Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, we pray at the beginning of this message, not merely out of custom or routine as we didn’t know any other way to start a sermon, but because we are in need of Your grace. I need Your grace that I may speak Your Word faithfully, humbly, boldly, clearly. And Your people need grace that they have ears to hear. We’re prone to wander in our hearts and in our heads, prone to be distracted, or prone to close our hearts to what You have to say, especially when You have hard things to say to us. So may we be not only hearers of Your Word but doers also. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
When the church father John Chrysostom was threatened with banishment or death from the Empress Eudoxia, the famous preacher and bishop is said to have replied, “Go tell Eudoxia that I fear nothing but sin.” I fear nothing but sin. I daresay that for many people today it is just the opposite. We fear almost everything except for sin. The Bible would have us flip that.
Leviticus 20 is another passage about the ugliness, the offensiveness, and the vileness of sin, especially high-handed sin that corrupts God’s desires for worship and perverts God’s design for sexuality. Those two things in particular, His desires for worship, His design for sexuality.
Now before I read this chapter, and hopefully you’ve turned there to Leviticus chapter 20, let me, just to help you, let me orient you to what is in this chapter. If you were here a couple of weeks ago, you’ll recognize that this covers almost the same ground that chapter 18 does. In fact, I debated whether or not to do chapters 18 and 20 at the same time. They cover many of the same sorts of sins, and yet they do them in two different ways. Chapter 18, those were the prohibitions; here in chapter 20 are the punishments. Chapter 18 said do not, you shall not, and chapter 20 says if anyone commits this sin, then here is the penalty for the crime.
Look at verse 26. This is the key verse, at the end of the chapter: “You shall be holy to Me for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples that you should be Mine.”
Once again we have to understand why all of these rules, which can seem strange, can seem even cruel, here it is in verse 26 – You are not like the people you came from in Egypt, you are not like the peoples whose land you’re going to inherit in Canaan, you’re separate. You are not like the world. You should be prepared to be strange.
People in this life should think you strange. Don’t nudge. I told you. Biblically strange, morally strange. You are separated. You belong to Me. You doing belong to any corporate power. Ultimately, you don’t belong even in a transcendent sense to any nation. You belong in that ultimate sense to God and God alone.
What we find in these chapters are high-handed sins. So not unintentional sins; we learned about those earlier in Leviticus. Not sins merely of thought or attitude; those, too, are sins. But these are the type of sins that break forth in obvious, egregious, grave ways.
There are three basic categories of infractions we’ll see in this chapter. Those sins involving Molech, those sins involving mediums, and those sins involving sexual immorality. Molech, mediums, sexual immorality. That’s to orient you to what you’re going to find as I read now from chapter 20, beginning at verse 1.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make My sanctuary unclean and to profane My holy name. And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set My face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech.”
““If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”
““If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you. If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
““If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness,” now that there is not just some accidental occasion but is a euphemism for sexual relations, “it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to make naked one’s relative; they shall bear their iniquity. If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
““You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”
““A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.””
Leviticus has a lot of tough chapters. Some of you have been through all of them. Some are confusing. Some are weird. Some are gross. This one, let’s be honest, is hard because it seems so harsh. How many people are being stoned, burned, put to death, for their sins?
There are three main punishments listed in this passage. Now they all sort of overlap and so you may not have noticed them, but there are three main punishments.
One is death. This is death in particular by the covenant community. Most typically here it was with stones. So death was prescribed for those who sacrificed their children to Molech, for those who cursed their parents. Now parentheses here, Deuteronomy tells us more about this sin of cursing their parents, and in Deuteronomy it talks about a child who is a glutton and a drunkard, so we’re thinking here not of little children, not even thinking of probably teenagers, we’re thinking of grown adult children. Not a child who has a temper tantrum, not even a teenager who storms out and says “I hate you,” though you shouldn’t do that, but a fully grown adult who curses his or her father and mother. Someone who is intent on destroying, disavowing, discrediting, their parents.
Death is also prescribed for sexual sins – adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, some incestuous relationships.
And then death is given as the punishment for being a medium or a necromancer, someone who tries to talk to the dead.
Elsewhere in the law of Moses some of the other infractions that are met with death are blasphemy, false prophecy, man stealing, Sabbath breaking, premeditated murder.
So a number of sins that are also crimes and are punishable by death. That’s one category.
