Introduction: Welcome to Expound, our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: We're going to be tonight looking at a portion of Scripture in Leviticus, chapter 17. There are seven verses that I moved over quickly and wanted to save them for this evening. And it's by design, I didn't really want to get into chapter 18 yet, especially with communion. It's just not a great it's not a conducive chapter for the Lord's Supper as it forbids sexual relations with one's father and mother, and aunt and uncle, and brother and sister, and homosexuality, and bestiality, it just there's certain portions that just don't fit when you're doing the Lord's Supper.
And yet, the last seven verses of Leviticus, chapter 17, fit perfectly as a devotional together so we'll recap that, and then we'll take the Lord's Supper together as you have the elements for you there. Well, let's pray together.
Father, our voices have filled this place, our praises, the anthems that were articulated in words that came from our hearts. But we feel, Father, that we simply joined in a small amount with the anthems in heaven by ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of the angelic hosts who are singing before your throne now, and have been, and will be; and the praise that is going on by those saints that we have loved who have gone before us and are in your presence.
But, Lord, we gather to remember. We come to take these elements that Jesus gave to us on the night that he was betrayed. And, Father, we pray that you would fill this place, fill us in this place, with your Holy Spirit. Give us what we need. Give our hearts, our minds, rest, direction, instruction, exhortation. You know what we need better than we know what we need.
And so we look to you as always, and in the remaining time that we have—at least in studying your Word together for the next few minutes before we take these elements—we pray that you would focus, direct the thoughts of our mind, our hearts, that we might properly meditate having already prepared for taking the Lord's Supper together. And now we meditate upon these things in Jesus' name, amen.
I've said it before that if you ask the average Christian what your favorite book in the Bible is, it probably wouldn't be Leviticus. You don't go to it often for comfort. It's probably not the source of your life verse in Scripture. There may not be lots of underlines in your Bible in the book of Leviticus, like say in the book of Psalms, or in the book of Romans.
And it's one of those books, and we've said this before too, that after you make your New Year's resolution to finally read through the whole Bible, this go round, you make it through Genesis and you're going great. And Exodus, the first part you're going great; the second part you get a little bogged down. But then you hit Leviticus and you start [speaking slowly] slowing down and thump, the record stops. You get bogged down in the minutia of the laws and the rules and the regulation.
But I just want to remind you that in ancient times the ancient Jews began teaching their children the Bible using the book that we are now studying, the book of Leviticus. You go, "Well, that's kind of weird. That's kind of hard. Why?" Because they said children are pure, and those who are pure should occupy themselves with pure things, pure worship, the pure laws of God. And since purity of worship is outlined in this book, they started providing their children with a basic understanding of it early on. I find that fascinating.
In the seventeenth chapter, as we mentioned last time, we are in what is called the holiness code, the holiness code. Because the word holy appears fifty two times beginning in chapter 17 throughout the rest of the book. Holy, a word that means distinct, different, separate. In fact, I'd like you to start thinking of being holy, H O L Y, as having wholeness, W H O L E, that word whole. Wholeness: to be whole, to be complete, to be well rounded. To be holy with an H is to be whole with a W H O L E, complete, well rounded.
The way to happiness is through holiness. Jesus spoke about an abundant life. Now I know that in our law, our Constitution, we are given the right to pursue happiness—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The thing is, however, happiness is never found by direct pursuit.
A person who searches for happiness is never a happy person; they're moping around. "Well, what's wrong?" "I'm looking for happiness." They haven't found it yet. You'll never find happiness by looking for happiness. Happiness is a by product of holiness. When you seek to please the Lord rather than yourself, there is a joy that permeates your life that nothing really can describe, no words can describe, and nothing can contain.
Now, if I wanted to give you a big picture of studying the Bible from Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, I'd put it to you this way: The book of Genesis talks about condemnation for sin. Gods makes the first couple on the earth, sin is introduced, they get banished from the garden, God begins his rescue operation in the early chapters, people are raised up from different parts of the Middle East, migrate into the Promised Land—all as a part of the rescue operation. But Genesis in relationship to sin is about condemnation for sin.
The book of Exodus is redemption from sin as God delivers them out of Egypt, brings them through the wilderness, and promises them a new land free from the past, free from slavery. And it's the slavery that was due to their sin.
