Sunday, June 24, 2012

Christ our Offering Lamb

Paul says in verses like Rom.3:20 ~ For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin and Gal.3:24 ~ So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  When we look at these verses, it is crystal clear that no one can be saved and inherits eternal life through good works – the only way to be saved, is through Christ Jesus.

Paul also says a very interesting thing here in Rom.3 – he says that the law was given to man in order to reveal sin in part to man, but also to reveal God's gracious gift of cleansing man from sin.  Leviticus 5 does exactly the same:
·           It starts off with the things that have been left undone and are sin and then instructing the guilty in the way of purification.
·           When we look at the sins, mentioned here in Lev.5, it helps us in the second place, to understand the nature of "sins of omission" that much better,
·           But it also helps man in the third place, to appreciate God's high standard for holiness that much better.
·           A fourth thing is that this chapter also displays God's grace in providing for sinners – not simply in allowing them to find purification through sacrificial atonement, but in making it possible for everyone, even the very poor, to have access to Him.
·           Lastly, this chapter also introduces the requirement of confession for sin.  This part of the ritual was of crucial importance, because without confession, the offering was empty and no forgiveness could be obtained.

       Lev.5:1-13 ~ “If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; 2 or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; 3 or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; 4 or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; 5 when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, 6 he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.7 “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 He shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first the one for the sin offering. He shall wring its head from its neck but shall not sever it completely, 9 and he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering. 10 Then he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the rule. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven. 11 “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. 12 And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the Lord’s food offerings; it is a sin offering. 13 Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainder shall be for the priest, as in the grain offering.”

       Leviticus 5 begins by listing special cases that might not have been considered part of the purification ritual, but nonetheless should be.

       The first case deals with withholding evidence.  The text indicates that any person who was an eyewitness or gained information should step forward and provide it to the magistrates.  The implication is that some time has passed since the crime, and eyewitnesses have not come forward, even though they were bound by oath to do so.  If a person who was an eyewitness at e.g. a crime and did not come forward with the evidence, then he had to bear his own iniquity by receiving the punishment for his sin.

       In vv.2-3 we read about people who touch unclean objects, or a human corpse, for instance – even by accident.  Such people also became ceremonially unclean and had to purify themselves within the prescribed time.    

       Verse 4 deals with an unfulfilled oath – even oaths that were made rashly.  If someone took an oath, but forgot to fulfil it, or choose to postpone it because it was unpleasant, he also needed purification, especially if we keep in mind that such a person could experience Divine punishment.

       Verses 5-6 however offered forgiveness, but confession was needed.  So, whenever the guilty realised that he was in sin and he had remorse for it, the first thing to do was confess the sin.  We must realise that when we acknowledge sin, it means that we agree with God's assessment of the sin.  That was exactly what the people of Israel realised, but what is more, the law also required the guilty to confess or acknowledge their sin in public.  This was an essential part of their restoration process.

       I personally think that if we should start to acknowledge and confess our sins in public (here in the church for instance), we will get to the point where we will experience true repentance and our sanctification will increase so much more.  James in James 5:16 supports this idea when he says ~ Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  Also Acts 19:18 supports this idea ~ Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.

       In the New Testament the word "confess" is also used for both confessing sin and confessing the lordship of Jesus Christ – 1Joh.1:9 ~ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   Rom.10:9-10 ~ …because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  It is however important to still keep in mind, that acknowledging the truth is behind both these uses.

       Two very important points should be made about vv.7-13:
·           No matter how prolonged the guilt has been, the purification offering may still be brought; and
·           Access was available to all, even the very poor who did not have the appropriate animals for the sacrifice. 

       These two points are equally important to us today as well – no matter how long ago we have sinned and no matter what our social or financial status are – we always have access to the Lord to confess and receive forgiveness for our sins!

       It is not too difficult to correlate these kinds of sins, mentioned here in Lev.5, with the New Testament and thus to our time.  The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the believer's word should be at all times, true and reliable, whether or not an oath was actually used – Eph.4:25 is very clear about this ~ Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  If we should take a wow for whatever reason, it must surely be fulfilled.  Christ Himself, when placed under oath to answer the high priest, responded with His witness ~ But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt.26:63-64).   Today we know that this was a promise made under an oath that Jesus fulfilled and that He will still fulfil in future with the second return of our Lord.

