I have to write some hard things. I have to ask some questions that have no clear-cut answers. I have to begin with the assurance that despite what I have to write today, the end of any thoughts on the cup of wrath is the promise of the mercy of God that gave us Christ to save us.
Before the New Testament, people who sinned had to “get right” with God through the offering of different sacrifices. The Book of Leviticus spells out what sins call for different animal or grain offerings and just how those offerings were to be carried out. Then, Leviticus starts to spell out what makes a person unclean. Touching dead animals, being a woman in her cycle, even having a boil can make a person unclean, requiring yet another set of procedures–different procedures for each different circumstance. In one instance, the poor, afflicted person had to go around with a shaved head outside of the camp for a week or more, covering his/her mouth and saying out loud, over and over, “unclean, unclean.”
Maybe 4000 years ago, people didn’t get acne like we do today. Maybe words didn’t carry the same power so that a person having to call out their uncleanness all the time would really believe their own cleanness when the priest finally declared it. These are questions God knows the answers to, and my faith has to leave at that.
But, what I realized as I read through Leviticus this morning was that once the book covers the sin offerings, it very clearly delineates that the cleanliness procedures have to do with ceremonial cleanness. When God saved the Jews from Egypt, He was beginning to establish the practice of worshipping one God, HIM.
Part of establishing monotheism among a people who had always believed in Him but also still worshipped other gods was making those people understand just how perfect, pure, powerful and different the God of the Jews really was. Remember how there were several of the plagues in Egypt that even the Egyptian magicians could imitate? As slaves, the Jews had been surrounded for more than 400 years with masters who worshipped a pantheon of gods.
To set Himself apart, God rightfully wanted His people to understand the Holiness of His temple. Only Moses spoke with Him directly, and afterward Moses’ face glowed so that he had to cover it because the glow scared the Jews. To enter even the outer sections of the temple that was dedicated to the one and only LORD, therefore, God needed to make very clear-cut delineations between what was clean and unclean. Those who did not take God’s commands seriously, literally died.
Fast-forward to a New Testament world, and I come to the tough questions. These are the kind of questions that can keep Christians apart, even though they really shouldn’t be “deal breakers.” I only ask them because they came to me as I contemplated the importance placed on ceremonial cleanliness in Leviticus.
First, the only reason we have the right to enter the Holy of Holies is through the sacrifice that Christ made for us. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes from our acceptance of Christ as our Savior, we have full access to the one and only God. But, in a modern world where we have tried so hard to make our churches “welcoming,” have we gone too far away from the symbolic importance of the Holiness of the worship sanctuary?
In the church I attend, some people wear jeans, others wear dresses and suits. The church has a coffee bar in the Atrium, and people bring their coffee into the worship service. It is a friendly, comfortable environment, but is it Holy? In other words, I’d like to think that we humans have advanced in the last 4000 years, but I also know that in the 2000 years since Christ declared His kingdom, we haven’t put forth the greatest track record. We are all stubborn and stiff-necked people.
Would wearing our best (or the equivalent of the Sunday best that the least affluent member of the church is able to wear so that church doesn’t become a glamour contest) and entering the sanctuary with only our Bibles in our hands make us more cognizant of the honor we have in being able to worship God in this way? Have we lost a bit in translation by making our worship centers more comfortable than sanctified?
I’m not making any judgments or trying to start any arguments here. I think this is a practice each person can decide for him/herself. I, for one, am going to stop the habit I had begun of taking a drink into the sanctuary just because others were also doing it. I didn’t feel right about it for myself from the get-go. After being reminded about the importance of ceremonial cleanliness to God in the time of the Old Testament, I feel that I need to uphold the sanctity of the sanctuary in this way even though I am already sanctified by Christ.
As I heard a preacher once remark, if God wanted this much from us before He sacrificed His one and only Son, what makes us think He would want less of us now that that sacrifice has been made?
It seems like foregoing a beverage and dressing with care before entering the sanctuary on Sunday are some simple steps I can take to remind myself of the holiness of the worship in which I am about to partake. Leviticus serves as an awesome reminder of the depth of God’s love for His people and the extent of His wrath when His very, very long patience finally wears out.