I have a friend in Baltimore whose business allows him interact often with the Jewish people there. He said that every year for the festival of Sukkot, people would spend $50 or more for a citron, a lemon-like fruit they used in the observance of the harvest of thanksgiving. Some of them sold for as much as $900!
Irritated, he asked why the prices were so high. They explained that the citrons had to be raised in Israel, and then inspected for absolute perfection, and 95 out of 100 were not good enough. Only flawless ones were allowed to be shipped to America and sold for the festival.
Even more amazing is that the people who were buying them were by no means rich, and some of them were very poor indeed! When he asked one Jewish friend why they spent such so much of their meager income on these things, he said, “How can we worship our God with anything less than the very best?”
What an amazing attitude! Is God so important to us as Christians that we would spend our money and time extravagantly on him? Even if buying things to worship him is not our main goal, do we display this attitude about being consumed by a desire to be like Christ, to spread God’s word, and to honor him with our lives instead?
If you think about it, what else would be appropriate? The King of the Universe who set the galaxies spinning and designed our DNA has stooped down to live with us. He has become one of us and suffered and died for our sins. What else but our very lives is appropriate as a response to that?
In Leviticus and Acts
When the God of the universe decides to live among his people, and every aspect of their lives must change because of it. We see this in Leviticus, as God teaches his people how to honor him in their daily activities and worship. We see it also in Acts, when God comes to live in their hearts, the people are now consumed with a desire to tell the good news to everyone around them.
In Leviticus, the gold and silver of the tabernacle and the many sacrifices cost much of their wealth, and the Sabbath days and years will cost them time that could be spent on growing crops, training armies and building their nation. Could it be that the reason why the early believers in Acts had such amazing passion for serving God was because they were used to thinking in terms of using everything they owned to bring him honor? We also see the same attitude toward revering God’s holiness in Acts as in Leviticus. God explains they should bring only their absolute best to him and live pure lives before him.
We saw twice what happens when humans approach the presence of God without treating his holiness with the reverence it deserves. When Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, came too close and offered incense in an inappropriate way, they insulted the God who carefully explained how to come near him, and it cost them their lives (Leviticus 10:1-3).
In Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira bring money to Peter and lie about the price of the field, they brought the Lord a sacrifice laced with their own sin! (Acts 5: 1-6) This was amazingly offensive to God, and once again he takes their lives. As God was beginning this new work, it was especially important that his people revered him as God.
Our Inner Attitude
If God teaches us inner attitudes through the external laws that he gave, what is he teaching us from this? That he wants our absolute best, our first fruits of our time and energy, not our leftovers and flawed material. We fool ourselves if we say that God accepts every gift from us, so anything we bring is fine. The widow who brought two pennies gave an acceptable sacrifice because it was all she had, but if a rich man would have thrown in two pennies, it would have been contemptuous and insulting.
It has been extremely rare that God ever shows his holiness and punishes those who abuse it. Rather, God allows us to come to him with halfhearted prayers, sinful self-absorption and hollow promises to do his will, and he patiently works to transform us into people strong enough to live sacrificially for him.
If we really have learned from Leviticus about God’s holiness and glory, and our need to sacrifice our very best for him, it should make us utterly sold out to please him: to spread the gospel, to serve those around us, to do our work well and bring him honor. Then we will be as effective and fruitful as the believers in Acts, who gave everything they owned to him, who were ready to lose their lives for him. That must be our goal.
Photos: Johann Werfring [CC BY-SA 3.0], Steve Johnson on Unsplash