On Reading Leviticus: Four Reading Strategies for This Glorious Book

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

With a new month (March) comes a new book in the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. This year I am reading Track 1 and listening to Track 3. And for those who are reading along this plan, or for those who are interested in reading Leviticus—“The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)Ever Read”—I offer this reading strategy with resources.

This year, we have read Genesis and Exodus, and now we come to Leviticus, which is arguably the centerpiece of the whole Pentateuch. As I have taught in this Bible Study, borrowing from the work of Michael Morales (Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?) who cites many others, the book of Leviticus is the literary center and high point of the Pentateuch. Thematically, we might capture it this way:

Genesis begins in Eden, the Garden of God and ends in Egypt, a place of exile and death;

Exodus moves from Egypt through the wilderness to Sinai;

Leviticus is entirely written at Sinai;

Numbers moves from Sinai through the wilderness to the Promised Land (i.e., Israel sits poised to enter the land at the end of the book);

Deuteronomy prepares the people to move from exile in the wilderness into the Garden of God, the land of Canaan.

From this locational/thematic chiasm (and there are other literary clues that indicate an intentional shaping of the Pentateuch), we see that Leviticus is not a book we must “get through.” In the Pentateuch, it is the book we must “get to.”

We need Leviticus, so that we might learn what it takes to dwell near to God. This month, as we read Leviticus, we need to consider how this book gives us more than a detailed list of instructions for the priests of Israel. It invites us to approach a holy God and to do so through the finished work of Christ—the One who fulfills all the requirements of the Levitical system of sacrifice. In what follows I will offer a handful of resources to help you read this book, starting with four reading strategies for Leviticus. Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: A Wide Angle View of Salvation from 1 Peter 1:10–12

glory to god book

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

In his commentary on 1 Peter, the late biblical theologian, Edmund Clowney, observes that “Glory is the goal of the Old Testament promises” (56). Indeed, glory is the goal of creation, salvation, and really everything God does in his world. And in 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle of Jesus widens his view of salvation to include all the Spirit of Christ revealed to the Old Testament prophets about the coming messiah, from his sufferings and his subsequent glories to the gospel of grace that came from Christ to the elect exiles in Asia Minor.

For us, who read 1 Peter, it is worth our time to ponder all that God has done in redemptive history also. Such a meditation solidifies the foundation on which we stand in Christ and secures us further in times of trial. Indeed, salvation, which comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, depends upon understanding the Christ of Scripture and not the christ of our sentimental imaginings. With that in mind, we should constantly be rehearsing the high points of the biblical storyline to better know who Christ is and what he did. Continue reading

The Beginning of the Priesthood: Revisiting Levi in Genesis 34

41gzmdxgXRL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_If anyone has spent anytime reading this blog, they know that I have written a fair bit about the priesthood. In January of next year, Lord willing, I will even have a book coming out on the topic. One note that I didn’t put in that manuscript, however, begins with the choice of Levi and his backstory in Genesis 34. As I have been reading Exodus this month I was reminded of this note and the textual connection between Moses and Aaron in that book with the historical figure of Levi. Here’s the note. Let me know what you think.

The Sword of Levi and Redemption of God

To understand the Levitical priesthood, we need to know Levi. In Genesis 28 we find his birth, but Genesis 34 records the defining moment of his life—the violent execution of Shechem. If you do not remember the story, go read the deceptive and deadly tale, where Dinah the daughter of Jacob is violated by Shechem a foreign prince. In response, Simeon and Levi struck down Shechem and the men of Hamor when they were “sore” from circumcision (v. 25). Feigning peace, these two brothers used their swords to avenge their sister’s defilement. Continue reading

Seeing Leviticus with New Eyes: Understanding the Pollution of Sin and the Need for Sacrifice

steve-sharp-DmM6NQcavuI-unsplashOn Tuesday’s nights I teach a class on Leviticus, which I have affectionately entitled, “Leviticus: The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read). If you are interested in learning a thing or two about this vitally important book and how it teaches us about Christ, the gospel, and the logic of God’s atonement, you can find the lessons here

This week, as we considered the Reparation Offering—which if you will listen has some application for considering the modern question of reparations—I began with a discussion on the difference between this offering and the Purification Offering. On that point, I found the following explanation of sin as pollution helpful. In his commentary on Leviticus, Gordon Wenham observes the way Moderns fail to understand the cultic idea of sin and pollution. This is one of many reasons why we struggle to understand Leviticus. But once we understand how Israel’s sin defiled the tabernacle and its various sections (i.e., the altar, the holy place, and the holy of holies), we begin to understand what the sacrifices did. This understanding of the sacrificial system, in turn, helps understand what Christ did in his atoning sacrifice, as well as what it means that Jesus is our propitiation.

