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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The LORD Lays Out the Future
Text:Leviticus 26:1-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faithfulness rewarded
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-04-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 43:3,4                                                                                

Ps 79:3,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Leviticus 26:1-46

Ps 106:18,19,20,21,22

Sermon – Leviticus 26:1-46

Ps 85:1,2

Hy 77:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, here’s a warning you’ve probably heard before: Don’t forget the fine print! You came across a great offer—a nice deal on a vehicle, some furniture, a new plan for our phone—everything looked good, and you were just about to take out your credit card, or sign by the X. And then you heard a voice in your head: “What about the fine print? You know, all that microscopic printing at the bottom of the contract, or flying across the screen when the commercial’s over?”

It’s the fine print that gets us. That’s where the seller adds all kinds of conditions so that in the end, your “great deal” ends up being not-so-great. Not all the options were clear, and you agreed to something that you’re going to regret.

Thankfully, God is not a God of the fine print! In our relationship with him, everything is clear and on the table. We know that God’s not trying to mislead us. We understand what God promises us in the covenant, and we also know what He expects, and how He will respond to our faith and obedience. And these are the facts that God sets out in our passage.

The previous twenty-five chapters of Leviticus have been full of God’s laws about sacrifice, purity, holiness, and worship. In this chapter there’s now a serious exhortation and warning to keep all of God’s commandments; it’s a collection of blessings on those who obey, and curses for those who do not. The LORD lays it out very carefully. This is because the LORD wants all his children to be fully aware, to know that it’s our response to the LORD that decides our future, whether blessing or curse. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme from Leviticus 26,

The LORD lays out the future for his covenant people:

  1. the promise of blessings
  2. the warning of curses
  3. the hope despite sins

 

1) the promise of blessings: When someone repeats himself, you know that he really, really wants you to remember—it’s a simple way to emphasize a key point. That’s how our chapter begins, with two commandments that God has already given: “You shall not make idols for yourselves” (v 1), and “You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary” (v 2). These are laws that are included more than once in Leviticus; in fact, they’re the only laws that make it into this concluding chapter. So we know these are fundamentals, the ABCs of being God’s people.

In the first place, God forbids idols, making “a carved image [or] a sacred pillar” (v 1). God is repeating that because He knows that we’ll always be sucked into false worship and idolatry. The Israelites already showed this weakness when they made the golden calf, and they’d show it many times in their history. We do it too, when we try to serve God according to what’s right to us, or when we put our trust in something besides the true God. Like few other sins, our idolatry exposes how we are not really resting in the Lord alone.

The second essential law for God’s people is closely related: “Keep the Sabbath, and

reverence [or hold in high regard] my sanctuary” (v 2). The Sabbath is the day that God gave his people so that we can rest, and so that we can worship. And God says the Sabbath is meant to be observed at the “sanctuary,” which links us to the tabernacle and all the sacrifices and ceremonies that have been explained in the previous chapters of Leviticus.

It’s very telling, the two commands that God places in this chapter of summing-up. Both commands concern the crucial question of worship. It’s evident that in our life there’s nothing more important than this: Do you worship the one true God, and serve Him in the way that God requires? And when we say worship, we don’t just mean official church service activity like singing and sermon-listening, as essential as that is. Do you worship God every day, and always give him the first place? Is your life built around this one priority: fearing God, and working out your love for him in everything you do?

That’s the re-cap of God’s law, and then God begins to speak of blessings. He says, “If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and perform them…” (v 3). This is what we call a condition—if you walk… It certainly wasn’t certain whether Israel would worship and honour God in the future. But if she did, his goodness will follow. In verses 3-14, God says that He’ll bless Israel in every aspect of her life: through the fruitfulness of the land, with peace and security, with growth, and with his own presence among them. The LORD will provide every necessity, give victory in battle, and grant success in labour.

For Israel these blessings will be very tangible: “Then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit” (v 4). Once they got into the Promised Land, they’d be busy with agriculture, fields and herds and vineyards. For farmers, rain is an essential gift—so God will give it to his obedient people: “rain in its season.”

