Scarlet Yarn

There was a lot of Old Testament ritual going on around the time of Jesus’ death on the cross.  One of these rituals was that of the Red Heifer found in Numbers 19.  There is a man involved in that ritual who was neither a priest nor a levite but who yet had a very significant role.  Some of the following is speculation.  It presumes that the Red Heifer ritual was occurring at the same time as Jesus’ crucifixion and that the man involved saw both things happening.  By putting the two events together like this we can see how this picture in the Old Testament points to Christ like so many pictures do.

 

The red heifer lowed and complained as it was brought outside the city walls.  Unlike the lambs that were sacrificed in the temple it wasn’t silent as it was led to the slaughter.  It was just like any other animal in that sense.  Otherwise it wasn’t a normal animal.  It had to be specially bred.  It was chosen from birth and reared for this day of its death.

I slaughtered the red heifer in the place chosen.  I could see the man from there, hanging on the cross.  The soldiers had even taken some of the sacred hyssop from the priest as he was coming out with it and used it when offering him a sedative.  Which he refused.  Why anyone would refuse that when going through such pain I couldn’t understand.

As I had been instructed and as my predecessors had done for the last 1500 years I burnt up the red heifer’s carcass, dung and all.   The priest then added the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop he had brought.  The wood reminded me of the cross on which that man was hanging.

I saw the soldiers gamble for his tunic.  It was full of scarlet yarn like the piece the priest had thrown in the fire.  Scarlet from blood.  Isaiah’s words come to my mind as I watch them:

“Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow.”

The ashes of the red heifer were mixed with the ashes of the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop and mixed with water to make the water of purification.  This was the whole point of that red heifer’s sacrifice.  That water would then be used if anyone was in contact with dead bodies, had a skin disease or was accused of adultery.

Leviticus! The Totality of His Forgiveness

Jesus’ death on the cross changed the ground rules of what it means to sin forever.  Before His death the Law reigned and sin produced spiritual death through the knowledge of the Law (read Paul’s letter to the Romans chapters 6-8).  This started when a commandment was given to Adam and Eve which they broke and therefore sinned and death entered the world through that sin.

However, Paul says that when Christ died, the Law (and we also) died with Him so that there is no longer any such thing as transgression (Romans 7).  So really now it doesn’t matter what you do right?  Actually that is right in theory but in practice the law of sin and death has been replaced by the new law of love.

If you really believe that God so loved you as to give His only Son to die for your sins there is no way that you should want to do anything that wouldn’t please Him.  Like any one in love with another person the ideal is that you couldn’t do anything to hurt them.  You want to follow them to the end of the earth.

However in practice people don’t always act consistently over their whole lives with the ideal.  So what then?  Well then it is a question of your will.

So you decide.  Things are tough.  Jesus perhaps hasn’t come through for you in the way you expected Him to.  Where do you turn to now?  Do you turn to someone else?  Do you expect them to save you from the predicament you find yourself in?  Will they?

The answer is no.  Expecting anyone to fill the gap in your life that only God can fill is idolatry.  The first commandment is, like all the commandments now, not a law but a promise.  If you have been born from above, you have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come.  From now on nothing else will do.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

 “For in just a little while,
    the Coming One will come and not delay.

And my righteous ones will live by faith.
    But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” (Habakkuk 2:3-4)

 

We are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.

Dear friends, even though I am talking this way, I really don’t believe it applies to you. I am confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers as you still do. My great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.

Yes the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it better than ever I could. Please read chapters 6 and 10 of Hebrews to see the context in which I write these blogs.

Leviticus! The Greatest Challenge

Willful Sin after you are born again is not covered by the Sacrifice of Jesus!

If you have read the Letter to the Hebrews you will have come across some very hard passages.  After having explained at length the removal of the need for animal sacrifices by the one great sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 7:26 – 10:25), the writer then goes on to say what that Sacrifice does not cover – willful sin:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgement.” (Hebrews 10:26-27a).

And it doesn’t get any better from there.

In saying this the writer is only being consistent with what Moses wrote in Leviticus.  The animal sacrifices there also do not cover willful sin.  There are a litany of sins the Sacrifice does cover but the ones covered by sacrifice alone are the unintentional ones (see Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27).

I think if we are honest we know this.  No where in the Great News of Jesus’ death for us on Calvary as declared in the Scriptures is there any indication that it enables us to do what we want.  Quite the opposite.  In these days where so many worship songs and the atmosphere of the country we live in all pours out “Freedom” as the untouchable mantra, the idea of being a slave to either sin or righteousness can get quite unpopular.