Again, this is why we are looking at Leviticus. And to help us understand that book and the whole concept of sacrificial worship and atonement for our sin, I share these reflections from Gordon Wenham. Continue reading

The New Birth: The Source of Our Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3–5)

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In a dying world we need a living hope. Thankfully, those who have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ have such a hope. As I preached on Sunday, this hope cannot be thwarted by death, neither ours nor those whom we love. In fact, when we are confronted and crushed by death, the life God gives us in Christ guards and actually enlarges our faith. As a result, outward circumstances cannot destroy the one who has been raised to life in Christ, such perilous conditions only prove the strength of God’s resurrection life.

With that truth in mind, let me encourage to find help and hope in 1 Peter 1:3–5. You can listen to the sermon or watch the sermon below. You will also find below a few helpful articles to encourage your faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: Why the Sufficiency of Scripture Means Rejecting Secular Sociology

aaron-burden-9zsHNt5OpqE-unsplashBut I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3–4 —

In his book, Doctrine of the Atonementnineteenth century evangelist and pastor James Haldane wrote about the ways Scottish churches fused biblical doctrine with modern philosophy. In his opening chapter, he makes a case for a pure and undiluted biblical orthodoxy, over against those who unite Scripture with philosophy. He writes,

True philosophy consists in our sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving the truth as He has been pleased to reveal it. The Scriptures teach us, that the understanding of fallen man is darkened, and that the Holy Spirit alone can illuminate its inmost recesses with the light of truth. (22)

Though written more than 150 years ago, Haldane’s words still ring true. In his day, various Enlightenment philosophies, especially those arguing for morality sans biblical revelation, were infiltrating the church. As an evangelist, he saw thousands come to Christ who had received instruction in their churches on morality, but had not on Christianity. And in response, Haldane exposed the errors of combining biblical Christianity with worldly philosophies, a pastoral practice we should continue today.

Sociology Can Be a Vain Philosophy

In our day, the fusion of truth and error is equally pernicious, but perhaps more difficult to discern. For, instead of seeing a fusion of Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, which we have been trained to observe and reject, it is more often the case that we see the fusion of Christianity and sociology. Sociology has become a leading assistant in churches today who are employing diversity training and all other forms of cultural awareness. Continue reading

Jubilee Bells: A Christmas Meditation on God’s Redemption in Christ

gold colored and black hanging bells near wall

  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
Luke 1:68 

And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:32

27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.”
Luke 21:27–28 

But [the two disciples] had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . .
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them
in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:21, 27

Since I was a child I have heard and sung Jingle Bells too many times to count. At Christmas, that song is a staple. Yet, until this year I had never considered the place that Jubilee Bells, or rather a Jubilee trumpet might play at Christmas. And as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ I want to share a few reflections on Christ’s birth that relate to the Jubilee told in Leviticus 25, retold in Isaiah 61, and folded into the swaddling cloths that held Jesus.

Indeed, Jubilee is not just a part of the Levitical law, nor a planned redemption of Israel’s land and people. Jubilee is a part of God’s revelation that prepared the way for Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus announced his ministry with the words of Isaiah 61, which tell of the redemption God was planning for his people. Clearly, Jesus had an understanding of his role in redemption, as one who was fulfilling the prophetic word. Yet, Isaiah 61 goes back to Leviticus 25, and the redemption of redemptions promised in the Jubilee.

Even more, as we read Luke’s account of Christ’s birth with the light of Leviticus 25, we can see how the Evangelist portrayed the birth of Christ as indicating the coming of Jubilee and the restoration of all things. While this biblical theological meditation would require a full consideration of Leviticus 25, Isaiah 61; Daniel 9, as well as Luke and Hebrews, in the spirit of Christmas, I will focus on what we see in Luke’s Gospel. For in itself, Luke shows in at least four ways how Christ, from his birth to his death and resurrection, fulfills the ancient promise of Jubilee.

