Many people have commented on the boring nature, and perhaps even the seeming irrelevance, of the book of Leviticus. If that were true of the book, it certainly would be true of Chapter 20. However, one should remember that Leviticus gives us the background and foreshadowing object lessons via ritual from which all the apostles viewed the work of Jesus Christ.
So it was with some excitement that I stumbled across a great find in Leviticus 20. I had preached one evening on verses 1-9, the section focusing on idolatry and the penalties for it. Now I was working on verses 10-21, the section focusing on sexual immorality, or even more precisely incestuous acts or relationships.
I spent considerable time in the attempt to form an outline. Usually that helps in being able to grasp the content. It seemed a difficult challenge, especially since I had seen what some published scholars had done, selecting verses here and there in various groupings. There did not seem to be neat divisions until I looked at the penalties to be assessed for the various crimes. In verses 10-16 all crimes were assessed the death penalty; probably all were by stoning with the exception of one that required burning with fire. In verses 17-21 there was a variety in the penalties assessed, or at least the wording was varied. It invited a closer look.
The penalties in these verses and even a few verses earlier in the chapter include the following: in verse 17 "they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people" and "he bears his guilt;" in verse 20 "they shall bear their sin" (which is, of course, equivalent to "he bears his guilt") and "they shall die childless;" in verse 21 "They shall be childless" (which is equivalent to "they shall die childless"); earlier in verses 3, 5, and 6 "I will also set My face against that man" as well as "I will cut him off from among his people" (which is equivalent to "they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people"); finally in verse 16 the phrase "Their bloodguiltiness is upon them."
What should we make of these? Some published scholars have written that these penalties are not capital punishment, and then they have gone on to attempt to rate the serious of the penalties and the crimes which occasion them. You will notice that some of the verses contain more than one of the penalty phrases indicating that the two in that verse at least are equivalents. That supplied the hint that sent me off on a sleuthing expedition.
Notice the following combinations:
In Leviticus 19:8 "And everyone who eats it will bear his iniquity, for he has profaned the holy thing of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people." (All scriptural quotations here are NASB unless otherwise noted.) Bearing his iniquity is paired with being cut off from his people; the suggestion is that they are equivalent.
The end result in the larger biblical context is that bearing his iniquity equals being cut off from his people equals setting His face against that person equals dying childless equals being stoned by means of stones equals being put to death. Here is evidence that the various penalties are really the same one expressed a variety of ways, namely, the death penalty. Ok. We are all for variety, but might there be some other reason for all these variations?
There is, even if we don't emphasize the apparent fact that all somehow indicate the death penalty. The statements of these penalties actually serve to provide for us a clinic on what it means to stand condemned. It's more than a slap on the wrist. It's more than points on your driving record. It's more than probation and required community service. Let's look at these.
Bearing his iniquity points to personal responsibility. Do we know about personal responsibility? We have heard of it, but 'passing the buck' is more common. A sheriff I heard recently indicated that in his work with young people arrested for various infractions, their common explanation was 'peer pressure.' He said he had never seen peer pressure, he could not arrest peer pressure, he could not fine peer pressure, etc. In other words, it was an excuse to avoid taking personal responsibility. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, tried to pass it to someone else, and we have been following their example ever since. You cannot duck responsibility for your sins. The onus is on you. That's what this penalty indicates.
Being cut off from his people points to an absence of social interaction. In a word, alone-ness. Some people are by themselves temporarily, some feel alone even in a crowd--this is the extreme of that. Society is gone. You are penalized with yourself only as you are without hope of change, without the pleasure others bring, without the help others provide, etc. This is being alone in the universe. This is cosmic loneliness. Hell is not a party. That's what this penalty communicates.
Setting His face against that person points to the hostility of God. Many folks have a fuzzy idea of God as a grandfather who dotes on them. Because of that any calamity causes great confusion in their thinking about Him. But calamities aside, if you are not at peace with God, if you carry yet the responsibility for sin, then God's face is against you. Perhaps the reason many have such a fuzzy view of God is that they could not live if they considered Him as He really is. What if you knew that the God of the universe is actually against you? That's what this penalty expresses.
Dying childless points to no earthly future. Today many people don't really care about that as long as they can surround themselves with a sufficient amount of toys. But in times gone by, certainly in biblical times, and even in some societies today, the future is tied to offspring-the children are most valuable and not a disposable commodity. When you realize that because of your sins (for which you are responsible) you will be cut off from all social interaction in the future and God is hostile toward you, then to realize that any earthly future has also been withheld from you, there is really nothing left. And this brings you to the point made so eloquently in the book of Ecclesiastes.
In our blurred vision of eternal values and spiritual realities, we have minimized the conditions of not being accepted by God in order that we might merrily continue in our own selfish ways. We have not been well served by that approach; to deny the truth is a temporary phenomenon only, because the day comes when we will be confronted by the truth. If the day of confrontation is too late for you, you will then become a great tragedy that could have been avoided. If you consider the truth now, you have the opportunity to eliminate every one of the conditions indicated by the various penalties in Leviticus 20. How? Here's how.
The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 portrays himself as an ambassador for Christ who begs others of his time and by extension us today to come to God through Christ. Why? What is the benefit? It is because of what verse 21 says,
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
We noted above that a person who stands condemned is responsible for his own sin. But Jesus took our responsibility on Himself. He became responsible for our sins in our stead. And He is the solution for that condition which is part of our condemnation.
Hebrews 12:22-24 lays out before us the company into which we come when we believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation from sin's condemnation. It says,
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
We noted above that a person who stands condemned is cut off from his people. Because of Jesus the believer comes into the best company of all time. Instead of cosmic loneliness, there is, one could say, cosmic fellowship. There is already a connection in Christ, but the truest fellowship remains to be experienced for eternity in heaven. Jesus is also the answer for that part of our condemnation.
Romans 8:31-34, as well as other passages, shows us that once a person has believed in Jesus unto salvation, the hostility of God is changed in the strongest family love of God as Father to His believer children.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
No longer does the hostility of God rage against a person, but, because of Jesus, instead God's tenacious love shields and nourishes the believer. God looks at the believer as He looks as Jesus. And if God is for the believer, the fact of anyone being against the believer becomes irrelevant. This is another benefit by way of Jesus which undoes condemnation.
Our last description of standing condemned was that of no earthly future. In Christ every day is meaningful as Colossians says,
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Even though life here and now is an adventure, the future holds all promise. Jesus promised eternal life now to those who believe in Him.
John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
And this eternal will blossom into its fullness after we leave this earth.
Revelation 22:1-5 And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.
Leviticus 20 gives us some insight into the meaning of standing condemned, of being judged by God for eternity. The solution to escape all that and replace it with its glorious alternative is found in Jesus. He is the answer for it all.
If you are experiencing the conditions described in the penalties of Leviticus, or if you have fear of them, you need to call upon the Lord for the salvation that is in Christ. And He will save you, as He has promised.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you should, as you have now understood more of what it means to be condemned, express your gratitude to Christ for what He has done for you. There is nothing lukewarm about His work for you, and there should be nothing lukewarm about your response to Him.
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