayer is that we would dive deep into God’s story together. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for you Son — Jesus — the Lamb who was slain. Thank you for his sacrifice for our sins — paying the debt we were drowning in — the penalty that was impossible for us to get out of. Yet — in your love for us — you sent Jesus to come and pay the penalty on our behalf — so that we could stand in your holy presence and not be consumed but — instead — be embraced by a Father who loves us.
For anyone here — who your Spirit is prompting — Father give them the gift of faith. Jesus save them. Show them your tender mercy, wipe away the shame of their past, and give them assurance that they’ve been washed and made clean.
Spirit help all of us — who are your people — to live in a way that shows the world the goodness of God. Help us to show others that Jesus has influence over every part of our lives — that there’s no part of us not touched by him. Help us to show others what it means to be God’s redeemed people — his set free from sin people — his holy people. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: season of doubt or are struggling and need assurance of God’s love for you)
May you go showing others how Jesus has influenced all of who you are. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.