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Recently I had a stimulating conversation over lunch with a couple of pastors who were wrestling through some theological issues. One of the main threads of conversation was woven around how one deals with apparent contradictions or tensions in the Scripture. For example, how can we reconcile the doctrine of individual election with the idea that God desires all men to be saved? Well, we can talk about what the Bible means by “all men” or discuss the two wills of God, but those discussions still don’t remove us from the truth that many times learning about who God is and what God does leaves us at the foot of mystery. Personally, I completely okay with the tensions concerning what the Scriptures say about God and how he works. I don’t feel the need to smooth everything out. I don’t have to get all the answers. Frankly, the fact I can’t get them reminds me God is God and I’m not him. So if others regard me as inconsistent because the Bible seems to say contrasting things, I’m totally okay with it. I feel no need to explain how God makes those apparent contradictions work within his economy. Indeed, I couldn’t if I wanted to. Again, I’m totally okay with the mysteries of God in Scripture.

Afterward, one those pastors sent me a quote from the great 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on Scripture’s tension intersecting his own theological beliefs (particularly how he dealt with the sovereignty of God in salvation versus texts, like 1 Tim. 2:3-4, which gives the appearance God wants all people to be saved). I thought it good to share with you:

My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”[ref]From Spurgeon’s sermon, “Salvation by Knowing the Truth” (http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1516.htm)[/ref]

Spurgeon is so good here. I’m with him. I could care less about consistency with my views if the Scripture is clear to say differently. Scripture is the authority, not my theological constructs, as helpful as they may be. You might say, because I believe the Bible over any particular system, there will be times where I’m committed to be consistently inconsistent. And so should you.

There is no question learning about God involves coming face-to-face with mystery. A Bible in your hand and questions in your head don’t guarantee all the answers you seek will come to light. Indeed, this is the Supreme Being of whom Romans 11:33 declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” This probably means, among many things, some of the answers we are seeking from God about God may remain a mystery in this life. I know I’ve bumped up against the mystery of God in my own journey. How does it work with Jesus being fully God and fully man? How does God’s sovereignty work with man’s responsibility in salvation? Why did God allow Bro-country into the world? Mysteries one and all.

However, and this is important to get if you’re serious about matters of faith, you don’t get points for saying something is a mystery in the Scriptures if those Scriptures are clear about that something. Too often I hear people refer to something about God or Christianity as a mystery when the Bible is clear in its answer. Parroting that response is disingenuous to real seekers of truth. It’s as cheap as debating an issue where you’ve only cut-and-paste content from a Google search while acting like you researched the subject thoroughly. Neither is honest or helpful.

Frankly, saying something’s a mystery (when it’s not) could simply be a backhanded way of rebelling against God’s Word because we don’t want to have to deal with the straightforward teaching of Scripture – that it’s either too demanding of us, too against what popular culture embraces, or makes us too different than we’d prefer. That’s no way to seek after God. It only gives the illusion of seriousness when the truth is we don’t want to know or accept the truth.

Let’s be clear for seekers and believers both, don’t be dishonest in searching for answers about God, man, and everything else in the Scripture. You will face mysteries and you will face things that aren’t. So, it’s only mystery when it’s a mystery. If it’s not, then it’s a truth to be embraced.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed
belong to us and to our children forever…

– Deuteronomy 29:29

“Leviticus thus becomes the one book of the Old Testament fullest of Christ and Redemption.”
– Rev. Daniel S. Gregory [ref]quoted by Henry Nelson Bullard, The Gospel in Leviticus, Bibliotheca Sacra, BSAC 064:253 (Jan 1907), 76.[/ref]

Let’s be honest, as a book of the Bible Leviticus gets treated like the weirdo cousin at a family reunion. You have to acknowledge “Levi” because he’s family, but you spend as little time as possible with your relative because you don’t know what to do once face-to-face. So, it’s a little splash of nervous small talk then on your merry way feeling you’ve done your duty as a family member, relieved to know you don’t have to deal with your weird cousin for another year.

