Faithlife Sermons

Why We Can Eat BBQ- Leviticus 19:1-37

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Leviticus may just be the most relevant book to modern discussions. Does that surprise you? I doubt many of you hear me read about not sowing your field with two kinds of seeds and immediately think, “How relevant!” Let me explain what I mean. One of the most common charges against us — some of you have probably heard these and are still struggling with it — is when people say that we, as Christians, pick and choose the rules from the Bible that we’re going to follow. That is, the accusation is that we’re inconsistent with our application God’s Law by ignoring the parts that are convenient for our lifestyles while exaggerating those parts of the Law that are condemning toward the lifestyles of others.
And, ground zero for this conversation is the book of Leviticus. Let me give you an example. Just before this morning’s reading in chapter 18 (I’m using this one because it comes up so often), it says in verse 22, “You (speaking to men) shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” And then, at the end of verse 19 in this morning’s passage, it says you shall not “wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” Now, this morning, I checked and realized that the t-shirts that we give away as a church to our teenagers and in baptism, and they are half cotton and half polyester. And, that brings us to crux of the charge that might be leveled against us: “You say that you uphold a biblical sexual ethic. You say that sex should be reserved for one man and one woman in marriage for a lifetime. You say that homosexuality is an abomination to God. BUT, in the very next chapter, it says you shouldn’t wear a shirt woven from two fabrics and you have no problem with that !?!? It says that you shouldn’t ‘mar the edges of your beard’, but John’s edges look awfully trimmed! How is it that you’ve chosen the law about adultery and homosexuality but ignored those? How is it that you hold on to those that don’t contradict your lifestyle while dismissing those that do?”

God’s Word

Do you see the conflict? Maybe, you’ve heard this before. Maybe, you’re struggling with it now. There’s the potential for a person to lose their faith right here. I’d say Leviticus is definitely relevant. So, what I want to do this morning is a bit different than our normal sermons. I want to teach you how to properly interpret the Bible for yourself. I want to buttress your faith with an understanding as to why it may appear that some laws are disregarded while others are observed. I want to do that by showing you some interpretive principles from the Bible as to How to Interpret the Law so that you can see that our obedience is not convenient or arbitrary. We’re going to look at this in two different sermons. This week, we’ll see three divisions, and then next week, we’ll see two questions, and one main character. I hope you’ll make sure to be here for both because you really need them both to fit this together for the big picture. These have been so helpful for me, and I pray they are for you, too.
How We Understand - Three Divisions of the Law(headline): Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral.
First, let’s look at how we can understand the Law. Now, we can’t push this too far, but the categories that John Calvin gave us so many years ago are really helpful: three divisions of the Law: “civil”, “ceremonial”, and “moral.” That is, we can basically categorize all of what Moses has written in one of these categories, and these categories help us to see and understand why it may appear that some laws are carrying forward while others aren’t. I chose Leviticus 19 as our base text this morning because it contains all three categories, which helps us to see them side-by-side. I say we can push this too far because it would have certainly been immoral for a Jew to disregard the ceremonial or civil parts of the Law. I say it makes it appear that some carry forward while others don’t because, in fact, the entire Law of Moses has been displaced by the Law of Christ, but I hope you’ll see what I mean later.

“Civil” Law

v. 20 “They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.” First, you’ll notice that some of the laws that we read here are civil laws. These laws instruct Israel as to how they are function as a nation with whom God lives. Probably the clearest example would be verse 20. After explaining a hypothetical situation, He says, “They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.” So, it’s giving a scenario in which the two adulterers would not be executed as was the Law. So, it’s an example of a law that is instructing Israel on how to function within their civilization as theocratic, civil government — how to maintain holiness, how to enforce their laws. And, this is one of the things that you hear today quite often. So, you believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin? Well, then, why aren’t you executing the offenders? Isn’t that what the Law says?” Well, here’s why: in the New Covenant, a seismic shift takes place. Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” God’s people will no longer be an ethnic nation with a civil government, but they will be a church, a ‘holy nation’ raised up out of all nations. There won’t be a geographic center. Instead, there will be a single Spirit that unites a global body. You see this in Acts 10, when the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentiles for the first time, and God says through Peter: “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” God’s people are no longer defined by geography and borders; now, we’re a spiritual people. This is one of the ways that the New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete, as Hebrews 8 says. As a result, the civil laws as to how to dole out punishments and judgements may be examples to governments, but they are not the prescriptions for the church.

“Ceremonial” Law

v. 19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” The next category of the Law you’ll see is the ceremonial Law. This was a big category for Israel. The ceremonial law has to do with Israel’s worship. It’s their rituals and regulations, intended to mark them as holy and distinct because of their devotion to YWHW. So, this is where we’re thinking of all of the Laws that revolve around the sacrifices and the Day of Atonement like we saw last week. This would include their circumcision and food laws, their dress, feasts, and separatism. A good example of some of these is found in verse 19. The intention here was to show that they were a nation totally set apart for God. They weren’t blending in with other pagan cultures. They weren’t welcoming other gods into their camp. They were pure and totally devoted to the LORD their God.

A Shadow of Jesus

But, as we saw last week, the ceremonial law was a ‘shadow of the good things to come.’ Jesus has become our meeting place with God. He has circumcised our hearts with his Spirit. He has provided a single sacrifice for all time. He has set us apart as his people by dwelling within us. And so, Jesus said explicitly of those who follow him that it’s not what you eat or drink that defiles you. It’s what comes out of you that defiles you. And, Mark 7 notes in the text when he says this that Jesus ‘declared all foods clean.’ So, eat your BBQ man. Enjoy lobster to the glory of God.

