21. Living Stones

Meditations in 1 Peter : 21:  Living Stones

1 Pet 2:4 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The New Testament has two main analogies for the Church – a body and a building. Paul uses both. (There is a third analogy – the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7,8)

Let’s consider first the body: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:4,5) and “who are many, are one body. (1 Cor 10:17) and “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12;27). The emphasis on the body is the picture that we all contribute to be the expression of Christ as he continues his ministry.

Then there is the building that Peter speaks about here – a spiritual house. In the previous meditation we considered the following: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit,” (Eph 2:19-22) where Paul refers to the church as God’s household, a building, a temple and a dwelling in which God lives. The emphasis of this picture is of us being God’s dwelling place on the earth. In the Old Testament He revealed Himself at and in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Today, this picture says, He reveals Himself through His people who form a living temple. Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19).

This is the amazing truth that Peter reiterates in his verse above, that we are a spiritual house (or house of God – i.e. temple), so the first emphasis is of us being indwelt by God, but the second point is that we are stones that are living – alive by the Spirit. Now a house isn’t a pile of bricks; it is a carefully designed and constructed building made up of walls. In this case, this building is made of stones, stones that are alive and we allow the Master Mason to build us in where He sees fit.

But then Peter pivots the picture. One minute it is a building, the next it is a priesthood.  What is a priesthood?  It is all the priests.  What did the priests do in the Old Testament?  They brought mankind to God (as distinct from the prophets who brought God to mankind).  When people came to the Tabernacle or to the Temple to meet with God, the priests saw to it that they came in the acceptable manner, the manner laid down by the Law, and that was by bringing a sacrifice.

The particular sacrifices or offerings that we find in the early chapters of Leviticus were the burnt offering which was to be an expression of an open heart to God, the grain offering which was a giving over of personal work or achievement, the fellowship offering that indicates a desire for unity and communion with the Lord, the sin offering for dealing with specific wrongs committed, and the guilt offering for making restitution and atonement.

But we don’t make these sacrifices any longer for Christ himself has become a sacrifice that covers all of these things, so how can Peter say that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ? I suggest we do all these things above by our heart attitude that responds to the work of Christ on our behalf.

Burnt Offering: So when we come to Christ initially, we come with a completely open heart and lay down our lives to God, and in so doing we receive the work of Christ on our behalf – he was a perfectly obedient Son, given over totally to his Father’s will. We are thus received.

Grain Offering: As we walk out our Christian life we realise that all we have and all we do comes through the grace of God and so we surrender our hopes, ambitions and desires, as well as our achievements, to God and in so doing we reflect the work of Christ who utterly surrendered and gave up all his three years of ministry to the will of the Father for the Cross, which was the greater purpose in his coming.

Fellowship Offering: As we grow in the Christian Faith we begin to realise that the most precious thing we have is not our gifts or our talents or anything else, but simply the possibility of fellowship with God the Father. As we wait upon Him we can wait confidently knowing that Jesus was our perfect sacrifice who showed he wanted nothing more than to totally do the Father’s will and live with the Father in eternity, as he died on the Cross.

Sin Offering: As we grow in Christ we become more and more aware of the awfulness of sin and especially as it manifests itself in our lives, and we come in repentance and trusting Christ’s atoning work on the Cross to put us right again and again with the Father.

Guilt Offering: As we become sensitive to the hurt and harm we cause others and God, so we look to the enabling work of the Spirit that is released to us to bless others, the Spirit’s presence that was earned for us by Christ on the Cross. We cannot restore others who have been harmed by us, but we can look to God for His grace to flow directly to them and through us to them.

All this is the work of Christ on the Cross and it is this alone that enables us to be able to approach God wholeheartedly, surrender our whole lives to Him meaningfully, seek for fellowship with Him, know cleansing from sin and know His healing work to flow between us in restoring relationships with others around us. How wonderful!

31. A Sin Offering

Meditations in the Law : No.31 : What is a Sin Offering?

Lev 4:1-3 The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: `When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands– `If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

As we come to the Sin Offering we should note that sin is defined in verse 2 as doing anything forbidden in God’s laws. The sin that is covered is that which was done unintentionally, i.e. the person did not realise it was forbidden at the time but has subsequently realised it and knows they have to do something about it.

