Contaminated by holiness

Recently I mentioned to a few people that in Leviticus, sin is talked about almost as a contagious disease. It makes us unclean and then we cannot approach God. Sort of like being quarantined.

In Leviticus 6, the picture is almost the opposite. It’s as though holiness is the contagion, and it’s dangerous for humans.

Here are verses 8-11:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 

Before the priest removes the ashes from the holy altar, he must don special “protective gear”. After the ashes are removed from the altar, he is supposed to take them outside the camp to dispose of them, but before he does that he has to change back out of the linen clothes, presumably to limit the contact of everyone else with the garments. Even he himself is protected from the linen clothes by special undergarments. Touching the altar “contaminates” the linen garments with holiness, and contact is kept to a minimum.

Here are verses 24-28.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering: in the place where the burnt offering is slain the sin offering shall be slain before the LORD; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting. Anyone who touches its flesh will become consecrated; and when any of its blood splashes on a garment, in a holy place you shall wash what was splashed on. Also the earthenware vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken; and if it was boiled in a bronze vessel, then it shall be scoured and rinsed in water.”

Once again, the point seems to be to limit human contact with the holy. Garments that come into contact with it must be washed, but only in the sanctuary area — they should not be taken outside the camp unwashed. Vessels that were used to cook the holy offerings must be either broken or at least scoured and rinsed.

Here is another passage that sounds sort of similar from Ezekiel 46:19-20.

Then he brought me through the entrance, which was at the side of the gate, into the holy chambers for the priests, which faced north; and behold, there was a place at the extreme rear toward the west. He said to me, “This is the place where the priests shall boil the guilt offering and the sin offering and where they shall bake the grain offering, in order that they may not bring them out into the outer court to transmit holiness to the people.

It also reminds me of this passage in Exodus 33:18-24:

Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.

This is all sort of strange and maybe profound.

Am I right in thinking that in Christ we are able to approach the holiness of God without fear or danger?

I frequently ponder the hiddenness of God, the way that he so rarely shows himself to people overtly. I’ve tended to assume we need to learn to see God in the ordinary. But these verses emphasize the opposite idea — the idea that God is anything but ordinary. They make it sound like he hides himself partly because he is protecting us from too direct a revelation.

How do all these thoughts fit together? I’m not sure yet … Feel free to speculate in the comments.

Does the Holy Spirit lead us?

A friend on facebook (Tim Dukeman) recently said:

- I’m deadly serious about this. God doesn’t speak through impressions, feelings, “leadings”, or any of that other nonsense. He speaks through the Bible.

- Nothing in the Bible would lead us to the idea that God speaks in these hyper-spiritual ways. If you hear an audible voice, we’ll talk.

But this “leadings” nonsense is paganism.

- I used to ask God for specific guidance. I have repented of such foolishness.

This was my response:

Tim, have you never read a Scripture and felt vaguely convicted, and then asked God to reveal to you the specific attitude or action you needed to repent of?

I do that all the time. I read something and ask the Spirit to search my heart and bring to mind whatever He wishes. Suddenly I’ll realize, “Oh! I’ve been arrogant. *That’s* not good.” So I’ll repent.

I consider that the leading of the Holy Spirit. It’s Scripturally grounded, but goes “beyond” the Scripture in that He brings to mind something specific in my own life to which the Scripture corresponds. It’s a kind of “revelation” about my own circumstances and heart.

It’s not authoritative. I don’t even have to know whether it was my own insight or something God led me to think of. But it seems silly, after having asked God to guide my thoughts, to say that it is wrong to believe he actually did guide them.

I realize this is not what you meant. But I think it is what you should have meant.

Tim’s further response:

You are correct. That is an important caveat. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. If you feel convicted of sin after reading Scripture, that’s usually legitimate.

But what I said above stands.

Comments? I have a lot of other opinions on this, but I want to organize my thoughts a little before saying much more.

