After the ordination ceremony, on the eighth day, Moses called together Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. 2 He said to Aaron, “Take a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defects, and present them to the Lord. 3 Then tell the Israelites, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and take a calf and a lamb, both a year old and without defects, for a burnt offering. 4 Also take a bull and a ram for a peace offering and flour moistened with olive oil for a grain offering. Present all these offerings to the Lord because the Lord will appear to you today.’” -Leviticus 9:1-4
“Because the Lord will appear to you today.” Nothing like setting the expectations high! But Moses knew what he was talking about and God showed up in a big way:
Then Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle, and when they came back out, they blessed the people again, and the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole community. Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground. –Leviticus 9:23-24
Wow! Our God is truly a consuming fire!
We don’t like to read Leviticus very much because it’s tedious reading about all these burnt offerings and a bit gruesome reading about all the details of the butchering and sacrificing. But there are these nuggets of joy nestled in between the tedious details. And it’s precisely because the people were obedient to God’s directions about preparing themselves to approach him that they were able to have these moments of joy when God makes his presence known.
I’m reminded as I read Leviticus to be thankful anew for Jesus’ sacrifice once for all that makes it so that we don’t have to go through all the rigmarole of the Levitical laws anymore (Heb. 10:10). But I also wonder how often we come with the expectation of meeting God? Moses doesn’t say, “Maybe we’ll see God;” he says, “the LORD will appear to you today.” Without the expectation, I wonder if we then fall short on the preparation and create our own self-fulfilling prophecy?
“God probably won’t show up anyway, so why bother.”
But we have a God who keeps his promises. This is precisely what we celebrate on Easter. Jesus said he would be raised on the third day, and indeed he was. And there are numerous scriptures that encourage us to humble ourselves and turn to God with the expectation that we will find him if we seek with all our hearts. (Deut. 4:29, Psalm 9:10, 2 Chron. 7:14, Matt. 7:7-8, Heb. 11:6, James 4:8, et al)
I wonder sometimes, though, how much we really want to meet God? Meeting God can be blessing or very scary. Isaiah was horrified by his own sinfulness when he was confronted with God’s goodness and glory (Isaiah 6:5) C.S. Lewis describes this nicely in his book Miracles:
“It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life- force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter.”
God in our own image is much tamer and safer than the real thing, so we keep from having to realize what God is really like by only allowing ourselves to get within arms distance of him. Maybe this is what happened when the people following Jesus turned away. They found out what they were really dealing with and were overwhelmed. This happened to Israel early in their desert wandering. They were overwhelmed by God’s glory and asked Moses to intercede for them so they wouldn’t have to face God themselves (Ex. 20:18-21). At this point they didn’t have the Levitical laws yet, and they hadn’t done anything to prepare themselves to meet God, nothing of any sort like the preparations Moses required of them in Leviticus 9, and as a result they were overwhelmed by fear instead of blessed by God’s presence.
Maybe they weren’t really expecting to meet God. And maybe we aren’t either, and so we too come unprepared. We don’t need to slaughter any animals, just our pride….not that slaughtering our pride is all that much easier or less messy. I think the first step is just to admit that we are prideful and that we need to work on that. God meets us halfway and helps us with the steps that follow. Just that little bit of bowing before God puts us in a better attitude to meet God and have it be a blessing instead of a horror.
May we find our way to humbly approaching God today and may we expect that he will meet us there and bless our seeking, in Jesus name!