The Need to Belong
A sermon by Coty Pinckney on Leviticus 1, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, May 3, 1998
Those of you who have heard me preach before know I frequently begin with a question. This morning, weíll play Jeopardy: Iíll give you the answer, and you give me the question. Hint: This is actually the correct answer to a Poli Sci examination question from my college days (which my children say was eons ago):
Here is the answer:
A sense of belonging to a group.
What is the question?
The question on my Poli Sci exam was, What is nationalism? But this morning I would like to suggest that another question with the same answer would be, Name one of our basic human needs.
Think of all that people do for the sake of nationalism, from devoting themselves to the common good, to genocide of those different from themselves! All this results from what? A feeling, a sense of belonging.
We as human beings have a strong need to belong. This expresses itself in some positive or innocuous ways, such as:
But this need also expresses itself in terrible and ugly ways:
All of us want to be part of a group, to be loved and appreciated by others, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And, indeed, when we don't satisfy this need to belong, when we feel rejected by the groups we want to join, we can suffer deep depression, and even decide life is not worth living
We see people searching for this all the time, trying by the way they dress, the words they use, the credentials they seek, to become a part of a group.
Is it wrong for us to feel this way? Is it wrong for us to want to belong?
No. This desire to belong is a basic human need, an expression of our humanity. We need to be loved, we need to know who we are.
But like most good things, we twist and distort this basic need, we manipulate this need in others, so that we end up hating those not in our group, so that we lose all sense of proportion when we are rejected by a group.
Like sexuality, this need for belonging is GOD-GIVEN -- and like sexuality, there is a GOD-GIVEN way to have this desire fulfilled.
How is this need to be fulfilled? God tells us the answer here in Leviticus. We belong to GOD, we are HIS PEOPLE, we are a people for his own possession. Recall Leviticus 20:26 from our discussion last week:
You are to be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from the peoples to be MINE.
We will never find our fulfillment in any other group, we will never satisfy our desire to belong anywhere else but with God. And God provides a picture of this in the first of the five offerings, the burnt offering.
Last week we began a series of studies on Leviticus. Now I didnít choose this book because I heard a great clamor of voices chanting, "We want Leviticus! We want Leviticus!" Indeed, this book is one of the least popular in the Bible, a stumbling block for those trying to read all the Scriptures. On the surface it seems to be only a set of regulations that have been superceded by the coming of Jesus. Yet when we prayerfully consider this book, knowing that ALL Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for us, we find that Leviticus is the key to understanding much of the New Testament. Leviticus opens our eyes to:
So these are the reasons WHY we should study Leviticus.
We also asked the question, HOW. Because Leviticus is a series of pictures foreshadowing the full truth to be revealed in Christ, it requires a somewhat different type of study than, say, one of the letters of Paul. Instead, I suggested that the proper method of approach is more akin to studying Jesusí parables. Our primary question will be whether each chapter or verse is a picture of New Testament truth, to see how it may shed light on that truth.
Finally, we closed last week by answering the question WHAT? WHAT are the main topics in Leviticus? We noted that the first half of the book details Godís provision for meeting manís needs; the second half in general describes Godís requirements for holy living. The order is not accidental; God never gives a command without giving us the provision for fulfilling that command.
The first section of Leviticus, the first set of provisions for dealing with manís needs, concerns five offerings. This morning we will examine some of the common elements in these offerings, and then consider the truths revealed to us by the first offering, the whole burnt offering.
And we will see that in the burnt offering, God pictures in a beautiful way his provision for meeting our need to belong. As in the verse we quoted above, God is saying, "You are MINE, You belong to me! Your need to belong will be fulfilled only in me. You are my own dear possession, and with me you will find true love and care."
So turn in your Bibles with me to Leviticus chapter 1:
1 ∂ Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. 3 ∂ 'If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 4 'And he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. 5 'And he shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 6 'He shall then skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. 7 'And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 'Then Aaron's sons, the priests, shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the suet over the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar. 9 'Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. (NASB)
We will look at some of these confusing details in a moment, but first let us consider common characteristics of all five offerings. You'll be happy to hear that I wonít read the first seven chapters in their entirety, but I do encourage you to do so this week.
Common Elements in the Five Offerings
(1) God ordained all five offerings from the tabernacle
God had given the law at Sinai, and the people of Israel had replied, "All that you have commanded we will do!" They agreed to that covenant -- yet within days they grossly violated the very commands they had heard God speak.
Now, was their disobedience a surprise to God? Of course not. God never intended the Israelites to deserve to stand before him by perfect obedience to the Law. Neither does he expect us to stand before him on that basis. Similarly, we cannot simply tell people how to behave and expect that they will do so. Our sin nature is too strong for that. Instead, as Paul writes in Galatians, the Law became our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, to show us our need for Christ.
So God, knowing human weakness, provided for that weakness with these sacrifices and offerings, which foreshadow Jesus' death on the cross. Why did he ordain these offerings in this particular spot? Because the tabernacle is Godís picture of his living among us, of his power within us, and these offerings symbolize God's provision for meeting our human needs. We sometimes refer to these first five books of the Bible as the Law, but here God is speaking of his Grace, of his unmerited favor toward us, of his provision for dealing with our sin.