The book of Leviticus is sanctification from sin. It's the holiness part. It's one of the key themes of the book of Leviticus, as we mentioned, and actually one of the key themes of the whole Bible.
Another key theme in this book, and it's highlighted in our studies tonight, is blood. Eighty eight times the word blood is used in the book of Leviticus. And you start reading the early chapters and you discover this is a bloody book. And what's going on? Well, there's sacrifices going on. Why? To deal with sin.
So Leviticus immediately shows you the awfulness of sin. You look at the bloody carcass of an animal, and you are saying, "This is what sin does. It makes a bloody mess out of things." And while it shows the awfulness of sin, at the same time it shows the graciousness of God in dealing with sin, in covering sin through these animal sacrifices.
Now, the New Testament puts it this way, "The wages of sin is death." And so there's death, and there's blood, and there's animal sacrifice throughout the entire book. Five offerings, we've already seen them in the early chapters of the book: the burn offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering; offerings of bullocks, offerings of goats, offerings of lambs, offerings of pigeons, offerings of turtle doves; depending on what you could afford, and depending on what sacrifice was given.
But the big truth of chapter 17 was the truth we started looking at last time beginning in verse 10, the value of blood. That blood is sacred. And if you remember last time we gathered together, we said that the children of Israel had just freshly come out of Egypt, and they were in danger of emulating, copying, the ways the Egyptians used to worship their gods by killing animals at will wherever they found them, by sacrificing in various places to those gods.
Whether it was Heqet the frog goddess, or Apis the bull god, or Ra the sun god, or Geb the earth god—all of these various gods and goddesses that were worshiped and served with blood and with sacrifice. So God wants them to not be like the Egyptians, from whence they came; nor like the Canaanites, where they were going; but to be very different, holy, distinct, whole, complete, sold out to him.
So verse 10, " 'And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.' "
One of the key verses in all of Scripture are, is the verse we just read: "The life of the flesh is in the blood." You don't eat blood. I'm looking at you going, "Not a problem. Never been tempted."
But did you know that in ancient times people would eat and drink the blood of animals? Because it was their superstitious belief that whatever characteristic trait that that animal had if you drank its life blood, or ate the blood, that you would take on that characteristic trait: the strength of an ox, you drink ox blood; the hunting prowess of a lion, you drink the blood of a lion; the freedom of a gazelle, the speed of a jaguar, you take the animal's blood. And it was thought that that would be transmitted into you, and you would have part of that characteristic in your own body.
I've been to places over in the U.K. where they eat this stuff called blood pudding. Now, just to set the record straight, it's a misnomer, it's really not a pudding. It's congealed pig's blood, and a portion of an intestine that is sewed together, and you cook it, and yum, yum. [laughter] Whatever! Now, again, we hear that and we go, "That's so gross." I mean, most of us can't even stand the sight of blood. It, it weakness us, or it sickens some people to see it.
I remember years ago when my son was quite young, and I came home in the afternoon, and I opened the door, and as soon as my wife heard the door open she said, "Skip come in here." It was over in our dining room and it took me by surprise. I thought, you know, first thing I thought was, "Am I in trouble?" [laughter]
So I went over there and she was holding a basin, and my son was standing next to her, and his tongue was stuck out, all the way out. And underneath the tongue was a basin almost filled with blood. And my son had been playing in the front yard and on a neighbor's wall, and he was climbing the wall and he jumped off. But as he jumped off he had his tongue between his upper and his lower set of teeth.
So when the impact of his legs hit the ground and transmitted the energy all the way up into the head, it just almost sliced the tongue completely off. So she just said very peacefully, "Come here, please." And I looked at the blood, and I looked at the tongue, and my son in seeing that much blood, he was just shaken by it, sick by it.
But he wanted me to promise him that he wouldn't need any stitches. That's why I was examining his tongue. "I don't need stitches. I'll be fine, huh dad?" I said, "Oh, no. Your tongue might fall off if we don't get stitches."
Blood is the life fluid of the human being. The average adult human being has twelve pints of blood. But also there's an efficacy in the blood for atonement, because it does signify life. To shed blood is to end life, and that was required for sin. And a substitute was allowed under the old covenant and under the new covenant so that those of us under the curse of sin and dominion of sin could escape it by something or someone else dying in our place.