If you think that only the writer to the Hebrews deals with this then you haven’t read much of the New Testament.  Have a look at 1 John 5:16 for instance.

If you take a simplistic view of sin and make no distinctions between willful and unintentional sins then you are bound to be confused.

I believe that a careful reading of Leviticus will clear up that confusion.

Jesus’ sacrifice does cover a lot of the sins we commit after we are born again.

Sacrifice also plays a role in some intentional sins but even then the sins have an unwitting or unintentional part to them.  Examples are not testifying about some crime you have witnessed (Leviticus 5:1), touching unclean things (5:2,3) or saying you will do something and not doing it (5:4,5).  However, in each of the above cases confession is also required.  Jesus’ Sacrifice on its own is not enough even though without it we are lost.  Confession is not enough either, you have to have both.  As it says in the apostle John’s first letter:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

If you are not born again all this could appear to be foolishness.

I am going to continue this series by looking at what Leviticus says is and isn’t covered by the Sacrifice.  That doesn’t mean that you should go around analysing everything you do to see if it fits into one category or another.  If you are born again you know in your heart when you are out of sync with the Holy Spirit.  A lot of the things mentioned in Leviticus such as confession, restitution, willful sin and restoration you will do without needing to know the chapter and verses that apply to them.

But if you are like me and love the way the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, consistently reveal the nature of God then you might want to follow along.

Leviticus! Yes, but the Letter to the Hebrews is better.

If you are reading my posts on Leviticus up to now please also read the Letter to the Hebrews. It explains much better than I can what Leviticus is all about. The foundations of understanding all of Leviticus are there especially from Chap. 7 v. 26 through to the end of Chap. 10.
These foundations are:
1. There is no need for the sacrifices of Leviticus now since Jesus has offered up Himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-15, 24-28; 10:10-18)
2. The place of most significance where the blood of Jesus was sprinkled was not the physical place outside the old walls of Jerusalem.  The significant real place that Jesus’ blood was sprinkled was the true tabernacle in heaven of which the one described in Exodus and Leviticus is but a copy (Hebrews 8:2, 5; 9:11, 23, 24).

Leviticus! Chap. 3: Peace

So far we have seen that:

  • Leviticus 1 deals with the need for everyone to have a saviour – a sacrifice that is perfect – before we can come to God.  From the New Testament we learn that that Sacrifice is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us (Hebrews 8 & 9).  There is no mention of sin here, just of a general need for man to have a Saviour before she or he can come to God.
  • Leviticus 2 deals with our words in the presence of God.  These can be words in song, worship, prayer, preaching or writing such as I am doing now.  In order to please God with our words they should be refined (not coarse), anointed, directed to Him in prayer with no sin and not sensual – inappropriate.

In Leviticus 3 we are introduced to the peace offering and a new type: Fat.

Now you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to realise that fat represents excess.

So the simple message of Leviticus 3 is that if you want to be at peace when you are before God offer Him all your excess.  He will take it and it will go up in smoke probably but that is not your concern.  Just give it to Him anyway and you will have peace.  “All excess is the Lord’s” according to v. 16.

Bill Hybels has written a book called “Simplify” and others have recognised the stress we allow to accumulate with our excess.  Excess weight is an obvious one, but excess possessions including excess money also cause stress for a Christian.  Give your excess to the Lord, He will know what to do with it.

In the end it is all going to go up in smoke anyway (2 Peter 3:7).

Leviticus! Chap. 2: Types & Shadows

The concept of Old Testament types and shadows is one that is used throughout the New Testament.  In particular, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews extensively explains the Old Testament types and shadows in terms of their meaning in relation to Jesus.

In order to understand the OT types and shadows we need just two things: knowledge of all the Scriptures and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  But then that applies to anything in relation to knowing God.

In chapter 2 of Leviticus there are no animal sacrifices mentioned.  What is mentioned are the following all of which stand for something:

Grain – represents words (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8; also Jeremiah 23:28)

Oil – represents anointing (see Exodus 30:23-24 and James 5:14)

Frankincense – represents prayer (see Revelation 5:8)

Leaven – represents sin (see Matthew 16:6 and 1 Cor. 5:7)

Honey – represents pleasure (see Proverbs 24:13, Song of Solomon 4:11)

Salt – represents preservation, truth (Matthew 5:13).

So we see that when we approach God with our words we need to do it in the context of anointing, truth and prayer, without sin and without sensuality.  These are the basics of coming to God in prayer, self-evident to anyone born again.

