hebrews 13, the everlasting covenant

A sermon on Leviticus 9 & 10 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 6 June 2021

I’m a great believer in the fact that we learn by doing. You don’t learn how to play chess by reading a book. You learn by playing. You don’t learn to cook from the television, but by cooking. You don’t learn to run a farm at university. You learn by farming.

Now I’m also a big believer in reading books and going to university. And from time to time, I’ve been known to watch television. I mean no disrespect to these sources of knowledge. But the important lessons in life are learned by doing them. And we learn to worship by gathering together and worshiping.

Because to worship God is our life’s purpose. We were created to bring God glory in knowing him and in loving him and in serving him in the fellowship of his people. Our ultimate destiny is to see God’s glory and to praise him forever. And we master our life’s purpose by doing it, praising our creator so that we may grow in our love for him, in belonging to his people and in serving him in his world. We gather together not because God lives in the church building, not just because we enjoy singing and listening to the minister talk, but because in worshiping together, we learn to live a life of worship which is our life’s goal.

It is for this reason that one of the pastor’s most solemn duties is to lead the people of God in the right worship of God. Yes, he is expected to visit the sick and the sad. Yes, he is expected to teach Scripture and lead Bible studies. But it is all for nothing if he cannot lead and guide God’s precious children in worshiping their heavenly Father in a way that pleases him.

That was Nadab and Abihu’s big mistake. They were Aaron’s sons. They had just been ordained as priests to serve in the tabernacle. Their father was the high priest and their big brother was going to be high priest after him. They had been set aside for their vital service in the community of Israel. And they failed to learn the most important lesson, the lesson we’ve emphasised over the last two weeks: God commands us to come to him in the way that he has provided, with the worship that pleases him.

That lesson is reinforced in Leviticus chapter 9. In chapter 8, like I said, Aaron and his sons had been ordained. They had waited a week,  a time of prayer and of preparation for their service. And at the end of the week it was time for them to begin. But even then, their ministry was to be carried out according to Moses’ instruction. Verse 1 begins,

On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron …

The fact that Aaron followed those instructions sn described in different ways. Verse 5 says

They took the things Moses commanded.

Verse 10 says that they performed the ritual

as the Lord commanded Moses.

This is how our creator communicates his will and reveals to us what pleases him, through his Word, through his prophet. If you knew your friend didn’t like pumpkin, you wouldn’t make them eat it. If you knew your friend was embarrassed by making a fuss, you wouldn’t organise for them a surprise party. If you friend was very proud and self-reliant person, you wouldn’t march in uninvited and start vacuuming their house and expect them to thank you. We know how to treat people the way they want to be treated. It is time to treat our Heavenly Father, our creator and saviour, the way that he wants to be treated.

At the heart of the regular worship in the tabernacle were the three sacrifices mentioned in Leviticus chapter 9. The sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering. The sin offering brings forgiveness and purifies the offeror from the defiling presence of their sin. The burnt offering is wholly given to God. It atones for the offence that the sin causes to God and brings peace with God. In the fellowship offering, the fat around the heart and kidneys is burned by fire, but the meat is shared  between the priest and the worshiper. The priest is given the breast, while the worshiper is given the thigh. The meat is then shared by their families in a special feast that celebrates the restoration of relationship. What is not consumed and enjoyed must be destroyed.

In these three sacrifices  we see a portrayal of the gospel. Our sins offend our creator and must be atoned. Our sins defile us and make us unfit for the presence of the holy God. God has made us for himself. God has made us for love and life. But by our actions and choices, we show hatred rather than love and we harm life rather than nurture it. Our life is forfeit, our Lord is displeased and we are unworthy of his presence of blessing. But in the giving of a life, the break in fellowship is mended, we are made clean and pure. We are restored to the life with God for which we were made and in that relationship we experience life and growth.

In the book of Leviticus, under the Old Covenant, these truths are expressed in the rituals of the tabernacle using the blood of animals over and over again. Like a shadow puppet play where the real objects are not seen, but only their rough outline. But in the New Covenant, through the once for all offering of Jesus on the cross and through his continuing ministry for us as priest at the right hand of the Father and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we experience the reality. Our sins are forgiven. We are made pure, and fit as the dwelling place for God, our bodies made temples of the Holy Spirit and we experience true, lasting, life and joy with God both now and as the promise of better to come.

This is the gospel. This is the good news. It not only brings us life. It is our life. It is not only the message that creates faith in the non-believer but that strengthens faith in the believer. It is not only the promise that we believe, but it is the principle of love that we obey. It is not only the source of our blessing, but it is the means by which we bless others.

So that the vital role of worship in our gatherings is to continually remind ourselves of this truth. Our worship serves the gospel in reminding us of it and in training us to apply it in our daily lives. We worship God in our singing. We worship God in our prayers. We worship God with our time and money. We worship God in the hearing of his Word and in our conversations. We involve ourselves in each other’s lives and we support and strengthen each other. Because we sing the gospel. We pray the gospel. We let the Bible help us see Jesus on every one of its pages. And in our fellowship we put the gospel into practice in healed and healing relationships.

The promise of worship is that we will experience the glory of God. This is what happened in Leviticus chapter 9. When all had been done as the Lord commanded through Moses, the people saw his glory and experienced his presence. In a way you could say that worship is its own reward. In worship, we do not do God a favour so that he will do us a favour. We do not give him a lot of praise so that he will give us a lot of money. Instead, the reward of worship is worship. To make peace with our God, to praise him as he deserves, to magnify his goodness and greatness and to pay attention to his Word is to know him and to love him and to be drawn into his service. And so we experience the glory of God and the closeness of his presence.

In worship we retell the gospel and experience its benefits. This was the lesson that Nadab and Abihu refused to learn. They offered unauthorized fire and they did so contrary to the Lord’s command. They came to Lord in their own right, on their own merit, offering their own invention, and they disobeyed his command. Instead of worship him in a spirit of faith and obedience, they acted in unbelief and disobedience that focused attention on themselves and not on the Lord. And in an example of ironic punishment, the very fire that the two men offered consumed them, because to distract God’s people from the goodness and mercy of God has fatal consequences. If the gospel is life, then anything that draws us away from it, is death.

And we make the same mistake when our songs celebrate our feelings, when our prayers convince us of our own goodness, when the sermon preaches the power of positive thinking rather than humble faith in the power of God, and when morning tea passes on the latest gossip. And that weekly practice of unbelief and disobedience will consume us.

Because we learn by doing. And so the weekly practice of worship either reinforces the truth of the gospel or the lies that we believe. Do our songs actually praise God? Do we confess our sins in prayer? Do we ask humbly for the Lord’s blessing that is contrary to what we deserve? Do our sermons explain the Bible or simply provide a platform for the preacher’s own opinions? Do we long for holy communion with God and for genuine fellowship with each other? What lessons are we learning by the practice of our worship? These are vital questions to be asked both in the pulpit and in the pew. For worship is our greatest privilege. It is our life’s purpose and destiny. And worship is its own reward. In praising God we experience his glory for which we were made.