Why we can’t approach God on our own terms

We are familiar with the concept of mediators.  Someone who represents us or goes in our place.

I can’t argue my case at the Constitutional Court.  I need an advocate, with the necessary qualifications, who will represent me.

The Springbok rugby team represents South Africa when they play rugby. We all say, “We won the game!”, but we didn’t even touch the ball.  The Springboks represented us.

The book of Leviticus answers the question: How can a Holy God dwell in the midst of sinful people?

How can we, with all our failings, sin, brokenness and rebellion, be in a relationship with the Holy God of the Bible?

Ch. 1-7 is about the sacrifices. A holy God demands that sin deserves death, but an animal dies and the sinner gets to live.

Ch. 8-10 is about the ordination of the priests, Aaron and his sons, who will manage the sacrifices, mediate between the Israelites and God, and represent the Israelites before God.

We must approach God on his terms

Throughout Ch. 8 the repeated phrase is “as the Lord commanded Moses”. (8:4, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 36)

Firstly, we learn that God has taken the initiative to make a way for people to be forgiven and cleansed.

It does not say, “as the church committee, or bishop, or the minister commanded.”

Secondly, we see that God is a holy God and must be approached on his terms.

It does not say, “as God suggested, or recommend, or proposed”, but as God “commanded”.

God is calling a new community of people for himself; either you get with God’s programme or you don’t get in.

If you want to live your own way, on your own terms, then you are excluded from a good relationship with the Holy God.

We must approach God on his terms.

This means that I don’t get to choose how I approach God.

This means that the common idea, that all religions lead to God, is wrong.

This means that we need to humble ourselves and stop pretending that we can dictate to God.

In Leviticus Ch. 10, we have an account of two priests trying to approach God their own way.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized/ strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Either you approach God, God’s way on his terms, or you die.

Instead of God’s fire consuming the offering, the fire consumes the two innovative, defiant sons of Aaron.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me [priests] I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:3)

God said, “I will show myself holy, set apart and magnificent, even if it is by judging those who think they can approach me on their own terms.”

We must approach God through his man

God’s complete and utter holiness cannot tolerate any sin, rebellion or uncleanness.

Astoundingly, God makes a way for unclean, sinful people to come into his presence, through sacrifices and a priesthood.

In Ch. 8 we see Moses officiating in the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, to represent the people before God.  Each aspect of the ordination service is very symbolic and important.

Aaron and his sons are washed with water, symbolizing the removal of sin and uncleanness.

Aaron and his sons are anointed, symbolizing that they are now set apart for God.

The Israelites themselves could not approach God. God is too holy, glorious and dangerous.

They had to go through a mediator or a representative, who went on their behalf, lest they be consumed.

All must approach God on his terms through his man

Something surprising occurs in Ch. 8:14-21. Aaron and his sons, the prospective priests, have to make the regular sin offering and burnt offering.

The sin offering and burnt offerings were the general sacrifices the Israelites made to atone for their sins.

Here we learn that Aaron and his sons are sinners too.

Before they can be set apart as priests to represent the people, their own sins need to be atoned for.

Sin does not discriminate: whether you are a prince or a pauper, upper class or poor. Whether you’re a bishop or an atheist; Brad Pitt or Andre Visagie; you are unclean and guilty of sin.  You have fallen short of the glory of God and your sin needs to be atoned for.

What are the implications for us today?

To approach God on his own terms through his man is to trust Jesus

John 3:16 says,

“God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

Jesus said in John 14:6,

“I am the way the truth and the life”

If you desire to dwell with the Holy God, you need to put your faith in Jesus. He is the way that God has determined.

We can’t approach God through any unauthorized way.

We can’t approach God through crystals, the angels, Mary, the ancestors, our good deeds, our spirituality, on the grounds of any religious observances, or through meditation.

Jesus is our great High Priest

Why can we only approach God through Jesus?

The New Testament tells us that Jesus is our great, perfect High Priest who entered God’s Holy presence as our mediator and offered himself as our sacrifice.

Sin deserves death. But Jesus died in our place, for our sin, so that our sins can be atoned for and forgiven by God.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest (Jesus), holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:26-27)

God commands that we approach him through Jesus, because Jesus is the only one supremely qualified to be our great mediator.

In Jesus, we are all priests

The remarkable news of the New Testament is that in Jesus, we all can draw near to God.

We can all pray to God.

We can all have fellowship with God.

Hebrews 10:22 says,

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

We, Christians, have been sprinkled clean and bodies washed.

That’s Old Testament priesthood language!

In other words, in Jesus, we have all the privileges that the priests had.

We don’t make atonement for sin, but we can draw near to God.

Pastors are not priests

The pastor’s role is no longer to be a priest or mediate on people’s behalf to God, because Jesus has fulfilled that mediatory, priestly role.

Pastors can’t forgive sins. Pastors can’t represent anybody before God. Pastors can’t bless anyone either.  Jesus does all those things.

What pastors can do is teach the Bible and point people to Jesus.

God is God. He determines how we approach him.