Reposted from The Cripplegate
Here’s a glimpse into the sausage factory of expository preaching. A while back my commitment to consecutive exposition was acutely tested. I tackled the chapter every seminoid dreads from the day he graduates, namely Leviticus 15 (you know, the heart-warming one about emissions and discharges of various bodily fluids). The challenges of preaching this sticky wicket are manifold.
First, the preacher himself needs to understand why there is legislation on bodily leakiness in the Bible.
Second, he needs to publicly read and explain the text without blushing or evoking any unsolicited giggles from the congregation.
Third, the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed from the text, and not just gratuitously or tangentially, but in a way that people grasp the connection and are moved to worship. And finally, application for today needs to be drawn from the Mosaic Law, which is fulfilled in Christ and no longer binding on Church-age believers.
When I surveyed how other preachers dealt with the text, I noticed a trend toward lumping chapter 15 in with a sermon on leprous uncleanness from chapters 13 and 14. So, most pastors tended to passionately preach up a storm from Leviticus 13-14 on the picture leprosy is of sin and Christ’s power to make clean the unclean–and then incidentally append a footnotish concession that chapter 15 provides another illustration of this truth by portraying a different type of uncleanness. A slight “ahem” would often punctuate the part of the sermon where the unmentionables were mentioned.
I thought to myself, “Chickens! I’ll play the man, and preach an entire sermon on the chapter. With the courage of a seasoned expository janitor I’ll mop up the mess on aisle fifteen with my dry wit.”
Shortly after my soliloquy—during the part of my exegesis where I simply read the text multiple times—I started to change my tune, and thought “Perhaps the chickens had the right idea after all. It would have been smart to have grafted this into last week’s sermon. Oops.”
Anyway, I plunged into the flow of the text, practically drowning in bodily fluids, but determined that one way or another I would wring application from this chapter. In surrender to the Holy Spirit, I allowed him to guide my study.
As it turned out, 2 Timothy 3:16 is in fact true: all Scripture, even Leviticus, is breathed out by God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, and training in righteousness. Who woulda thunk?
The (somewhat cumbersome and ineloquent) sermon outline that floated to the surface was:
3 MESSY REALITIES ABOUT BEING HUMAN SO THAT YOU GRASP HOW UNAVOIDABLE YOUR UNCLEANNESS IS AND HOW MUCH YOU NEED A SAVIOR TO CLEAN YOU
- GOD MADE US MESSY;
- GOD WANTS US CLEAN;
- GOD MAKES US CLEAN.
Today we look at the first one:
1. God made us messy.
As a result of the Fall and subsequent Curse (Gen 3) humans have been left in a state of broken messiness in every conceivable way: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Many sermons address the need we have for spiritual repair. But Leviticus 15 presents our physical grossness and portrays a picture of how unavoidable our uncleanness is.
The inevitable leakiness of our bodies is a reminder that simply being human makes us unacceptable to a pure, holy, clean God.
At the Fall in Genesis 3, everything fell. The universe fell. Our bodies, our emotions, our will, our spirits, everything. Work was a blessing before the Fall, but when work was cursed it became impossible for a man to find fulfillment in his work. In fact, in the very text of the pronouncement of the Curse, one bodily fluid is featured prominently: sweat (Gen 3:19). (Fun fact: humans sweat 227 liters a year—enough to fill a Honda Accord’s gas tank three times—amounting to 17,025 liters in a 75 year lifetime.)
Bearing children would have been an untainted blessing before the Fall, but when childbearing was cursed (Gen 3:16) the joy became mixed with pain and discomfort. One bodily fluid we associate readily with emotional pain is tears.
But the most persistent pain in childbearing is associated with blood. From the time a woman hits puberty, her body hurts her every month until she gets pregnant (her period). Then it hurts her while she’s newly pregnant (morning sickness), then it hurts her while she’s very pregnant (antenatal kung-fu in the womb), and then it hurts to deliver the baby (or so I’m told), and then there’s the pain of nursing, and the torture of sleep-deprived nights. And the inconvenience of parenting persists until finally the offspring all come of age and leave the nest (the age used to be eighteen, but thanks to Playstation and chronic laziness it’s now closer to twenty-three for boys). But then there is the pain of not having them in the house, or “empty-nest syndrome.”