 

 

Evil spirits

Those of us who believe evil spirits exist tend to think of them as putting thoughts in our heads, but suppose that they also often stir up passions within our hearts? Maybe instead of thinking of them as wandering disembodied intelligences that also have will and desire we should instead think of them as wandering disembodied passions that also have will and intelligence. Maybe along with thinking “I wonder if that thought is from a demon” we should sometimes think “I wonder if that sudden rush of emotion is from a demon”. This view seems to fit the Biblical references to evil spirits about as well as the traditional one. (See 1 Sam 16:14-15,23; 19:9-10 for example.)

Questions

The sermon today was on John 5:31-47.

The pastor emphasized the four witnesses that testify to Jesus’ deity: John the Baptist, Jesus’ miracles, the Father, the Scriptures.

Here are some questions our family had afterwards.

  • Verse 36 says that Jesus’ miracles show that he was from God. Yet other Scriptures talk about people who are not from God doing miracles. So do miracles prove someone is from God, or not?
  • Jesus says later in John that his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. How can they be greater than raising someone from the dead? What does that verse mean?
  • What is the testimony of the Father mentioned in verse 37? Our pastor first connected it to the testimony Scripture, as mentioned in verse 39. In that case, there are only three witnesses in this passage, with the last being “the Father through the Scriptures”. Later he connected it to the announcement, “This is my beloved Son” at Jesus’ baptism. But then what does it mean, “You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form”?

Our family had a really good discussion about the first two of these questions. We ended up talking about miracles, and about living with the expectation that God may still work supernaturally today.

Other questions I’ve been wondering about recently:

  • Acts 2:42 refers to “the breaking of bread”. I’ve always assumed it meant communion. A pastor a couple of weeks ago preached that it meant having a meal together. So what does it mean?
  • James 2:26 says “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” This is backwards from what I always think it is saying. I think of works as being the body — the outward form — and faith as being the thing that makes them of value to God. Works have spiritual value when they come from a believing heart. But this verse turns it around. I think it says that faith is like the body. It is just the form, the shell. When faith is fulfilled in works it becomes alive. The works that proceed from faith are what provide the life, the power, the “spirit” that animates the faith. The question is, am I right? Am I missing something? What more is there to add that would illuminate this?

I love having questions. Every question is a promise that there is more out there for me to learn.

(By the way, we did come to some satisfying conclusions about most of these questions. I just didn’t tell you what they were!)

Oh, one last thing I almost forget: Go check out my brother’s brand new website. Say something on it. You could even ask him my questions and see how smart he is :-)

What is the gospel?

I tend to think of “the gospel” as “what you need to believe to be saved”. If you don’t have to believe it to be saved, then while it may be true, it isn’t part of the gospel.

Now I’m wondering, is that what the gospel means in Scripture? A book I’ve been reading sent me back to the New Testament for another look.

It’s certainly good news that in Jesus we are offered forgiveness of sins. But there are other things about Jesus that are good news too. Does the New Testament use “gospel” to mean all the good news about Jesus, or does it mean very specifically the offer of personal salvation through His death for us and nothing else?

The question reminds me of the charismatic churches that talk about being “full gospel”. What they mean, I think, is that Jesus doesn’t just offer forgiveness, he offers healing and prosperity and so on. I don’t share their views about guaranteed healing and prosperity for believers, but set that aside for the moment and notice that when they call healing and prosperity part of the gospel, they aren’t implying that you must believe in that healing before you can be saved. They’re just saying that the good news doesn’t end with forgiveness. Not only can you find pardon for all your sins, you can find other blessings as well.

When Jesus walked on earth, there was a lot of good news about him. He healed and cast out demons. He taught with authority and insight. He said the kingdom of God was near. He demonstrated the compassionate heart of God.

Since his resurrection and ascension, there are more things that are good news. He has been made both Lord and Christ, and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He is the reality that all the Old Testament rituals were pointing to. All of God’s goodness is summed up in him. He has called us to follow Him. He is our perfect example.