The second category we see here, it’s in verses 17 through 19 in particular, is the punishment of being cut off. We’ve seen this throughout Leviticus. What does it mean to be cut off? Well, it means one of two things, and perhaps it could mean both. One, it may mean a kind of exile or banishment, to be cut off from the people. Though it may not mean that because there are other passages in Deuteronomy that talk explicitly about being out of the camp.
So many commentators think to be cut off is for God to end your life prematurely, that death meted out by the covenant community is one sort of punishment and then there is another that the covenant community doesn’t carry out but God is going to see to it that these people are cut off. Of course, we want to hasten to add that it would have happened in Israel’s day as it does in ours, that all sorts of people die for all sorts of reasons and we should not take someone dying at a young age as some sort of obvious sign of God’s judgment, usually it is not.
But there is this category that God will deal with these sinners in His own way in His own time.
So one, death; two, being cut off, which is probably God will put you to a premature death on His own; and then a third penalty is that a man’s genealogy would come to an end.
We see that in verses 20 and 21. So they would die childless. Again, we have to say that many people are unable to have children and we should not take that as God’s punishment, but here it is a category for these who have committed these obvious sins, these sexual, incestuous sins, the punishment is that they will die without children.
What are we to do with these commands? They seem offensive, brutal, cruel, to us. How do we understand these?
Let me just give you some considerations to help us put these in the context of the ancient world.
One. We should keep in mind that these penalties were actually more humane than the laws of many of the surrounding nations.
For example, Babylonian law prescribed the death penalty for breaking and entering, for looting, and for theft. When I say “humane,” I mean that word literally, that for the most part, not exclusively, but for the most part the death penalty is for those person-to-person crimes, defacing another image-bearer with assault or murder or sexual immorality, not mere property crimes.
Israel’s law also forbade killing whole families or clans because of the sin of one of its members. We read in the Old Testament, “Fathers shall not be put to death for the sins of their children.” Or, as we’ll come to later in Leviticus, that famous lex talionis “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” That sounds to us very harsh and vindictive, “You poke out my eye, I get your eye. My tooth, your tooth.” But it was actually a restraining punishment because so often in the ancient world it was “you hurt one member of my family, I wipe out your entire family. You do something to my child, I obliterate your entire clan.” It was actually a restraining kind of punishment.
No, you can only do an eye for an eye. You can’t do a whole person for an eye. You can’t wipe out an entire clan for a tooth.
So actually the laws here, though they do still seem cruel to us, were relatively humane compared to many of the nations around them. That’s one thing to consider.
Second. We should remember from elsewhere in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 17, Deuteronomy 19, we don’t have time to go there, but it lays out the process by which these judicial proceedings would take place, there would be judges, someone had to be convicted on at least two witnesses. So often it would have been very difficult, you don’t have DNA, you don’t have your phones bugged, you done have records, you just have witnesses. So there was a judicial proceeding that took place before someone was convicted of these crimes.
A third consideration. Remember they had no police force, they had no prison system. They had no recognized state authority with the power of the sword and then someplace to put them into prison with a system of lock and key and guards, or rehabilitation, so they needed a criminal justice system that was abundantly clear that involved the community in exercising the judgment and provided a strong deterrent.
When you have to rely on the law enforcement yourself, you have to be the ones to throw the stones, you have to be the ones to orchestrate this judicial process, you need a judicial system that is abundantly clear and is going to act as a strong deterrent. Deuteronomy 19:20 says, “The rest shall hear and fear and never commit any such evil.”
So it should have been known far and wide throughout Israel that there were serious penalties for these serious sins.
And then a fourth consideration. If you know the Old Testament, you may say, “Well, it doesn’t seem that these penalties were carried out very often.” There are stories about one in each book in the first books of the Old Testament, but you don’t hear it often of these death penalties. It may be because these penalties were a ceiling, not the floor. In other words, they were the maximum, not the minimum. Just as today when a criminal is sentenced. There’s a statute that prescribes what the penalty is to be, and often, usually, it’s something less than that or there’s probation or there’s some mitigating circumstances.
There are elsewhere in the law of Moses where we are told explicitly, like murder, for example, that no sort of price can be substituted for the penalty, no ransom price, no redemption price. The fact that that is explicitly forbidden leads many commentators to think that in some of these crimes, it was allowed that you could substitute some kind of payment depending on other mitigating circumstances for these crimes.
