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Sin

Needing to See

My eyes play tricks on me - or maybe it is my mind.  Likely it is both of them conspiring together.  In my work, I have thoroughly searched a piece of paper for a certain phrase and have not been able to find it, only to have a coworker point it out with a single glance.  I have triple-checked and noted an error in an address between two places where it was written, but then looked back again to see that there was no error after all. Moments like this are shocking and disturbing to me.  We rely upon our senses, and our minds' interpretation of that data, for practically everything, so we don't want to think that our input can be corrupted somewhere along the pipeline!

I have come to realize through all of this just how much I depend upon God's grace to be able to see the world as it really is.  I already know that my heart is traitorous, and now I am discovering that my mind and my eyes can be too.

I think about this in relation to an atheist that I came into contact with last year.  This man so completely hates the idea of God that he has devoted his entire Facebook profile to making belligerent statements against those who believe.  He ridicules the Bible and anyone who confesses to hold to its truths.  And as I think about him this morning, I understand that what he really needs is for the blinders to be taken off. He has been blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and he is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and the only thing that can ever change him is if God opens his eyes, removes the blinders, speaks into his mind "Let there be light", and brings him to life from the dead (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 2:4-5).

But this man does not deserve for God to bring him to life in this way.  He has said so many blasphemous things against God and His revelation of Himself in His Word that he deserves to be dragged alive into hell, kicking and screaming and weeping.  But here's the clincher: so did I...No; so do I, and so do you.  This man's rebellious heart is no different from any other individual's in the history of humankind (except One).  Romans 3:10-18 tells us how it really is:

None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.

That's not a description of only part of the human race - the people you don't like.  That's a description of the whole human race, and you and I are included in that!  This is what spiritual blindness looks like.  It's what a broken mind and perverted senses look like.  A person who is still living in that original human condition, inherited from our forefather Adam, just can't see the Truth, just can't hear the Truth, and just can't love the Truth.  It can be right in front of their faces and yet they miss it.  And we all know people - even loved ones - who have been exposed to the Gospel over and over again, but they just don't want it.  Nothing we can do will make them want it, either.

Thankfully, it's not all up to us!  We are commanded to tell the Good News, but we are not commanded to bring the dead to life.  That's God's work!  He can remove the blinders from any man, no matter how far gone.  Take the apostle Paul, for instance: he was trying to kill the followers of the Messiah and silence their message right up until Jesus said, "Let there be light" into his darkened mind.

This should be a profound encouragement to us, both in our struggle for the souls of our loved ones and every time we share the Gospel.  The Spirit blows where He wills (John 3:8) and has the power to make spiritually dead people be born again into life.  He can cause the blind to see His glory by graciously opening their eyes.  That's encouraging because that's work that we can't do!  If He chooses to illuminate the one to whom we are witnessing, then praise God; another brother or sister has come into the family!  If He chooses not to, then we can be confident that He has His own reasons for not doing it, and those reasons are wise and good and perfect.  That encourages me to share my faith more because the pressure is off of me.  It's easy to just tell someone about Jesus and what He has done and then leave all of the heavy lifting to God.

And for those of us who have had these spiritual eyes openened, we need to be continually thankful for His ongoing work of feeding our spiritual senses with Truth.  And we need to be conscious of the fact that He actually does this.  We can't trust our senses or our intellect to provide accurate information without the grace of God at work, but we can always trust our Savior to provide all that we need.

Hope for Sinners

Most Bible readers are very familiar with the many, many sins of the northern kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament.  That nation did not have a single godly king.  They were constantly whoring themselves to pagan idols and to the two golden calves of Jeroboam son of Nebat.  Their rulers consistently ignored the Word of Yahweh, delivered to them by such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, Jonah, and Nahum.  It was a despicable land full of rebellion, and yet God showed them mercy time and time again.

Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz.  But Yahweh was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and He turned toward them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has He cast them from his presence until now. (2 Kings 13:22-23)

I had to highlight the above passage in my Bible this morning.  Upon reading it, I was struck with the profound magnitude of God's mercy and grace: that His patience would yet extend to this spiritually adulterous people because of a covenant made long before.