Law-keeping is Blasphemy

In fact, Paul says that it would be blasphemous and lethal for Christians to continue trying to live according to the ceremonial law. Blasphemous! It would degrade Jesus’ sacrifice to offer another sacrifice. It would insult the Spirit’s seal of our hearts if we were circumcised to upkeep the Law. It would invite God’s judgement in our lives if we believed we had better standing with him because of things that we eat and drink. Listen to Galatians 5: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Like, woah! If you have been set free from the Law but still live as though the Law applies to you, you are insulting the goodness of Jesus! You are saying that Jesus’ offer of salvation needs the help of your law-keeping. You are demonstrating such a fundamental misunderstanding of his grace, that it reveals that you are not in him at all. Woah!

Why We Can Eat BBQ and Wear Blue Jeans with Elastic

You see why we can eat BBQ and enjoy the grace of rubber elastic woven into our cotton blue jeans. You can see why civil consequences aren’t in our purview and why we don’t stone children who disobey their parents. It’s not arbitrary, convenient hypocrisy; it’s fulfillment! Jesus is the king and head of a new nation that is being collected from every nation. We are a spiritual Kingdom, not filled with political power and civil clout, but filled with spiritual power and a certain victory. Jesus is the fulfillment, the new meeting place for God’s people. So, we’re free from the civil law. With every sacrifice that was slaughtered and every meat that was abstained from and every baby boy that was circumcised, the ceremonial law was shadowing the coming of One who would lay down his perfect and infinite life as a sacrifice and set them apart by the sealing of their hearts with the Holy Spirit. You are set free from these powerless sacrifices and symbols because Christ has accomplished all of that permanently, forever! And, to reject that freedom is blasphemy indeed! Because Jesus really is great enough to accomplish it all.

“Moral” Law

v. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” That brings us to the final division that I want you to see — the moral law. You see, there’s always been a part of the Law that was set apart from the others. Only part of the Law was written by the finger of God on the tablets of stone. Only part of the Law was given on Mt. Sinai with the thundering presence of God hovering above. Only part of the Law was rooted in the creative order and expressed as the character of God. This is the category of the Law that I’m talking about when I say moral law. In fact, I count more than 25 examples of moral law given in Leviticus 19. They are all either clear restatements of one of the ten commandments or direct applications of those laws. And, after ten of them, most of them given in series, God says, “I am the LORD your God.” They flow from God’s very own holy character. So, when the old covenant with all of its laws and stipulations is deemed obsolete, this moral law is carried forward. It’s carried forward, and we’re going to see this much, much clearer, it’s carried forward, but in a much greater way in the law of Christ. The moral law is as unchanging as God’s holy character is.

Moral Law in New Covenant

In fact, it’s so rooted in the character of God that in the New Testament, the moral law is expressed as being rooted in God’s created order. When God created the world, He created it to proclaim his handiwork, to reveal his character, to show creature the reality about who He is. When Jesus is questioned about divorce and the nature of marriage in Matthew 19, do you remember how He answers? He says divorce was just a civil allowance because of sin, but then, “He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Do you see what He did? He went all the way back to the created order, back to intent of marriage to demonstrate God’s holy character. That’s why our view of marriage and divorce hasn’t shifted between the OT and the NT. It’s been upheld by Jesus! It’s the revelation of God’s perfect character, and his character doesn’t change.
Paul does the same thing. Watch the flow of logic in Romans 1. In verses 19-20, he starts where? He starts with how God has revealed his character and nature through all that He has made. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” So, God’s character has been tied to the original creation, especially with us because humans bear the image of God. And, the realization of the presence of God on one hand and the holy character of God on the other is expected to have an effect on us. It’s expected to create in us who bear his image a particular morality and ethic that is rooted in God’s nature imprinted upon us. Listen to what Paul says: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 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. 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.”

Why the Sexual Ethic Hasn’t Changed

I want you to notice two things. First of all, not a single ceremonial or civil law is mentioned in what Paul has said is it? Every single sin that he mentions is rooted in the ten commandments. They are either expressly stated or directly derived. They are moral law. Secondly, I want you to notice that not a single one of them has changed. They are carried forward. You see, this is why we can’t redefine marriage. This is why we must adhere to the same sexual ethic and concepts of gender. In fact, as we’re going to see next week, this is why the NT not only doesn’t remove the moral law, but enhances and intensifies the moral law. It is rooted in the character of God, and we as NT believers have the very presence of God abiding in us.

A Portrait and a Mirror

The Moral Law is both a portrait and a mirror. It’s a portrait of God because we can’t see him. It lets us know how perfect, how wonderful, how pure He is. It gives us tangible insight into who God is in his essence. And, it’s a mirror that we can look into so that we can see who we are in light of who we were made to be. It’s a mirror that shows us reality, not a skinny mirror, but an honest mirror. It shows us all of our blemishes and all of our wrinkles and all of our imperfections. And, hearing that, you might be tempted to just throw up your hands and say, “Then, I hate the Law! The Law has crushed me! The Law has condemned me!” And, that’s the truth. Unless you find your hope in Jesus. You see, Jesus fulfilled the moral law too. He kept every single word in motive, attitude, and action. And, if you come to Jesus, then you are credited with perfect law-keeping yourself because He gives you his righteousness. And then, the Law is written on your heart and your character will become conformed to God’s character. What is the mirror showing you this morning? In the mirror, do you see a man or woman condemned by God’s perfect, or do you see Jesus covering you?
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