"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (32 - Holiness to the Lord)

    And Yahweh spoke unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, 'You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy'”. – Leviticus 19:1-2

    Of all the things we have observed so far from the book of Leviticus, the sum is this: God is a pure and holy God, and if he should have any people at all, and should stoop to dwell in their midst, they must be made holy as well, so that he might walk among them, and not consume them altogether in his righteous fury against sin and uncleanness. This shows just how important holiness to the Lord is: for the true substance of every redemptive blessing is only the presence of God, and fellowship with him; and that goal can only come through sanctification, that is, through being made holy, as God is holy. As we shall see presently, this observation must ultimately lead us to Christ, and drive us to cast ourselves upon him alone, who sanctified himself to his redemptive mission, that we too might be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17-19). In order to unfold these principles more minutely, let us touch first upon the greatness of that one redemptive principle, that God should dwell among his people; then, show how necessary a thing holiness is to that end; and finally demonstrate how those two great truths, which form the core of the book of Leviticus, lead us to Jesus Christ.

    It is a very foundational truth that, when God first created man in the Garden, the chief part of his blessedness consisted only of this, that he could enjoy fellowship with his Creator, in whose image he had been made, and that he could talk with him face-to-face in the cool of the evening (see Genesis 3:8). But when he rebelled, he was driven out of his presence, which was the essence of the prophesied death, and which resulted in every kind of evil and perversion, and led to physical and eternal death as well, those fruits of that spiritual death which consists in alienation from God.

    When God first promised to redeem a people from Adam's offspring, therefore, and covenanted with him to send a Deliverer, the nature of the covenant and the essence of the promised blessings consisted always, and in increasingly clearer terms, of regaining an entrance into God's presence, and being peculiarly his. Thus Enoch was a recipient of God's promised grace especially in this, that he “walked with God,” and so was snatched up into his presence (Genesis 5:24); Noah was blessed in that he found grace in God's eyes, and so he walked with God too (Genesis 6:8-9), and so God delivered him from destruction, and made him inherit the new earth, where he might live as one of God's people. A little later, when God called out Abraham in pursuance of the fulfillment of his promised redemption, this essential feature of redemption is made very clear: for when God enters into solemn covenant with him, he expresses its benefits thus, “I am your shield and your exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1); and afterward, he defines his covenant in this way, that it is “an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your seed after you” (Genesis 17:7).

    Four hundred and thirty years after this promise, when God redeemed his people from Egypt, he also made this principle very plain: for from the first, when he told Moses that he would deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt, he expressed his purpose thus, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (Exodus 6:7); and so it is, as well, that during the Exodus God revealed himself to Moses more fully than he had ever revealed himself before, telling him his name, Yahweh (Exodus 3), and proclaiming his name and attributes before him when he hid him in the cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:18-34:9). Then, as history continues, and God's redemptive purposes ripen and unfold, we see that the promised Christ will be called “Immanuel,” because he will be “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14), and so will accomplish in himself this one great redemptive promise, the final fulfillment of which we yet await, and long for the day in which it will be said, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and he shall be God with them, their God” (Revelation 21:3).

    Now, we have here unfolded this one great “Immanuel principle”, viz., that the essence of every redemptive blessing is contained in God's dwelling among us, and being our God, for this reason, that it alone can make sense of all the intricate regulations of cleanness and holiness which the book of Leviticus consists of. We have already demonstrated, and will therefore only mention it again in passing, that the essence of the task of the priest was to present Israel as a nation holy to the Lord, by bearing their iniquities and atoning for them with sacrificial blood; and we observed before at some length that all the laws of clean and unclean taught the people this, that if they would be God's people, they must separate themselves from all that is tainted by sin and the curse, and from all that is common, perverse, or unwholesome. They must be a distinct and peculiar people, separated from the rest of the world and consecrated wholly to God, if they should enter into their covenant privileges of being God's people and knowing his presence in their midst. Thus it is that, very often, God appends the purpose for his stringent regulations concerning the priesthood, the ceremonial laws, and so on, saying that they are because his tabernacle dwells among the people in the midst of their uncleannesses (Leviticus 16:16), or something similar. And in fact, he sums up the whole purpose of the tabernacle and the priests at its inauguration, saying, “And there I shall meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; and I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and Aaron and his sons I will sanctify to serve as priests to me; and I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel, and I will be their God” (Exodus 29:43-45).