(2) God required that the offerings follow a prescribed pattern.
While giving us the offerings in order to meet our needs, God did not say, "Oh, I'd like you to approach me this way, but you can make any changes in the methods you deem appropriate. Just be sincere." Quite the contrary. God gives a long list of requirements, and the Israelites were to be careful to follow all of them. Indeed, chapter 10 describes how God kills two of Aaronís sons who offer "strange fire," fire which was not offered in the prescribed way.
All these requirements emphasize that we come before God on the basis of His grace. If we deserved to come before him, then we could negotiate terms. But we don't. Unless God makes a special provision, our status before Him is hopeless. We owe him a fortune, and if he is going to forgive that debt, he can name the terms. Here in Leviticus, he names those terms.
For us on this side of the cross, these requirements picture the fact that Jesus is the only way. We can't argue with God and say that we are really pretty good people, or that we just didn't quite understand his word. The only way we can approach God, the only way we can be freed from sin power and penalty, is to receive Jesus, to believe in His name.
Let us now consider the similarities among the requirements for the five offerings.
First, there is a selection procedure for the offering. God does not accept just anything the Israelites bring, but prescribes what is appropriate. One common element in the selection is that the offering must have no defect. A grain offering must be perfect, fine flour; an animal must be without blemish. The offering must have value to the person giving it, or it is not worthy of being presented to God.
What about you? In your offering of your time, energy, and resources to God, are you offering that which is perfect? Or instead, are you offering whatever time is leftover, and the money you don't really need? Do you put the same degree of effort into your ministry as you put into your job, your studies, or your sport?
In the book of Malachi, God speaks harshly to the priests, complaining that they are offering him sacrifices that they would never consider offering to the Persian governor. Our devotion to the tasks God gives us should be at least as great as if we were working for the governor of our state or the President of the country. God is much greater than any governor!
Second, note that God specifies the sex of the animal to be sacrificed. In some cases a male is specified, in other cases a female, and in other cases God says either can be offered -- but he chooses. Why?
The male is a picture of the leader, the initiator, while the female is a picture of a responder, a follower. So the sex of the animal to be offered helps us to understand the purpose of the offering. These pictures are partly based on the differences in the sexual organs between male and female, and partly based on the tasks given to male and female in Genesis 2. Now, note that each of us before God plays both "female" and "male" roles. All of us are the bride of Christ, yet we are named sons, heirs together with Christ.
Third, note that the species of the animal to be offered frequently is left open. Bulls, sheep, goats, and birds are all acceptable to God in certain circumstances. This is in part God's provision for the poor. Some persons could not possibly afford to kill a perfect bull for a burnt offering, but God values their devotion as much as the devotion of a rich person. Even while God is detailing specific requirements, he leaves open the type of animal -- because his concern is primarily with the heart of the believer. The item sacrificed should be valuable to the offerer -- but because those making the offerings differ in economic status, the type of offering varies also.
In addition to being a provision for the poor, God's accepting different animals also pictures his acceptance of all of us, different as we may be. We all belong to him; he says to each of us, "You are MINE!" We differ in abilities, in gifts, in ethnicity, in education, in health, in age, in every way -- but God loves us all, he accepts us all, he has a perfect plan to meld us all together into his perfect body and bride.
So for each of the five types offerings, God specifies a selection process for the item to be offered. The second common requirement for the four offerings involving animals is that the giver identifies himself with the animal to be killed. In each case, the offerer lays his hands on the animal prior to killing it.
This picture becomes more vivid when we consider the third common requirement, that the animal must be killed. Now, think back to the passage we just read: Who kills the animal? The answer is given in verses 4 and 5; the offerer kills the animal. The priest does not do the killing, but the person who brings this precious animal to the tabernacle also must kill it.
There are two pictures here. First, by identifying myself with the animal and then killing it, I am sacrificing myself, I am dying. Dying to self, dying to everything that draws me away from God. I put myself to death.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians:
For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19-20, NASB)
I am crucified. I no longer live. Christ is in me instead, and I live by him, through him, and for him. All this is pictured in these ancient offerings.
But there is a second picture here. The perfect animal is a picture of whom? Who died so that we might live? The animal also pictures Jesus. So my killing of the animal is a picture of my killing Jesus.
What a vivid picture of this profound spiritual truth! I have to slit the throat of this beautiful animal, I have to watch as the lifeblood issues forth, I am responsible for the death of this perfect sacrifice -- I am responsible for Jesus' death! Even if no one else in the world had ever sinned, my sins alone would require Jesus to die. I killed Jesus Christ.
The fourth common requirement for the offerings is some act of consecration. The act differs from offering to offering: The blood is sprinkled, or poured out; blood is sometimes put on parts of the body; part or all of the sacrifice is burned; the remains are taken to a particular place. We will deal with the pictures as we consider the individual offerings.
Fifthly and finally, for all the offerings except the burnt offering, there is some celebration of renewed fellowship after the act of consecration. We'll consider later today why there is no act of celebration in this one case.
