************ Sermon on Leviticus 20:1-13 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on February 1, 2015

Leviticus 21:16-24
"The Perfect Priest"

Fanny Crosby, the great hymn writer, was blind; so was George Matheson, author, hymn writer, and preacher. Amy Carmichael directed the work of her mission in India from her sickbed. The Scottish Presbyterian preacher Robert Murray McCheyne was often laid down by his weak heart. And the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, had to leave London in the winter to restore his health in the south of France. Joni Eareckson Tada is a quadriplegic; yet, she is a Christian author, radio host, public speaker, and founder of Joni and Friends. One of my professors at Calvin College was Rev. Gordon Spykman; he was an accomplished preacher, professor of theology, and theologian even though he was partially crippled by polio.

We also know that the Lord Jesus ministered to the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame and calls them unto Himself (Lk 14:21; Mt 4:23-25). In the book of Acts we see the apostles doing the same thing. So, for instance, Philip baptized a eunuch and welcomed him as a believer even though eunuchs were not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord in Old Testament Israel! The same goes for the cripple healed by Peter and John.

We see, then, that physical defects are not a barrier to either salvation or Christian service. All believers can surrender themselves to the Lord Jesus and be living sacrifices for His glory, no matter what disabilities they may have.

I Priests Without Defects
A Yet, in the nation of Israel God required every priest that served before the altar to be entirely free of all defects and blemishes. No handicaps. No disabilities.
(Lev 21:18-20) No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; (19) no man with a crippled foot or hand, (20) or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores ...

We are not sure of the meanings of all the Hebrew words for the defects named in our Bible reading, but "the crippled, the blind and the lame" seems to summarize them all (cf Lk 14:21).

Some of these are birth defects. Others are the sad consequence of sickness, accident, or violence. Remember, though, that those in the Ancient World weren't as skillful at setting broken bones or dealing with diseases as we are today. For instance, doctors today can diagnose many birth defects in the womb and they can treat or even correct some problems before the baby is born.

B Priests with defects could not serve at the altar or in the holy place. Yet, we have no reason to believe any disqualified priest was treated like a second-class citizen in the camp of Israel. They were still considered priests and were allowed to share with their families in the sacrificial meals. Our Bible reading says, "He may eat the most holy food of his God" (Lev 21:22).

Furthermore, our Bible passage must NOT be used today to humiliate or intimidate anyone with a physical disability. The prohibition was never written for that purpose. A beautiful soul often lives in a crippled body, and people like that can be greatly used by the Lord.
Perhaps you are acquainted with the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. Believe it or not, he owed his success to a handicap: He was nearsighted. At the age of nineteen, while playing the cello in a small European orchestra, he had to memorize the complete score because he was seated in the dark orchestra pit where he couldn't see the music well enough to read it. One day the leader became sick, and Toscanini was the only one available who knew all the music. Thus he conducted the concert completely from memory. This was the beginning of his remarkable career, all made possible by a handicap – and a good memory.

II Separate and Holy
A The background for our passage is two important words that we find throughout Leviticus. The first is the Hebrew word for "separate." In Genesis 1 God separated light from darkness and land from sky. In Leviticus God announces that Israel has been separated from all other nations of the world to be His own covenant people.
(Lev 20:24) I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.

(Lev 20:26) I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
Notice, it is a separation from and a separation to. Israel is separate from all other nations. And, Israel is separate to God. This same teaching is expressed so well in Exodus:
(Ex 19:5-6) Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, (6) you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

Do you know what the New Testament teaches us? Listen to what is written by Peter:
(1 Pet 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The same language used to describe the people of Israel is also used to describe the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, like Israel, we are called to be separate: separate from the world and separate to God. As the Catechism puts it in beautiful Q & A 1:
... I am not my own,
but belong --
body and soul,
in life and in death --
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
We belong to Him. We are His possession. He bought us and paid for us and died for us and forgives us.

B The second Hebrew word is translated as "holy." There is a close connection between being separate and being holy. Those who are separated from the world and to God are called to holiness.

Now, when we talk of holiness we need to begin with God Himself. God is Israel's Holy One.
(Lev 11:44-45) I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. (45) I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

(Lev 19:2) "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

(Lev 20:26) You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

What does it mean that God is holy? It means God is absolute perfection. His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Heb 6:18). God's holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath are holy anger and holy wrath. God is perfect in all His ways.