Gordon Wenham in his very fine commentary on Leviticus underscores this point that these punishments were maximum penalties, this is the worst that could happen to you if you were found guilty, a certain degree, to use our language, but there may have been lesser penalties that could be enforced if there were other extenuating circumstances.
There’s still a larger theological question, and it’s a theological question that has been in the background throughout Leviticus. That is, what do we do with these laws? We’ve touched on this here and there, but let’s spend a few minutes before we close at the end with a few lessons.
So let’s think about this recurring question, which has perhaps been in the back of your mind throughout every chapter of Leviticus. Well, what do we do with these commands? We can sense intuitively that we can’t just repristinate, even if we would want to and we wouldn’t want to, the world of 1400 B.C. We understand that intuitively. This is a certain kind of world, an agricultural world, a certain kind of system. Very different from our own. So we understand it’s not going to be exactly the same.
As Christians we understand some things have changed with the coming of Christ, and yet on the other hand we certainly don’t want to say, “Well, take all of these laws here from Leviticus, except maybe love your neighbor, and you can go ahead and rip those out of your Bible, we don’t need to… They’re good for historical reference, but they don’t have anything to say to us.”
Or, as I mentioned two weeks ago, that famous clip from The West Wing, that if we just pile up some of the stranger penalties, or stranger sins, or stranger rituals in Leviticus about seeds and clothing and then we give next to is the rules about sexual immorality, it can seem very arbitrary and why do we listen to any of these when it seems like we shouldn’t listen to all of them?
The Westminster Confession teaches that the law of Moses can be divided into three parts. The moral law, given in the 10 commands, and the Westminster Confession says, “The moral law doth forever bind all.” So there’s one. Moral law.
Ceremonial laws involving sacrifices and worship, and the Confession says those laws are now abrogated, that means removed, under the New Testament.
Then third, sundry judicial laws, which have expired and are no longer binding further than the general equity thereof may require.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this tripartite division of the law: Moral, ceremonial, judicial. It’s very helpful, the Westminster Confession teaches it.
The problem is that many people, even fine evangelical scholars, have argued and continue to argue that well, I know that you Reformed Presbyterian people, that’s kind of helpful and sort of makes some sense, but really, where do you get that in the Bible? There’s nothing in the Pentateuch that says, “Hear ye, hear ye, now we’re listing moral laws and now judicial and now ceremonial. In the ceremonial we do this, judicial we do that, moral there forever.”
So it’s not a nice, neat, tidy, rigid system whereby we can distinguish moral, ceremonial, judicial. That’s the argument.
I want to make the case that the Westminster Confession is right, surprise. The Westminster Confession is right in offering to us this threefold division.
For starters, you need to know a little history. This threefold division of the law – moral, ceremonial, judicial – is at least as old as Aquinas, who argued from different terms in Deuteronomy chapter 4 and chapter 6 that we should look at the Mosaic Law as having important distinctions.
So for example, Deuteronomy 4 talks about the laws you are commanded to perform, the 10 commands, and then it mentions statutes and rules. Chapter 6, verse 1, talks about commandments, statutes, and rules. Aquinas said those are three different types of laws – commandments, statutes, and rules. Now maybe he overinterpreted a little bit, we can’t make that every time those three words are used, but he’s on to something, that the rules in the law of Moses itself are called by different things.
Centuries earlier Clement of Alexandria, a church father, divided the law into four parts. He said historic, legislative, sacrificial, and theological.
Another church father, Tertullian, made a distinction between moral and ceremonial laws.
Augustin distinguished between moral precepts, which are binding, and then the symbols, which are not.
Another early church theologian argued that the law falls into three categories, one which remains, one which is abolished, and one which is changed from physical to spiritual.
So you can see there from the earliest centuries of the Church, though they don’t spell it out in the exact same terms as the Westminster Confession, there’s already this intuitive sense that we have to look at the law of Moses as having different kinds of laws in it. In fact, that last reference to Ptolemy, “One which remains, one which is abolished, one which changes from physical to spiritual,” maps on very closely to moral, ceremonial, and judicial.
So besides those historical precedents, there’s some good biblical reasons for accepting this threefold division of the law in thinking about how we apply the law today.
First. The 10 commandments are unique.