Not only that, but this passage is especially encouraging to me because I am a sinner.  Just as the northern kingdom of Israel provoked God's wrath time and time again, so have I done.  At times it seems to me that there can be no patience left with God toward my sin.  And then I read of how God put up with these Old Testament sinners for generations upon generations because of a covenant made with some men hundreds of years before, and I remember that there is a greater covenant of which I am a part.

This New Covenant is spoken of often in both Old and New Testaments, but for the purposes of this hope that I am exploring, I want to look at just one reference:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

The covenant that God the Father has made concerning me and concerning all born again believers was not simply made with some mere human.  He covenanted with His own Son - His Image, His glory, and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3) - to save those whom He chose and predestined to save (Ephesians 1:4-5).  Our names were written in a book from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  He has given us as a bride for His Son, and all those whom He has given will come to Him, and those who come to Him He will never cast out (John 6:37)!

And so here is hope: not in our own ability to walk perfectly before the Lord, but in His ability to keep us in spite of our sin and to present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 24).  He extends patience and mercy and grace and blessing not because of goodness in us, but because of His decision to save us and His covenant to do so.  This is the only hope that I have - the only hope that anyone can have - that we belong to Him and that He will not let us be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28).

Convenient Worship

I think that King Jeroboam of the northern kingdom of Israel must be the patron 'saint' of the modern American church.  You remember king Jeroboam, right?  He was the one who came before Solomon's son Rehoboam to ask that he reduce the heavy burden of labor that Solomon had forced onto the people.  And after King Rehoboam denied the request, it was Jeroboam who led the rebellion of ten of the tribes of Israel, and who himself was crowned king of those tribes in the north. And Jeroboam hadn't been king very long before he started to see a potential problem for his kingdom.  The fact that the temple of Yahweh was located in Jerusalem would mean that a good many of his people would still travel down to the south in order to worship as Yahweh required at His temple.  He was worried that as his people traveled thus several times per year their hearts would gradually return to the southern king of Judah.  So, Jeroboam came up with a plan, and this is why I say that he must be the patron 'saint' of the modern American church.

First, King Jeroboam would make the pilgrimage to the place of worship more convenient.  Instead of the one temple down in Judah, now the northern king told his people that there were two new alternatives for worship much closer right there in the land of Israel.  He put one of these places in Bethel and one in Dan (1 Kings 12:29).  Now the people would not have to travel so far: a welcome change from the oppressive commands of old!

Second, King Jeroboam made some symbols that people could look at to focus their worship.  Instead of just a place to bring sacrifices and pray, now they had some beautiful golden calves to give their worship some meaning beyond simply bringing the offerings that God required.  Worshipers could focus their attention and finally feel like their god was a little closer to them.  This made the god easier to manage: less spiritual, invisible, all-powerful, and holy.  He became more familiar to them; they could finally understand the one that they worshiped.

Third, King Jeroboam removed the stringent requirements on who could and could not officiate temple service.  Yahweh had commanded that only the Levites could serve the temple, but Jeroboam saw the oppression in that and so he let anyone who desired to do so become one of the leaders of worship (1 Kings 13:33).  Gone now were all of the arguments of years gone by over who could be the special ones who serve the temple.  Now anyone who wanted an inside job with little heavy lifting could sign right up.  This was progress!

Fourth, King Jeroboam invented his own feast days (1 Kings 12:33).  Those others that Yahweh had commanded weren't as good as the ones that he could "devise from his own heart", so he set up new ones.  After all, what could possibly be wrong with inventing a new celebration of worship?  It all just adds to the experience!

Finally, he removed senseless restrictions on where people could worship.  Sure, he had already made the two temples at Bethel and Dan for convenience, but he also allowed the people to worship on any old high hill that they desired.  Yahweh had said that this was off-limits, but the new easier-to-understand gods that Jeroboam had made didn't care one bit!  If you want to worship over there on that mountain in your own way, why should anyone stop you?  The new worship is all about what makes you feel good about the experience!