    In light of all this, it is no great stretch to say that the thesis and central statement of the entire book of Leviticus is that which we have quoted above, “You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy”. In this one statement, we find the great covenant blessing expressed in that phrase, “I the Lord your God,” together with both the necessary condition of enjoying that blessing, “You shall be holy”; and also the reason for this unalterable condition, namely, “I am holy”. The chapters following the account of the Day of Atonement therefore, in which very many diverse regulations are given, which enjoin upon the people a strict moral holiness and separation from the world (see Leviticus 17-22), all find their deepest meaning in this one all-encompassing command. And so all of these diverse regulations are likewise concluded with this summative statement, which confirms everything we have been saying: “And you shall keep my commandments, and you shall do them: I am Yahweh. And you shall not profane my holy Name, but I will be hallowed in the midst of the children of Israel: I am Yahweh who sanctify you, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God. I am Yahweh” (Leviticus 23:31-33).

    Now, we have shown how the entire substance of all the covenant blessings of redemption consists of knowing God, and being his people; how that one great privilege demands our utter holiness and separation from all that is unclean or common; and the reason for this, in that God himself is utterly holy and separate from all this is common or unclean; so let us show how these three great truths must cast us upon Christ.

    We must first acknowledge that an apprehension of these truths leads to an insoluble problem in at least two respects: first, God is utterly holy, and is thus separate from his creation, transcendent and unapproachable in his consuming light and glory (1 Timothy 6:16; Isaiah 6:1-5); so how can mortal men be found in the presence of the transcendent God? And second, God is utterly holy, and is thus separate from all sin and moral impurity, being too pure of eyes even to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13); so how can sinful men be found in the presence of the righteous God? The book of Leviticus undertakes to answer those questions, not by minimizing the impossibility of the task; for instead, it emphasizes how impossible the task is, by showing in many countless ways how holily God's people must live, and thereby underscoring the vastness of their failures. But, while emphasizing the problem, it also casts the problem upon God himself, who solemnly undertakes to do whatever is necessary to make his people holy, so that they might come again into his presence, saying in the midst of all the demands, “I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Exodus 22:32).

    In light of these observations, we should see now how all the intricate laws and ceremonies must lead us to Christ alone, and show forth the greatness of the task that he had to accomplish to fulfill the promise of bringing back a people into God's presence. The transcendent God condescended to stoop down to his people by building a tabernacle in which he should dwell; but he barred the way into that tabernacle by several ever-increasing levels of holiness, and would only allow those who had been perfectly sanctified by the blood of the lambs and goats to enter it, and so be in God's presence. But how much greater is Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the type of the tabernacle by being made into human flesh, where God condescended to stoop down to his people, and bring his presence among them fully and finally? So that, the problem of how the transcendent God, who cannot be seen, might dwell in the midst of his people, is solved in Christ and his coming to earth to reveal God to us. But second, and more poignantly, not only did Christ solve the problem of how the transcendent God could dwell among mortal men, he also solved the problem of how a pure and righteous God could dwell among sinners, and so proved himself the greater fulfillment of all the sacrifices made in the tabernacle, just as he fulfilled the type of the tabernacle itself; for he took all the people's sins upon himself, and atoned for them, and offered them up as “holiness to the Lord,” bearing them in his own bosom even into the pure and untainted presence of God.

    So then, these laborious chapters of Leviticus, in which sundry commands are enjoined upon the people, entailing what it is to be holy, are really only an explication of what it should take the Christ to accomplish the true fulfillment of all the tabernacle, the priests, and the sacrifices ever served to convey. Jesus was set apart for his redemptive task of bringing a people back to God, and making them holy so that they might be in the presence of a holy God. He made divine transcendence approachable and satisfied divine righteousness, all to this end, that we might be set apart for him, wholly sanctified, made separate from sin and all its evil effects, and from all the world which lies in the power of the evil one. In Christ our old, sinful natures have died (Romans 6:1-13; Colossians 3:1-5; Galatians 2:20-21), and we have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), so that we might enter into all the blessings of the covenant, which are only that we might know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3). Jesus is he who was set apart as holy to the Lord, so that he might bear our iniquities and make us holy to the Lord, and bring us into his presence forevermore.

    Posted by Nathan on November 14, 2008 10:24 AM

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