He’d send not just rain, but a massive harvest: “Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing” (v 5). Usually threshing the wheat took place in the spring. Some months later in the summer, the grape harvest took place; and in the autumn, figs and olives. But God says his blessings will be so immense that the farmers will have to work non-stop, from one crop straight into the next—a good problem to have!

Having plentiful food doesn’t mean a lot if there isn’t peace, so God promises that blessing too: “I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid” (v 6). They will be rid of wild beasts like lions and bears, and also rid of their surrounding enemies, because God will give shockingly lop-sided victories, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight” (v 8). Meanwhile, the population will grow, for God will “look on [them] favorably and make [them] fruitful” (v 9).

It’s a picture of total prosperity, a time when all things are as they should be. When we look ahead into Israel’s history, we see that there were a few times like this, periods of great peace and affluence. Especially under godly kings like David and Solomon, Israel was blessed just as God had promised.

These blessings reveal a general truth that we can see in a few other places in Leviticus. God tells us that life is better when we walk in his ways! Following God’s order and design might be harder, but it’s wiser and more beneficial. At a fundamental level, life is more at rest, it’s more complete, and it’s truly meaningful when our worship of God comes first, and when his Word guides us in all things.

It shouldn’t be a difficult decision. Compare it to going to your doctor for a check-up. At the end of the visit, he encourages you to eat healthier foods and to take up regular exercise. He’s telling you this because, ultimately, it’s good for you—it might be hard, but there will be benefits. Likewise, when God tells us to honour his commands and live in dependence on him, it’s because this is the right way to live. It’s good for us, and it’s going to receive his blessing!

Still, how do we make sense of this chapter in the 21st century? Does it mean that faithful church-goers will never lose their jobs, or become poor? Will Christians always have success in business, and always be kept from harm? Will we all receive a large family, and live to a good old age? We know that’s not the case. In fact, God says that Christians can count on suffering.

Yet the promises in Leviticus haven’t expired. They’ve been replaced—replaced by things far greater in Christ! What God gave to Israel was “just” physical and material blessing. We all like material things, but these Old Testament gifts stood for something better. Land, crops and families were like a small down payment on the full treasure that was coming in Christ.

For through Christ, we are closer to the living God than ever before. It’s the most profound blessing that God can ever give, the gift of himself. He starts giving this already in Leviticus; look at what’s promised in verse 11, “I will set my tabernacle among you.” When He refers to the tabernacle, God isn’t simply talking about the physical tent, erected in the camp. It’s about what the tabernacle stood for: God dwelling among his people, forgiving and accepting them. And when Christ came to earth, that blessing was multiplied immeasurably: now, really and truly—in the flesh—God is near.

That gift is promised again in verse 12, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” To walk with someone is to be at home with them. You’re going places together, and you’re going there side-by-side. Israel had a taste of that, but we experience it more fully through Christ and the Holy Spirit: God among us, God in us, God with us in person, in the one named Immanuel!

And then this remains true: if you live in communion with God, you will always be richly blessed. Those who are in Christ will always be able to say that God has been good to them—maybe in the physical things, and certainly in the spiritual things, in the heart and soul. I know it’s a big claim, but this is God’s promise, that even in the midst of trouble, you’ll be able to say, “God is blessing me. For Christ’s sake, God is still faithful to me, He’s walking with me. And when I have Him, I need nothing more.” By faith in him, we’re secure, not just now, but forever.

           

2) the warning of curses: Our chapter is marked by two clear alternatives, because God wants us to understand our options. We’ve seen blessings, now we turn to curses. As with the first section, this one begins with a big if: “But if you do not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise my statutes, or if your soul abhors my judgments, so that you do not perform all my commandments, but break my covenant…” (vv 14-15). Instead of being loyal to God, the people might rebel. Six times in our chapter, God’s curses are introduced by that simple but loaded phrase: “If you do not obey me” (e.g., vv 14,18).