Note as you read the chapters concerning Jeroboam in 1 Kings that there are no stories of any other sin that the man might have committed.  We are not told about adulteries, murders, covetousness, abortion, homosexuality, or any other 'low' sin that he may have been involved in.  Far more destructive than any of those things in God's eyes is what this king did concerning the worship of Yahweh: how he broke from the clear instructions that God had given in order to make things more convenient and to not have to tell anyone, "No!  You can't do that!"  And the pronouncement that we have in the Scripture concerning all of Jeroboam's changes was that, "this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut off and to destroy it from the face of the earth" (1 Kings 13:34).

Sadly, it is far too easy to see the many parallels between Jeroboam's great sins and our own in the modern American church.  We try to remove every obstacle we can that might keep lost people from coming to church (even though the gathered worship is for believers and not unbelievers anyway), but in doing so, we remove a lot of what God has commanded should be in there.  We are constantly about the business of reducing God down to a manageable size: something that we can comprehend and that exists only to serve us.  We loathe to tell anyone "No" in worship, and let just about anyone stand behind the pulpit, teach our children in Sunday School (which is itself one of those added-on things that has become a sacred cow in today's church), lead the singing, or whatever.  We invent holidays and celebrate them like we want to (when was the last time you saw a command in the Scripture to celebrate Christmas or 'easter' - named after a pagan goddess that Jeroboam was even credited as worshiping?).  Our worship is all about doing what you feel is right and what makes you happy - what gives you the 'warm-fuzzies'.

God has not refused to speak on the kinds of things that He demands be a part of His worship in New Testament times.  It isn't as if He only really cared about such things during the Mosaic Covenant.  He has purposefully given us many instructions all throughout the New Testament epistles on how we should do church, but tragically most of these get completely ignored in favor of "what we've always done".  Tradition and whim are not the determiners of what true worship should be - God is!  Let's covenant more faithfully to pattern our churches and our worship on what He has said and leave "the devices of our own hearts" outside the doors.

A Very Wise Fool

As soon as we hear the name, King Solomon, it conjures to our mind's eye images of gold and peacocks and splendid ivory thrones bedecked with lions.  His kingdom was - simply put - the most beautiful and extravagant place that the world has ever seen.  He built palaces: for himself, for his wives, and, of course, for God.  We are told that he had so much gold that silver was nothing; it was about as common as dirt.  He ate with gold forks and spoons, drank from gold cups, and dwelt in such opulence that it took away the breath of even the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5). And Solomon received all of these gifts, as well as the most expansive kingdom that Israel has ever had, as a byproduct of one of Yahweh's blessings.  In 1 Kings chapter 3, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him to ask anything of Him and He will give it.  But instead of asking for long life or riches or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon simply asks for the wisdom to govern God's people.  God is so pleased by the humble request that He tells the young king that He will give him wisdom and all of the things that he didn't ask for besides!

But if we think that Solomon's physical blessings were astounding, we should take a look at the fruits of the blessing that he actually asked for.  King Solomon wrote most of the Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (or Solomon).  We are told that his wisdom was unmatched from that time onward.  People came from far and wide just to listen to his wise and discerning judgments.  There is no doubt that the man was exceedingly smart, and yet I've got a picture of a crying LEGO jester at the top of this article and the title says something about a fool, so obviously something went wrong.

Well, something did go wrong.  Later on in Solomon's life he began to do some really bad stuff - really foolish stuff.  His father David had committed adultery and killed one of his own 'mighty men' because of a pretty face, but Solomon would do worse.  We're told in 1 Kings 11:4-8 that Solomon eventually began to turn from Yahweh because of his many wives, which he loved, and he built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, and that he followed after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, another abomination of the Ammonites, as well.  The smartest man in the world was committing idolatry!  How could this be?

It began, as all sin does, with simple disobedience.  Solomon did not suddenly fall off the wagon one day and start building temples for idols.  He had been living in opposition to God's instructions for quite some time before that, and his eventual descent into idolatry was as a result of not being obedient from the outset to what God had commanded of His kings.

Listen for just a moment to what God had commanded through Moses concerning Israel's future kings way back in Deuteronomy (before the people of Israel ever even made it into the Promised Land):

When you come to the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say,'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you may indeed set a king over you whom Yahweh your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never return that way again.' And heshall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

These instructions, handed down by Yahweh Himself, read like a road map of Solomon's sins!  King Solomon actually violated every single command given here concerning Israel's kings.  He acquired many horses (1 Kings 10:26), he got them all from Egypt (v. 28), it would be an understatement to say that he had many wives (11:3), and he certainly had excessive silver and gold (10:14-22).