       When we look at Lev.8:15 we see that the Lord gave instructions to Moses in connection with cleansing of the Tabernacle and that was because man's sin defiled the Tabernacle and because of man's sin and the defiling of the Tabernacle, fellowship between the sinner and God was shut off. 

       In Old Testament times, the law served the purpose of reminding the people of their sins, no matter how minute.  Today we have the Law (the Word of God) in our own hands and the more we read the Bible, the more the Word brings light to our sins that we have committed or left unconfessed.  As New Testament believers, we must also confess our sins in order to maintain fellowship with the Father.  We must always keep 1Joh.1:9 in mind ~ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  When we therefore confess our sins, there is immediate cleansing by the blood of Christ – Christ the perfect and complete Offering Lamb that was slain and offered on our behalf, in order to forgive us and grant us permanent access to the Father.

       Today we have the wonderful opportunity to commemorate this aspect of our Lord's purification rite on our behalf, by means of the Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper.

       What happens during the Lord's Supper?
·           Paul says in 1Cor.11:26 ~ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  We as believers confess afresh our faith in Jesus Christ when we take part in the Lord's Supper.  It is also a public testimony of our personal faith in, and commitment to, the crucified and risen Christ.  Without devotion to Christ from the heart, and an enthusiastic resolve to be His disciple, there is no reason to expect any blessing from God.  According to Hebr.11:6, it is impossible to please God without faith.
·           As a symbolic feast, the Supper also has a profound corporate dimension.  It draws believers together in the fellowship of Christ's saving work as they confess the same Lord and the same faith.  It is a covenant bond of union horizontally as well as vertically.
·           The Old Testament believers had communion with the Lord when they brought their burnt- and sin offerings.  We as believers also commune with Jesus Christ when we partake in the Lord's Supper.  Jesus says in Matt.26:29 ~ I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.   It is important to take notice of the fact that the Kingdom is already NOW even though it has NOT YET come to the completion and consummation to be effected when Jesus returns.  In the light of this truth, we as believers can enjoy the fellowship around the Lord's Table as a foretaste and anticipation, in sign and symbol, of the promised marriage supper of the Lamb that will take place in heaven (Rev.19:7-9).
·           A question that we may ask is:  Why did Jesus institute the Supper?  The answer is so that it would be to us a "cup of blessing" – a cup blessed in itself for what it represents, and therefore designed to be a blessing to those who partake of it.  1Cor.10:16 says ~ The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Clearly, the blessing flows form the Lord, in virtue of His atoning death for sinners.  He imparts Himself, His comfort, His assurance, His love – the very love that took Him from eternity to Calvary in the first place.  The Lord's Supper therefore is a means of grace to us; a conveyance of divine love to the soul, an imparting of Christ to the renewed heart, a communion of saints with their Saviour.
·           We also proclaim Christ's death when we partake of the Lord's Supper.  When we say that we proclaim Christ's death, it implies that we must review afresh our relationship to the Lord.  We must also recommit our lives to Him and rejoice in His precious salvation.  The Supper is thus an opportunity to evaluate and review our relationship towards the Lord, as well as our personal discipleship.

       When we say that we proclaim the Lord's death, we also have to ask ourselves what the implications of His death are for our lives.
-        The first implication is that we must grieve over our sins.  Not just sin in general, but sin itself as an underlying feature of our thought life and actual performance. 
-        But, in the second place – We cannot just weep over our sins, we must at the same time rejoice in Christ, because through the Lord's Supper, we also proclaim His death.  And because we trust in His death for our salvation, we have reason to rejoice.  The Lord's Supper is therefore truly a feast – that is why Jesus said in Mark.2:19 ~ Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast

       Let us therefore take some time for reflection and introspection and let us then gather around the table in order to demonstrate our unity in Christ Jesus, but let it also be a time of joy and thanks to the Lord for what He did for us!

[1]Message delivered by Kobus van der Walt at Vaal Triangle Baptist Church