Living Leviticus (Exodus 40:34-38)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: Exodus 40:34–38
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
August 13th, 2017
I. All Scripture...Even Leviticus
Listen for a moment to two verses from the New Testament, and what they tell us about studying the Old Testament. Both are from the Apostle Paul, the first from Romans 15:4...
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The second passage is from Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verses 16 and 17...
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This morning we begin a strange but spectacular journey into the third book of the Bible, the book of Leviticus. When Christians think of Leviticus, they might think of the torpedo that so often sinks the best-laid plans of those who want to read the Bible from cover to cover. Or as one writer (Allen Moseley) put it...
[Christians] read about sacrifices that are no longer offered, a priesthood that no longer exists, and laws we are no longer obligated to obey. Leviticus describes all that and more in tedious detail , so some people ask, “...what does it mean for contemporary Christians?”
But what did we just hear from the Apostle Paul? What encouragement did we just receive, through Paul, from God himself? We were reminded that “what was written [in Leviticus] was written for instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We were reminded that “All [Leviticus] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”.
Commenting on the inspiration of the Bible, listen to how David Platt puts in his book, Radical:
When you or I open the Bible, we are beholding the very words of God—words that have supernatural power to redeem, renew, refresh, and restore our lives to what he created them to be. That is why I believe it is more important for you and me to read Leviticus that it is for us to read the best Christian book ever published, because Leviticus has a quality and produces an effect that no book in the Christian marketplace that compete with.
That's not to say this book is in any way easy. The distance between our world and the world of the ancient Israelites comes into starkest contrast in the book of Leviticus. We will see that time and time again. But let me give you four reasons it is important to study this portion of God's word.
First, studying Leviticus helps us understand our Bibles better. In some parts of the Bible, the cookies are on the lowest shelf. And that's not a bad thing. Cookies are yummy, and ease of access is helpful. But it is also good when we are forced to work harder to understand God's word and its relevance for us today. That bears fruit in all our Bible reading.
Second, studying Leviticus helps us understand God's holiness better. There is no book in the Bible that more powerfully impresses upon us the awe and utter seriousness of God's holiness.
Third, studying Leviticus helps us understand the gospel better. This book's themes of sin, sacrifice, and sanctification will and should always drive us to the fullness of those ideas, a fullness only found in the gospel, the Good News of Jesus.
Fourth, studying Leviticus helps us understand holy living better. The transformation of our perspective should bring about the transformation of our practice. Leviticus announces and helps us understand what it means when God declares “be holy as I am holy”.
So in light of what we've already learned, maybe you can see the double meaning behind this idea of “Living Leviticus”. First, Leviticus is the “living and active” word of God (Heb 4:12). As such, God continues to speak to His people through this strange and spectacular book. Second, in light of that reality, we are called to live out what God reveals in Leviticus. It is God's word, therefore it is “profitable...for training in righteousness”. May God find us, more and more, living in light of Leviticus.
II. The Passage: "And the Glory of the LORD Filled the Tabernacle" (40:34-38)
So where do we begin this strange and spectacular journey? Well, interestingly, we don't begin in Leviticus. We begin in the chapter just before Leviticus. Let's look together at the last chapter of Exodus, Exodus 40. A year after the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt, as they continued living in the Sinai desert, this is what we read...
Then the cloud [the same cloud that first appeared before they crossed through the Red Sea, that cloud] covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out.  But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up.  For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:34-38)
So we begin a strange and spectacular journey with a strange and spectacular scene: the dedication of what is called the “tabernacle” or “the tent of meeting”. This was the portable temple, the mobile pavilion that God had instructed the Israelites to build back in Exodus 25.
Now, as you can see from your Bibles, this chapter flows right into Leviticus 1:1, where we read “YHWH called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying...”. So this is the context in which Leviticus was given. Why is that important? Because it represents the first of three reasons why God gave His people this book, these words we call Leviticus.
So let's think about these reasons together. Why did God give His people this book? Well...
1. Because God Dwells with His People
The whole point of the Tabernacle was God's presence. The very first verse to describe this tent is Exodus 25:8...And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.
Now, there is absolutely no doubt that is a good thing. In Exodus 33, Moses pleaded with God in this way: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15, 16)
But Moses was pleading with God, because at the beginning of that chapter, in response to Israel making and worshipping a golden calf, God had declared, Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:3)
And if we were able to read all of Exodus together, we would have read in chapters 19 and 20 how before God came down on Mount Sinai, He gave very specific restrictions about boundaries and cleansing and purity. We would read a verse like Exodus 19:18...
Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.
We would go on to read about the people's response in Exodus 20:18, 19...
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
Brothers and sisters, God's plan always involved dwelling among His people again; in some sense, to restore what was lost in the garden. But the reality of sin, the reality of the Curse, the reality of man's moral corruption radically changed this dynamic. Thus the need for a book like Leviticus. What do I mean?