With that in mind, let’s consider how Christmas requires us to sing not Jingle Bells, but a carol of the bells celebrating Israel’s long-awaited redemption. Continue reading

The King Has Come: Two Christmas Sermons on the Kingdom of Christ

TorahOver the last two weeks, I have preached two sermons on the significance of Christ’s birth.

These messages have considered many ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of God’s kingdom to David, but also how Christ’s birth confronts our world and the governing authorities who are reigning in unrighteousness. Too often our Christmas hopes are shaped by Victorian England, especially Charles Dickens and his famous A Christmas Carol. Likewise, the troubles of life often press us to make Christmas as un-worldly as possible. We want to escape from political turmoil, cultural upheaval, global strife, and every other worldly discomfort. Yet, against the sentimentality of Dickens and the strident folly of earthly politicians, a biblical view of Christ’s birth calls us to reconsider the world around us.

To that end, these two sermons are meant to train our eyes on Christ and to see all the ways that the birth of Jesus recalibrates our hopes and grounds our faith in Christ’s eternal kingdom. Christmas is not a season where God’s Son makes peace with the darkness or causes Scrooge’s to be less sinful. Rather, it is when the light of the glory of God, veiled in humanity, shines into the darkness. At Christmas, we need to let the truth of God’s unassailable kingdom strengthen our faith and purify our hope. To that end, I offer these two messages. May they be a blessing to you, as you celebrate the birth of Christ this holiday season,

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Does It Mean That Jesus is the ‘Son of David’? Nine Stars in the Constellation of Jesus’s Kingdom

three kings figurines

This month, Track 2 in the Via Emmaus Reading Plan—which is going to get a refresh before the new year—takes us through the book of Luke. And as I reading Luke this month, I am also looking at Volume 6 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation. In one essay, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts,” Scott Hahn traces the theme of Jesus’s Davidic kingship in Luke and Acts. Then bringing order to his observations, he identifies a “constellation of concepts, locations, and institutions that were immediately related to David, his legacy, and [to] one another” (299).

For those interested in studying the theme of Jesus as the Son of David, or knowing what Jesus kingship and kingdom are like, it is imperative to see how Scripture speaks of David, Jesus, and the Jesus relationship to David. As the New Testament declares with great emphasis and repetition, Jesus is David’s son and thus, it teaches us to see Jesus’s kingship as a fulfillment of David’s, only greater.

Thus to know Jesus as Scripture presents him requires a growing knowledge of David. In his essay, Hahn does the exegetical work in Luke-Acts to show where Luke identifies Christ with David (297–99, cf. Luke 1:27, 32–33, 69; 2:4, 11, 8–20; 3:21–22, 23–28; 6:1–5; 9:35; 18:35–43; Luke 22:29–30; 23:37–38; Acts 2:14–36, esp. vv. 25–36; 13:16–41. esp. vv. 22–23, 33–37; 15:13–21). Then, he outlines eight stars in the constellation of Christ’s kingship. Below, I share those with you, as they present in short order what David’s/Jesus’s kingdom is like. Then, I will add one more star to the constellation—the oft-neglected priestly nature of David’s kingship. From this ninth star, we will see why Christ’s kingship stands out against all the other kingdoms of the earth.

Continue reading

When The Son of Man Comes Around: A Sermon on Daniel 7

daniel05Who is in control?

This is a question germane to every area of life—personal, parental, political, etc. And as we know all to well, when wicked people are in control, the people under their ‘care’ suffer! Just consider a couple proverbs related to kings and their citizens:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2)

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. (Proverbs 28:15)

Because of the profound impact rulers can play on a nation, we can make politics the most important part of life. And while not denying its importance (see here), Daniel 7 teaches us that there is only one true ruler, and he alone will receive a kingdom that never ends. Indeed, until he reigns, the nations and their leaders are beasts by comparison.

With this in mind, Daniel 7, the pinnacle chapter in the book of Daniel, teaches us how to think about who is in control. The vision of Daniel brings us to the throne of God and to the Ancient of Days who decides who rules on the earth.  More than that it gives us a picture of God’s rule over the nations and the fact that the Son of Man has authority to judge all flesh (see John 17:2).

These are themes found in this week’s sermon, “When the Son of Man Comes Around.” You can watch the sermon here. Other sermons in this series can be found here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds