5 Reasons You Should Preach through Leviticus
When our girls were younger, we made it a regular practice to read through the Bible together. My wife, the girls, and I sat for breakfast, and before I headed out the door, I read a chapter, made a few comments, and we prayed together. One year, we made it through Genesis and Exodus—exciting books!
And then . . . we got to Leviticus. As I began to read, immediately, I wondered, “What do these little girls think about the killing of all these animals?” You know how little girls love sheep and goats and birds. I wavered for a moment, but I knew it was important to press on.
Why? Because Leviticus is a necessary part of an unfolding story. Genesis answers the question of how God will provide Abraham the promised descendants. Exodus answers the question of how God will redeem Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in order to bring them to the Promised Land. As Israel’s struggles with sin and idolatry continues, though, the question remains, “How can a holy God relate to sinful people?”
Leviticus provides us an answer to that question. At the same time, Leviticus is also a book for us today—because we’re still a sinful people and God is still holy. It reminds us of our need for God’s mercy, and of a faithful mediator who will atones for our sins.
Here are five reasons why you should preach the Old Testament book of Leviticus.
1. Leviticus reminds us of the grace of our God and the cost of our sin (1–7).
As the new covenant people of God, it’s easy to minimize our sin. After all, Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin in full. We no longer need to bring daily sacrifices to the temple—and praise God for that! But that very freedom can tempt us to minimize our own sin. Leviticus, on the other hand, reminds us that sin is costly.
As early as Genesis 2:15, we’re told that the wages of sin is death. No matter what the sin, we deserve the death penalty. But in Leviticus, our gracious Lord establishes a system of sacrifice whereby sinners may present a substitute. Just imagine, every time a person sins, he or she was to bring an animal that would receive the death penalty they deserved. That’s grace!
But the sacrificial system also reminds us of the cost of sin. The substitute was to come from the sinner’s own flock. Imagine if every time you sinned, you had to go out back, get a lamb from your flock, and bring it to the priest. And when you brought the lamb to the priest you presented it as the substitute who would receive the death penalty for your sin. But it’s you, not the priest, who slits the animal’s throat. Then the blood pours out. Think of all that blood—not just from your sacrifice but from all the sacrifices that day. Under the new covenant, we don’t get this poignant picture of what our sin costs, and how God addresses it in our substitute. Leviticus helps us see the extravagance of God’s grace and the cost of our sin.
2. Leviticus exposes God’s grace in providing a mediator (8–10).
Because God is holy, he requires a mediator to stand between himself and his people. In Leviticus, God sets apart his ministers that they may serve him and his people (8–9). But it also warns us that God’s ministers must serve him as he requires and not as they decide for themselves (10). As those who represented God to the people, God’s ministers were to teach God’s people all that he commanded (10:11). And as those who represented the people before God, they were to facilitate atonement (10:17).
Already in Leviticus, these questions are being asked: “Who will be a faithful mediator between God and man?” “Who will facilitate atonement for sin?”
3. Leviticus explains what God requires of those who approach him in worship (11–15).
In Exodus 24, Moses consecrated Israel as God’s people on the basis of the covenant at Sinai. Now, God explains how consecrated Israel should live this set-apart life in order that they may approach him in worship. Leviticus 11–15 emphasizes the distinction between clean and unclean, holy and common. Those who were unclean couldn’t associate with the public and couldn’t worship God, but provisions were made so that the unclean could be made clean.
While we may not know exactly why such laws were given outside of distinguishing Israel from the surrounding nations, we do know that obedience to these laws allowed God’s people to approach him in worship. Still, there were those who would never be clean and could never approach God in worship. Furthermore, anyone who touched someone or something unclean would also become unclean. Leviticus causes us to long for one who, by his touch, will make all things clean—one who will be willing and able to approach God in worship.
4. Leviticus foreshadows forgiveness of sin in the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (16–17).
Leviticus climaxes in the glorious day of atonement—the day when all of Israel’s sin was forgiven. Sacrifices were made to cleanse the temple, and to atone for the sins of the high priest and the people. A scapegoat was presented as a substitute—upon which the sins of the people were symbolically laid. This scapegoat was then released outside the camp, picturing the departure of Israel’s sin.
The writer of Hebrews makes these connections for us. Leviticus 16–17 foreshadows the promised high priest who is also the scapegoat who takes away the sins of the people by taking his own blood and sprinkling it in the most holy place. We need to preach Leviticus to remember that only Jesus saves to the uttermost.
5. Leviticus outlines how God’s people are to be holy as God is holy (18–27).
Because God is holy, we are to be holy. Leviticus outlines how Israel was to distinguish itself (be holy) from the other nations in every aspect of their lives. Leviticus also highlights the promised blessings for those who pursue holiness (26:1–13) and the threatened curses for those who do not (26:14–39). At the same time, the conclusion of the book exposes God’s merciful heart as he promises forgiveness to all who repent of their sin (26:40–46).
In a day when holiness is neglected, our people need to be reminded that we are to be holy as God is holy. God blesses holiness. Thankfully, Jesus himself has taken on the curses of the Mosaic covenant and has provided the perfect obedience that same covenant requires. Now, all who repent of their sin will receive the promised forgiveness in Christ and are therefore able to relate to the holy God.
Leviticus doesn’t merely detail animal sacrifices and holiness codes. It does that, but it does so much more. It exposes the heart of a gracious God who provides a substitute for the sin of his repentant people. That substitute not only received the death penalty in our place, he also obeyed in our place, gaining for us all the blessings of holiness.
Now, under the new covenant, Jesus empowers us for holy living by first granting us a new heart and the Holy Spirit. Brothers, preach Leviticus. Why? Because in it you will find the gospel!
The book of Hebrews – Hebrews is the best biblical-theological commentary on Leviticus. It explains how Jesus fulfills the old covenant, highlighting the language and imagery of Leviticus: sacrifice, priesthood, high priest, day of atonement.
The Book of Leviticus, by Gordon Wenham. Wenham is a reliable scholar, and he provides insight into the biblical text. His discussion on clean/unclean, holy/common is very helpful, as is his explanation of holiness as more than mere “separation.” Probably the best commentary on Leviticus.
Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of Leviticus, Allen P. Ross. This is not a commentary. It does provide some biblical and historical context, but it’s primarily a guide to the exposition of Leviticus. I don’t recommend going to this, or any commentary, first, but it can be a helpful guide after you’ve done your own work.
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