I should point out that there is nowhere in Scripture that says honey is a bad thing, quite the opposite but you can have too much of it (Proverbs 25:27) and it is not relevant when you are approaching a consuming fire (Leviticus 2:11).  The ambiguity about pleasure is that you can bring it to God as a different type of offering (the offering of first fruits in v.12).

Scripture is not a rule book.  As I’ve looked around the churches in Ireland over the last few years – and this applies elsewhere as well – I can see considerable division over this.  There is a school of thought that says that the ecstasies and obvious pleasure that many Pentecostals in particular experience during worship are not appropriate.  The music is too worldly these people say and the worship too sensual as a result.

You must be born again.  The answer to that question for you is not going to be answered by anyone to your satisfaction except God.  All I would say is please don’t judge your brother or sister who takes part in these love festivals.  What they do, they do before God and He alone is judge.

 

Leviticus! Chap. 1: Acceptance

Some decades ago when I was a young Christian I used to meet with about 300 other Christians of a similar background and faith in a small village campsite called, rather aptly, Redcross.  It was the highlight of the year for there were far fewer of us then in Ireland than there are now.  Nowadays I have the privilege of meeting with that many fellow believers every week.

One day one of the speakers at this tent based conference shared about how he had met another believer – a guy called Eamon – down by the river having a time alone with God.  Apparently he was quite excited and enthused about what he was reading in Leviticus.  Most of the people there knew Eamon and we were all quite amused since it seemed in character.  He was the kind of guy who you would think could get enthusiastic about Leviticus: saintly, serious and studious with a winning and constant smile, the perfect saint in type.  No doubt he wouldn’t have agreed but then that would only have added to the picture.

Roll forward 30+ years and here I am getting all excited about Leviticus!  It is a kind of Christian 101 in the Old Testament: simple, elegant and thorough.  The main theme of the book goes like this:  people want to approach a holy God so how can they do it?  Leviticus shows us how.

Leviticus sits in the middle of the 5 books of Moses called the Pentateuch.  In many ways it speaks of nothing else other than how to approach God.

In chapter one the Lord calls Moses over and says to him “When any man brings an offering to the Lord”.  There is no qualification here, it is any man whether saint or sinner, priest or commoner.  To be accepted (v. 3, 4) he had to bring an animal offering without defect.  This is the first thing that had to happen before someone could come to God, there had to be a sacrifice.

Many centuries later the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews explains (in chapters 9 & 10) that the animal sacrifices written about in Leviticus were just a type or foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice. They had no power to remove sin – the barrier between us and God’s presence –  but Jesus’ sacrifice does.

So now we come to God our Father through Jesus and the first thing to know and remember is that there has been a bloody sacrifice to enable us to do that.  We don’t need the animal sacrifices but we as sure as Hell need His perfect redemption.  Without it we can’t even start to come to God.

Kneeling to Pray

The recent US NFL controversy brings up that old problem about a Christian’s submission to civil authority.  On the one hand Romans 13:1-7 is very clear:

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.”

On the other hand the Scriptures have some clear examples of Christians not obeying the governing authorities of the day.  In Acts 4:1-21 for example Peter and John have been hauled before the authorities of the day who “commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”  Their reply was “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The two passages above describe the dilemma faced by Colin Kaepernick and other

By Mike Morbeck - Flickr: Colin Kaepernick, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30174119

Christians like him who believe they are faced with the choice between honouring a flag / country and honouring Christ.

In fact we can all face the same dilemmas in some simple things like paying the full amount of taxes we owe or standing for the national anthem in Ireland as a Christian.  If born again believers in the US have a problem with the President of that country because of his perceived stance on racism and decide to kneel during their national anthem as a result then what should we do who have an openly proselytising gay Taioseach and a lesbian Minister for Children?

Nothing?  Perhaps.  At least we can openly share the Gospel in this country and I would find it hard to come up with a Scriptural principle which says that we should oppose authorities (and only ever peacefully) over anything less than something I could not do even if they commanded me.  For like Peter and John I can’t help but speak of the love of God expressed through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and of His wonderful resurrection life now living in and through me.

I really don’t want to make a fuss about anything else.  It’s all secondary and not the main thing.

But if you believe God is calling you to take a stand on something like abortion or LGBT then who am I to say you are wrong?

Fruit

We have two fruit trees in our back garden, a plum and a pear tree.  Both have produced an abundant crop this  year, a crop unlike any of the other 8-10 years they have been planted.