So that is why blood is such a prominent topic in the book of Leviticus, not only in the book of Leviticus, in the Bible in its entirety. Blood, if you were to look it up, at least in my version that I'm reading, from the New King James, it is mentioned 424 times in 357 verses. It is a book of blood. "The life of the flesh," key principle, "is in the blood."
Verse 12, "Therefore I said to the children of Israel, 'No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.' Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten," that is a clean animal, "he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust."
Because of this verse and others like it in the Law, in the old covenant, in the Old Testament, because of this over the years the Jews have sought to go through a proper ritual of bleeding, draining the blood from an animal. Because of this verse, to ensure that the meat was fitting or proper.
The word is kosher; kosher simply means fitting or proper. For the meat to be fitting or proper, a.k.a. kosher, it has to be bled a certain way. And the Hebrews called it Shechitah (Shechita), you can even look that up if you want to when you get home on Google. You go, "I can't even spell that." Shechitah is how to make meat kosher, how to bleed an animal.
And according to Shechitah, the law of making meat kosher, you had to approach an animal with dignity, respect, and compassion it said, before you kill it. And the idea was, according to Shechitah, is that the trachea, the esophagus, the carotids, the jugular vein, and the vagus nerve were all cut with a sharp knife with one instantaneous action.
The blood pressure would immediately drop, the blood would be drained, the animal would, of course, die—that is all according to Shechitah because of what we're reading here. Don't drink the blood, drain the blood. The life is in the blood. It's to be regarded as sacred, and it is used for atonement. So it is to, all of life is to be regarded as sacred.
Now, let's fast forward to a principle, this principle in the New Testament: In the book of Acts when there were Jewish people for the most part comprising the church, all people back in the early church were Jewish. But then the gospel started getting out to the Gentiles, up in Antioch, up in Syria, and then a little bit further.
And because non Jewish people were coming to know the Lord, there were a group of people in Jerusalem known as Judaizers. These were people who thought Gentiles should be keeping kosher laws and keeping all of the regulations under the old covenant the Jews kept. And there was a big heated argument in Acts, chapter 15, about that.
And Paul even in Galatians says he rebuked Peter over this very issue, "Why do you who, as a Jew, aren't even keeping all of the laws, why are you trying to compel Gentiles to do what you nor our forefathers have ever been able to keep?" "Nevertheless," the counsel in Jerusalem said, "so that we don't stumble our Jewish brothers, let's command the Gentiles that they abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from things strangled, and from," what? "From blood."
Because they knew of Gentile practices, and some of those practices would just, like, put the Jews over the edge. "Let's not hinder their faith. Let's not stumble them by this practice. So let's tell them that, 'Just go ahead, serve the Lord, but abstain from sexual immorality, from things strangled, from blood, as well as things that are sacrificed to idols.' "
Now, as we're reading Leviticus, understand a couple of things. Number one, blood diseases among animals were far more prevalent in ancient times than they are today with modern rules, regulations, farming, etcetera. So high on the agenda for God was the health of his people.
Number two, in fact, I would really put this as number one, is the sanctity of life as seen as the way they would treat blood, because blood is to be expiatory or used for atonement, and because the life of the flesh is in the blood. That's why Hebrews 9:22 says, "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission." That's why in Judaism blood was a big deal. That's why in Christianity blood is a big deal.
But we live in a day and age in which there are trends within churches that are saying, "Don't mention the blood. Take out songs that deal with the blood. Nobody wants a bloody religion. That's antiquated, that's outdated, that's adversive to the modern thinking.
One very radical, liberal feminist theologian by the name of Delores Williams said, and I quote, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff," close quote.
But here's why God makes a big deal out of blood: because the penalty for sin is death, nothing but death can atone for sin. The penalty for sin is death, nothing but death can atone for sin. So if you want to atone for your own sins, then don't except Christ. Don't receive his work on the cross on your behalf. If you don't want to die for your own sins, and you don't want to go to hell—because that is the punishment as God deals with sin not atoned for by his Son's blood, it is a punishment that lasts forever—then you receive Christ.