Unlike most of the other statutes, these commandments were already known in the world prior to Sinai. That is, the people in Genesis and Exodus knew that murder was wrong. We see it in Genesis already. They know that adultery is wrong. They know that lying is wrong. This is part of the natural law, the way God has wired things, the way He has revealed Himself in general revelation so that all people, though they suppress the truth, all people can know something about God’s commands.
What’s more, at Sinai, God spoke the words of the decalogue directly. The 10 commandments were given in absolute form, they were addressed to the individual not only to the nation, and the words were written down by the finger of God, preserved in stone, as a constitution for God’s people, put into the ark of the covenant.
So there are lots of reasons, textual reasons, to show that it’s not just some tradition or some helpful way because you have 10 fingers and 10 commandments, that from the beginning they understood the 10 commandments were something set apart. A part of the law, but something unique in its binding authority. That’s one reason.
Second. The 10 commandments we see are distinguished from other commands within the law of Moses itself. If the decalogue, deca meaning 10, logos words, and that’s actually what it’s called in the Old Testament, not the 10 commandments but the 10 words, the decalogue you can think of as the constitution. The other commands function as a kind of case law. Even under Moses, God’s people did not take all of the commandments as being essentially equal.
Think of Jesus Himself talking about lighter matters and weightier matters, or we’ve seen different penalties for different infractions, even in this chapter there are different penalties for different crimes. Don’t the prophets, and then the New Testament, tell us over and over that God desires mercy more than He desires sacrifices?
So from the very beginning there was already an implicit and sometimes explicit kind of ranking among these commandments. Some were lighter, some were heavier. Some were more essential, less essential. To violate some was this kind of penalty, others was the maximum penalty.
And then a third final reason. The language used under Moses suggests something like ceremonial and judicial laws.
So we’ve been talking about the moral law, the 10 commandments, how that is set apart. But think about some of the language. Ceremonial and judicial. Often in Exodus and Leviticus, and then this word shows up again in Hebrews as the fulfillment, we have the word “pattern.” Now what is a pattern? It’s a model, it’s a scale model. It’s a pattern of something that is to come.
Now in the New Testament, it’s then a further pattern of the heavenly reality to come. But the very word “pattern,” so all the sacrificial system the tabernacle, the temple, those were called a pattern, and Hebrews tells us that pattern is fulfilled.
The very language of a pattern, of a type, of a model, gives us a kind of built-in obsolescence, that when the building is complete, you don’t need the architectural drawings anymore. That when the super-structure is here, the nice model that you built and was really lovely to look at, until you have the actual building. There was a built-in obsolescence already with these ceremonial laws because they were but a pattern. They were always looking forward to something better, truer, brighter, that would come.
Then think about the judicial laws. Often these laws are given with reference to the land. So in Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 5, verse 14, even here in Leviticus 20, there’s references to this is how you are to conduct yourself in the land, which suggests that some of the commands were specific to the nation of Israel in Canaan.
In short, the Mosaic Law was never seen as an indivisible whole, because that’s sometimes the argument. “Look, this moral, ceremonial, judicial is just imposed by later theologians but it never existed within the law of Moses itself.” I don’t think that’s true. Though they may not have labeled as such, there was already instinctively that the laws were not all of the same type. So I don’t think Moses would be surprised by our inconsistence that the 10 commandments are uniquely binding while the commandments related to worship and the regulation of life in Israel and its judicial penalties apply to us in a different way.
Short version of what I just said – Moses was a Presbyterian. That’s it. Just trying to make the case that we’ll get to heaven and Moses said, “I like the Westminster Confession, too.”
So these in one sense are not meant to be our laws. We are not obligated to make Leviticus 20 our judicial system or the penalties in 21st century America. At the same time, they certainly matter. They’re certainly authoritative in that they teach us certain binding, never changing lessons about God and His law.
That’s where I want to finish.
Three lessons, three lessons we can learn from Leviticus chapter 20.
Number 1. Sin is a gravely serious matter.
You see the title in the bulletin, “The Deadly Seriousness of Sin.” Now some of you, if this whole sermon is hard to handle, just consider we still have deadly serious sins in this country. They may not be called sins, but it is still the case. For the slightest infraction, if you say the wrong word, even by accident sometimes, even mispronouncing the wrong word, you could lose your job.