That was one reason why during my brief respite a few weeks ago, I set in my heart to study Leviticus. I wanted to decide for myself how weird my cousin truly was. So I grabbed my Bible, some study notes, and jumped in. I am so glad I did. Here were just a few things that reading Leviticus did for me:

  • It challenged the depth of my repentance by heightening my sense of the seriousness/gravity of God’s holiness and my need for an active personal holiness to reflect my allegiance to the Holy One. Sin not only keeps us from a relationship with God but must be met with his holy justice. It showed me that atoning someone’s sin guilt is a bloody business. To God, sin is, literally, a life or death issue.
  • It brought a corrective to my engagement with culture by reminding me that Christians are to be a “in the world, not of the world” community.
  • It encouraged me to “go historical” with my spiritual growth by showing how Israel’s motivations for obedience were to be stirred by remembering who God is and what he has done for them (salvation history). What a wonderful history of grace Christians are not only to know but to remember…and remember…and remember for the sake of their growth in grace.
  • It rebuked any flippancy of mine in corporate worship by saying there are right and wrong ways to worship God – much of it revolving around his absolute holiness. And that those decisions aren’t ours but God’s. He commands how he is (and is not) to be worshiped and that being irreverent, inane, or boring in corporate worship simply won’t suffice.
  • It corrected my American understanding of individualism by showing God is just as much, if not more, about the community of faith as a whole than the individuals who comprise it. And that exclusion from the community of God was a terrible, grave consequence of sin.
  • It called into question what I really believe about the nature of God by reading rule after rule God called Israel to observe. If I believe God is for me then his commands are to help me, not hurt me. Obedience is the real arbiter about who really is our king – the authority of our world. Do I trust God enough to do what he says or do I really regard his words as backwards, oppressive advice?
  • It pointed to my track record in observing the 2nd Great Commandment by reiterating the truth that loving our neighbor (member of faith, poor, etc.) isn’t ancillary to loving God, it’s part and parcel to it (cf., Lev. 19).
  • It reminded me we never move away from our rescue! Like Israel of old, we should never “get over” God’s saving act. Indeed, it is that very act (the “Greater Exodus” of the Cross) that motivates, energizes, and guides our lives. The rhythms of our corporate identity as God’s people should revolve around who God is and what he’s done in Jesus!

Lastly, Leviticus left me with an expanded view of the glory of Jesus as the telos, or ultimate end, of Leviticus – the good and better sacrifice who “by a single offering…has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).

  • Jesus makes the unclean permanently clean, by giving them the status of his righteousness before God.
  • Jesus forever atones for the sins of his people by being the ultimately, final sacrifice at the Cross before God.
  • Jesus is the Great High Priest, the Lamb of God, the True Tabernacle/Temple, even the better Israel, so that his ministry of the New Covenant eternally completes the salvation of his people now and forevermore.

What I realized after my study is that Levi isn’t the weird cousin. It’s followers of Jesus who think Leviticus should be, at best, neglected or, at worst, dismissed. When understood in light of salvation history, Leviticus is a great gift to Christians. Jesus and his initial disciples believed so. Did you know that Leviticus is the sixth most-quoted book in the New Testament. Catch that? It’s not 36th, 26th, or 16th, but sixth! There are parallels to Leviticus in 19 of the 27 New Testament books and one of the reasons why Dr. Henry Nelson Bullard said “we must not forget that the writers of the Gospels and Epistles were as familiar with Leviticus as the preachers of today are with Matthew or Romans.”[ref]Ibid, 78-79.[/ref] and that Leviticus “is fundamentally woven into the thought of the New Testament.”[ref]Ibid, 95.[/ref] Indeed, Bullard makes this conclusion:

In a study of Leviticus as a book of the Old Testament, we may find much of it dry and uninteresting, its value only in its interpretation of Hebrew custom and worship, a welcome side-light on the history of the children of Israel. but little more. ‘When we study the relation of Leviticus to the New Testament, we find there is no other book any more essential to a proper understanding of the New Testament. We might understand the story of the Messiah even were the prophecies lost to us, but we of to-day could hardly work out the meaning of references to sacrifices, priesthood, and such, in nearly every book of the New Testament, and would be entirely lost in the Epistle to the, Hebrews, without Leviticus and the parts of the other books of the Pentateuch which are closely allied to it.[ref]Ibid, 77.[/ref]

Studying Leviticus taught me a lesson. Far from being the weird cousin, Levi is the family member I should regularly sit down with, listen to, and learn from. For he will tell me of my family history which makes my placement within it all the grander, more amazing, and grace-filled. He will share with me about good old days which deepen my gratitude for the great New Day in which I now dwell. Ultimately, Leviticus puts the spotlight on Jesus in it’s own special, soul-growing way. And for that I’m incredibly grateful.

Give it a try. Study Leviticus. Seriously.