Of course none of these other blessings does us any good until we’ve received forgiveness in his name, but is it accurate to call them part of the gospel anyway?

If this is what the gospel means in Scripture, does that affect what we should think of when we talk about “sharing the gospel”?

Let me know what you think.

Exodus 23:20-21

In Exodus 23:20-21 God says to Moses and the Israelites:

Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.

??

When did this happen?

The second-born in the Old Testament

Abraham had two children, Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was first-born, but the line of Israel came through Isaac. Then Isaac had Esau and Jacob. Esau was first-born, but gave away his birthright and the line came through Jacob. The Jacob had a whole bunch of sons, but the one God used for his purposes was Joseph, nearly the last of the twelve.

Why this emphasis on the first-born not being the important one?

I don’t think it will do to say, “There is no significance. It just happened that way historically.” Old Testament Jewish readers, at least, would have expected the pattern to mean something important to their identity as a nation chosen by God.

Does it emphasize that being the chosen people is up to God rather than man? (Compare Romans 9:11). Or that God is more concerned with a person’s heart than his position? (Compare 1 Samuel 16:7). It can’t be straightforwardly Messianic: Jesus is definitely pictured by a first-born, not a second-born, son. (John 3:16, Colossians 1:15).

Hmmm …

Any suggestions?

Persuasion

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says this:

And when I came to you, brethren, … my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor 1:1-5)

I’ve been thinking about what it means to persuade people of the truth. From my point of view, you persuade someone by a) understanding the truth, b) understanding their point of view, and c) building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be.

But is building a bridge that will get them from where they are to where they need to be the same as getting them to rest their faith on their own wisdom? Perhaps you need to just skip the bridge and say, “This is the truth!” even though you know they’ll never buy it because, from their point of view, there isn’t any reason to.

Proverbs speaks favorably of persuading people:

The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov 16:21)

The heart of the wise instructs his mouth And adds persuasiveness to his lips.(Prov 16:23)

By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone. (Prov 25:15)

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable (Prov 15:2a)

Paul certainly persuaded people, too:

And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)

And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4)

And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

Agrippa replied to Paul, ” In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29)

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Cor 5:11)

How does all this work out? I’m still not sure.

Prayer

I love prayer meetings, sometimes. Other times I am bored and discouraged by them.

Recently I’ve had the chance to be a part of the first kind. It’s been refreshing spiritually. It’s hard to describe how greatly refreshing it’s been. 

It’s hard for me to say what the difference is. I’ve tried to capture it in different ways at different times. Here are some of the things I’ve pointed to in the past as characteristic of a rich time of prayer:

  • When God’s presence is clearly felt
  • When people are free to pray as the Holy Spirit leads, instead of feeling as though they have to follow a specific pattern
  • When there is strong spiritual leadership that casts a united vision for the purpose of our prayers
  • When people are praying with genuine faith, as though they expect God to answer
  • When people are praying because of a genuine spiritual burden, rather than just bringing laundry lists to God
  • When people are praying for the kingdom and glory of God instead of just for their own comfort
  • When people are paying close attention to the Spirit’s direction as they decide what to pray
  • When most of the people there are serious about prayer and have a hunger for what it can be

These days, I’d characterize it as being a time

  • when people really seek the face of God, as opposed to just jumping into their prayer lists.

Whatever it is, I don’t do it well on my own; I really depend on other people being there with me, their faith encouraging and stimulating mine.

Regardless, I’m really enjoying this season in my prayer life. I’m treating it as a gift from God and not trying too much to find ways to make it happen.

Thoughts? What factors make corporate prayer times really good for you?

Question about Romans 8:37

Quick question about Romans 8:31-37.

It says:

What then shall we say to these things?

If God is for us, who is against us?

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?

God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written,

“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Why is verse 37 in the past tense?

And how does it affect the meaning of the verse?