Sunday, June 25, 2017

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It's all in the cleansing, silly!

Leviticus 14:1-32 provides a beautiful picture of how we are made clean at the expense of someone else.  Go ahead and read it – it is beautiful – a work of literary art.

For those old enough to remember “Cliff’s Notes,” here is the summary.

If someone presented the symptoms of “leprosy” they had to be examined by a priest (N.B. This is not really leprosy as we know it clinically today.  In reality, there seems to be no known medical condition that fits the descriptions of leprosy in Leviticus).  Someone stricken with this condition was unclean and excluded from fellowship.  But if someone was healed of leprosy (Hebrew tsara’at) , then the priest would perform a rather elaborate and interesting ceremony.

The main detail lies in the two clean birds (Leviticus 14:4).  One bird was sacrificed, the other set free.  The blood of the sacrificed bird was sprinkled on the unclean person – reminds me a lot of Passover (Exodus 12:7) – which resulted in the person being cleansed and the other living bird set free.  Life from death.  Clean from unclean (as a corpse was unclean, by the way) – which is something pretty tricky to do (Job 14:4).

There is much more to this story because this sequence is a very graphic and potent reminder of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA – not the prostate specific antigen), which is a pillar of sound Messianic theology.  The entire concept of Messiah dying in our place for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) takes on very rich meaning in light passages such as Leviticus 14.

Now as I was contemplating the significance of the priestly ritual, I sort of lost my original focus.  I had intended to look deeply at the issues of the blood and the scarlet thread and the real meaning of leprosy.  But something changed all that.

There are people who suffer greatly every day because they put their faith in Messiah Yeshua.  You can (and should) read their stories in places like Voice of the Martyrs who provides a free newsletter about persecuted believers that I read sometimes.

About these heroes: Some are beaten.  Some are burned with fire or acid.  Some have lost appendages.  Some raped.  Some beheaded and killed.  Our Southern California society is appalled at senseless violence in Chavez Ravine, but we are largely ignorant about violence in the name of religion abroad (N.B. yes, I realize that people other than believers in Yeshua suffer violence).

In the cozy confines of Southern California, I can study all of these amazing details about cleansing in Leviticus.  I can search for minute details that might give me goose bumps because they are so profound.  But somehow I’m not sure this knowledge really demonstrates that I understand that cleansing process.  I can get very caught up in technical details which are sometimes very important (N.B. I don’t want to dismiss the value of the study of Scripture or the importance of sound theology.)  But, frankly, in the Messianic movement, and dare I say in the collection of American believers in Yeshua of any denomination, we get so obsessed with particular theological nuances that it clouds the Gospel.

When people are tortured and martyred for Messiah, nobody asks them if they think it is for today that we should not eat lobster.  Nobody asks them if we should worship on Saturday or Sunday.  Nobody asks them if they are of a dispensational or covenantal persuasion.  Nobody asks them about their eschatological views or if women should be pastors.  They only ask one thing – do you believe in Yeshua?  And their affirmative answer gets them beaten, maimed or killed.

Again, don’t get me wrong – proper theology is very important.  But I’ve learned that in the Messianic movement, we often make idols out of our intellect.  We are so obsessed in telling “the Church” how wrong they that we instead demonstrate how prideful we are rather than how loving we should be (1 Corinthians 8:1).

As for these heroes of the faith who suffer for the Gospel, I really don’t care if they eat lobster (as if they could afford it) of if they vote republican or democrat (as if they were allowed to vote) or if they wear tzitit.  These servants of the Messiah understand the cleansing power of the Messiah quite well because they live in such a way that they will do anything to please the one who cleansed them.  A lot more than most of us who claim to be more “enlightened”.

I can teach Leviticus 14. I can preach Leviticus 14.  But can I live it? Can I live like a leper who was gracefully cleansed at a great price?

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