EASTER 2023: ATONEMENT: UNCLEAN AND PURIFIED
I want you to imagine your life as a white t-shirt. When you were born, your life was as white and as gleaming as you have ever seen a white shirt. No holes. Perfect stitching. No stains. You were a perfect white shirt. Then you grew older. You had experiences. You grew up. You formed friendships and other relationships. Life happened. I want you to imagine your life as that white t-shirt, but what does it look like now? You and I know that our lives are not a perfect white gleaming t-shirt with no holes, perfect stitching, and no stains. We have endured injustices. We have made mistakes. We had relationships that did not go well. We sinned. We were injured by others and have injured people ourselves. We made bad choices.
What does your white t-shirt look like now?
What does your life look like now?
Leviticus 5 is a chapter that describes how we go from perfectly gleaming to dingy quite quickly:
UNCLEAN BECAUSE OF SILENCE
LEVITICUS 5:1: “‘If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” One of the ways we can become unclean and get our t-shirts dirty is through silence. Truth is good. Truth is right. Truth can also be hard to swallow and at times can be difficult. When you and I shy away from speaking the truth or from doing what is right, we let lies and falsehood rise to the top. Injustice can occur when good people say nothing. Unfairness can creep in if we are not committed to the truth.
UNCLEAN BECAUSE OF UNCLEAN THINGS
LEVITICUS 5:2-3: “‘Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean– whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground– even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty. 3 “‘Or if he touches human uncleanness– anything that would make him unclean– even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty.”
Another way we can become unclean and get our t-shirts dirty is through unclean things. I thought about this a lot because you and I are not under the same social and dietary laws of the Israelites. The basic principle is that there were things, bodily functions, and situations in life that can affect our relationship with God and they affect our purity. Purity is important.
* Paul tells the Corinthians to have a (2 Corinthians 11:3): “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
* Paul tells Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12): “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
* Peter tells believing women who have unbelieving husbands that they can be won to Christ (1 Peter 3:2): “when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
There is plenty in our world that attacks our purity and makes our t-shirts unclean:
Drinking to get drunk
Getting addicted to legal or illegal drugs
Screaming at other drivers on the roadway
Listening to music that makes us think or act in aggressive ways
Looking too long as someone passes by we find attractive
Wanting to buy something new because someone else has something new
Lying to hurt someone’s reputation
UNCLEAN BECAUSE OF BROKEN PROMISES (VERSE 4)
LEVITICUS 5:4: “Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil– in any matter one might carelessly swear about– even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.”
Another of the ways we can become unclean and get our t-shirts full of holes and frayed and stained is by not keeping our word. Leviticus 5:4 shares with us that we should not make oaths and not keep them. The Bible tells us that it is possible to carelessly make oaths in our lives. Sometimes we make promises we do not keep or cannot keep or have no intention of keeping. God says this is wrong. Jesus in Mathew 5 also says this is wrong and that people should have solid reputations when it comes to promises.
So, what can we do?
How can we make those sins right?
How can we be purified when we are unclean?
LEVITICUS 5:5-13: “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned 6 and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. 7 “‘If he cannot afford a lamb, he is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for his sin– one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 He is to bring them to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He is to wring its head from its neck, not severing it completely, 9 and is to sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering against the side of the altar; the rest of the blood must be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. 10 The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven. 11 “‘If, however, he cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, he is to bring as an offering for his sin a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He must not put oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering. 12 He is to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the LORD by fire. It is a sin offering. 13 In this way the priest will make atonement for him for any of these sins he has committed, and he will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering.”
You and I need to understand that we do not take our sins seriously enough. I don’t think the Israelites did either, to be honest with you. It is human nature to sin. It is also human nature to think that sin is no big deal. We sin all the time. We hurt others all the time. We hurt ourselves all the time. We become immune to the seriousness of sin very quickly in our lives. We stay silent. We are impure. We break our word. So, what.
Sin is serious business in God’s view. Sin is a big deal. This passage and others like it try to describe the seriousness with which we should think about our sin and address it in our lives. Leviticus 5 is very clear that there is a 3-step process for addressing sin. It involves awareness of guilt, confession, and sacrifice for atonement.
AWARENESS OF GUILT
This passage presents us with the first step in making sin right. Oddly, enough, we must be aware of our sin. We must take a look at ourselves, take an inventory of our heart, and see that we have sinned. You and I cannot be sorry for sin if we do not know we have sinned. You and I will not feel guilty if we do not know what we have done or said or not done or not said is sinful. We should want to examine ourselves and make sure we are walking closely with God. Psalm 26:2-3 says, “Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; 3 for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 commands us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”
The second step in making sin right is confession. Confession is admitting to the sin without excuses. I am also struck that Leviticus 5:5 says we are to confess “in what way” we sinned. Confession is specific to the sin we have committed.
I confess I was silent when someone bullied a friend.
I confess I was silent and ignored when I saw a crime happen.
I confess I did not speak up at the store when I knew the truth.
I confess I watch pornography on my computer.
I confess I drink to get drunk whenever I am with two certain friends.
I confess I am addicted to my pain pills from my surgery.
I confess I scream at drivers when they cut me off in traffic.
I confess I listen to music that makes me hate others not like me.
I confess my eyes linger when that one lady walks by and I imagine things.
I confess my eyes linger when that one fellow walks by.
I confess I only bought my motorcycle because a friend got one.
I confess I want a bigger house because my cousins have a big house.
I confess I lied to hurt someone’s reputation.
I confess I lied to get the job.
I confess I lied to my kids to get them out of my hair.
We need to confess these things when they are true for us. The basis for the forgiveness of sins in Leviticus 5 is a specific confession of what we have done wrong. When we do that, then we are getting somewhere. Without confession, we are simply stuck in our own sin. We go nowhere. If awareness is the doorway to forgiveness, then confession is the key.
SACRIFICE FOR ATONEMENT
Keeping God, the Bible, and the Christian faith in mind, “atonement” is the act by which God Almighty Himself restores a relationship of harmony and peace and forgiveness between Himself and human beings. Atonement is the payment for sins. The most awesome part of this passage is that the sacrifice for atonement is already done for us. The Israelites had to sacrifice animals for atonement, but we do not. We have Jesus.
Jesus Christ submits Himself to the will of God. That meant suffering. That meant pain. That meant blood flowing. That meant submitting to scorn and disgrace… all that we remember on Easter. What happened to Jesus was no accident, but was all part of God’s plan to once and for all fulfill this part of the restoration process.
Atonement and purification for me and for you can only happen if Jesus willingly dies. It was free will that got you and me into the mess with sin and it is only free will that would pay for us. We willingly were silent, and impure, and broke our promises among many other things. I think all of us understand we are guilty of such things. No one is perfect. No one comes through life as a perfect gleaming white t-shirt. It doesn’t happen. We need Jesus to restore us.
Thank you, Jesus, this Easter, for being that purifying atonement for us.