The first person considered is the priest himself (v.3). If he sins, as representative of the people to God, he brings a sense of guilt on the whole people. His sin, should it occur, must be the first to be dealt with, because he is the one who stands in the Tabernacle as the mediator between man and God. If that mediator is tainted then the whole system crumbles. The rules for what happens are similar to the Burnt Offering in as far as an animal is presented at the door to the Tent, the Offeror kills it and the priest take some of its blood. Thereafter it differs.

First some of the blood is sprinkled before the curtain where God is said to reside. This recognises that that entrance, having been lost by sin, is first to need to be sanctified by a life given up. Then some is put on the altar of incense, the altar used to daily present incense, as a recognition that this path to God has likewise been violated by the priest’s sin. Finally the rest of the blood is poured out at the base of the main altar. Note that it is the fat and entrails that is actually cut out and offered on the fire, suggesting that it is what goes on inside us that needs sacrificing, not the shell of the body. It is our mind, our soul, and our will, that needs giving over to God, for it is from here that sin comes.

The offerings for the congregation (v.13), the leader (v.22) and the individual (v.27) are similar but for each one the beast gets smaller, as their importance diminishes. The things that need to be cleansed by blood change. For the congregation, as with the priest, the entrance into the Most Holy Place and the golden altar of incense are to be cleansed. This is a sign that God’s design is for the nation to be able to be represented as coming into His Holy Presence, but for the leader and an individual, the blood is only put on the horns of the bronze altar for they do not come into the Most Holy Place, in the same way that at Mount Sinai the people were not to touch the mountain (Ex 19:12). Only Moses and the leading priests and the seventy representative elders were allowed to approach (Ex 24:1). The design of the various different sin offerings is therefore careful to maintain this big distinction. Because those priests and key elders, representing the nation, had gone up on the mountain, nearer to God than the people, thus if they sin it is more serious and the nature and extent of their offering has to be greater.

For the ordinary leader (not an elder) and the ordinary members of the congregation, sin offerings simply recognised that they had broken their right to bring even burnt offerings, and therefore the blood they presented had to cleanse the bronze altar even before their offering could be burnt. It IS sin but they are less significant.

In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul exhorting us, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12;1,2). I am challenged by the question, have I surrendered my heart, my mind and my will to God?

Considering the different categories of this offering, dependent upon the person, perhaps we should recognise that in life different people hold different roles and those roles carry different responsibilities. The bigger the role, representing more people – parents, teachers, leaders, managers, directors, governors etc. – the greater the responsibility and the greater the sin when there is failure, and the greater the accountability to God. Where are we in this?

