February 6, 2014

"Without defect"

Well, I pressed on through Exodus, and now I find myself reading Leviticus. Perhaps this is where many of us bog down in our attempt to read through the Bible. We come to late January / early February, and to Leviticus – with its burnt offerings, its grain offerings, its peace offerings, and so on – and we give up. For, as I said a week ago concerning the creation of the tabernacle, the instructions God gave for the operation of the tabernacle may seem to us a bit tedious, especially given that Christ has come and fulfilled all the multiplied sacrifices and rites. In Christ, we need no longer come to a tent of meeting with our offerings of lambs, goats, and grains. We come, simply, to Christ – who is tabernacle and priest and offerings rolled into one complete and marvelous person!

And yet does not Paul tell us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16)? So Leviticus must still have much to teach us – even if, in Christ, we no longer must enact all of its instructions. Leviticus is indeed “profitable.” Not least in the way it foreshadows the Savior!

The very fact that, because of Christ, we no longer have to perform all the ceremonies and sacrifices ought to tell us something! Christ was the goal of the ceremonies! They were given in order to prepare the way for Him! And therefore, even though we read Leviticus on the back side of the incarnation, we can still allow its many rites and offerings – its blood, its lambs, its grain, its priests, and so on – to point us to the same Messiah they always pointed toward. Indeed, the fact that we know the outcome; the fact that we know the Messiah whom Leviticus foreshadows ought in some ways to make the book even more satisfying for us than it was for those who read it in times of old (and could only see the Savior in shadowy symbols).

The book of Leviticus points to Jesus! And, one of the ways I’ve been lately reminded of that fact is by means of the phrase “without defect.” Each of the burnt offerings that were brought to the Lord, whether “from the herd or the flock,” was to be “a male without defect” (see Lev 1.2-3, 10). The same was true with “a sacrifice of peace offerings” (Lev 3.1) – “whether male or female, he shall offer it without defect.” So also with the sin offering in in chapter 4 – “a bull without defect” (Lev 4.1-3). And on the list could go – in Leviticus and beyond. This was a highly important quality in the offerings that were brought to the Lord – that they be “without defect”: not blind, or lame, or sick, or wounded, or malformed, or blemished in any way. This was also a requirement for the priests themselves (Lev 21.16-24).

But why? Why were both priests and offerings to be “without defect”? One reason, in the matter of the animals particularly, was that God deserved his people’s best, not their throw-aways (see Malachi 1.6-8). That’s a lesson worth remembering.

But another reason both priests and sacrifices had to be “without defect” was because of whom they symbolized! Jesus came to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And in order to do so – in order to be the sacrifice for our sins; in order to die in our place, bearing our guilt … Jesus had to have no sin and no guilt of His own! He had to be “without defect” – “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1.19). And His priesthood was also performed “without defect.” “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15, emphasis added).

“Without sin.” That is the description of the Messiah whom all those priests and sacrifices foreshadowed. And if they were going to role-play such a Savior … then they too must be, in their own way, “without defect.” And I am so glad that I have been reading Leviticus of late, so that I might be reminded of all these things. What a blessing that, in the midst of all my failings, and defects, and sins, I have a Savior who is free from them all! He is everything that I am not, spiritually. And He serves as my stand-in before God’s throne – “without defect.” And that gives me hope. That’s a relief when I look at the stains on my own record, and the mess that is often my life. My high priest, my sacrifice, my “Advocate with the Father” is “without defect.”

And I’m glad I'm reading Leviticus.

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