The New Testament only provides a pencil sketch of what is required to enter the kingdom of Heaven (kingdom of God). It’s the Old Testament that adds the colors, the tones and the textures to make the magnificent picture complete.
On the surface, the OT recounts the world’s creation, beginnings of nations, anecdotal stories about Jewish history, standards for being acceptable to God, prophecies about His dealings with people, and common sense morals for daily life.
But the NT can be the key to finding a whole new understanding of those OT stories. In amazing detail they tell about our separation from God, His compassion for us and what He did to bring us into an intimate relationship with Him.
It’s in one of Judaism’s intricate rituals –spelled out in Leviticus– that He explains what’s important for His ambassadors (evangelists, ministers, pastors, teachers…) to communicate about entering His kingdom and the new life there.
There were two types of communicable infections that the priests dealt with: a skin disease and an STD. Identifying the diseases that they had isn’t important to us. What is important is that one was visible to all and the other wasn’t.
Our story begins in Leviticus chapter 13 with instructions for what to do when something abnormal is found on a person’s skin.
He went to the priest for an examination. If it was diagnosed as leprosy, the priest pronounced him ceremonially unclean –and the person had to leave the camp, live alone, wear torn clothing, remain unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and warn others to stay away.
That whole Leviticus passage only deals with the ceremonial aspects of a person’s condition. It told the priest how to recognize the disease; but there was no mention of how the leper was healed.
We believers trust that only God could have healed the leper. Accordingly, that part of the story was reserved for Jesus to tell when He was here in person.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)
Chapter 14 tells what took place if his skin condition cleared up. The leper met the priest outside the camp. If indeed he was healed, then a ceremonial cleansing began.
Two live, clean birds, some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet string were brought. The priest killed one bird in a clay jar held over running water. Its blood was put on the wood, hyssop, scarlet string, and other bird. The live bird was then released into the open fields.
Then the person was sprinkled with the blood seven times and declared ceremonially clean.
The priest had the ex-leper wash his clothes, shave the hair from his entire body and bathe in water until he was clean. He could return to the camp but not re-enter his own tent until after seven days.
He was clean –no more shouting out “unclean, unclean.” But he knew what he had gone through –for him life would be forever different.
Let’s look at how this ties to what we’re familiar with.
Salvation begins when a person is convicted by the Holy Spirit. He might realize his condition –lost, separated from God– by his abhorrent behaviors or by the dark attitudes of his heart.
The continuing theme throughout Leviticus is expressed by two antiquated terms, unclean and clean. They are intended to convey the idea of separation. As long as a person was unclean –for any reason– he couldn’t participate in normal life. It took becoming clean to be accepted back into the company of others. Being unclean correlates to our natural condition of being separated from God when we’re born –and clean is being accepted by God into His kingdom with eternal life when we’re born-again.
The two types of diseases characterize the conviction. Leprosy represents what’s seen on the outside –and the STD, what’s going on inside.
When someone comes to us for help, our role is to tell him what’s wrong –that the life he’s been leading is actually death in disguise –that he needs the life that only God offers through His Son.
Once we have explained how a person can identify his problem –and where he can find the remedy– it’s between him and God. The way that God communicates is different with each of us. Some grasp the magnitude of His work immediately –others are slower. But that’s God’s role –not ours.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. (Philippians 1:3-7)
If the person comes back and says that he put his trust in Jesus, then our role is to explain the extent of what God has done. Leviticus contains a superb illustration of the essentials that every believer should know.
The birds: We tell him that Jesus was scourged, put on the cross and killed to pay for all of his rebellious ways. The picture is vividly depicted with the first bird. Its blood was on the hyssop (the whip), the wood (the cross) and scarlet string (the connection of His life to death).
It goes on to show that He did this in a human body (a clay jar). He rose from the dead (the second bird was released) and He showed Himself to others (it flew into the fields). This all took place over running water (the river of life).
The sprinkling: We tell the new-believer that he was splattered seven times with Jesus’ blood as though it came from that Roman whip. It’s to clearly show that there is no more punishment to be executed, no more forgiveness to be obtained –nor anymore redemption to be bought. God did it all. Jesus isn’t going to die again. It is finished.
The washing: We tell him that he has been totally washed. There is no unrighteousness, no sin, no barrier separating him from God. The believer used to be like the leper who was isolated, filthy and clothed in rags. Now he’s like a new-born babe –completely clean. From God’s perspective –and it is the only one that counts– there is nothing left of his former self.
Return to camp: Like the healed person who could return to his community, the believer will continue to live in the world –but as a new creation. He has been reconciled to God and is righteous in Christ ( ).