Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blood-stained Worship

Have you ever read through the Bible in a year?  This is my third or fourth time and there is something that intrigues me every time I do it.  It's as if God wanted to test those who attempt the plan.  Think about it.  As you're reading, about mid-February, you hit the middle of Exodus.  Up to this point, it's been amazing!  God's hitting Pharaoh with plagues, turning water into blood, killing the first born, dividing the Red Sea, giving water from rocks, sweetening water with trees--some pretty awesome stuff.  Then when Israel gets to Mt. Sinai, suddenly God starts telling Moses all about this tent He wants built.  And the next six or seven chapters are about this tent--sockets needed, boards for the walls, curtain design, furniture for the tent.  Once God finishes all the details, Moses points out the guys who are supposed to build the tent and they get to it--crafting the sockets needed, boards for the walls, designing curtains, making the furniture.  It's pretty tedious.  Then we hit Leviticus.  And it's all about what the guys who work at the tent are going wear and do.  And that's where most people hop off the band wagon.  "I didn't sign up for an in depth study of Jewish culture!"
That's where I buckle down.  I love this stuff.  I'm kind of a culture nut; I study ancient cultures for fun.  I'm weird, I know.  But this is interesting to me.  And the more you study the workings of the Tabernacle (that's the name of the tent), the sacrificial system, and the priestly office, the more amazing it is.  Contrary to popular belief, this stuff is in the Bible for a reason!  Take the sacrificial system for example.
The first 5 chapters of Leviticus detail 5 different sacrifices the Israelites were commanded to preform.  They are very similar with only minor variations that illustrate what each offering was accomplishing.  The burnt sacrifice was wholly consumed on the altar, illustrating a total devotion to God and hopes of divine blessing.  The grain offering (the only-non animal sacrifice) was offered also in hopes of divine favor.  Only part of the animal was burnt in the peace offering; the rest was consumed by the offerer in a meal that symbolized a restoration of fellowship with God.  A sin offering was offered when one sinned unknowingly and later realized the offense (also on the Day of Atonement for the entire nation), with differing costs to differing classes of people.  But each cost was a significant cost to that class.  And the guilt offering was offered for any sin against another person or against the Tabernacle or the priests.  These sacrifices covered a wide variety of life for the Israelites, and with 3 million some odd people, all needed to restore fellowship, find pardon for guilt, or demonstrate devotion to God the priests were probably busy killing animals all day long.
So what?  This doesn't apply right?  We don't worship that way any more.  Our houses of worship don't reek of blood and burnt flesh.  Thank goodness, too, right?  Who would want to go to church if all we did was kill animals.  What an inhumane, bloody, violent approach to worship.
The funny thing about that thought is pointed out for us in Hebrews 9.  The author points out that all the sacrifices were "shadows" of reality, that all the animals killed really didn't atone for sin, that another sacrifice needed to be made to truly make up for the deficiencies in the Levitical system.  And it was made, once for all, in the person of Christ.  We are allowed to worship a holy God because of Christ's death on the cross.  A death that was far more inhumane, far more bloody, far more violent than any animal endured in the Old Testament.  Our worship reeks of the blood of Christ.
Which makes me stop and ponder.  When an Israelite went to worship, what was going through his mind?  As he carried his animal sacrifice through the camp, maybe he though, "I just did this yesterday.  I sacrificed my best lamb last week and now this is the best I have.  This worship sure costs a lot."  I doubt there was much frivolity as Israelites stood in line, waiting for a blood splattered priest to make the needed sacrifice.

How much more serious is it when we approach God, holding our only hope of true fellowship, the cross of Christ?  
How much more sobering is it when we approach God, offering our only chance at total forgiveness, the blood of Jesus?

When I consider the immensity of my sacrifice, the cost of my fellowship, it brings a seriousness to my Christian walk.  The inhumanity of Christ's death for me is sobering.  It cost a lot to free me from guilt, to restore my fellowship, to show devotion to God.  I need to keep the bloody horror of the cross ever before me.  It will keep me serious and focused for my walk in Christ.

No comments: