Restitution and the worship of God

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Being reminded of our need to be forgiven is very different from being reminded of our sins. In Leviticus chapters four to six we are taught about the offerings which God expected under the old covenant. The sin offering teaches us how seriously God considers sin to be, that even if a person sins unintentionally or even sins without being aware that he or she has, God still finds that person wholly responsible and guilty before Him. The guilt offering teaches us that forgiveness is an act of grace from God. God doesn’t remind us of our sin, but He does want us to be mindful that forgiveness is a blessing.

Learning from Leviticus

Leviticus chapters four, five and part of six may at first sound a little irrelevant now that we have Jesus, but it’s in these very chapters where we learn how God was preparing his people for what could only be accomplished by Jesus. The reason for these sacrifices is so that the place of worship would be purified and that the people of God can be made right with God. God created us that we might come to share in Him and sin is what separates us from this relationship.

When it comes then to our worship, we are using means that God has given to us in order to worship him, when we are fully engaged in worshipping Him we are returning something. All those things which are appropriate that we offer to God in worship originates with God and His mercy shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans chapter 12 v1-2 “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” God through Paul appeals to us on the grounds that we now worship God by presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, which as you will recognize is somewhat of a paradox as all sacrifices are normally dead, but that is exactly Paul’s point. Because of our new life in Christ, we are dead to our old life, we have gone from being a people under the just judgement of God to a people now under the blessing of God because of what Christ has done, we have gone from being dead in our sin to being alive to God. Therefore, as we worship God, by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice we are returning that which is appropriate because it originates with God. The reason why our lives are pleasing in the sight of God is because of the mercy and grace He has shown us in Christ.

In these chapters of Leviticus, we can see how God remains at a distance until the sacrifice is made. All people are required to make sacrifices and given that not all people are in the same economic position. God provides clear instructions as to what can be sacrificed for what so that all may be forgiven. God demonstrates His desire to be with His people and provides a way for this to happen through these sacrifices.

Dealing with every sin

The type of sin that we first learn about is the unintentional sin, or sins of negligence and ignorance, the sin though unintentional has broken the commands of God and because of this, they must be atoned if we are to enjoy fellowship with God. “I didn’t mean to” or “I didn’t know” may be valid reasons in regards to what our motive and intention was, but sin offends God, whether it was committed intentionally or unintentionally. An unintentional sin is still a sin which has been committed and all sin must be atoned if we are to be at one with God. Learning this is important because it will cause us to see how it can affect our worship of God. If we have reduced it to a mistake, reclassified where it is no longer seen as a sin by us, then it will be a sin that remains. It will not be repented of as it should be.

There are three main transgressions, the first being a reluctance to divulge information about a wrong, the book of Joshua gives us a perfect example of such an offence. Joshua chapter 7:19, God’s people Israel have lost a battle at Ai against a much smaller group of people, the reason they lost was because the Lord was not with them, and the Lord was not with them because of one mans sin. Achan had taken some spoils of war for himself, which were the Lord’s and hid them in his tent and the whole nation suffered because of his actions. By hiding the spoils of war in his tent, it was an admission of his reluctance to come clean, much like a sin of omission as described in the letter of James. Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it for him it is sin. God is not with His people in battle because of one man’s sin, it not the first time that one man’s sin affects others. Adam in the Garden of Eden, “therefore just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam) and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). In the Gospel, we see the wonderful reversal to this very transgression, where one man’s sin led to all be sinful, to one man’s righteousness Christ Jesus led to all being justified. God’s people were to be aware that the reluctance to divulge information about a wrong affected more than just the one culpable for that wrong.

The second transgression is about becoming unclean by accident through contact with a carcass or a person who is deemed unclean. In the letter of James, he points out to his readers the challenges of the Christian faith and the need for their spiritual life remain unspotted within the world they live. The third transgression concerns the making a rash oath. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew gets to the point when He taught that your yes should be yes and your no should be no. The point that Jesus makes is the same that the book of Leviticus makes, we have a duty to be a creditable witness before God, it is possible that we can become slow to speak up when we should and often too quick to speak out when we shouldn’t.

Jesus, the only priest who didn’t need to make atonement for his own sin.

We are completely reliant upon another for our forgiveness, in the book of Malachi we read that the priests were accountable before God for the inappropriate offerings that were offered to God, and therefore because the people relied on the priests to be right before God in order that there own sins would be covered. Jesus is not only the perfect sacrifice without defect, acceptable to the Lord, but He is also the good and perfect priest who lives forever, giving us the assurance that our sins are forgiven forever.

When the priest (Old Testament) had offered the sacrifice, what was left was taken outside the camp and burned, the point behind this is that no one should profit from sin, since what would have been left would have been fine for food. Imagine for a moment that you have done something which has made you a bit or even a lot of money, or you have taken something, used it and benefited by it. But it’s wrong, you become aware of your wrong and you confess your sin. Should you then still profit from your wrong, as it was a sin? Let each of you look not to his own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil 1:4), we should always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man (Acts 24:16)

The guilt offering

The guilt offering is to offer a sacrifice just in case I have sinned, in the book of Job we learn of him making sacrifices to the Lord on behalf of his children, here’s why “…it may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts…” (Job 1:5). The guilt offering also deals with the sins of misusing any of the Lord’s holy things, the disobedience and the unlawful apprehension of our neighbour’s things. The Lord God is the protector of a person’s possessions and we become unfaithful to the Lord at the moment we are unfaithful to our neighbour. Therefore, putting a matter right with you neighbour was essential to putting matters right with God.

Restitution

Through our knowledge of the guilt offering, we can address the issue of restitution. Restitution identifies whether or not we are conscious of the sacred, whether or not we treat sin seriously, and the genuineness of our repentance. There is a difference between true repentance and a mere apology; repentance is deeper than just saying sorry to God. Restitution is what we do after repentance. In the guilt offering, we see how genuine the offender is in his repentance by his willingness to pay back what he took, plus twenty per cent. If you think that this is just an Old Testament law that no longer needs obeying, we need to remind ourselves of what happened between Jesus and Zaccheus.

Zaccheus was a chief tax collector on the fiddle, he climbed a tree because he wanted to see Jesus above the crowd, those who knew him knew he was a sinner, yet he was a man confronted with the grace of Jesus Christ. When this happened he decided that he would give half of his possessions away, and he says “…if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”(Luke 19:8). When your heart has been moved by the grace of God you will find no pleasure in profiting from sin, and the grace received means you will go way beyond in your desires to live in accordance with the grace received.

In both the sin offering and the guilt offering we see that God is ready to forgive, but that forgiveness comes at a cost and remembering this cost saves us from falling into the error of cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs the life of Christ being willingly laid down to make atonement for sin, “you were bought with a price”.

Without restitution we can cheapen grace and so miss the real presence of God, Derek Tidball says in his commentary on Leviticus “ one wonders how often the presence of God seems absent from our worship services, not because the minister is ill-prepared, or the liturgy defective, or the songs ill-chosen, but because some of those in attendance are deluding themselves by thinking that by their much singing and praying they can conjure up the presence of God when what is really needed is for them to go and pay their bills, apologize to their friends, repair bridges with their neighbours…if reparation were made in these areas, might we not see God “ open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that [we] will not have room enough for it?

By Daniel Ralph

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