For me the plum tree represents spiritual fruit and the pear tree financial fruit.  Don’t ask me why, I think it may be the Lord teaching me some prophetic lessons.

The fruit of the plum tree is super abundant.  It is hard to imagine how such a small tree can produce so many plums.  There must be at least a thousand plums on the tree.

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Over the last few Sundays we have brought a lot of the plums to the church we attend where they were eagerly devoured in a matter of minutes.  Olive also made a couple of plum tarts for the family which we all enjoyed.  During the weeks of the harvest I have been eating a couple of plums a day, the rest of the family have been eating some as well.

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However a lot of the fruit is not as sweet as we would like it to be.  It’s quality is not great and we seem to remember that in other years the fruit tasted better even though there was much less of it.

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During the months leading up to the harvest we neglected the tree.  One day when I did get out to look at it late in the season before the fruit was ripe, I noticed that the tree was utterly infested with greenfly.  The leaves were curling and some branches had grown with no fruit but totally covered with greenfly.  I took away the worst infested of these.  This action seemed to improve the situation later.

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Nevertheless the fruit kept coming.  In the end a lot of it fell off the tree and was inedible as soon as it was on the ground for any length of time.  Slugs and other less visible insects quickly spoil the fruit.  Some of it shriveled on the tree and never fully ripened, others were attacked by wasps and spiders while still on the tree.

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At various stages I was torn as to whether to harvest the plums off the tree or not.  We didn’t seem to get enough sun and the plums didn’t seem ready to fall off the tree.

As I said I imagine this is a spiritual picture of what can happen if we neglect the spiritual fruit of our lives or allow sin to take over.  The results can be mixed.  Much of the fruit is good and useful but a lot is lost through neglect, disease and demon interference.


The pear tree has also produced a lot of fruit.  There must have been about 100 pears.

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In contrast with the plums this fruit is almost perfect.  We have lost a couple to windfall but on the whole we have been very successful in harvesting and using them.

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We brought some to the church, made cakes out of others and I and the family have been having one each per day for the last few weeks.  The cakes didn’t last long.


Fruit is a seasonal phenomenon.  Based on how little or how much attention we pay during the earlier parts of the year, and on the weather, next autumn there could be more or there might be very little fruit on the trees.  Professional fruit growers seem to know how to produce a large, high quality fruit harvest on trees year after year though I think even they are at the mercy of the weather.  It takes God’s favour, and a farmer’s skill, nurturing and time to create a consistently abundant, high quality harvest.

How is your fruit?

Significance

I was watching a documentary about the Voyager space missions called “The Farthest” last week.

For those who don’t know, the Voyager space missions took advantage of a rare planetary alignment to launch two space probes to explore the outer planets of the solar system.  The missions started in the ’70’s and both probes are still transmitting back information to earth.

After watching the documentary and listening to the scientists and engineers who worked on the project, my overwhelming impression was one of pathetic insignificance.  This is epitomized in a documentary by Carl Sagan who presented the speck of dust – the pale blue dot picture that was taken by Voyager 2 from somewhere beyond Neptune.  Earth is seen as a barely perceptible speck in the brightest of the bands in the photo.

 

Many of the scientists talked during the documentary of how significant it was that mankind had managed to send a vehicle into outer interstellar space for the first time.  But no, this is not Star Trek, not even close.

 

 


So I wake up for a morning’s quiet time with God.

“God I’m nothing.

Less than nothing.

We are all less than nothing.

Why do you bother?”

Then my sin – my falling short – pops up its ugly head again.

Like a fleshy root or fungal growth out of my flesh, like Alien it is too powerful for me.  It looms large in my imagination, overwhelming me, threatening to completely take over my life and destroy it, me, my family and destroy Christ’s reputation in work, church, friends.

Whoa, stop, back up, it really is no more significant than I am.  It’s also pathetic.

 


Then I hear a voice gently calling my name:

“Brendan”

“Yes, that’s pathetic little me” I think.

 

“Brendan”

Ok…

“Brendan”

……

Is that really the God of the universe calling my name?

“Brendan, I am LOVE, that’s why

And then it all comes rushing back.

God is infinite powerful love.

He cares about me, us, everything.

 

One day He will put me to sleep and remove this sin that so easily entangles me maybe on my last mortal day, maybe before then.

In the meantime there are good works to do which He has prepared beforehand.  Works that He cares about, works that give us significance.

What a wonder it is to be called a child of God!