Think for a minute about the imagery already given to us in Exodus 19. God came down in “fire”. And in Exodus 40, we heard that at night, the Tabernacle was full of fire. This is such a powerful image that even the NT emphasizes it. The author of Hebrews gives us this charge:
...let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Why is it so important to know this? Because if God is like a fire, then sin is like gasoline. And guess what? We are covered in it. But as Moses reminded us, we need God with us. As we walk in the darkness and suffer in the cold grip of sin, we desperately need God's light and heat. We need Him near and we need to draw near.
But if sin is like gasoline, what will happen when we draw near? We will be consumed.
Leviticus is all about how the Israelites could take off those fuel soaked clothes and put on new clothes; how they could find light and heat in the presence of God; how they could draw near to Him and not be consumed. Isn't that wonderful?!
But there's more here from both Exodus and Leviticus. Why did God give them this book?
2. Because God Redeemed His People
Nine times throughout Leviticus, God reminds His people of who they are in light of what He has accomplished for them. The first instance is in Leviticus 11:45...For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God.
The gracious gift of God's presence with His people always begins with the gracious gift of God's deliverance. That was true for the Israelites, and that is true for us. Why does God continue to emphasize that deliverance over and over again in Leviticus? Well, we find one clear reason in Leviticus 25. In announcing rules against slavery, God states...
For they are my servants (lit. my slaves), whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. (Leviticus 25:42)
And again in 25:55...For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants (slaves). They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
So one reason God repeatedly reminds the Israelites of their deliverance from slavery is to remind them of God's goal in their redemption: they are to serve Him and him alone; to please Him. He is their Master. Yet He is nothing like the cruel taskmasters of Egypt. God's people are to serve Him with joy and gratitude. But they must listen to Him, to Leviticus. As we talked about, only He could enable them to draw near cleansed of sin's flammable stains.
But in listening to Him, they would also learn about another reason God gave them this book..
3. Because God Separates His People
Listen again to Leviticus 11:45, this time in entirety: For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
If we continue with this image of God as a fire in our midst, then this verse reveals another beautiful layer. Not only can God protect us from being consumed by the fire of His holiness, but amazingly, He can also put that fire within us. Wonderfully, He can help us reflect the very light he himself gives us.
In several sections of Leviticus, God makes it clear to the Israelites that they are not to be like the nations surrounding them; not like the Egyptians, from whence they came, and not the like Canaanites, the land to which they journeyed. These were 'gasoline-soaked' lands, full of sin's 'fuel', and God was calling His people to be distinct; to be different.
In many strange and spectacular ways, Leviticus has taught and continues to teach God's people about what it means to be sanctified; a people set apart from the world's ways.
So again, why Leviticus? Because God separates His people, because He redeemed His people, and ultimately, because God dwells with His people. Listen for all three of those themes in the final chapter of the book (although there's an appendix to book...chap 27...this is from chap. 26):
“You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence [stand in awe of] my sanctuary: I am the LORD.  If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them...I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect [upright].” (26:2, 3, 12-13)
III. A Full Tent, Full of Glory
The one goal for this morning, my singular hope in terms of impacting your life, is that you would leave today hungry to know more; that you would be fully open to what God wants to show you from this strange and spectacular book. And yet, the strongest argument I can make for Leviticus actually comes from the Apostle John. Look with me at John 1, verse 14. Listen and tell me if any of this sounds familiar?
And the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally, tented, tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)
Did you see it? Did you hear it? John is describing the coming of and the work of Jesus with the language of Exodus and Leviticus. The presence of God among us, radiating His glory. But this time, it is a fuller glory: “glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And John makes the contrast clear, just in case we missed it. Through Moses, God gave “the law”. But through Jesus came “grace and truth”. A fuller tent. A fuller glory.
What does this mean for us? It means that Jesus Christ is the fullness of both the context (the tent!) and content of Leviticus. And we can rest assured this book will keep pointing us back to Him, over and over. Why study Leviticus? Brothers and sisters, that we might see Jesus.
Leviticus was God's classroom to teach the Israelites the fundamentals of sin, sacrifice, and sanctification. But in one sense, it is a kindergarten classroom, and thus uses lots of pictures. But in another sense, Leviticus earns, at the very least, a PG-13 rating. It is raw, it is brutal, it is hard, but it is always honest. It is always “profitable”...because it was and is God's word.
Though strange and spectacular, Leviticus gives us a glimpse into what God is really like, and what we are really like. And we need that perspective. Are you ready to hear from this 'living Leviticus'? Are you prepared to be 'living Leviticus'? Let's go to the God who dwells in our midst and ask Him to help us do those very things.
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)