Last fall I decided to teach my midweek Bible class on Leviticus. So far I have not regretted it. Dr. Kleinig’s commentary is excellent for preparing for such a class. What do I like about it? First of all, I love the fact that Kleinig describes the Levitical sacrificial system as the Divine Service. He puts everything into the context of grace. God instituted this worship in order to give His chosen people access to His divine favor and good pleasure. The sacrifices and rites of atonement were the means through which God dealt with the sin of the people and shared His holiness with them.
I also like the way he explains the consequences of coming into contact with God’s holiness. His presence was either detrimental/harmful or beneficial to the people. The people were holy only in so far as they maintained contact with God through the rites of atonement and the eating of the meat of the sacrifices. Such a rich background in the sacrificial system only enhances one’s appreciation not only of what Jesus was accomplishing in His own sacrifice and death, but of what is going on in the NT Divine Service. And that, by the way, is another excellent feature of the book, namely, that each chapter ends with a section on “Fulfillment in Christ”.
Now, here is a thought for you that I have had throughout this study. Kleinig makes the point that when God says: “Be ye holy, even as I the Lord your God am holy,” it is not only a command, it is also a promise (You will be holy…), or an invitation if you will to share in God’s holiness. It is not a command to become holy of themselves. Such a thing is not even possible. Jesus says something similar in the Gospels: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect, etc.” Looking at this through the narrow lens of “Law and Gospel” this statement cannot be seen as anything but a declaration of Law. It is command. “You do something.” “You be something.” But does that really capture the gist of such a statement? I don’t think so. I am inclined to think that when Jesus says “Be ye perfect” He is not only making an imperative statement of command, but He is also doing what He (yes, that is right, He) did when He instituted the Divine Service for the Israelites. He is basically saying, “Share in My Father’s perfection. Share in His mercy.” It is more an invitation than anything else. It is an invitation to receive. It is a declaration of what is, and it is promise of what will be!
Also, we tend to talk about Sanctification only in terms of the good works that we do. Just look at the section in The Lutheran Hymnal on Sanctification and every hymn in there just about has to do with our holy living. But what is the real sanctification? If you look at it against the backdrop of Leviticus, it seems to deal with our sharing in God’s holiness. He sanctifies us, makes us holy, by sharing His holiness with us, particularly in the Holy Sacrament. We cannot be holy of ourselves. Like the Israelites, we are holy only in so far as we share in God’s holiness. Call it “Sanctification by Grace.” If you would like to listen to mp3s of Kleinig’s lectures on Leviticus in Madison, WI from last summer, Pastor Michael Frese had them posted here at one time, and I think you can still access them. Enjoy!