Then comes a long list of punishments for sin—painful reading. There will be terrible calamities and disease, relentless famine, shameful defeat, and captivity. Each and every area of life will be affected by this curse, for God is now judge, not benefactor. Moving through the chapter, the curses grow in intensity. It begins in verse 16 with a general mood of fear, “I will… appoint terror over you.” Perhaps a failed harvest, a military defeat or two, and a sense that things are not as they should be. God is nudging his people, tapping them on the shoulder.

But if they continue in their sin, there comes a second set of calamities, for God says, “I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (v 18). Instead of sending rain and good conditions for growing, the LORD will make “the heavens like iron and [the] earth like bronze” (v 19). And why? God is breaking “the pride” of their power (v 19). The people have presumed they can live without God, so He wants to correct their foolish ways.

In the next sets of curses, more of God’s blessings are reversed. If God had granted the land peace from wild animals, now they’ll come back with a vengeance, killing children and livestock (v 22). If God had once given peace from their enemies, now the sword will flash with violence (v 25). Abundant harvests are replaced with famine, and shortages of bread so severe that ten women will use one oven (v 25). Instead of prosperity, poverty will rule.

It gets worse: the fifth set of curses, in verses 27-33, show how God will deepen his rage. Famine and war will leave the entire land in a lawless and brutal condition: parents eating their children because they’re so hungry, dead bodies left unburied, cities burned to the ground, and even this: the holy sanctuary brought to ruin.

Finally, God will take away the one thing He’d been promising for centuries: the land: “I will scatter you among the nations” (v 33). God will evict his people and send them to distant places to be devoured by exile. Instead of being a brave and mighty people, they will be left totally weak and fearful: “the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee” (v 36). And no wonder they’re so scared: God is no longer among them, to bless and protect them. They had almost nothing left.

It’s a striking picture of the options that are available to God’s covenant people: blessings on the one hand, curses on the other! From this chapter it’s clear that between these two alternatives, there is no middle ground. A person can go one of two ways in life: you’re either faithfully living in covenant with God, or you’re not. You either revere the LORD as God, or you don’t. There’s no half-way.

And now God’s people know the outcome of both ways of life. Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, there’s a ceremony where the whole nation gives their “Amen” to these covenant blessings and curses, when they signify their understanding. We’d say they checked that little box that says, “I have read and understood the conditions of this agreement.” If someone was later disloyal to God and didn’t repent, he’d already accepted God’s right to punish. It was fair.

Again, when we look ahead into Israel’s history, we see how things turned out. Famines did come, enemies invaded, and thousands of Israelites disappeared into exile. Reading Leviticus 26, it seems like it was inevitable! But it didn’t need to be this way. “If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments…” said God in verse 3, “I will bless. And “If you do not obey me…” said God in verse 14, “then I will curse.” There is a choice, for we know the terms of the covenant. We know what God will do.

Even so, this chapter seems imbalanced. We see so many curses, and comparatively few blessings. If you wanted to put it crudely, you might say that if this is the carrot-and-stick approach, there’s a lot more stick than carrot. What’s the reason?

God knows that, however wonderful his blessings are, we learn more through adversity than prosperity. It’s easy to take for granted the blessings of peace, and so we need reminding about what life is like when God removes his gifts. Blessings can lead us to apathy, but affliction is a persuasive teacher. The gift of trouble is that it drives us to heartfelt prayer, and suffering turns us humbly back to God.

So what seems harsh is actually remarkably gracious and generous. It’s amazing that when his people do sin against him, God doesn’t revoke his covenant automatically. That’s surely what we would do, if we had generously helped someone, received their commitment and given them our own, but then they treated us with hatred, with ingratitude. We’d walk away; we wouldn’t give endless do-overs. But God isn’t like us. He sends his curses in order to break his people’s pride, to draw his people back, and to point them to himself.

God does this still. God is always busy shaping us, nurturing us, teaching us to trust in him more. Now, when a person suffers, it doesn’t mean they’ve sinned against God in a specific way. It’s not a curse, but fatherly discipline. But if you are not living according to God’s Word, if you’re worshiping a false god and giving your best to some personal idol, you can only expect disappointment, and misery, and emptiness. It’s the bitter taste of the curse: you should know that you’ll have no peace if you don’t walk with God.

