The Fire in your Midst

—Ryan J. Ogrodowicz

The English noun "cosmos" is a cognate of the Greek kosmeo, which means to "put in order so as to appear neat or well organized" (BDAG, 560). God "cosmosed" the universe from nothing in six days by his divine word. Animals, humanity, vegetation, and lights-all of creation reveals God's concern about order and structure.

With Genesis, other Mosaic books contain detailed instructions on a variety of topics including temple furnishings, offerings, feast days, childbirth, loving the neighbor, sexual ethics, mold, and leprosy. We don't need to get lost in the minutia to see amidst the precision and details surrounding the cultic lives of ancient Israel that God was no stranger to order and distinction among people, places and things, especially regarding worship. Order and distinction of divinely mandated categories abound in the Old Testament, particularly in the Mosaic books where one frequently encounters words like clean, unclean, holy, and profane.

One such holy object of grave importance was the meeting place of nomadic Israel, the tent of meeting. It was consecrated by God and so considered sacred ground (Exod 29:43-46). Grain, sin, and guilt offerings were holy foods consumed only by priests in the sacred tabernacle (Lev 6:26). They were holy by God's decree and reserved for men consecrated as his priests. Also, the ark of the testimony, the altar of incense and burnt offerings, along with other temple furnishings, were consecrated by God, and like certain foods they were instructed to be handled only by the sacred (holy) priests (cf. Exod 30:26-27).

Far from harmless descriptions, God took the holy and profaned serious enough to enact the death penalty when these lines were crossed (Num 18:32). The terms "clean" and "unclean" applied to people and things, such as the postpartum woman and leper, both of whom were unclean until declared clean by the priest. The peace offering was holy food for those outside the priesthood, but a penalty still ensued if it was eaten wrongly. Not only was the unclean person barred from eating the holy peace offering, but doing so warranted exclusion from the congregation (Lev 6:20), a punishment applying also to those touching anything unclean either an object, person or beast (Lev 6:21). The unfortunate case of Aaron's sons clearly demonstrates God's holy demand that man approach him correctly (Lev 10:1-3ff).

The above categories existed for the relationship between God and his people. Tangible holiness was in the midst of the congregation; a holy God dwelled amongst his people set apart to be his own. Since the fall, there is a problem for sinners regarding holiness, namely God is holy and man is not. Man is defiled by sin and in need of divine holiness and purity only God provides. The distinctions between clean and unclean, holy and profane, come from the God's overarching injunction in Scripture for holiness: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2). Holiness needs separation from the unclean, as seen in the reason God gives for keeping his consecrated people apart from her neighbors: "You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lev 20:26). In addition, despite debate on why exactly some animals are deemed clean over and above others, Scripture is explicit on the reason for God's division between the clean and unclean in the animal world:

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore by holy, for I am holy" (Lev 11:44-45).

While the Mosaic cultic rites and practices are discontinued in the New Testament and fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17-20), the relationship between God and man expressed in these rites continues to the present. For ancient Israel, their problem was the same for us today: how do sinners become holy before a holy God? God's Word established ways in which they could worship in faith for the forgiveness of sins, just as Christians are called to worship by faith in Christ. In the Israelite system safeguards were in place to prevent inadvertent contact with God's holiness, such as the postpartum woman's ban from the holy place until she was clean, along with people afflicted with skin diseases (Lev 12-14). Lest we forget, a holy God was on the scene in the midst of sinful people. The distinctions and separation created by the divine word would've been a constant reminder for the people that God is a consuming fire of holiness demanding a proper interaction from sinners in need of his holiness and cleansing from sin.

The sacrificial system and many other things in the Mosaic books have found their terminus in the person of Christ. But the essence of God's holiness hasn't changed and neither has the sinner. God is as holy today as He was for ancient Israel, and humanity is just as sinful today as in the years BC. We must not forget the God we worship is a holy God, a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). Christian worship involves gathering in the holy name of Jesus Christ; our holy God is in our midst as we serve him in faith receiving the holiness he imparts by his word. While not having holy relics, we have something far greater in that we have the holy word of God, the "most holy" of relics. Luther: "the Word of God is the true holy relic above all holy objects. Indeed, it is the only one we Christians know and have."1 When the word of God is on the scene, Christ and his holiness are present. In short, we still encounter a holy God when we worship, and we are still sinners gathered to receive the forgiveness and sanctification he promises to impart by his grace through faith in Jesus.

This needs to be kept in mind when discussing the worship life of the Church. The vacuous terms "contemporary" and "liturgical" are often flippantly tossed around in worship debates, complete with subjective understandings of each. If the organ is liturgical, then the electric guitar is contemporary. Vestments are traditional, so Abercrombie is modern. Candles are historic, and spotlights are hip. None of this receives explicit commands from Scripture. As for what instruments are worthy in the Divine Service, I remember a pastor quoting from Psalm 150 as his reason for including a variety of instruments in worship. The organ was not one of them.

