February 9 | Daily Devotion

February 9 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“Moses said to Aaron, “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded.’” ~Leviticus 9:7

On a visit to Kali Temple in Calcutta (India), I watched Brahman priests slaughter goats to appease Kali, the goddess of death. There was blood everywhere, splattered on the white garments of the priests, dripping from the carcasses of dead animals being carried through the courtyard, and staining the pavement under my feet. The air hung thick with its coppery tang as well as the damp reek of the nearby Ganges River. Throngs of people stood in long lines waiting to have their “gifts” (an animal they purchased or brought) offered to Kali. Afterwards, worshippers could be “baptized” in the Ganges, for an additional fee of course. The experience was a shock to the senses of an urbane minister from the Midwest who can’t stand the sight of blood.

Right there in that awful courtyard, it hit me. Hard. The slaughtering of animals isn’t supposed to be a pleasant experience. The blood, the mess, and the cloying smells reminded the Israelites that sin was awful, it destroyed and killed. Evil had terrible consequences. But the ritual washings for both priest and people sent a different message. God forgave and cleansed. He washed away sins.

Theologians often refer to such rituals as “visible signs of invisible grace.” The rituals did not save a person any more than saying words of repentance and getting into a baptismal tank saves a person today. Instead, the rituals were a public demonstration of the true condition of a person’s heart; he or she confessed sorrow over sin, proclaimed faith in a God who takes sin seriously, and communicated delight in a God who cleanses His worshippers! The rituals mattered because they revealed God’s invisible, but no less real, grace. And the rituals of blood and water pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice and the same invisible but real truths of sin, guilt, mercy, and forgiveness (Heb. 10:1-18).

Before Christ, God accepted a substitute, a sacrificial lamb, goat, or bull, and a sinner’s contrite heart. Jesus stood the sacrificial system on its head by becoming the only sacrifice we need. Once and done. When broken, sorrow-filled sinners come to God, He accepts the blood offering of His Son. He cleanses us, pastor and people alike! Because we are washed clean, He draws near to us in a relationship of intimacy. There is a natural reaction to that kind of overwhelming forgiveness: Worship. Shout “for joy and fall facedown” (Lev. 9:24)!

God asks for a second response to forgiveness as well, service. Divine forgiveness changes the inner disposition of one’s heart, a fact which is expressed in good deeds like those listed in Matthew 25:34-40. No longer are we to be self-focused people pursuing our own agenda. An outward show of keeping religious ritual notwithstanding, failure to demonstrate love to others, especially those in need, will be evidence on the last day. Evidence that the people in question do not know and love Christ (Matt. 25:41-46).[1] Look to the cross and rejoice in your cleansing today! And live with gratitude as a forgiven person looking for ways to show love to others as Christ has loved you!

[1] For the Old Testament counterpart to this passage, see Isaiah 1. Israel was going through the motions of offering sacrifices but failing to do right. In other words, it was empty ritual!

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.