So God ordained these offerings from the tabernacle, and then specified certain requirements for all the offerings, including the selection of the sacrifice, identification with the animal, the killing of the animal by the offerer, an act of consecration, and acts of celebration.
The Burnt Offering
Let us now turn our attention to the specifics of the burnt offering. Let's first identify the specifics of the burnt offering, and then consider the meaning:
Selection of the Animal: God accepts bulls, goats, sheep, and birds as burnt offerings, as we noted earlier. The animal must be male.
The laying on of hands and the killing of the animal by the offerer follow the common pattern.
The act of consecration is to burn the animal completely. There is no act of celebration.
Furthermore, consider these verses from chapter 6:
9 "Command Aaron and his sons, saying, 'This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. . . 12 It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. 13 'Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out. (NASB)
As we learn elsewhere, in addition to the freewill burnt offerings prescribed in Leviticus 1, the priests were to offer burnt offerings for the people of Israel as a whole every morning and evening. And the fire was never to go out, it was to continue days, weeks, months, years, decades, and centuries.
What does all this mean? What is the special meaning of the burnt offering?
One hint is provided in verse 3 of chapter 1, which reads in the NASB, "He shall offer it ... that he may be accepted before the LORD."
The real key, though, is that all of the offering is burned, all of the offering is consumed in the fire. I identify with this animal, and then I kill it and burn it up completely before the Lord. Furthermore, not only do I burn the animal, but the burning produces "a soothing aroma before the Lord."
Here the Israelites are acting out their position before God. They are the animal; they belong to God completely -- every bit of them belongs to God. God chose them to be his, to belong to him -- God loved them as his very own, not because of anything special about them, but simply because he loved them.
"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NASB)
Just so with us. God accepts us, God loves us, God chose us as his very own possession, he bought us and redeemed us by the blood of Christ, so that we are not our own. We belong to him.
Here is the answer to all our longing to belong, our desire to be a part of a group. God has loved us with a love beyond compare, he has declared that we are part of his family. We donít need to try to impress others, or live up to othersí expectations; we donít need to prove to any group of humans that we are worthy of their attention, or that they need to include us in their group. For we are God's people, we belong to Him, and nothing will ever separate us from His love.
And the fire never goes out!
There must be a continuous recognition that we belong to him. Every minute of every day, we need to remember to say to ourselves, "I am a child of God, I am accepted and loved by the Creator of the universe, he gave himself for me and his love for me is boundless!"
So why is there no act of celebration? Because the offering never ends! The offering is continuous, and the offering IS the celebration! The offering is the Israelite's picture of who they are before God -- totally his, loved by Him, possessed by Him. And to acknowledge that love is a great celebration.
Finally, let us consider the sex of the animal. Why does God designate that the burnt offering must be a male? Since this is a picture of God's possession of us, why not a female, representing our role as the bride of Christ?
I believe the clue here is found back in Genesis. What was the purpose of man from the beginning?
28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28 NASB)
God gives man dominion over the earth. His task is to rule over it. But if man tries to exercise this dominion apart from God, he fails. The burnt offering was a male, for it is in our capacity as Godís supreme creation on this earth, Godís designated rulers of this earth, that we come before God. We are saying, "God, we cannot complete this task without you. You created us to rule, to tend, to care for this creation -- and it is only by belonging to you fully that we can accomplish this task."
So who are you? To whom do you belong?
I hope that you do have a family which loves you and cares for you, showing you that you are one of them.
I hope you have or will have a husband or wife with whom you can share an essential unity, to whom you will belong.
I hope your school, or your workplace, or your sports team gives you a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, where your efforts are appreciated and serve to further a common goal.
But, you know, our families, our spouses, and all human organizations will let us down. None of these will ever fill our deepest need to belong.
Because God created us to belong to HIM! "You are MINE!" says the Lord, "A People for my own possession."
I assure you this morning that God loves you with love far beyond any human love. That God is waiting with open arms for you to come to him and say, "I recognize that I am yours, that you have died for me, that you accept me."
If you donít know this love and acceptance, you can. John writes,
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12 NIV)
Receive Jesus as your Lord; believe that he died for you; acknowledge that you need him if you are ever to belong, if you are ever to fulfill your deepest desires; then offer yourself fully and completely to him, dying to self, so that he might make you whole.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord and Father, you who have loved us with love beyond measure, you who chose us to be specially yours out of all your creation: Thank you for this beautiful image of your complete acceptance of us. You know, our Father, how we are beset with doubts about our worthiness; you know, our God, how often we feel worthless, rejected, despised, and forsaken by those we thought were our friends and loved ones; you know, our Father, the pain we have experienced through those who have failed to live up to their promises; and, O God, you know the pain we have inflicted on others when we have rejected and failed them.
Forgive us for these sins, O God. And thank you so much that we can come before you, knowing that we are totally yours, that you accept us just as we are, and that you promise to perfect us, to fulfill our potential by your power. May we keep in mind the fire that never goes out, the continual burning of this offering, as day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute you infuse us with your power -- and make us yours. Amen and amen.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 5/3/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at thePBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him.
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