I remember a song in college that was to be sung to anyone having a birthday. It was really a pessimistic parody of the real song. And maybe you've already heard it. It went something like this: "Happy birthday! Happy birthday! Sin and sickness in the air; people dying everywhere. Happy birthday!" It is certainly intended to ruin anyone's birthday. But, unfortunately it is true! That is the reality in which we live. And every newscast, every newspaper, almost every headline is focused on that ugly reality.
Thousands of years ago, God gave a vision of what His people could be in contrast to the rest of the world around them. And in the book of Leviticus we see a holy God and we see what he thinks of all the evil around us and we find out what His plans are for His people. Can God's holiness give us hope? I'd like to share that message of hope with you today.
I invite you to open your Bibles to the book of Leviticus and we'll look at a couple of Bible texts that emphasize God's holiness. First of all we'll look at chapter 20, and I'd like to direct your attention to verses 22-23 and 26. "You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them." Now verse 26: "And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine."
I would also like to point your attention to chapter 11. Leviticus chapter 11:44, 45. "For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."
If you were to sum up those verses, what would you say the message is? I believe we could summarize it this way: The book of Leviticus is about the holiness of God versus the ugliness of sin. In fact, God's holiness is a way to describe His pure, loving character which is totally good and entirely separate from evil in any form. And the more exalted our views about God's holiness, the more we will not want to disgrace our holy God. Because the more we know Him, the more we will want to be like Him.
But now I'd like for us to look at Leviticus 19 for the sake of asking ourselves, "What is the holiness of God and what does it mean for us?" Chapter 19, along with the other places, stresses that God wants us to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. That's in verse 2. I want us to notice how that theme is developed in this chapter.
In verse 3 it tells us that God wanted the Israelites to revere their mothers and fathers. To respect their mothers and fathers. Have you ever seen a child treat his mother or father with disrespect? We all have! This is a day and age when there is very little cross-generational respect. We hear stories of parents killing their children and children killing their parents.
In verse 3 God says "Keep my Sabbaths." Most people don't even know what "rest" is, much less the Sabbath experience.
Verse 4, Don't turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods.
Verse 11: You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. Stealing in almost any way is common place, dealing falsely as well, and lying is easy for anyone.
Verse 13: You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him Not very many people care about their neighbors these days.
Verse 14 (19:14)You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. And it goes on to tell us that there should be no grudges against people, but we should love our neighbors as ourselves. (19:17, 18) Forgiveness? That's a rare thing today.
Some of the things have changed since the days God spoke these words to Moses. Lev. 19:27, for example, tells men not to shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. The Seventh-day Adventist Commentary is helpful for things like this. It tells us that at that time it was a common practice, as a sign of devotion to one's pagan god to shave off some hair and offer it to his gods. So shaving off the sides of the head or disfiguring the natural shape of the beard was a symbol for all to see that a person was devoted to a certain pagan god. So that's not quite the same today, or maybe it's in another form today, I don't know.
Other things are still relevant, however.
Verse 31 says Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits. It's common to hear of people that claim they can speak to your dead family member. Fortune tellers and channelers seek to give you extra-terrestrial wisdom. They claim they can give that.
Verse 33 says Don't mistreat strangers. In today's society of suspicion and prejudice, do we really care about people we don't know? Leviticus 19:34 says "The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
Verse 35: You shall do no injustice in measurements of length, weight or volume.
So what is God trying to say to the Israelites here? All of these admonitions, all of these commands, reflected God's hatred of the practices of society around them. Why would that be? Because God is holy, and by nature hates anything having to do with the ugliness of sin. You see, God is not an arbitrary God. God does not tell us not to do these things just because He doesn't think we should do them, but because He doesn't want those things to damage us. And God wants His people to be different from the sinful society around them. He says You shall be holy, for I am holy.
Can you imagine living in a society in which no one cheated each other? No one killed, or robbed, or lied. Doors wouldn't need to be locked because you could trust people. People wouldn't have to be scared of walking all alone in the dark. People wouldn't get kidnaped. Kids wouldn't become the victims of incest and abuse. Women wouldn't get raped. Stores wouldn't be robbed. No one would have to go hungry. People would care for each other. There would be no adultery. There would be no child pornography. There would be no bribery. And there would be no more politicians who care only about campaign contributions and saving their own jobs. There would be no more deal-making behind closed doors of government at all levels.