A question that I believe does not get asked enough is whether or not the worship service conveys to sinners that in their midst is a holy God? Does reverence and awe flow not from ecstatic light shows and theatrics, but the truth of God graciously bestowing his forgiveness and holiness to faithful sinners? Does a worship service mark the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the clean and the unclean-in other words, the distinction between a sinful world and the holy Christ? A sanctuary needs to be just what the word itself implies: a holy place because the holy name of God is invoked at the beginning of service, not a room adorned with worldly trappings muddling distinctions between the sacred and profane. Architecture and worship styles can certainly help teach and appeal to the senses in a way that aids the hearer in believing when the holy name of God is invoked, there is the holy Christ, and you, O sinner, are forgiven and sanctified on account of his all-atoning sacrifice.

The Christian is not of the world. The holiness of God is not the kingdom of darkness, but something different, something distinct, just like his holy church. In the framework of biblical holiness, steeples, crosses, and stained glass mark distinction and difference very well, as do candles and vestments. So did a tent of meeting, altar, blood, robes, and gold-plated ark. They imply nonconformity to an ever-changing creation, and in the same way our holy God doesn't change before sinners (Mal 3:6). Just as the tent of meeting and worship life of ancient Israel was strictly demarcated from the surrounding cultures by divine decree, the church is also different from the world in that it is the place where the holy one meets his people to sanctify them by grace through faith. We keep the Sabbath holy by going to where holiness has promised to be found-in and through the person of Jesus Christ. This is as different from the world as light is from darkness. Erase these marks and distinctions by conforming to the world through architecture and the worship life, and one does little to express to sinners that the gathering place is where a holy God meets and consecrates his people. He is holy, and you are not. And that's why we come, to hear and receive what every sinner needs: holiness.

 

The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on Blogia are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA's editorial board or the Luther Academy.

  1. LC I: 91.

Leviticus for the Christian: Order and Sacrifice

Editor's Note: Pr. Ogrodowicz will be writing a series of articles on Leviticus for the Christian. This is the first, but please stay tuned for more.

—by Ryan Ogrodowicz

Leviticus can frustrate intentions of reading the Bible cover to cover. The minutiae are difficult to grasp. Strict civil punishments and the intricate sacrificial system seem counter to the New Testament message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But first impressions aside, Leviticus is still the Word of God to his people and sacred Scripture relevant in many ways to the baptized believer. In fact, it contains many themes and messages continued within and highlighted by the New Testament.

Just a cursory reading reveals Leviticus to be a highly structured and ordered book, a characteristic that speaks a message about our Lord and God: He is a God of order who cares about how his people live and worship. That it begins with the words “the LORD called Moses and spoke to him” (Lev 1:1) reminds us that God is speaking, and so the order within is divinely instituted. It may seem overly legalistic to the more free spirited minds of modern Christians, but order is not necessarily negative or legalistic. Take, for example, the order and instructions pertaining to sacrifices.

The word "sacrifice" conjures up notions of the sinner giving something to God. The sacrificial system of Leviticus certainly entails subjective giving, but it does not preclude the act of God giving objectively to his people. Lest we forget, the sacrificial system was instituted by God through his Word for the benefit of his people.  The benefits imparted through sacrificial worship were God’s gifts to an underserving congregation. Ordered and detailed, yes, but with these various sacrifices the Israelite had the assurance of leaving worship as one right with God. Second, the sacrifice itself was provided by God who gives daily bread to all people. Finally, underlying Leviticus is the initial salvation worked by God alone. The levitical congregation was a group of people graciously saved from Egyptian tyranny and now bestowed the opportunity to offer up sacrifices as holy people redeemed by God and clinging to his Word and promises. It follows then that sacrifices were never intended to be disjointed from the initial act of God saving a people incapable of saving themselves. When the Israelite left after having had the privilege to bring an offering before the Lord, he left with the comfort of knowing he was accepted and right with the God he served in faith.

Yes, faith in Leviticus mattered. Sacrifices weren’t meant to be rote offerings given from hearts devoid of faith. They were intended precisely for a living congregation of believers. The same holds true in Leviticus as it does in the New Testament: faith produces works.  The good tree bears good fruit. By faith the Israelite sacrificed rightly in accord with the very Word of God in which he or she believed. The Psalmist echoes this when he writes “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise . . . then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar” (Ps 51:17, 19).

Orderly worship centered on God giving to his people who respond accordingly. This theme in Leviticus continues into the New Testament. We worship the God revealed to us in his Word, just like the levitical Israelite. But there is one thing we have they didn’t. As their bloody sacrifices foreshadowed what was to come, we live knowing what God has accomplished—the sacrifice of his only begotten Son for the sins of the world. This is something the blood of bulls and goats can never achieve (Heb 10:4).  Praise be to God for his sacrificial work for us.

 

The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.