Even More Caring

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took here into his home. John 19:26,27
We have seen Jesus caring for all those who unknowingly were involved in the greatest tragedy in history, which was also the most glorious event in history (think on that!), and then we saw him bring hope and assurance to a dying sinner.  Now he brings care and attention to his mother.
If God had been anything like us, it’s fairly certain that at this point of his human experience, Jesus would be raining down curses on mankind, curses on every being in sight, who ultimately brought him to this place.   If he were like Job (see Job 3) he would curse the day of his birth, and perhaps even his mother for bringing him into this world.  That is not an uncommon thought in those whose lives have been less than a blessing!  Yet there is nothing of that in Jesus.   As he hangs there in agony he sees, through the bloodshot eyes and screaming agony, his mother and the apostle John standing there, helpless, just looking on.  His heart reaches out and he feels the agony she feels as she looks on and sees the horrendous thing that are doing to her son.    He also senses in her a fear for the future – what now?  In three quick ways, possibly sparing his breath as the torture of the cross bears down on him more and more, he conveys a wealth of meaning.Dear woman,” he addresses his mother.   Not ‘mother’ which would have driven the sword through her heart even more (Lk 2:35).  “Dear woman” was how he had addressed her at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:4) where he was separating himself off from her, indicating he was a man with a mission, not merely her son.  Similarly now, he gently disengages from her and her from him.  It’s time for her to let him go as her son, for soon she will see him as her Lord.  This is the Son of God redeeming the world, not just ‘her boy’.
Here is your son,” taken out of context might be taken to mean, “Here I am your son. Take in what you see,” but the context clearly indicates that he is referring to the apostle John, often referred to in this Gospel as ‘the disciple whom he loved’, who was standing next to her.   It’s as if, in disengaging from her, he says, “I’m no longer your family, John is.”  And so he turns his eyes to John and mouths, “Here is your mother.” John knows Jesus and understands.    He probably nods, and from then on he takes her into his family and cares for her.
In these words, in this incident, there is a divine transaction taking place.  So far, for the last thirty years or so, the Son of God has been relating to people as a human being. There have been a number of significant relationships.  Now, and we use that word a third time, it is as if Jesus is disengaging himself from human relationships.
We have referred previously to the sin offering in the Law of Moses, that prefigured Jesus.  The flesh and hide were taken “outside the camp” and burned (Ex 29:14) and the writer to the Hebrews identified Jesus with this (Heb 13:11,12).   On the Day of Atonement, that we have also considered (Lev 16), there were two goats. One was sacrificed as a sin offering (v.9), and the other was to be cast out into the desert as a scapegoat, a goat that would carry their sins away (v.10,20-22).   Could it be that the two goats represent two aspects of Jesus, one the humanity of Jesus that died on the Cross taking our punishment, and the other the Son of God side that could not die but would carry the sins away to hell?   As the end draws near, the Son of God prepares to disengage himself, in love, from those he has loved.   His human life is coming to an end and the divine is preparing to carry our sin away. Is this what was just starting to happen, for you and me?
Lord, we recognise that what was taking place on the Cross was a mystery. You have shared some of the truth with us and have left us to wonder and speculate about the rest. Even as we wonder and speculate, we realise that we are just grasping to catch a wonder that is beyond our wildest dreams in the incredible thing that you have done – paid our price and taken away our sins.   Thank you so much!

A Lamb without Blemish

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect Ex 12:3,5
he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. Lev 4:3
God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:21
We have already thought about Christ coming as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, but we now focus on one aspect of that so that we may wonder even more at God’s goodness to us.    There are a variety of pictures in the Old Testament history of Israel‘s life with God that say things about sacrifice.   We have already considered the Passover lamb but let’s remind ourselves that the requirement for the lamb was that it was ‘without defect’.   Similarly in the Law of Moses, in Leviticus, in chapter 4, wherever an animal was to be a substitute for sin,  i.e. a ‘sin offering’, whether it was a bull (v.3,14), a goat (v.23,28) or a lamb (v.32), each creature was to be ‘without defect’.
Why ‘without defect’? Well possibly for various reasons. The first reason would be so that the giving of this lamb for God’s purposes would not be done casually.  The owner would have to take care in choosing.
The second reason is that having taken care, he now has to commit his very best to the Lord. (Cain was chided for being casual with his offering – Gen 4:3-5).
The third reason is that this sacrifice has no need to be put to death – there is nothing defective about it that should warrant its death.
Fourthly, there is a sense whereby we might say that it had no sin to deserve its death and so its perfection highlights the awfulness of what is happening to it – a totally blameless creature is taking the sin of completely guilty people.
Now, if you look at these reasons and apply them to Jesus, you see something wonderful. His coming as The Lamb was carefully decided in heaven, the very best that heaven could commit to the task, and there was nothing about him that was defective, nothing that warranted his death.   Heb 7:26 tells us that Jesus was ‘holy, blameless, pure.’   Peter tells us that he came as this lamb, ‘without blemish or defect’ (1 Pet 1:19 ).   What point are we making?   That you and I were redeemed by a perfect being.   He didn’t deserve it, but we did.    The one who stepped into your ‘condemned cell’ was utterly perfect.   If you imagined him as a cup, he was empty of sin, so would take all your sin, every single drop of it.   There was no element of your sin that he didn’t die for.
Lord, I am beginning to realise the completeness of what Jesus did. There is no sin of mine that hasn’t been taken by him. I am utterly cleansed. Thank you so much!