The life of the flesh is in the blood. Now, that principle is actually taught way before Leviticus. It's taught in the book of Genesis when Adam and Eve sinned. Actually, before they sinned God said, "In the day that you eat of it," that tree, "you will surely die." They ate of it. They didn't die physically. They died spiritually, but they didn't die physically. But what did they do? They ran and they hid, and they took—what? to hide themselves. Fig leaves.
They sewed themselves fig leaves and put it around them. They did it themselves. They were trying to cover themselves by their own works or their own righteousness. What did God do? Killed animals, took the skins of animals and covered them. Well, the only way you can get skins of animals to cover you is to kill an animal and skin it. So the death of an animal, bloodshed, was prominent in Genesis.
And then we follow it through with the sacrifices all the way through Exodus, and the Day of Atonement when we saw last week in chapter 16 the sprinkling of the blood on that judgment seat, which was then turned into a mercy seat in the tabernacle. And then when Jesus came on the scene, of course, he was the fulfillment as John the Baptist his cousin pointed to him and said to the crowd, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Verse 14, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, 'You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh in its blood or is its blood. Whoever eats of it shall be cut off.' And every person who eats what dies naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger, shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening."
These were clean animals that died without being slaughtered. They might find them torn by beasts or some animal that died naturally. And in those days meat wasn't eaten very often. It was a good source of protein, but it was, it was not part of the daily diet. And so when, when flesh died it was conserved, and if somebody ate it, they would be unclean.
They wouldn't be cut off, because they didn't deliberately violate the law by killing it wherever they wanted to, but because it hasn't been drained by blood properly. There still is a—not a punishment, but there's sort of a lay back. They're unclean for a period of time so that they could eat that and then be readmitted into the community after their ritual washing. But, you know, everything was used. This is the roadkill, basically, and how it was used for food.
"But if he does not wash them or bathe in water, then he shall bear his guilt." But the, the penalty wasn't as great because the life had departed from the animal, and you're just simply respecting the animal's life, though you can use it for food.
Now, here's what's interesting: In Leviticus you will not eat blood, you will not drink blood, you will be cut off if you do. We come to the New Testament and Jesus in John 6 verse 54 said this, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
This shocked people when Jesus said that. It was intended to shock people; that's why Jesus said that. He was getting their attention. He was not saying that they should become cannibals and literally drink the fluid from his veins or eat his skin. I don't think he was talking about communion as the Roman Catholic church talks about transubstantiation that the elements of the wine and the bread literally become the body and blood of Jesus, because Jesus said that. In fact, I know that's not what Jesus meant. I know exactly what Jesus meant because the same text that says that tells me and you exactly what he meant.
It meant to eat his flesh and drink his blood, to behold him, and to believe in him, to place your faith in him. Let me read to you another portion, another verse from that same chapter, and listen to how similar it sounds except for the first part: "Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
In one verse he says, "If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Now he says, "If you see, behold, and believe, you have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." He's using a strong metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which is tantamount because the other text says so to believing in Jesus Christ. He's speaking of his body and blood because that is the price of your redemption. It would mean his body being torn apart on a cross, and his blood being shed for you and for me.
If you believe that him doing that is enough, you have everlasting life, and you will be raised up at the last day. He's simply saying, "True life can only come by my death." And you entering into that intimacy of relationship, because to eat and to drink meant to share intimacy in those days. You become one with the person. But it means to behold and to believe in Jesus.
Now, as we bring this to a close and we're about to take these elements, one of the things you must remember, and it's important to remember every time you take communion, one of the distinguishing marks of the Old Testament sacrificial system is that it was repeated over and over, and it never ended.
You couldn't do one sacrifice and now it's done. There was always another, and another, and another, and another lamb, and more blood, and more sacrifices, and more rituals, day after day, year after year. Yom Kippur, the sprinkling of blood, every single year. "Without the shedding of blood there's no remission."
So there was this tediousness to it, an endlessness to it. Whereas the covenant that you and I enjoy is something that was done once for all time, never to be repeated, simply to be applied, entered into, and enjoyed. To be reminded of: "Do this in remembrance of me," not "Do this every day so your sins can get, you know, re expiated, re atoned for." "Do it in remembrance of me. I'm the one who did it for you."
I conclude with this story from Max Lucado in one of my favorite books that he wrote called Six Hours One Friday. Here's a portion of a story: "To the casual observer, there was nothing unusual about these six hours. To the casual observer this Friday was a normal Friday." Of course, the six hours he is speaking about are the six hours Jesus was hanging on a cross.