Now, even though we're not told one way or the other, I'm going to hazard a guess that Solomon probably didn't follow the latter half of those instructions either: the part that tells the kings to copy the Law and read it daily.  Perhaps if he would have done so, he would have seen earlier the huge problems that he was getting himself into.

So here we have a case where the smartest, wisest, and most likely richest man the world has ever known goes horribly astray because he wasn't reading his Bible every day.  Instead of being like him and relying on our own good sense to get us through each day, we ought to be like another king - one toward the end of Judah's history: Josiah.  King Josiah is the one that found the book of the Law hidden in the temple and simply read it.  And when he read God's Law, he did not just hear the words and then try to justify himself by coming up with reasons why he didn't need to follow those commands of God anymore, or by somehow convincing himself that he was in fact being obedient when he knew he wasn't.  He just tore his clothes, confessed his great sin, repented, begged forgiveness, and vowed to be obedient to what he had read for the rest of his days (2 Kings 22:11-23:25).  Let's read God's Word like that - every single day - and let it keep us from walking foolishly, no matter how wise we may be.

Despicable

When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" He responded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment" (Matthew 22:36-38). The very most important thing that we are commanded to do is to love the God who made us.  And we are not just to assent to this love, as though we can simply decide that love for God is something that we possess, but we are to love Him with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds.  Our affections should be consumed with love for Him.  Our spiritual natures should be delighted and satisfied in Him, drawing all of our strength from Him.  And our thoughts should be filled with wonder at all He has revealed as we are daily - even continually - fascinated with Him in meditation on what He has said and what He has done and all of who He is.

Needless to say, this command to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds is a rather difficult command to obey.  So many other things strive for the attention of our affections, our spirits, and our thoughts.  If we ever want to see how far we have "fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), we never need to look farther than this "first and great commandment".  It can condemn us every single day.

Sometimes, though, we grow so accustomed to the fact that we do fail in this area that we get comfortable, so to speak, with a lower level of love for God.  We know that we can't do it perfectly, but we convince ourselves that we are loving Him about as much as it is humanly possible to do.  And when we sin in other ways - break other commands of God - we would still hold forth that even during those times we maintained our love for God.  We just let the flesh get the better of us, or we became weak and succumbed to temptation.

I'm sure that's what King David would have said when confronted with his sin in his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband.  After all, he was the "man after God's own heart"!  Surely there is a difference between caving to your fleshly desires and refusing to love God!

That's not what God said, though.  In fact, He put it a bit more starkly than that when He spoke to David from the mouth of Nathan the prophet.  He said, "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife" (2 Samuel 12:10).

The Hebrew word that is translated as "despised" actually means very much the same thing as our English word.  It means that David held God in contempt, that he disdained Him, and that he felt a deep repugnance for Him.  In other words, it's pretty much the opposite of love and respect.

So in breaking God's command to not commit adultery, and in breaking God's command to not commit murder, David was also mightily breaking the most important command of all: to love his God with all of his heart, his soul, and his mind.  He showed contempt for God and His Law in his heart as he embraced another emotion - that of lust; and he disdained God in his spirit, squashing any conviction he may have felt and hardening himself against his own conscience; and he showed his disgust at having to be disciplined to think like God commanded him to think about the sanctity of marriage vows and the Law of God that protected them.  In the murder of Uriah, he also showed utter contempt for the image of God in man and allowed himself to order its destruction.

All sin is God-hating, pure and simple.  We might want to try to convince ourselves otherwise, but every time we disobey God's Law, we testify that He wasn't very good, wise, and loving to give such a command in the first place.  Each time we transgress against His revealed will, knowing full well that He sees us, and yet not caring in that moment, we give God the finger and dare Him to destroy us if He really is so holy as He says.

Jesus said it best and most simply when He said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  That's what love for God with all of your heart, soul, and mind looks like.  That's why He said that such love was the great and first commandment.  Obedience to all of the others stems from obedience to the first.

