Tag Archives: Penalty

The Spiritual Balk Rule

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
Leviticus 10:1-2 (NRSV)

The opening of today’s chapter is a pretty harsh “good morning” as I begin my day reading with sleep weary eyes. These two sons of Aaron screwed up on the incense portion of the whole sacrificial system. They broke the balk rule of the Levitical code. The penalty? Immediate death by fire.

Yikes!

I often say that one of the important things about the journey through God’s Message is that, over time, you begin to connect dots throughout the Great Story. In this case, the first dot goes back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve commit a balk with the forbidden fruit, it starts a chain reaction. Sin, that penchant for willfully doing what we know we shouldn’t while willfully choosing not to do things we know we should, enters the human equation. And, a holy God can’t abide sin. So it is announced right at the beginning, that the penalty for all spiritual balks is death. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. The Great Story is about humanity’s wayfaring journey to get back Home.

Along this journey, there are other scattered dots to be connected. They are like waypoints hearkening back to Adam and Eve’s original balk, and reminding us that God’s spiritual balk rule does not change. Nada and Abihu are actually not the only ones:

  • Cane’s offering was not pleasing to the Lord. He is cursed and eventually dies.
  • Hophni and Phineas treated God’s offering with contempt, and died.
  • A man name Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. He touched it, and died.
  • Ananias and Sapphira lied about he and his wife’s offering to the Lord, and died.

These waypoints remind us that God’s spiritual balk rule is foundational to the Great Story. It doesn’t change over time. The penalty of sin is death. Forgiveness and redemption require that the penalty for the spiritual balk rule must be satisfied. In the days of Leviticus the remedy was a labyrinth of sacrifices and offerings. Ultimately, it would be God who would send Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb to pay the ultimate penalty for all of our balks, once for all.

How are Those Resolutions Coming?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming? I laughed the other day when a friend on Facebook confessed that he couldn’t wait for everyone at his crowded gym to give up their resolutions and stay home.

Why is it that we struggle to do the things we want to do and the things that we know will be good for us? At the same time, we continue to do things we know are unhealthy for ourselves (and perhaps others) even though we know we should stop.

This is the crux of the rumination in today’s chapter. There are those who steadfastly believe, or act as if they believe, that God’s favor is earned by keeping the rules, being good people, and coloring inside the lines. Paul’s response is basically: “How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming?”

No matter how good we try to be, we never truly rid ourselves of the human condition. Despite our resolutions we find ourselves choosing the couch over the gym after a couple of meager attempts at self discipline. The five pounds we shed in January (of the 20 we need to lose) is back on by Valentine’s Day. And, we won’t even go there with the nasty little secret behaviors the rest of the world doesn’t see.

The message of Jesus was simply this. You can’t rid yourself of the nature of sin. That being the case, death is the penalty. Jesus did not come to give us a a bunch of Pinterest worthy sayings to motivate us toward good works. Jesus came to die the death that we deserve, so that we might have access to the Life we can never afford by our own efforts.

Today, I’m feeling grateful that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness. I think I’ll keep working on those resolutions, though. They won’t earn me a ticket to heaven, but they will certainly make my journey on this earth a little better for both me and my companions.

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Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 4

He is then to take some of the bull’s blood, bring it into the Tent of Meeting, dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of it seven times before God, before the curtain of the Sanctuary. He is to smear some of the blood on the horns of the Altar of Fragrant Incense before God which is in the Tent of Meeting. He is to pour the rest of the bull’s blood out at the base of the Altar of Whole-Burnt-Offering at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Leviticus 4:5-7 (MSG)

Let’s face it, reading through all of the prescribed sacrifices in the book of Leviticus is a very bloody affair. I have to keep in mind that in all of this blood-letting there is a core spiritual teaching that is central to understanding who Jesus is, why Jesus came, and what Jesus did.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, God’s message tells us that sin entered the world. Every one of us, at one time or another, has willfully chosen to do what we knew was wrong. That’s sin. As we learned the other day, that willful disobedience is like yeast which taints the whole loaf. We may be good much of the time, but the fact that we sin at all (sometimes even without knowing it) seperates us from God, who is holy.

How do we, divorced from relationship with God by our own sin, get back into relationship with God? That is the ultimate question, and the ultimate story God authors in the Bible from beginning to end.

God’s message tells us that the penalty of sin is death. Therefore, the penalty must be paid in order for relationship between human beings and God to be reunited. Without the shedding of blood, there is no payment for sin. What we are reading in Leviticus is a methodical (and very burdensome) prescription for payment. The sacrificial lamb atones for the sins of the person sacrificing it. It is a brutal and bloody affair designed to address an eternally serious matter.

When Jesus came, He came on a mission. He was God’s son, sent to be the lamb without defect sacrificed for the sins of the entire human race. His death on a cross was a brutal, bloody affair designed to pay the ultimate penalty for sin once and for all:

The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can’t get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ: You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year; you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice. It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar that whet your appetite. So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God, the way it’s described in your Book.” When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 10:1-10 (MSG)

All of these bloody sacrifices accomplish two things. First, they reminded us of how impossible it was, and is, to completely atone for sin by ourselves. Nothing we do, in and of ourselves, can atone for sin and please God. I can’t imagine trying to manage this web of offerings and sacrifices on an on going basis. Second, the sacrifices of Leviticus foreshadow the ultimate plan, which was for God to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin on our behalf.

Understanding the sacrificial system of Leviticus, I gain a much greater appreciation of what we celebrate on Good Friday.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and joshuamellin

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 54

Guilty as charged. Any accuser who takes you to court will be dismissed as a liar. Isaiah 54:17b (MSG)

Wendy and I had a quiet evening last night. As we puttered at mindless tasks we got caught up on a few of our favorite television shows which we had recorded. We watched Saving Grace, a show about a flawed and broken cop who is visited by her "last chance angel," Earl (Warning: this show is for mature audiences only; it reveals Grace's sin in graphic and uncensored manner).

In the episode we watched last night, Grace dreams (is it a dream?) and finds herself in a courtroom. She discovers that she is the one on trial. She is accused by the prosecution of her promiscuous, violent, drunken behavior. Friends and family are called to the stand to testify about their experiences with Grace.

As I watched. I put myself in Grace's shoes. How scary to think of standing in a courtroom with my friends, family and enemies lining up to testify to all the stupid, hurtful, sinful, disobedient things I've done. Believe me, the Accuser has no problem making a strong case against me.

Then I thought of yesterday's chapter and was reminded why Jesus came. That's why Jesus gave himself up to be beaten and bloodied. That's why Jesus died. He paid the penalty for all of my wrong doing. When the Accuser lays out the charges against me (they are many, and I am guilty) the Judge sees that the penalty has already been paid. THAT is "saving grace."

He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
   he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ixquick