For we have the same Leviticus 26 alternatives today. Now they are the alternatives in Christ, or apart from Christ. What do I mean? Jesus kept the law without failing, He kept every covenant obligation that we fail to keep daily. Yet on the cross He was willing to carry all of God’s terrible curse against our sin: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Jesus experienced the very worst of God’s wrath: He was tormented, exiled, and forsaken. And through his suffering and death, Christ makes it possible for us to be God’s holy people.

We know this, for we’ve all been baptized, heard the gospel and read the Bible. This gives us a tremendous privilege, an incredible opportunity. But be sure of this: living in covenant with God through Christ still demands a verdict, it still requires an answer. It places a responsibility on us to embrace what Christ did on the cross. The choice remains. In our life, will it be faith that determines our steps, or will it be unbelief? Will we invite God’s blessing on ourselves, or his wrath?

That’s how Jesus put it too. He talked about the one road that leads to salvation. He talked about that narrow gate that opens into the kingdom—and the broad path that leads to hell. Where are you going? Are you walking with him, or walking alone? Do you worship him, or some other god?

The curses are for those who have not believed in Christ. We might get a taste of them in the present life, but see them fully in the next. Look at the book of Revelation, which is actually full of these curses: the sword, famine and plague. Or consider the ending of some of Jesus’ own parables—there’s lots fire, and plagues, and gnashing of teeth. It’s a distressing picture of the results of sin, but it is just. God said this would happen. Ultimately, God’s curse will fall upon all who don’t put their trust in him. But the glorious gospel is that those who do repent and believe won’t be condemned, but they will live forever!

 

3) the hope despite sins: There’s a final condition in our chapter, and after that long section, it’s at last hopeful again. In spite of constant disobedience and pride, and six heavy layers of curse, there’s the possibility of turning things around: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to me, and that they also have walked contrary to me…” (v 40).

These final verses show two things: the power of repentance, and the amazing grace of God. First, God demands that we repent, confessing our sins in humility, accepting guilt, and committing to the Lord’s Word. Repentance is a pathway to life: no matter how long we have sinned, no matter how we have failed, no matter the consequences we might be living with, repentance opens up the riches of God’s forgiving mercy. So turn from your sin. Put away your evil. Fight against your constant urge to disobey.

And second, these last verses show God’s amazing grace. Though Israel has scorned God and broken his covenant, judgment doesn’t have to be the last word. Exile doesn’t mean the end of Israel—not if they repent. When we stray from God, He gives a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, and countless chances.

Now, in the context of the book of Leviticus, you would expect God to require here some dramatic act of atonement and sacrifice. Think of how they had to bring sacrifices at the tabernacle even when they sinned without intent or out of ignorance. But after years of rebellion, decades of disloyalty, this is all they must do: confess. Repent truly, and seek the LORD. No elaborate ceremonies, no costly gifts, but only a humbling before God. For this is what God has always wanted, the heart of his people, lowly and contrite.

In this, God demonstrates his rich mercy and covenant faithfulness. Even if his people have been exiled, He won’t forget them in that foreign land, “I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God” (v 44). He doesn’t need to do this; no one could fault him if He left Israel in exile forever. Yet God doesn’t cast away his people, but He says He’ll bring them back.

Yes, even here in the book of Leviticus, with the exodus from Egypt less than two years old, God says He’s going to deliver his people again—a new exodus! He will save them. This is the future of God’s people, a future that is hopeful despite the very worst of our sin.

It’s a hope that is built not on what we do—how could it be!?—but it’s a hope built on the finished work of Christ. For every person, for you and me and everyone, this is the only hope that’s available. God calls us to repent from our sins, to trust in Christ’s saving work, and to live by his Word. It’s the only path to life. Every other path will end in curse and misery and death, but this path alone will lead to blessing. It’s clear, isn’t it? No fine print. No surprises. Just plain truth. So what are you doing with God’s warning, and God’s promise?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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