So the next time your flesh tries to entice you to indulge in the transgression of God's Law - no matter what that may be - let your spirit remind you that you cannot love God and give in to that temptation.  Understand that you will be declaring how much you despise God as you carry out your rebellion against Him.  Hopefully, such thoughts will lead you away from the precipice and back toward the loving embrace of our holy God.

Spit on My Face

Sin has farther-reaching consequences than we are probably comfortable with.  Many of us live under the Satanic delusion that if we indulge ourselves in some fleshly way or another and then immediately pray for forgiveness, that everything will be alright again.  God will take us back.  He won't remain angry at us.  After all, Christ took the wrath for that sin on the cross; as long as I'm truly sorry, God won't sustain the consequences of His displeasure. Once again, it was John Owen that opened my eyes to the falsehood of these thoughts.  Chapter 13 in Kapic and Taylor's edition of his Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is entitled, "Do Not Speak Peace to Yourself Before God Speaks It, But Hearken to What God Says to Your Soul".  His point in this chapter is that the Christian who willfully sins ought not to kid himself that the relationship between him and God has been restored until God makes that plain.  He even goes so far to say that we can't even use the Scripture's promises of restoration for the repentant to assuage our souls before God has given the comfort Himself.

I don't mind admitting that I neither liked nor agreed with this chapter in Owen's work when I first read it.  Surely if we claim the Bible's promises of reconciliation, we will indeed be reconciled!

Numbers 12 changed my mind.  In that chapter, Miriam sinned when she spoke against Moses.  Her pride welled up and produced fruit when she grew tired of Moses' continual leadership and desired some spotlight for herself as well.  In punishment for this sin, she was struck with leprosy.  We are told in verse 11 that Aaron, and most likely Miriam as well, immediately sought forgiveness.  Moses himself even dropped to his face in that very moment to plead with Yahweh on her behalf.  God's answer to Moses' prayer ought to give us a chill: "If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days?  Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again" (Numbers 12:14).

Would it change how readily you give into the temptation of the Devil or your own wicked heart (James 1:14) if you knew that the fracture in your relationship to God after the fact would last for a week or more?  It should!  Life stinks when we have no joy and peace in serving the Lord.  Satan knows that.  He is ever your enemy.  When he overcomes your will with temptation and you take a bite of what he has offered, his weapons tear through your soul.  You have just invited the assassin into your home, and he is not interested in merely giving you some morsel that you desire so that you can indulge and then immediately fly back to God.  He knows, even if you don't, that God's displeasure at your transgression will not be immediately over.  One of the Enemy's greatest lies is to tell you that you can sin and then go immediately to the Father for a restored peace.

Don't get me wrong here.  I'm not talking about ultimate forgiveness for sins.  That's Christ's work.  I'm talking about peace and blessedness.  If you want to be greatly used of God tomorrow, then don't indulge in presumptuous sin today.  If you want to experience the joy and peace of salvation this month, then don't give into the temptation to willfully violate God's commands under some kind of illusion that you can simply ask for forgiveness and be immediately and totally restored.

We need to fear the shaming spit of our Father and let that fear drive us toward a more serious pursuit of holiness.  I don't like the way the worldlings live.  I've tasted the joy and beauty of living in God's peace and I don't want to go back, even for a week.  Start counting the costs of sin and let that steep price-tag allow you to pass right on by without even taking the offered temptation off of the shelf for a look.

The Sin-Killer

You want to know how cool the Bible is?  It has a story about a guy who rams a spear through two people having sex.  And on top of that, God is so pleased with this action that He makes an eternal covenant of peace with the killer right there on the spot.  The young killer's name was Phineas (yes, I would love to name a son after him), and his story is found in Numbers 25. Now, I have already written about my sick tastes in being drawn to stories like this (see previous blog post here), so I won't do so again here.  Instead, I want to focus on why God was so pleased with what happened.

One commandment that God repeatedly gives His people is that they should not intermix with unbelievers.  Israel was to remain separate from the nations around them, and God's reasoning behind commanding this was that shackling yourself in marriage to an unbeliever is about the most sure way to corrupt your faith that can be found (Exodus 34:12-16).  If you marry a pagan, it is very likely that he or she will eventually lead you off into some aspect or another of paganism.  Thus, in the New Testament as well, those in the church are given the command to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14).  To do so is purely disobedient and utterly foolish, no matter what kind of ridiculous excuse the believer gives about "evangelistic dating" or whatever.