People are undertaking to rewrite old books that don’t use the same kind of words that 21st century Westerners think they should use. Or if you give somebody their dead name or use the wrong pronoun. There are all sorts of infractions in our culture, the tiniest little slip-up of which, if not death then will certainly lead to many, many unfortunate consequences.
So certainly our world still believes in sin, though it doesn’t use the language.
In fact, this is a problem not just out there, but let’s be honest – it’s in the Church. Too often we use lesser kinds of language instead of talking about sin. We might use words like “struggle,” “brokenness,” “weakness.” And there’s an appropriate way. Sin involves a struggle, it involves brokenness, we’re not the way we are, a weakness.
Yet if we only, or mainly refer to sin with that kind of therapeutic language, we’re not doing justice to the way the Bible speaks. The Bible has very angular language: Sin, iniquity, transgression, wickedness, evil, rebellion. Those words have a vertical focus.
Do you see how “struggle, brokenness, weakness,” and again there’s a time and place to use words like that, but those have an internal focus. They describe my experience. Rather than an objection vertical. They describe what this action or behavior is relative to God. It’s wickedness, it’s rebellion, it’s idolatry, it’s spiritual adultery.
Leviticus 20 reminds us of the utter seriousness of sin.
There’s a story from the early 1900’s about an Australian pastor named Henry Howard. He was preaching a particularly stinging message about sin. Sometime after the service one of the officers of the church, unlike what our officers would do, one of the officers of the church complained to the pastor that he was speaking too strongly about sin. The officer said it was fine to point out dangers and errors, but he would prefer if the pastor would call the sins simply “mistakes.”
So the pastor took down a bottle of strychnine and it was marked “poison.” Now I want to ask myself, “Why did the pastor have a bottle of strychnine in his office?” I have gummy bears and Cheez-Its and things.
But he took down a bottle of strychnine and it was marked “poison,” and he said, “What if I were to put a different label on the bottle?” He said, “Maybe we could call it the essence of peppermint. Would that new label change at all what was in the bottle? It would not.” And in fact, here was his point. The pastor concluded, “The milder the label, actually the more dangerous you make the poison.” The milder the label, the more dangerous you make the poison.
There’s a reason to have the skull and warning in capital letters and “Danger” and “Keep away from children” and “poison.” It’s to protect you. When we use milder language to call sin something other than it truly is before a Holy God, it does not make us safer. It puts us in greater danger.
We’ve ignored even what the New Testament says. You ever notice this in Romans chapter 1? Paul is talking about all the many different sins, of God handing them over and he uses as a prime example the sin of unnatural lust, the sin of homosexuality, and then he says in the concluding paragraph, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness.” Evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Then listen to this: Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
What more stinging indictment could there be upon our own world? They do them. And then are others, “Well, I don’t do them,” they give approval to those who do them. And lest we think, well, that’s just safely away from us, those aren’t our sorts of sins. Well, we’re all going to find ourselves in danger of that list of sins. They know that those who practice such things deserve to die.
So lest you think you can find some sort of recourse, Old Testament God mean/New Testament God very nice, Romans tells us the same severity of sin exists in both Testaments. Yes, outside of the kind of quasi-theocracy that was Israel there may be different kinds of punishments, but the deserving is the same. Those who commit these sins, God’s Word tells us, still deserve to die.
The Gospel is never going to make sense until that sort of hard paragraph makes sense. If it’s just God fulfilling your dreams, God giving you some purpose, God making your life better? Well, yes, all of that is somewhere downstream from the Gospel, but unless you know that those who deserve these things still, still deserve to die, will never make sense of the Gospel, will never run to the Gospel, we will never triumph and glory in the Gospel. Death is still what sinners deserve in the face of a Holy God.
Second lesson. Not only the seriousness of sin but the second lesson is that God’s people must not be indifferent to flagrant, high-handed disobedience.
Back in Leviticus 20, the sins of Molech, that is sacrificing their children to this pagan God Molech. The Lord says very strongly, “And if you don’t do this, if you turn a blind eye to the person who is sinning in your midst, then I will be against all of you.”
What a hard thing. How tempting it must have been not to execute judgment. We can think of people in the ancient times, they must have been bloodthirsty, vindictive, but I imagine more often it was with great pain. These were people you know, people you grew up with in some small clan or family. Your friends, your relatives. You have to out them for their sin? You have to grab a stone? It was hard.
