Numbers 15 and Leviticus 23, Mugshots of Blasphemy
Unintentional. It means you did it unwittingly, accidentally, or inadvertently.
Unintentional describes piles of broken things, appointments you forgot about, and that door ding you put in that guy’s truck in the parking lot.
Leviticus 4 says that you can sin in the same way that you spilled coffee on your shirt; unintentional.
As Leviticus 4 and 5 describe the guilt offerings, we find the word “unintentional” 6 times. Though unintentional, sin is sin. But the grace of God is good for the sins we didn’t see coming.
The Gospel of the Guilt Offering
Leviticus 4 and 5 is the gospel of the guilt offering. Though these chapters read like odd rituals, they communicate critical Biblical truths. These are the seeds of the gospel that we see sprouting and bearing fruit in the New Testament. When we make the connections between Old Testament and New Testament, the Bible becomes pretty exciting. Notice how the principles of the sin offering connect with the gospel as revealed in Romans.
- Everyone sins (Rom. 3:23). Paul says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Here in Leviticus 4 and 5, you see all sorts of sinners who’ve made all sorts of mistakes. They are all here, from the priests to the elders to the fathers to the daughters (4:2, 13, 22, 27). We are all in the same line for the same reason. All of us have sinned.
- Romans 6:23a tells us that the wages of sin is death. Leviticus 4 illustrates that sin doesn’t just go away. God doesn’t just let it go. Time doesn’t heal the penalty of sin. And you can’t compensate for sin by doing better next time. The solution is in the sacrifice. Something, someone, must pay the penalty of sin.
- Romans 6:23b, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The good news is that God has made way for a sacrifice to pay the price. The Son of God becomes the lamb of Leviticus 4.
- Leviticus 4 and 5 is a tangible picture of the truth of Romans 5:8, that God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Leviticus 4 begins, “If anyone sins . . .” Before you made your mistake, God sought to save you through sacrifice.
- Romans 10:13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And see them all there in Leviticus 4 and 5. Forgiveness is available to all of them. There is a sacrifice from the greatest to the least of these. We see sinners offering everything from bulls to birds on altar as a sacrifice. If you don’t have a ram, bring a lamb. If you can’t find a lamb, bring a bird. If you can’t bring a bird, just bring some flour. Each sinner brings something for the sacrifice, but the result is the same, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”
But the text leaves us asking an uncomfortable question. Where is the sacrifice for those other sins? You know, the ones where we knew it was wrong but did it anyway.
We don’t always sin like we spill coffee. Unfortunately, most of the time, we sin like we drink coffee. We want it. We like it. We feel like we can’t live without it.
So what about our “intentional sins?” Where is the sacrifice for these?
The question leaves us skimming the pages of Leviticus searching for a sacrifice for our intentional sins. And as we pass Leviticus 27, we realize that there isn’t one.
So here comes a disturbing question.
When it comes to sin, can you pass the point of no return? Can you get to a place where there is no more grace? Is there a point of no return?
The Biblical answer to the question is, “Yes. You can sin and pass the point of no return.” There is a place where there is no more grace.
Many Baptists will bristle at that statement because Baptists generally believe that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and God will forgive you anyway. So, in a challenge to that line of thinking, I want to submit a few passages of Scripture.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.Hebrews 6:4–6 (ESV)
Or how about:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 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 10:23–31 (ESV)
Those passages are very troublesome. It reflects this truth of that missing sacrifice in Leviticus. If one goes on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no sacrifice for that sin. You can read all of Leviticus, and you will find no sacrifice for “I knew it, but I did it anyway.”
And guess what. There are three more passages in Hebrews that seem to be saying the same thing. So, yes, you can sin past the point of no return.
The Face of Too Far
So now the question becomes, who would do such a thing? Who is that hopeless person so hardened in sin that even God has given up on them?
We all know that Chicago has become a violent city. On August 7, a female police officer in Chicago made a routine traffic stop, and two men allegedly murdered her in the street.
A few days later, I was surveying various online news outlets, and they had released the pictures of two of the suspects in the slaying of this young woman. They are brothers. One of them has a tattoo under his eye, it’s a word I couldn’t make out, but it clearly has blood dripping out of it. These guys have a long rap sheet. Knowing what they did, their mugshots just look evil.
Are those brothers the kinds of people that Hebrews 6 and 10 are talking about? Murderers? Cop killers? Surely those mugshots are the perfect pictures of people past the point of grace. Right?
I have no authority to tell you where those guys are with God. But I can say with certainty that the people addressed in Hebrews 10 hadn’t just killed a cop.
Who are the people so bad that they won’t even show up in line for the guilt offerings of Leviticus 4 and 5 before a God full of grace and forgiveness?
So who are these people past the point of no return? Take a moment and mentally create a mugshot of blasphemy. In your mind’s eye what is the face of rebellion against God?
Fortunately for us, the Bible does give us an example of a person past the point of no return. Numbers 15 shares his story. And it’s told in much the same way that Webster’s dictionary defines a word. So you get a word, a definition, and an illustration.