Well, in Numbers 25, this was exactly the way that Satan was ambushing the people of God.  He sent a bunch of hot Moabite girls into the camp and all of the stupid Israelite guys were chasing after them.  Then, when they invited the boys to the sacrifices of their gods, these lust-sick idiots went right along with them.

In judgment of these acts, God told Moses to "Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel" (Numbers 25:4).  So, Moses gives the order to the judges of Israel.  And while they are standing there discussing this, and while the godly ones were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting because of the sad state of the people, a fool named Zimri walks by with a Moabite whore named Cozbi, giggling and making googly-eyes at each other as they made their way toward Zimri's tent (okay the giggling and googly-eyes aren't in the text, but you get the picture).  At this point, Phineas, the grandson of Aaron, grabs a spear and follows them into the bedroom where he shish-kabobs them right there on the spot in the act (Numbers 25:7-8).

God's pleasure with this act of justice is made immediately known.  He tells Moses that Phineas has turned back His wrath against the people of Israel, and He gives as His reason for this that "[Phineas] was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy" (verse 11).  Apparently this is a similar case to what I wrote yesterday: if we will uphold God's holiness in our lives, then He will not have to show Himself holy in judging us.  Likewise, if we show His jealousy for the righteousness of His people in our lives, then He won't have to show it in judging us in that jealousy.

Phineas, then, becomes the model sin-killer for us.  The tabernacle used to sit in the middle of the Israelite camp, but in the New Covenant each believer becomes the temple that houses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  And just as the godly ones were weeping at the tabernacle for the sin that was in the camp, when we bring sin into our lives it grieves the Holy Spirit who dwells within (Ephesians 4:30).  So we need to become like one who would take up the spear and put sin to death with God's jealousy for His Name.  We need to be ruthless in the way that we stomp out disobedience in our own hearts.  Let this young man be a role model to you and look on your sins not as delicious distractions that you would hate to lose, but as an enemy in the camp who needs to be killed violently and immediately.

The Holy Horror Show

"Lay your hand on his head and kill him...""Flay him and cut him in pieces..."

"Bring the blood and throw it against the wall..."

"Wring off his head..."

"Tear open his chest..."

"Stack his head on top of his fat..."

"Wash the entrails and stack them with the rest..."

"Burn it all...It is a pleasing aroma."

After reading the instructions on how to offer a sacrifice in the first few chapters of Leviticus, I wonder if an Israelite would have been grossed out in the slightest by watching even our most gruesome horror movies.  This is macabre stuff!  It becomes even more horrifying when you try to put all the images, sounds, smells, and details together in your head to create a decent picture of what it must have been like to be there.

Well before you were able to walk your spotless lamb anywhere near the place of sacrifice, you would have seen the column of greasy smoke reflecting the hellish light of a large bonfire somewhere below.  The screams of dying and frightened animals would no doubt fill the air.  Somewhere, you probably had to jump over or slog through a little stream of blood and gore flowing from the place.  Then you catch a glimpse of it through the gate: fire!  In the flames you can see heads with eyeballs melting in their sockets, burning lumps of slimy fat, kidneys and intestines hanging half over the side of the altar.  And there are priests with blood-stained clothes (so much blood!) slinging buckets of the stuff against the walls of the grill.  Another one snatches a bull close to him as he slashes its throat and one more spray of blood erupts over the scene.

This is hell.  There is no other word for it and there is no other concept in the human imagination that better fits the description of what is going on here.  Just inside the court of the Jewish temple and tabernacle stood a gate to hell.

What was this awful place doing there?  Why in the world did God demand that such a thing ever be a part of His holy worship?  To answer those questions, it is necessary to also imagine what laid beyond the altar of sacrifice.

On the other side of the court stood the Holy Place - the tabernacle or temple itself (depending on where we are in our imagination: the desert or the city of Jerusalem).  This was a palace of heart-stopping beauty.  Literally no expense was spared on the construction of either place.  They were buildings so full of gold and light that our eyes would be quite possibly completely overwhelmed at the sight.  And in there in the midst was the Holy of Holies - the very place where God set His presence and met with His people.  This was heaven.  No more beautiful or holy a place has ever existed in the history of the world.

