We’ve been studying the book of Leviticus on Wednesday evenings and we’ve seen how Leviticus is about how the Lord was able to provide a way for his chosen, but sinful people to dwell with him. Through the work of the priests and by offering the right sacrifices, the people could come before God in worship. And the work of the priests and the sacrifices they offered — as well as all the other ceremonies they had to perform — point forward to the work of Christ, our Great High Priest, who offered himself as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to take away our sins forever and to reconcile us to God.
And because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we’re able to come before God to worship him and to pray to him; and one day, when the Lord Jesus comes again, we’ll be able to come before God in the new creation and dwell with him for ever and for ever. Although the book of Leviticus contains many things which seem strange to us today, everything we read here points in one way or another to Jesus Christ our Saviour and to the good news of the gospel.
Now, as I was thinking about what to speak about at this year’s AGM, I initially thought that I’d turn elsewhere in the Bible to find a topic or theme to speak on which would be suitable for an annual general meeting. However, when I realised that Leviticus 19 opened with God’s charge to his people to ‘Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy’, I thought to myself that there’s no better subject for us to think about as a congregation of God’s people.
Verses 1 and 2
We read how the Lord spoke to Moses and commanded him to speak to the entire assembly — or the entire congregation — of Israel and to say to them:
Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
The main idea behind the word ‘holy’ when it applies to the Lord is that he is unique and set apart from everything else. He alone is the Creator; and everything else that exists in the heavens above and in the earth below — including the heavens above and the earth below — is his creation. So, he’s unique in that he alone is the Creator; and everything else is his creation. He alone is God; and everything else is not God. And since he alone is God the Creator, then there’s a distance, a transcendence, which exists between God and everything else. Think of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 where he saw the Lord on a throne, high and exalted. And he was surrounded by angels. Now, these were good and sinless angels; but even those good and sinless angels covered their faces before the Lord, because they could not look upon him, because he is holy, holy, holy and full of glory. So, his holiness refers to his uniqueness and to his majestic transcendence over his creatures.
But he’s also holy because he’s set apart from all that is sinful and wicked and unholy. And so, in Habakkuk 1 we read:
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.
Or the Psalmist says in Psalm 5:
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
And the Apostle John puts it this way:
God is light. In him there is no darkness [moral darkness] at all.
The Lord is holy not only because he alone is God the Creator, but also because he is morally pure and set apart from all that is wicked.
When God commands his people in Leviticus 19 to be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy, he cannot mean we’re to be holy in the first sense that God is holy. We’ll never become divine or even semi-divine and we can never share that majestic transcendence which God alone possesses. So, when God commands his people to be holy like him, he means his people are to be morally pure like him. They’re to turn away from all that is evil and they’re to set themselves apart from all that is wicked. In others words, being holy like the Lord means being righteous like the Lord, doing what is right and good and upright just as he does what is right and good and upright.
Verses 3 to 18
And in the following verses — the Lord unpacks what that means for his people Israel. Now, I’ve explained before that all of the laws which we find in the Old Testament can be divided into three categories. There are the ceremonial laws — all the rules and regulations about the sacrifices to offer and the rituals to perform and the work of the priests. These ceremonial laws point to Christ and have been fulfilled by him. Then there are the civil laws which were for the people of Israel as a nation which we’re no longer obligated to keep unless they contain a principle which is still binding on us today. And then there are the moral laws summarised by the Ten Commandments which all people everywhere are obligated to keep. In what follows, we have examples of all three categories of law.
It begins in verse 3 with two laws: one about respecting your father and your mother; and the other about observing the Sabbath. Well, isn’t that an interesting way to begin these instructions on how to be holy? Holiness begins in the home with children honouring their parents; and it continues with everyone setting aside one day in seven to worship the Lord. Some people honour their parents, but they don’t honour the Lord’s Day. Some people honour the Lord’s Day, but they dishonour their parents at home. God’s holy people are to do both: we’re to honour our parents and we’re to honour the Lord’s Day; we’re to respect our parents and worship the Lord. And, of course, as verse 4 tells us, idolatry is forbidden.
Verses 5 to 8 contain instructions about one of the sacrifices which the people were to bring before the Lord. The peace offering — or the fellowship offering — was brought to the Lord; and part of it was burned up before the Lord; and part of it was to be eaten by the priests and the people in the presence of the Lord as a fellowship meal. More detailed instructions about this offering are given elsewhere in Leviticus. But the verses here are a reminder that none of the meat was to be eaten after the second day. Since this is part of the ceremonial law, it no longer applies to us today, but we should note that the fellowship offering points forward to the Lord’s Supper which believers share today and to the marriage supper of the Lamb which we’ll enjoy in his presence in the new creation.
Verses 9 to 10 are part of the civil law, because these are instructions for Israelite farmers who were forbidden from reaping their fields right to the very edge of the field; and they weren’t to go back over the field and pick up all the gleanings. Instead they were to leave part of their crop for the poor. While this law was for the Israelite, it’s reminds us that being holy means being generous and helping the poor among us.
Verses 11 and 12 contain laws which basically repeat two of the Ten Commandments, forbidding theft and false testimony. Holiness, in other words, means respecting our neighbour’s property and telling the truth always. Verses 13 and 14 teach us that holiness means being kind to our neighbour. The Israelites were commanded not to hold back wages from a worker; and they weren’t to be unkind to the deaf or blind. Then the laws contained in verses 15 and 16 show the Israelites that everyone was to be treated with justice in the courts and no one was to be given preferential treatment: neither the poor nor the rich. And they were not to spread false reports about one another or give false testimony. Holiness means we should be fair and honest.
Finally verses 17 and 18 tell us not to bear grudges, but to sort disputes out quickly and to love your neighbour as yourself, which the Lord Jesus said is the second greatest command after loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.
‘Be holy, because I, the Lord, your God, am holy.’ What does it mean for God’s people to be holy? Well, it involves setting apart one day in seven to worship the Lord. But most of the rest of these laws are very down to earth and practical, aren’t they? They’re about honouring our parents in the home and loving the people we meet every day. It’s about treating everyone in the right way: being generous; being just and fair; being kind to all kinds of people. This is the way God wants us to be.
Of course, none of us can be holy by ourselves, because all of us sin and fall short of God’s glory. But through faith in the Saviour — who died to pay for our sins and shortcomings — we’re sanctified or given a holy status by God. That’s why believers in the New Testament are called ‘saints’: we’re sanctified saints because God has set us apart from sin to belong to him.
And, then, he gives us his Spirit to make us more and more holy by enabling us more and more to know and to do God’s will here on earth. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us to say ‘no’ to sin and to love the Lord the way we should and to love one another the way that we should. The Holy Spirit helps us to unlearn bad habits and to develop new habits as we prayerfully seek to put God’s word into practice.
And so, what better thing to be reminded of at our annual general meeting than to remind ourselves that our Heavenly Father wants us to be holy. He wants us to love one another and to treat one another in the right way. And he gives us his Spirit to help us so that our life here on earth reflects the holiness of heaven which is where we will one day come.