I read a section in the Old Testament book of Leviticus this morning that I can’t get out of my mind. A lot of people have problems with Christianity because they have problems with religion. What many fail to understand is that God has problems with religion, too.
The gospel is such a basic, simple thing. God created human beings in His image. Human beings sinned by disobeying God. God said if you sin you will die, which has proven to be true for every human being who ever lived, including us. But God provided a way out by becoming a human being Himself and dying in our place so that the punishment of sin for the whole human race He created can be met in Christ, and those who place their faith in Him, “though they die, yet shall they live.” That’s it. No more; no less. Anything more than this is religion, and God doesn’t accept it. He is not impressed by our religious activity, whatever it is; He is impressed only by His Son in us, and that comes by faith, not religion.
So, Leviticus is a book of instructions for Aaron and the sons of Levi who are the priests of the children of Israel, the Jews. Their main duty is to care for the temple and offer sacrifices to God. The sacrifices are for sin, to cover the sins of the people, and they all point to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, making these bloody practices no longer necessary. That’s why the book of Leviticus to us seems a little overdone since it is no longer needed. Nevertheless, everything in God’s word teaches something, it’s just that this book can feel boring and repetitious because it outlines all the details for how the priests are to offer the goats, bulls, lambs, birds and grain offerings to God. If you want religion, I suppose there is plenty of it here, but this is all spelled out in detail. It tells the priests exactly what to do with the animals, how to slaughter them, how to cut them up, what to do with the blood, the fat and the internal organs, how to place them on the altar and burn them up. It’s very bloody.
Finally, after eight chapters of instructions, in chapter nine, they get to it. Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons got it all exactly as instructed, and when they are all done, in the company of all the people, “Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw all this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground” (Leviticus 9:24). I think we would too, had we been there.
Immediately after this, in chapter 10, a couple of sons of Aaron get an idea. They put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkle incense over the altar.
What? Incense? Who said anything about incense? Flip through the last nine chapters and there is no mention of sprinkling incense on the altar. This was something added. This was their own idea. And we find out pretty quickly what God thinks about that, because another fire blazes forth from heaven and consumes the two sons.
Now I know I’m being a little insensitive towards Nadab and Abihu, but this was a long time ago and I didn’t know them personally. But isn’t it just like us to want to add something to what God has already done, as if what God has already done wasn’t enough?
It was a lesson not soon forgotten. Don’t add anything to what God has required. And so what has God required from us? Faith in Christ. That’s it. Nothing else. No ceremony; no religion. Religion is always our idea. God’s idea is the simple gospel of Jesus Christ and what He has already done, and how we can access all that by faith in Him.
So if you don’t like religion, you’re in good company. Neither does God.