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January 21, 2015

What I learned at BSF this week

Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) looked at the Day of Atonement this week. We spent quite a bit of our lesson drawing parallels between the sacrifices required to atone for the Israelites sins and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The sacrifice that took away the nation's sin (not the one required from Aaron the priest for his own sin) required two goats. Lots were cast to determine which goat was offered as a sin offering and which goat became the scapegoat. The goat for the sin offering was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the nation. After the priest laid his hands on the scapegoat's head and confessed the sin of the nation, the scapegoat carried the sins of the nation out into the desert as a symbol of the sin being completely removed from the people and forgiven by the Lord. We often think of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb, the sin offering for the world. But Christ is also the scapegoat. All our sins were placed on his shoulders. He was sent away from the Lord (instead of welcomed into the Father's presence as a perfect sacrifice) and descended into hell. Our sins that were laid on Christ were taken away from us and removed from the Lord's sight. They are now forgiven and forgotten. Thankfully, as the perfect unblemished sacrifice, Christ did not stay confined in hell. He rose again, doing what the Old Testament sacrifice couldn't: atoning once for all sins.

I also want to share a portion of the notes BSF have to me on Leviticus 9, the beginning of the priesthood. Leviticus 9 describes the sacrifices required to ordain the priests. "These sacrifices are a picture of what God requires of anyone who wishes to enter into a right relationship, worship and enjoy fellowship with Him. Christians can learn some important principles of true worship when we consider the order of the sacrifices.  The first priority in worship is cleansing from sin. This is what the sin offering shows. The burnt offering and grain offering point to the fact that we then must surrender our lives and our work to God. Finally, the peak of worship is intimate fellowship with God. The meal that was part of the fellowship offering is a picture of that intimacy."

I'm struck by this as the now familiar order of a worship service for LCMS Lutherans. We first confess our sins and receive forgiveness for them. Then we offer of ourselves to the Lord through praise, through offerings, through faith given to us by God. Finally, we celebrate true fellowship with the Lord during communion. This service feeds my soul and truly renews my fellowship with God because I have confessed my sins and Jesus' sacrifice allows them to be forgiven. I have attended many services that start with the assumption of fellowship with God and approach Him as such. There is no aspect of confession, no portion that recognizes that we are sinful humans and unworthy of approaching God with such freedom and fellowship until our sins are atoned for. These kinds of services are not spiritually edifying for me. They do not acknowledge the great divide that exists between sinful humanity and the perfect Lord.

Leviticus warns of the danger of approaching God in worship in a way that he has not ordained. Aaron's two sons died because they offered an unauthorized self. God gave specific, detailed instructions to the priests on how they may approach Him and what was required of them to do to atone for their sins so that they will not be struck down. Yes, Jesus has fulfilled all the atoning sacrifices, but that does not mean that Christians are suddenly holy. We are holy only in the forgiveness that Christ provides. We still sin and need to approach God after being cleansed from that sin. How would worship change of we all entered Gods presence using the Old Testament idea of sacrifice? First cleansing from sin. Then surrendering to Gods work in our lives through faith received in baptism. And finally, enjoying true fellowship with our holy Lord, true intimacy. 

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