Life in Leviticus
In February 1999 we planted a church to reach the unchurched and disillusioned people of Grand Rapids, Michigan. For the first year, I preached through Leviticus—verse by verse.
- Menstrual blood.
- Hold the pork.
- Avoid road kill.
Why start a church with Leviticus? Why not a series on relationships or finding peace? That would be the safer approach.
Leviticus cannot be tamed. Its imagery is too wild. We ventured into its lair and let it devour us, trusting that God would deliver us with a truer picture of his Son.
Why Leviticus? Two reasons.
First, I didn't want the church to succeed because we put together the right resources. I wanted the church to flourish on the power of the Spirit alone.
I knew opening with Leviticus—foreign words to today's culture—was risky. But the bigger the risk, the more need for the Spirit and the more glory for God to get.
Second, unchurched people often perceive the Bible as obsolete. If that crowd could discover God speaking to them through Old Testament law, it would radically change their perception that Christianity is archaic. I wanted people to know that the whole biblical story—even Leviticus—is alive.
The Scriptures are a true story, rooted in historical events and actual people. But many people don't see the connection between the Moses part and the Jesus part.
But Moses' Leviticus is all about Jesus.
The whole story
Every message in my series ended with Jesus. Every picture is about Jesus. Every detail of every sacrifice ultimately reflects some detail of Jesus' life.
This teaching hit home. Many of my listeners wanted to make sense of the Bible, yet they knew only fragments of the story. Leviticus taught us all to ask the difficult questions: How does this connect with entire biblical narrative? How does this event point to the cross? How do I fit into the story?
We discovered that the Bible is an organic whole: these concepts do connect, these images do make sense. For the first time, many in our congregation began to realize, This story is my story. These people are my people. This God is my God.
One middle-aged couple had grown up in church. They'd heard hundreds of sermons. One Sunday they wore a disgruntled look. "How come we never heard this before?" they asked. The Jewish roots of our faith from Leviticus consistently gave them fresh insight into the passages they already knew.
Paul speaks of "offering yourselves" and being a "pleasing aroma." Many of these phrases come from Leviticus and give them their context.
What did the unchurched think about it? I found out at a high school football game.
It was late Friday night. The cheers had subsided, and I was walking home when I heard a man call out: "Hey, Pastor! Leviticus is turning our world upside down. We're getting rocked to the core." The family had just started attending, weren't Christians, and had never been interested in church. But somehow, Leviticus got their attention.
Then two high school kids caught up with me. They too came from pagan backgrounds.
"We've been ...