Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. It dulls our hearing and would damn our souls, but for Jesus, our great high priest.
Have you read Leviticus lately? Forgiveness is costly. Sin is deadly. Without blood there is no remission of sins. These truths are inescapably linked to the bloody details of the sacrificial system. But God appointed priests to offer sacrifices to God for the people’s sins. Herein lies His mercy. Without a priest there would be no having God dwell among them. Without a priest there would be only wrath and judgment. But now they could be God’s holy people, preserved from the evils that befell the nations around them, so long as they kept God’s commandments and kept offering sacrifices… so long as God dwelled among them.
The nearness of God was their good. But it was also high risk. Without holiness, no man could draw near. God’s standards were exacting for those who were nearest to Him. Aaron knew this well.
“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace.” [Lev 10:3 ESV]
But his two sons were dead. They had taken liberties and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord.
Years later David would come to terms with this same reality. It seemed a good thing to bring the ark of God back to town. It was a festive occasion! Problem was, David hadn’t done his homework. Every king was to have a hand-written copy of the laws of God with him to read from daily so that he would learn to fear the Lord by keeping all His laws. (Deut. 17:18) David was remiss. He ordered the ark brought in an ox-cart, rather than carried by the Levites. And poor Uzzah bore the brunt of his sin. The cart rocked. Uzzah reached out to steady the ark. And he was killed instantly!
“And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, ‘How can I bring the ark of God home to me?’” So the ark stopped in its tracks and settled with Obed-edom the lucky Gittite, until David had a better plan of action! Meanwhile God blessed Obed-edom’s household and all he possessed. The nearness of God was his good.
When the ark was finally transported to Jerusalem it came not only with great rejoicing but with great preparation and care, carried on the Levites shoulders. They were so grateful for God’s protection that they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams! There was no taking for granted the mercy of the Lord this time (I Chr.15:26). It was for this occasion that David appointed thanksgiving to be sung for the first time by Asaph and his brothers. It was David’s psalm (96)—Notice his focus:
“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;…Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually…He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth…For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods…Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place….Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…”
David understood God’s goodness and His holiness. He knew the joy of seeking God’s presence as well as the fear of having Him near. Do we? Or is it all lost on us because we’ve distanced ourselves from ‘the God of the Old Testament’. This is to our misfortune. Without the fear of God there is no genuine drawing near to God. Without drawing near to God there is no being made holy. It is God’s ways that make His people shine in a depraved generation. When His people have no regard for His ways, they lose their distinctiveness, their holiness, and the blessings of living by God’s design.
Remember Asaph? He and his brothers were the singers appointed by David. It is his psalm that brings out this point. Psalm 73 begins with Asaph’s envy of the wicked. They appear to prosper and to get away with so much. Meanwhile Asaph struggles to keep his hands clean and his heart pure and for what use? He’s suffering and being rebuked still.
But then he had a heart change. What happened? He went into the sanctuary of God; his perspective of eternity was restored. He realized God was all He truly wanted. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” And all He truly needed: “My flesh and my heart may fail but Go d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26) And he concluded ‘But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” It was worth keeping his heart right with God, so worth it.
The ‘pleasures of sin for a season’ just can’t compare with this.
I’ve been continuing to read John Owen’s old writings on Overcoming Sin and Temptation. His point this week was that if you really want to overcome sin it will start with getting a solid grasp on the GUILT of it, the DANGER of continuing in it, and the present EVIL results of it in your life. I’ve elaborated on these elsewhere if you’re interested, but what I realized when all was read and studied is that we are so indebted to Jesus our High Priest to deal with our sins. We can’t even see them, let alone grasp how deadly they are to us apart from His work in our hearts.
But the crazy impulse sin creates in us is to run away from nearness to God, like Adam and Eve cowering in the garden when they could be walking with their loving Creator. Meanwhile the God who calls us into fellowship with His Son with intent to dress us in His righteousness, invites us to walk with Him in the light and so be made clean. He no longer dwells in man-made sanctuaries of stone but by His Spirit in the bodies of those who believe on His Son’s work on the Cross on their behalf (I Cor.3:16). He has given us His Word and, through the Spirit, life-giving understanding of it, so that we can know His ways and walk humbly before Him. Truly the nearness of God is our good.
Let’s run to Him, with our sins, with our failings, with our doubts and temptations. He has given us Jesus as our great High Priest by whom we may draw near the throne of grace for mercy and grace when we most need them.(Heb.4:14-16) At the heart of holy living is not great will power (or ‘won’t power’), not great disciplines for a stringent lifestyle, but a humble heart drawing near go God by faith, confessing sin, admitting weakness and continuous need of Him, willing to say ‘yes’ to His ways, and ‘no’ to our own notions of what seems best. And as we walk with Him by faith we will begin to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. The nearness of God will be our good. Run to Jesus!
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1Jn. 1:5-7
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Jas. 4:8
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Heb. 11:6
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Cor.1:9
I could not choose between the following songs. All of them have been a balm to my soul tonight. I pass them on for your meditation…
…and lastly this, in honor of Reformation Day…and the great truths brought to light at that time.
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