Posted in coaching

LENTviticus 11: giving something up

Historical documents indicate that prayerful reflection and fasting during Lent goes back to the early church. Irenaeus (ca. 130-202), in a letter to Pope Victor, the bishop of Rome, mentioned a two-to-three-day pre-Easter fast in which the “variation in observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.” By 325, the Council of Nicea recommended a 40-day fast during Lent for new believers preparing for baptism—a challenge that quickly spread to the entire Church. Over time, “giving something up” became the centerpiece of Lent.

Which brings us to Leviticus of all places! In Leviticus 11, God instructed Israel to refrain from eating certain foods. Why were some animals declared “clean” while others were labeled “unclean”? What was it that made rabbits, geckos, mice, and pigs unfit for dinner? Even lobster and shrimp were banned from the kitchen table! What’s going on here?

Animals represented human beings.

Sacrificial animals represented Israel as a kingdom of priests. Clean animals represented Gentiles who worshipped Yahweh (e.g., Jethro, Rahab, Ruth, etc.). Unclean animals represented those who worshipped other gods. Israel’s observance of the food laws was a reminder that God had set them apart to be a light to the nations, so that by her light, salvation may reach the end of the earth.

However, abstaining from certain foods did not make them holy. Jesus confirmed this: “Whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him” nor make him holy—to which Mark concludes, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:18-19). Anyone can be made clean by trusting in Christ.

When Peter received a vision of unclean animals, he heard a voice say, “Rise Peter; kill and eat … Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:9-15). Notice how Peter interprets the vision when the Spirit sends him to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. “God has shown me that I must not call any person impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter saw animals in the vision, but he finally understood that animals represented people. “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him … there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (10:34-36).

“Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor 8:8). “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). God’s kingdom isn’t about food and drink (Rom 14:17). When we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our food will be to do God’s will (John 4:34).

So, what about giving up from something over Lent? Jesus offered no instructions on when or how to fast. But he did make one thing clear: fasting should be motivated by a serious felt need (Matt 9:14-15) and “obvious only to your Father” in heaven (Matt 6:16-18).

Posted in coaching

LENTviticus 8-10

Who in their right mind would focus on Leviticus for Lent? Everyone … if you called it Lentviticus! Last week we learned that the first seven chapters of Leviticus are about five different offerings. In Leviticus 8-10, it’s all about the priests. Before you click off, please hear me out!

Every priest must be set apart to the Lord. Why? “So that the glory of the LORD may appear” (Lev 9:6). Well, this is suddenly exciting! This only makes sense if we understand that all human beings were originally called to be priests. God created humans to be mediators of his presence, people who dedicate all of creation to him. Creation is God’s cosmic temple! Unfortunately, most human beings have refused to function as priests. When it got down to a family of priests (the tribe of Levi), the priests needed to be consecrated.

How do the NT authors interpret the need for consecration now that we have become “a royal priesthood” because our “great high priest has passed through the heavens” (1 Pet 2:9; Heb 4:14; cf. Heb 7:24-25)?

Levitical priests were “washed with water” (Lev 8:6). That’s it? Plain water? Jesus is much more thorough! Now all believers are consecrated through water baptism. Plus, he continually cleanses us “by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:25-26).

Levitical priests were given special clothes (Lev 8:7-13). That’s it? Fancy pants? Well, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27). What a deal! Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love looks good on you (Col 3:12-14)!

Levitical priests had anointing oil poured over their head (Lev 8:12). That’t it? Scented olive oil? Jesus anoints us with the Holy Spirit who empowers and guides us into all the truth (1 John 2:20; John 16:13).

Levitical priests had to continually offer sacrifices to seal their consecration (Lev 8:14-29). Thank God that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:10, 14). We are now able “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5).

Levitical priests had blood applied on their ear lobe (to hear God clearly), on their right thumb (to cover their conduct), and on their big right toe (to cover their movement) (Lev 8:23-24). That’s it? A bit superficial, don’t you think? Jesus’ shed blood is way more comprehensive. His blood so thoroughly “cleanses us from all sin” that it “cleanses our conscience” and opens the way to God’s throne (1 John 1:7; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:14; 10:19). But that’s not all! Jesus even “reconciles to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20).

During this Lenten season, let us prepare our hearts like priests to Jesus Christ the King.