Now the lesson here is not every time somebody sins in the covenant community we go and we put a finger in their chest and we boot them out. No, these are high-handed sins, unrepentant sins. These are people caught in obvious, egregious, flagrant, I-thumb-my-nose-at-you-God. We might say in our parlance, middle-finger sorts of sins.
And there’s a reason that the New Testament then takes this sort of covenant responsibility and no longer gives to the covenant people the death penalty, but uses this language to then speak of church discipline.
Deuteronomy many times uses the language of “outside the camp, outside the camp.” It’s the same kind of language that Paul then adopts, sometimes explicitly. 1 Corinthians 5: Remove him from your midst, clean out the leaven, get him out of your midst, deliver the person to Satan. 1 Timothy 1: I have handed him over to Satan. Jesus, treat him as a heathen and a tax collector.
All of those passages are incorporating this same kind of language. But now instead of judicial death penalties, it’s church discipline. Again, not for somebody sinning and then repenting, or unintentional sins or sins that we overlook, high-handed, flagrant sins. God warns us as He warned His people in the Old Testament, if you turn a blind eye to those sins and you don’t deal with them, God will remove His blessing, ultimately remove the lampstand from among us.
It’s like a commanding officer with his regiment. If he doesn’t instill discipline, if he allows for people to not listen to his commands, he’s putting the whole regiment, or the whole army, in danger because you need people to follow the rules, for good discipline and good order.
Purge the evil from your midst, Leviticus says, lest the land become polluted.
So it is that the shepherds in this church must take with utmost seriousness when men and women no longer walk in genuine faith and repentance and must be rendered outside the camp. Ultimately in hopes that as they are delivered over to Satan they will once again have their soul restored, but also for the purity of the church.
A final lesson, underscoring everything in Leviticus 20: Unrepentant sin will be judged by God in this life or the next. Unrepentant sin will be judged by God in this life or the next.
Jesus talked about Hell more than anybody else in the Bible. Almost all of the uses of the word Gehenna in the New Testament are from Jesus. “Do not fear the one who can destroy the body but not the soul,” Jesus said, “rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.”
Don’t fear ultimately the government, or cancer. Don’t fear things that can just destroy your body. What you ought to be afraid of is going to Hell. “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out – better to go to heaven with one eye than to Hell with two good eyes.” It’s a warning.
Galatians 6 verse 7 – Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Again, it’s one of those ironclad biblical truths that will determine whether you’re going to be a biblical Christian or, I’d say a non-biblical Christian but that’s just not a Christian.
Do we believe as the Bible tells us on almost every page that there is One who is coming again to judge the living and the dead? That all unrepentant sin will be judged in this life or in the life to come?
We’re going to come in just a moment to the Lord’s Supper. If you’ve been here before, you know that there’s usually a warning, a fencing of the table, that language from 1 Corinthians 11 that you not eat and drink of the body and blood in an unworthy manner. That means flagrant, high-handed, unrepentant sin, you just mosey on down or take the cup without a thought to yourself.
There’s that strange statement in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul says this is why some of you are sick and why some of you have died. It’s the same Levitical punishment, cut off. Even in the New Testament Church, Paul is saying, “If you know your Bible, if you know your Torah, you know this is why some have gotten sick and died.” And again, it’s not a one-to-one correspondence with illness or death in your family or ones you love, but it is a category of warning that we need, that God still treats sin with the utmost severity, and He will judge it in the next life and He may choose to judge it right now in this life.
So the question that ought to be uppermost in all of our minds is how do I avoid that judgment.
If sin, Romans 1 tells us, still deserves death, how can I avoid that ultimate death?
Well, it’s right here at the table. Because just as those words of institution speak that warning about partaking in an unworthy manner, so in just a moment you will hear me say those words that whenever you eat this bread and you drink this cup, you do what? You proclaim His death. Not your death, His death, until He comes again.
To partake of this meal is to proclaim to your own anxious soul, and to everyone here and to the world, there is a way to avoid the death that we deserve. It is only when we feast upon the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a way that all that we deserve from Leviticus chapter 20 can fall upon a substitute.
Cling to the One, feast upon the One, who died in the place of sinners, that we may live and proclaim His death until He comes again.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your sacrifice, for Your Son on the cross for our sakes, that while we were yet sinners, deserving death, Christ died for us. The resurrection and the life, that in Him and Him alone we may be forgiven and live forever. In His name we pray. Amen.