Why does all that sound so good? Is it perhaps because that picture, that dream, is so unlike our present reality? The picture in our minds is what we want because we're hungry for something that isn't. We're starving for a taste of what isn't true today. And we're so accustomed to most of the evil in society that we're even oblivious to the not-so-good that exists inside each of us.
Leviticus tells us that we have a God who is holy. He hates evil and sin, but He graciously loves us. He's a holy God who cares so much for us that He wants to bring us from that evil, and save us from that, and from the damage that sin brings to us. Leviticus is about a God who cares enough about us to take us out of the dirt and the grime. To pick us up, and dust us off, to wash us and cleanse us, to polish and shine us.
He is a God who wants us to be separate from the garbage that exists around us, garbage that is offensive, ugly and hateful. I am thankful today that God's plan is to restore us to His image so that we do what's right because it is right and we won't need Him to tell us. So God takes us out of the garbage of sin and tells us, "You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine." (Leviticus 20:26).
You know that tells me that God values us.
I never used to think about God's holiness as giving me hope. That's often because I don't feel holy. Do you know what that's like? Do you ever feel unholy? Maybe 10% of the time, or 5%? Or maybe rather it's 99% of the time. I don't know. It has always been the love of God, God's forgiveness, God's patience, God's grace and mercy that has meant a lot to me. But after studying the book of Leviticus, I see it very differently. And I see that there is a purpose and a message behind it all. And God's holiness is that message. In all of God's pure, loving goodness. God can't stand evil in any shape or form. And even though evil exists inside each one of us, God has His plan to get rid of that evil.
The sacrifices in the book of Leviticus communicated that. Jesus' death was the ultimate fulfillment of God's plan to cleanse us from evil so we could be His people. And we could be His people in complete freedom. God's call to His holiness gives me hope because it means that we are all valuable to Him and He has a plan to heal us from the damage of sin. He calls us to escape the sin and corruption that is in this world, because we are valuable to Him. God really does have something much better in mind for us.
Imelda Harrison and her sisters had made reservations to stay in a motel in the town of Yulee, Florida, in a very out-of-the-way place.1
Instead of rooms, it had cabins set way back from the highway. Imelda had an uneasy feeling about the place, but they had already taken care of their luggage, and her sisters were lying on the bed, resting. It had been a long day, and all they wanted to do was to stretch out and relax. Soon, however, they heard a lot of cussing and swearing coming from the other side of the duplex cabin. There was a door going from their side of the cabin to the other, with only a slide lock on the door. They could not hear every word being said, but they heard enough to know that the man was talking about them!
When they had first arrived, a car had been parked on their side of the cabin, and her sister Arlene had gone to knock on the door to ask the man to please move his car out of their way. He had been sleeping and was wearing only his under garments when he came to the door, cussing and swearing at her.
Well, he got dressed and moved the automobile. But Arlene noticed a pistol on his night stand and mentioned it to the others. Yet she still felt as if they would be safe enough with the doors locked. Imelda didn't share her feelings at first and was sure that they could be murdered if they didn't get out immediately.
She eventually tried to talk her other sisters into packing up and getting out of there, but they just didn't seem to want to be bothered at eleven o'clock at night. She started to pray for something to happen to change their minds. Suddenly she heard them both scream at the top of their lungs.
She looked and saw something green in the middle of their bed! A lizard had jumped from the windowsill onto the bed, leaping right between them. They packed up and were out of there in twenty minutes. They went ten miles down the road and rented another room at a motel that appeared much safer.
As they were registering at the desk, the woman said to them, "At a motel about ten miles down the road, there have been several unsolved murders committed in the last few months." When she mentioned the name of the place, it was the same motel they had just left. So Imelda thanked the Lord for sending the lizard to drive her sisters out of there.
God wants us to escape the corruption in the world, the evil. He has something better in mind for us. He has a better "hotel" for us to stay in.
And He will use whatever is necessary to motivate us to leave our ugly world of sin. He offers you and me an escape from evil! With His loving holiness, God rescues us from evil. My prayer is that we may all choose to be, by God's grace, His holy people.
1. From In the Presence of Angels, by Lonnie Melashenko and Tim Crosby.
Hymn of Praise: #229, All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name Scripture: 1 Peter 1:13-16 Hymn of Response: 567, Have Thine Own Way, Lord
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last updated March 17, 2005 byBob Beckett and Eric Koester.