"Six hours of routine. Six hours of the expected. Six hours. One Friday. Enough time for a shepherd to examine his flocks. Six hours from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Six hours filled with, as all hours are, the mystery of life."
"The bright noonday sun casts a common shadow for the Judean countryside. It's the black silhouette of a shepherd standing near his fat-tailed flock. He stares at the clear sky, searching for clouds. There are none. He looks back at his sheep. They graze lazily on the rocky hillside. An occasional sycamore provides shade. He sits on the slope and places a blade of grass in his mouth. He looks beyond the flock at the road below."
"For the first time in days the traffic is thin. For over a week a river of pilgrims has streamed through this valley, bustling down the road with animals and loaded carts. For days he has watched them from his perch. Though he couldn't hear them, he knew that they were all speaking a dozen different dialects. And though he didn't talk to them, he knew where they were going and why. They were going to Jerusalem. And they were going to sacrifice lambs in the temple for the Passover."
"The celebration strikes him as ironic. Streets jammed with people. Marketplaces full of the sounds of the bleating of goats and the selling of birds; endless observances. These people relish the festivities. They awaken early and they retire late. They find a strange fulfillment in the pageantry. Not him. What kind of God would be appeased by the death of an animal? Oh, the shepherd's doubts are never voiced anywhere except on the hillside. But on this day, they shout."
"It isn't the slaughter of the animals that disturbs him. It's, it's the endlessness of it all. How many years has he seen the people come and go? How many caravans? How many sacrifices? How many bloody carcasses? But memories stalk him. Memories of uncontrolled anger, uncontrolled desire, uncontrolled anxiety. So many mistakes. So many stumbles. So much guilt. God seems so far away. Lamb after lamb, Passover after Passover. God seems so far away, and he says, 'I still feel the same.' He turns his head and looks again at the sky, and he asks, 'Will the blood of yet another lamb really matter?' "
Well, not of the lambs that he was watching, but of the Lamb that very hour being sacrificed on a cross five miles away in Jerusalem; that Lamb would matter. That's the once for all. That's where the endless sacrifices are done. That's why we celebrate, and it was so fitting to fill this place with anthems of celebration and worship. It's once for all.
So we're going to take these elements. Charles Haddon Spurgeon suggests that we don't look at them as much as we look through them—that is, he says, "Use the elements of communion like you would put on a pair of glasses if you need them." You don't look at the glasses; you put them on to look through glasses.
Let the, let the bread and the juice become your lenses by which you view life, lenses by which you view God, lenses by which you view your future. Charles Spurgeon said, "We are never more near to God than when we view him, view heaven, through the lens of these elements."
We're going to take the elements and I'm going to ask Justin Marbury to pray for the bread, and then I'm going to ask Jarrett Petero, a newer pastor on staff, a friend of ours from California who moved here with his family, to pray for the juice, and then we will take it together as we do.
Justin Marbury: If you haven't already, go ahead and peel off the top of your cup, the top layer. Take out the little cracker. Let's pray. Father, we hold in our hands this cracker that represents your body as Skip said that was torn, that was pierced, that was broken for us. And, Lord, when we think about what you did on the cross, and, and we think about the repetitive nature of the sacrifice of the lambs year after year, day after day, and then we think about the ultimate sacrifice that you made, Lord, I immediately think about my sin, and that it was for me personally.
And each of us here who have been forgiven because of what you did on the cross and what your body was sacrificed for, we have been forgiven of our sin personally. We thank you for that, and we join together celebrating and remembering you in your body broken for us. And so now we take this in remembrance of that, in Jesus' name. Let's take it together.
Jarrett Petero: If you go ahead and peel the top cup. Let's pray. Father, as we hold this cup in our hand and we think about how your life was broken so that we would be made whole, and as your blood was poured out so we would be filled and made holy, we thank you for that.
We thank you that your Son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins. Lord, we pray that as you examine our hearts this evening that you would wash us clean, that we would be white as snow. And, Lord, we do, we also celebrate as we look forward to your soon return, and do this in remembrance of you. We declare not only your death, but your resurrection, and your soon coming for the body of Christ, and we pray this in Jesus' name, amen.