It's All In The Approach
The now official priesthood has been solemnly consecrated. Sacrifices have been made and specific instructions given. The glory of the Lord has descended on the Tent of Meeting and the people have responded with joy and worship.
And the two men enter the Tent of Meeting and offer “unauthorized fire” on the altar in direct and willful disobedience to the Lord’s command (Leviticus 10:1). The result was swift and devastating (10:2). They died.
As I read this story my mind went back to the beginning of the church, as we have it recorded in Acts. The foundation of the church was being laid so it was very important that, as the saying goes, they begin as they expected to continue. When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church leaders about the disposition of their property, the judgment was swift and devastating again (Acts 5:1-11). They died. You don’t lie to God.
In Leviticus another foundation was being laid—a foundation meant to make Israel a holy nation, God’s ambassadors to the pagan world. It was not simply the proper ordering of the sacrificial system that was at risk here, but God’s holiness. You don’t treat God with contempt.
Moses spoke to Aaron these words from the Lord: “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:3).
When the northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity, their conqueror sent people from the surrounding nations into the land to settle there. The Scripture says in 2 Kings 17:25-28 says: “When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. It was reported to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.’ Then the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.’ So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.”
Just after this terrible incident with his sons, the Lord speaks to Aaron directly about his personal preparation for ministry in the Tent of Meeting. “You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses” (10:10, 11).
On this side of the cross, we often downplay the important of the place of worship and the means of worship by quoting verses such as 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
But that truth doesn’t change the importance of how we approach God, whether it be in how we treat our bodies, His temple, or how we prepare for our times of worship either personally or corporately. We may quote 1 Corinthians 3:16 and studiously ignore verses 17, which says, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” The results of offending God are the same in the New Testament as they were in the Old. The reference in Corinthians is both singular, since each believer has the Holy Spirit, and plural, because the church as an organism is His dwelling place. So what we do as individuals, and as a body, must recognize the holiness of the God Who dwells in us and among us.
As I thought about this, I marveled at His mercy. I don’t take as good a care of the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells as I should. And I believe that we, as a body of believers, no longer know how to worship Him as we ought. That we have not become like Nadab and Abihu, or Ananias and Sapphira, is a testimony to His grace. But that doesn’t excuse us from taking a hard look at how we approach Him.
The abuses of the Lord’s table brought this statement from Paul: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [a reference to death]” (1 Corinthians 11:30). He goes on to say that if we judged ourselves, God wouldn’t have to do it for us. This is normally taken on a personal level (though we ignore the implications, I think) but it can be taken on a corporate level. Are our churches weak, sick, and dying, not because we don’t have the right methods of evangelism, the friendliest church, the nicest building, or the best programs, but because we have forgotten how to treat God in our personal temples and in our meeting places?
I find a lot to think about here.