Unclean! Unclean!

My daily reading plan has me in the middle of the book of Leviticus right now, which is always a challenge.  I am constantly amazed at the amount of sacrifice, the blood required to atone for the sins of the people, the sacrifices given in praise, prayer, and petition to God. The ceremonial regulations are abundant and exhaustive.  When our culture seems so casual in its approach to the Holy God, the book of Leviticus seems very foreign and difficult to accept.

Today’s reading was Leviticus chapter 13, the laws regarding leprosy and a variety of skin diseases. “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean” (Lev 13:2-4).

If you read through the rest of the chapter, you’ll find calls for quarantining those who were symptomatic, to determine if it was leprosy or some other condition.  There are regulations about leprosy on the skin, beard, and in the clothes. If the priest determined it was leprosy, you were declared unclean, and thereby unable to come into the presence of the Temple for sacrifice and worship.

I can’t tell you how hard it was a a pimply teenager to read these passages and wonder if God would even hear my prayers in my current condition, or if I was too unclean to come before Him.

These regulations were in place for the sake of the community. In Biblical times, there was no cure for leprosy, but they knew it spread easily and quickly through a community.  If you were showing symptoms, you were required to let others know, and keep distance from the rest of the community.

I think we all know a little about this now. With the state imposed quarantines and calls for social-distancing over the Coronavirus, we see the cases come to our community and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” There is a palpable fear of the spread of this virus, of the infection spreading like wild-fire.  The worst part of this, unlike leprosy, Covid 19 may spread from those who are asymptomatic.  You could be carrying the virus and show now signs, but still pass it along to others.

So we stay home, out of love and concern for those around us.  We are, to some extent, embodying the practices of Leviticus 13.

But only to a certain extent.

It is equally important to remember that these practices were not just regulations for the community, they were regulations for the worshipping community. Leviticus was written primarily as instruction about how a sinful people were to approach a Holy God. If one were to come into the presence of God, still stained and burdened by sin, God, who is holy and just, would pour down unmitigated judgment upon the sinner. This is why there is so much blood sacrifice in Leviticus – the people were making atonement for their sins so that they could stand justified before a holy God.

Psalm 15, another reading of the day, asks and answers the question, “O Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill?”  The answer given is this, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks the truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against he innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” This is the one who may come before the Lord.

Leprosy, a disease of the skin, was symbolic of the disease of the heart – sin. Easily spread, entirely destructive.  Left untreated, it will bring about our destruction, and leave us separated from God.

What a wonder then to know that in Jesus Christ we have been washed and made clean (Hebrews 9:14; 10:13).  We, who were once stained with the sins of this world, are now declared clean, sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11). The punishment for your sins has been placed upon Christ, and has been paid for in full. The veil which separated us from God has been torn open, and we have access to the Father through Jesus Christ our mediator.

What a blessing it is to know that, while we must be separated from one another for this time, nothing can separate us from the love of God the Father through Jesus Chris the Son (Rom 8:38-39).

SDG

Preaching for Holiness

In my previous post, I shared the convicting and informative teaching I received from reading Joel Beeke’s, Reformed Preaching, in the chapter on Major Elements in Reformed Experiential Preaching.   There, he dealt with the holiness of the preacher. For today’s post, I want to share with you 10 points of holiness or spirituality that Beeke suggests the preacher ought to be working toward in the lives of the congregation, those listening to the sermons.

Have you ever thought about why preaching the Word of God is at the very center of Reformed Worship?  Our coming together on Sunday isn’t merely to get recharged and energized for the week, nor is it all about fellowship with other saints in Christ.  These are blessings, to be sure. Rather, our time of worship together is primarily about glorifying God in praise and in the hearing and obeying of His Word. The sermon is central to worship because it is in the faithful and regular hearing of the Word, read and proclaimed, that we mature into the likeness of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here are, then, the 10 things that the reformed preacher ought to be working toward in His congregation.


The Holiness of the People

What kind of spirituality does Reformed preaching aim to produce by the power of the Spirit? It is spiritually rooted in faith in Christ as the only Mediator and fruitful in reverential love for the sovereign God. To draw out what this looks like in more detail, I will follow the outline that Hughes Oliphant Old offers in his sketch of reformed spirituality. These are the sorts of things that Reformed preaching cultivates in the life of the people.

  1. The Spirituality of the Word.  When you preach the Word, call people to immerse themselves in it. Exhort them to become Psalm 1 Christians, who meditate on the Bible day and night, and walk in its ways with delight.
  2. The Spirituality of Praying the Psalms. Reformed spirituality is a spirituality of the Psalter… praying the psalms, singing and meditating on them, not only at Church but at family prayers every day of the week.” Preachers should constantly hold up to the church a lifestyle of continual prayer and praise.
  3. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Day. The sanctification of the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbatarian legalism; rather, it secures a day of peace, rest, refreshment, prayer and love for God’s people. Teach people to “call the sabbath a delight” so that they can “delight [themselves] in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13-14).
  4. The Spirituality of Works of Mercy. Apply the sweet and amazing love of God to our duty to love our fellow human beings at the point of physical suffering and spiritual ministry. Build bridges between heavenly doctrine and earthly mercy.
  5. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Supper. The rich piety of the Table is nurtured first of all through meditation leading up to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is not automatic conferral of grace, but an exercise of faith. Let your preaching before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper call believers to a rich feast in Jesus Christ. Help them to look through the bread and wine as through a window into heaven to see the love, forgiveness, and empowering grace of God for them.
  6. The Spirituality of Stewardship.  In the Reformation, the idea of stewardship transformed believers’ views of money and work. Businessmen, housewives, farmers, bankers, those caring for the elderly, and craftsmen came to see themselves as entrusted with a sacred vocation or calling to serve the Lord. Teach the congregation to rule their money, time, and talents for the Lord, and not to let their resources rule them.
  7. The Spirituality of Meditating on God’s Ways. This refers not just to meditating on Scripture, but to meditating on God’s works in our lives through the lens of Scripture. If you guide your flock to think often about God’s gracious ways with them, they will find much comfort in trials.
  8. The Spirituality of Evangelism and Missions.  The spirituality of God’s eternal purposes has often let to an evangelistic, missionary spirituality. The covenant blesses us to be a blessing to the world.
  9. The Spirituality of Godly Fellowship. Reformed spirituality encourages fellowship among the godly for mutual encouragement. It is relational, not individualistic. Teach the people the privileges of being active members of the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Warn them against isolating themselves or trying to go it alone. Encourage spiritual friendships and mutual accountability.
  10. The Spirituality of Heavenly-Minded Obedience. Reformed spirituality produces zeal for obeying God’s laws and standing against worldliness.  Preachers must show people that his is not legalism because it is rooted in love for God. To obey God’s laws is to follow Jesus in the pathway of rejoicing in and walking according to divine love. Preach obedience to the law by the grace of Christ. The law is not means for sinners to find justification before God, but it is also no enemy of grace.
* Beeke, Joel R. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People. (Crossway Publishers; Wheaton, Ill, 2018) pgs 67-69.