Why? Why would God do this?
Tune in next week Monday for the answer.
Last week Monday, we established the point that God made us messy. We asked in exasperated curiosity “Why would God make humans naturally messy and disgusting, and then consider them unclean and unacceptable in the Mosaic Law?” As an example we cited the foot-shuffling chapter of Leviticus 15 and its unblushing legislation on various bodily discharges.
Today we want to proffer a second point: God wants us clean.
Yes, God is the one who made us to need fixing up (since the Curse of Gen 3). But God also reserves the prerogative to call our natural state unclean and unacceptable.
First, let’s establish that in the Mosaic Law being “unclean” is not always linked to sin.
For example, in Leviticus 12 women are considered unclean after giving birth, even though this is not at all sinful, and in fact called a blessing and reward by God. Mary even offered the cleansing sacrifice after delivering Jesus, who was neither conceived in sin, nor contained the original sin nature. Having babies is not wrong, it’s just ceremonially sullying.
It’s like when my mother used to ask my brother and I to work in the garden. We’d get our shirtless selves all sweaty and muddy while enthusiastically pulling weeds for hours. Then, as recompense, we would be called in for a lavish lunch spread and ice cold lemonade. But before we were allowed to partake in the cornucopia of cold meats and cheeses, we had to take a shower and put on a shirt. Why? It wasn’t that Mom was angry or upset with us. She was, in fact, pleased (and surprised?) by our compliance, and she was offering us a reward. But she still had unyielding standards of cleanliness. No one is allowed at table without cleaning up and putting on a shirt.
It’s the same with ceremonial uncleanness in the Pentateuch. Being unclean means that you are not allowed in the corporate gathering to worship with God’s people. God was not angry with the unclean person who had inadvertently touched a corpse, for example. But God has standards. “Be holy for I am holy.” You need to go get “cleaned up” ceremonially before being allowed into the gathering of God’s people.
So, being considered unclean for a perfectly natural emission of bodily fluid seems at first harsh; but it’s not. It has to do with God’s picturesque standards of spiritual hygiene.
Second, the polemic role that legislation played is also significant. Pagan religions used sexual acts in their corporate worship service, making what should be private into something grotesquely public (what pornography does today). But in Leviticus 15 sexual activity would place a person in the category of being unclean and unacceptable, and he or she was not allowed near the corporate worship service. But there is more to it than that.
It’s Only Natural.
The reason, I believe, God made us messy and then calls us unclean, is because he wants us to long to be fixed. He wants us to desire to be made perfect. He designed us to constantly be aware that our leaky bodies are broken, malfunctioning, marred by the Fall, even when they are in “perfect health.”
What we call perfect health simply means the bodily fluids are not escaping our bodies at an unusual rate. When nothing wet is embarrassingly darting out of our noses, oozing from our skins, or jail-breaking from other orifices without our sayso, that’s a good day for us. It’s only natural, but natural is not perfect.
Jesus displayed this understanding when he was being brutally tempted by Satan in the wilderness after a forty day fast. Satan tempted him with the prospect of wheaty whole-grain carbohydrates–something his (very human) body would have been naturally craving. Jesus could have said, “Oh, it’s only natural, it’s not my fault, it’s my body’s.” But he didn’t. He understood that sometimes natural is still unacceptable to God. God has the right to declare natural bodily functions to be wrong at certain times.
You can’t tell your teenage boy, “You have hormones and sexual desire, it’s only natural, so it’s okay to lust.” No, you have to tell him, “It’s only natural, but you need to fight it. God says it’s wrong until marriage.” The “God made me this way” defense is flimsy. And yet it is exceedingly popular today, especially among the homosexual community, angry people, the hypoglycemic (I get cranky when my blood sugar is low, so deal with it), some ladies at some times of the month, and alcoholics. But it doesn’t matter that it’s natural; God can still limit what responses He considers to be acceptable. He is the Potter, we are the clay.
So what do we do with all this? Thanks be to God that he made a way for us to be cleaned up. This hosing down was only temporarily in the Mosaic sacrificial system, but it served as a picture, a preview of forthcoming attractions. There will be a day of permanent perfection.