Does it really matter how we worship the Lord? You may have had this discussion with other people, especially those who join us for worship. We seem to do things different here. We do not pass out coffee and donuts. We do not have mechanical instruments in worship. We do not have bands. We do not have a big production for worship. You may notice that our worship is very simple. But is this simply a matter of choice or does it matter to God? We are going to answer this question tonight.
We are studying the book of Leviticus as a book of grace because this is the instruction book for how the people can remain in fellowship with the holy God. At the end of the book of Exodus we see God coming down and dwelling in the tabernacle. But we cannot dwell with God because he is holy and we are not. So these are the instructions for people to be in fellowship with God. So far we have seen that we need sacrifices and priests to remain with our God.
Worship Begins (Leviticus 9)
The ninth chapter of Leviticus begins with Aaron and his sons beginning to offer sacrifices to the Lord. They are going to begin with a sin offering, burnt offering, grain offering, and peace offering as worship to the Lord. Notice the reason why is stated in verse 6. “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” How amazing and magnificent! Do all of this and the glory of the Lord will appear to you! So Aaron and his sons begin making preparations for these offerings as the Lord had directed earlier in this book.
In verse 22 Aaron comes before the people and presents these offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting and when they came out, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people (9:23). Fire comes out from before the Lord and the burnt offering was consumed (9:24). The people shout and fall on their faces, which is a visible act that acknowledges that God is superior in rank to them. The point I would like us to see is that the sacrifices are effective. God is able to be with his people because we have sacrifices and we have priests working on behalf of the people. The Lord desires to be with his people and through sacrifice and through his priesthood fellowship exists. What an amazing scene!
Worship Rejected (Leviticus 10:1-3)
With fire coming out from before the Lord and igniting the burnt offering, the glory of the Lord appearing to the people, and the people giving homage to the Lord as they are bowed on their faces, Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, continue the worship activities. They take their censers, put fire in it, and laid incense on it. However, they offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (10:1). Notice there are no details. We are simply told two things: the fire was unauthorized and the fire was not what God had commanded them.
Notice God’s response to this. “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (10:2). Does how we worship matter to God? Yes, it absolutely does. It matters so much to the Lord that these two priests who are just beginning the worship to the Lord after receiving God’s instructions are consumed by the fire of the Lord. What did God think of their innovation in worship? Was God pleased by their decision to do something different than what God had commanded? Clearly God hated their innovation and was not pleased.
Now we have failed if we stop considering the text at this moment. We need to ask why. Why does it matter? How cares what fire a person uses? Why does God care how we worship? We must ask why and the scriptures give us the answer.
Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:3 ESV)
The reason this matters is because the Lord must be treated as holy and the Lord will show himself as holy. Nadab and Abihu had not treated the Lord as holy, so the Lord acted on his own behalf to show that he was indeed holy. Notice that Moses says that the Lord must be glorified. The Lord is glorified when we understand and respect his holiness. The Lord is not glorified when we do whatever we want to do. The Lord is not glorified when worship is what we want. The Lord is glorified when we understand and respect his holiness. One writer said, “The holiness of God is dangerous unless approached by the proper person according to the proper rules.” It is amazing how we will argue with this truth. But notice that Aaron did not argue with this. Even though his two sons have just died, Aaron held his peace. God needed to teach everyone about his holiness. When the people were regarding his holiness with honor, respect, and obedience to his decrees, then the glory of the Lord appeared to the people and they were in fellowship with him. When the people disregarded his holiness by not doing exactly as the Lord prescribed, then the glory of the Lord appeared to the people and the violators of God’s holiness were consumed.
Now we can make a big mistake in thinking that because this is an Old Testament text that the Lord no longer is concerned about such things. But listen to what the writer of Hebrews says:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26–31 ESV)
Notice that the Lord considers our disobedience as trampling the Son of God underfoot, profaning the blood of the covenant, and outraging the Spirit of grace. The Lord is holy and he demands that his holiness be regarded and honored. If we will not uphold his holiness, then God himself will uphold his holiness, which is a fearful thing.
Wailing For God’s Holiness (10:4-15)
The seriousness of God’s holiness is communicated even deeper in verses 4-7. The bodies of Nadab and Abihu are carried away. Yet, Moses tells Aaron and his remaining sons to not show mourning in regards to Nadab and Abihu. Loose hair and torn clothing were common indications of grief among the Israelites. Rather, the brothers along with all the people of Israel are to bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. Do not cry that these two people died but cry over the fact that the holiness of God was violated and he had to do something about it. The holiness of God must be revered and respected! Show regard for the holy nature of God above all else.
But God is not done teaching Aaron and teaching his people. In verse 8 we see the only time that God speaks directly to Aaron alone. Listen to the charge given to him in verses 10-11.
“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.” (Leviticus 10:10–11 ESV)
The priests have the important responsibility of leading Israel spiritually. They are to teach the people how to live and act. They must distinguish between what is holy and common. The message is that they have a job to do and the work is not to stop. We have no time for mourning. The priests have been anointed with oil and must not leave the tabernacle (10:7). Thus, in verse 12 Moses begins to instruct Aaron and the surviving sons about continuing the sacrifices that need to be offered.
Understanding Our Sinfulness (10:16-20)
With these instructions given, Moses finds that the sin offering has been burned up. The sin offering had a portion that was to be given to the priests that they were required to eat (6:26). Moses comes to Aaron and his sons in verse 17, incredulous that they have not eaten the sin sacrifice. Moses tells Aaron that they need to do things exactly as God had said.
Aaron’s response is very thoughtful concerning this situation. Aaron says that his sons have offered the sin offer and the burnt offering before the Lord. But look at what has happened to Aaron. “If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the Lord have approved?” Now we need to think about what Aaron is saying. If the priests were making the purification offering on behalf of others, then the priests were to certainly eat the meat. But it appears that Aaron applies what God said in Leviticus 4:3-5 and 7:20-21. If the priests were guilty of the sin which brought condemnation on the people, then the priests were not to eat the meat, for doing so would cut themselves off from the people. The priests were representatives for the people of Israel. Aaron asks Moses to consider what has happened to him. Is the Lord going to be pleased if we were to act like nothing happened? His sons had sinned causing God to burn with wrath against the nation. They would not be right to eat of the food because they are guilty of the sin. The priests were unworthy on that day to bear the sin offering when the family had fallen under divine condemnation. Aaron and his sons are showing reverence for the Lord and recognizing their own sinfulness in what has taken place.
This is what the holiness of God is supposed to do: reveal our utter sinfulness. God’s holiness reveals how we cannot be in his presence without listening to the exact prescription of what must be done for us to be in fellowship with him. We have such a low view of God in religion today. We think we that we can just approach God how we like. We can worship how we want. We can do what we want. We act like God does not care about what we do as honor and worship to him. But this is a failure in our thinking. God’s holiness is to reveal our sinfulness. Our sinfulness shows that we do not just come to God how we want. We come to God on his terms through his Son who offered his precious blood for us and we will take nothing for granted. When we come to worship, we will consider exactly what God has said and do things exactly as he told us. Otherwise, we are trampling the Son of God underfoot, profaning the blood of the covenant, and outraging the Spirit of grace, as the writer of Hebrews says. Who are we to think that we get to dictate how we will come to God! Who are we to say how we will worship him! You do not tell the king how you are going to approach him. You follow all the protocols that you are told or you will feel the wrath of the king. How much more must we have this attitude when we approach the Almighty God! We are again encouraged to be careful students of the scriptures so that we can know how we can remain in fellowship with our holy God who desires to dwell with us.