And yet to draw near to heaven meant that one must first deal with hell.  The burning altar stood between you and the golden palace, and someone or something had to go into that fire before you could proceed.  This was because of a breach of God's Law.  The One who created the universe (including you) gave instructions for how His creatures were to behave and you disobeyed those instructions.  That horrible fire speaks of what you deserve: the end that God has appointed for His enemies.  But He has also made a gracious provision for you.  Another can go into the flames in your place!  Bring a lamb without blemish.  It will go into that hell that you see instead of you, allowing you to pass on by on your way to the glory beyond.

This is the gospel - written with bold bloody letters right at the start of one of the most unread books in the Old Testament.  It is possible for a spotless Lamb to suffer the holy wrath of God so that the wicked sinner can enter His presence.  "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"  That was the way that John the Baptist introduced his crowd to Jesus in John 1:29.  Ultimately, none of those bloody animal sacrifices actually removed the guilt of sin from those who offered them (Hebrews 10:4).  Their purpose was to teach people the horrible price of sin and to prepare us to understand what it was that Jesus was doing when He died - the spotless for the blemished - on the cross.

The Universality of Obedience

The following quote comes from the first part of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, entitled, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, written by John Owen and edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor:

The second principle which to this purpose I shall propose is this: Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained...You set yourself with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is the reason of it?  It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it.  Yea, but friend, you have neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same nature with that lust wherewith you are perplexed.  These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan.  Jesus Christ bled for them also.  Why do you not set yourself against them also?  If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul.  It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it.  Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone.  Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you.  Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors - that ever his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit?  Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him?  No.  God says, "Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost."  Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's.  God's work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only.  Hence is that of the apostle: "Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).  If we will do anything, we must do all things.  So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

A Crime of Comparison

There are a few comparisons that should be obvious.  Sodom and Gomorrah must have been more wicked than first-century Capernaum - they were destroyed by a rain of fire and sulfur after all.  The apostle Paul must have been less of a sinner than someone like Adolf Hitler.  And for anyone who has read the Old Testament, the Southern Kingdom of Judah must have been a far more righteous place than the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  For one thing, the Southern Kingdom at least had a few good kings, whereas the Northern Kingdom was completely spiritually and morally bankrupt from the day of its secession to the day it went into captivity to Assyria. But if these comparisons are true, then why in the world does the Bible state that the opposite is the case in each of these three examples?

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you. (Matthew 11:23-24)

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (Paul speaking in 1 Timothy 1:15)

And the LORD said to me, "Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. (Jeremiah 3:11)

What we miss when we make the opposite assumption is that the offense of sin gets greater the closer a person or a people walk with God.  Those who flagrantly transgress the laws of God when they have never heard them are not nearly as culpable as those who flagrantly indulge in what they have heard forbidden.  And to go deeper: those who sin in full knowledge of their wrong out of a hatred for God are still less culpable than those who love God and His Law and yet continue to offend Him.

It's just like that Biblical adage, "But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48).  Paul didn't just think he was the chief of sinners, he knew that he was because he had been entrusted with so much more than really anyone else at the time, and yet he continued to sin.

That's why I can't ever make myself feel better about my own sin by comparing my life to someone else's.  If I compare myself to someone whose heart has not been changed by the Holy Spirit, then my sin will always be more grievous because I have been entrusted with far more than that person.  If I compare myself to someone who I feel like is far greater than me spiritually, it doesn't really help to think that their lesser sins are more grievous to God.  That thought doesn't stroke my fleshly confidence.  "Haha!  He is better than me, so that means he's in bigger trouble!"  Nope.  No good.  Especially since it's those kinds of people that we want to become more and more like.

So who can we look to when we feel like a failure that will make us feel better?  Well, that should be easy.  We should look to Christ - not to compare ourselves to Him - but rather to see Him who is our righteousness.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30, "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption."  Ultimately, I don't have to compare my righteousness to anyone else's, because my own righteousness is not ever what counts.  I have a stand-in.  Christ became my righteousness, so my righteousness is perfection Himself.  Praise be to God!