Not only is God holy, but anything associated with God is holy as well. For something to be considered "holy" means "to be dedicated," "to be consecrated." Anything that is holy is set apart. It is removed from the realm of the common and moved to the sphere of the sacred. So the seventh day was holy, to be reserved for God's worship and to rest as God rested (Gen 2:3). Mount Sinai was holy, for God appeared there in fire to give the Ten Commandments (Ex 19:23). Everything associated with worship and sacrifice was to be considered holy. The tabernacle was considered holy (Ex 40:9). Israel, too, was considered holy, for this people was chosen by God to be His own special possession (Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21).

Did you know that "holy" is also a word applied to the church of Jesus Christ? It is a word applied to you and me and anyone who believes in Jesus. What do we confess in the Apostles' Creed? We confess to believe "the holy catholic church." And, don't forget what Peter says: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ..." (1 Pet 2:9). Paul writes to the "saints" in Ephesus (Eph 1:1); Paul loves this title so much he uses the word "saints" 29 times in his letters. So, like Israel, we are holy. But, then, like Israel, we are also separate from the world and to God. Holy is what we are and holy is what we are called to be.

Towards the end of the service I will be reading from Leviticus 20. What we have in Leviticus 18-20 are rules for holiness. Over and over again we hear the command to be holy as God is holy.

C Israel was separate and holy. And, within Israel, the priests were separate (Ex 32:29) and holy (Lev 21:7). It is in this context that we need to hear and understand what God says about priests with defects. Defects, of course, speak of sin and the effects of sin. For this reason, there could be no defects among the serving priests.

God demanded perfection in His worship. So, as you know, God laid out the plans for the tabernacle and all its furnishings. He wanted, He demands, that worship on earth imitate the perfection of the worship of the angels and saints in heaven. God's demand for perfection included the sacrifices that the people brought to the Lord. Remember, the burnt offering had to be a year old male without blemish or defect (Lev 1). It only follows that the priests who offered up the sacrifices on behalf of the people also be without defect. Don't forget, they were separate and they were holy.

III Christ, the Perfect High Priest
Now, remember, almost everything about the tabernacle found fulfilment in Christ. This is certainly true for what our Scripture reading says about the priests. Priests that are free from defects and blemishes point to Jesus the great High Priest Who is free from all blemish.

It starts already with His conception and birth. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (cf Mt 1:18ff). So, unlike every other human, He did not have indwelling sin; unlike every other human, He did not have original sin; unlike every other human, He was holy from conception on. He was perfect at birth.

Furthermore, Jesus was perfect in life. He was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Heb 4:15). According to Peter, "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (1 Pet 2:22). According to Paul, He had no sin (2 Cor 5:21).

We can end by saying His work was also perfect. His was the perfect sacrifice. He did not need to offer any sacrifices for His own sins. All of the blood and all of the pain and all of the suffering was directed towards payment for the sins of others.

Here is the application: (Heb 7:26) "Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."

IV All Believers are Priests
A Now, as I said earlier, physical defects are not to be a barrier today to either salvation or Christian service.

Other kinds of defects, however, are a barrier. Think of Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli who took the ark of the covenant into battle, treated the Lord's offering with contempt, and slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (1 Sam 2:12ff; 1 Sam 4). Think of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered unauthorized fire before the LORD (Lev 10:1). Their sins and their vices and their spiritual defects made them unfit for God's service. They are unworthy to be called Christians. Likewise, those who serve the Lord today – whether as elders, deacons, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers – need to be above reproach. Like Israel, like the priests, they are called to be separate and holy.

B There are those who look at what our Bible reading says about priests and argue that ministers should live by higher standards than ordinary Christians. Some would add elders and deacons to the list.

Let me remind you of what I said earlier. The church is called to be separate. The church is called to be holy. And, as you know, every believer is called to be a priest. So all – everyone of us – is called to live most holy lives.

Meaning what? Meaning we all need to be living by God's standards, not the world's. We all need to be distinct from the world. According to Peter, the church is "a holy nation" (1 Pet 2:9). We need to live out that reality in our day-to-day lives.

Holiness only results from a right relationship with God by believing in Jesus Christ. If you have not placed your faith in God's Son alone to save you from your sins, then your pursuit of holiness is in vain.

"For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near" (Lev 21:17-18).

God's intent is not to humiliate or intimidate. God's intent is to point to the perfect High Priest. It is in Him that we all answer God's call to be separate and holy. So I say to you, come to Jesus. Come to Jesus and be counted as one of God's holy and separate people.
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