The word of the day is “high hand.” It means to sin intentionally. You know full well what you are doing.
But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”Numbers 15:30–31 ESV
Listen to the evil of it. This person reviles the Lord. He has despised the Word of the Lord. He breaks the commandments like one might snap a stick over his knee. “Revile” means that he blasphemes God. It’s the idea of taunting. He looks at God as if to say, “I heard what you said. I know who you are. I know what you’ve called me to do. But I’m going to do what I want to do.”
Who would do such a thing?
Now, here comes the illustration.
While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses. Numbers 15:32-36
So what’s the Bible’s mugshot of a blasphemer, this man who so taunts God that he has passed the point of grace? What is the image of a man who has taken in too far?
It’s a dude cleaning up his yard on the Sabbath.
Do you realize that the sort of pictures the Bible gives us of people who have sinned too far isn’t of 2 cop killers with tattoos on their faces? It’s of people with campers and boats and ballfields and their blessed, busy life that no longer has time for God.
The picture of a person who is past the point of grace is the person who’s heard the Word, believed the Word, asked for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be applied to them, but now there is nothing more important to them than picking up sticks on Sabbath.
The Razor’s Edge of Blasphemy
Both Numbers 15 and Hebrews 10 describe the razor’s edge of sinning too far, not with cop killers or adulterers or homosexuals, but with one’s commitment toward gathering for worship?
You see, this man was not supposed to be out picking up sticks. He was supposed to be gathering for worship.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.”Leviticus 23:3 (ESV)
Solemn rest is a call to cease work. A holy convocation is a call to gather for worship.
Leviticus 23:3 means that the Almighty God has protected this man’s soul by providing Sabbath. The Lord has made sure that this man cannot be enslaved by work. He belongs to God.
But the man isn’t interested. He’s got too many stinkin’ sticks to pick up.
Sunday or Sabbath?
For the Jews, the Sabbath was the Lord’s Day. It is the last day of the week on which God rested from all of His work. Therefore, the people identified with God by the way they treated the Sabbath day.
For Christians, the Savior rose on the first day of the week, on Sunday. So we see this habit developing in the Book of Acts:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.Acts 20:7 (ESV)
Yet many people call themselves Christians who we never see gathered for worship on Sunday. Why?
It’s not because they are bad people. It’s not because they are murderers or adulterers or cop killers or have bloody tattoos on their faces. No, their problem is far more silent and yet more sinister.
It’s not because they’re bad. They’re just busy.
These are not cop killers. They are people who know the Lord. They have worshipped the Lord. They know the Word of the Lord. They are now just too busy to be there.
Is It I Lord?
After reading this, you may be much like Peter when Jesus announced, “One of you will betray me.” You’re wondering, “Is it I, Lord?”
You were headed to the lake next weekend, but now you feel like you’re headed for Hell.
But that’s not it.
Let me clarify who I’m talking about by telling you how they got there.
The Grace of Guilt
Let’s go back to Leviticus 4 and 5.
Notice that seven times in the passage, we read something like, “and he realizes his guilt.”
There is so much grace in that realization that you have done wrong.
Think about David. He saw a beautiful, married woman bathing as she cleansed herself for Temple worship. He lusted after her. He sent for her. He slept with her. He sent her home as if nothing ever happened. She later notifies David that she is pregnant. David conspires to have her husband killed and make it look like a casualty of battle. David marries the woman.
That sure sounds like high-handed, intentional sin, doesn’t it? That is far from an accident.
In the immediate context, the sins Leviticus 4 and 5 discuss are something like a Levitical priest accidentally eating food that was supposed to be for an offering. Leviticus 4 and 5 is a safety net of sorts because there are so many laws about clean and unclean that it is hard to be mindful of all of it in every situation. So if you blow it and realize it later – no problem, God is good, and He forgives.
But David knew full well what he was doing, didn’t he?
And what disturbs us is that we know, especially for those of us who have known Jesus for a while, is that we sin more like David and less like a Levitical priest who ate the wrong loaf of bread.
Let’s go to Leviticus 20:10-12:
“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them.Leviticus 20:10–12 (ESV)
“Their blood is upon them” means there is no sacrifice for their sin. “Their blood is upon them” means there is no forgiveness, only consequence. They are in the same spot as the man in Numbers 15, who is picking up sticks.
So why wasn’t David stoned? We should find David in the same place as the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
“They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”John 8:4–5 (ESV)
So why not stone David?
The answer is in the grace of guilt.
There is so much grace for the sinner when he realizes his guilt. And there is nothing but condemnation for the sinner when he just doesn’t care anymore.
What you see in Leviticus 20 and Numbers 15 are people with whom sin becomes a perpetual state of their life. They create an identity in it. This is the way they want to live, and they don’t care what God thinks. They are fully aware. They have even believed at one time. But now, adultery, impurity, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath is the life they want to live.
We see this razor’s edge in David’s response to the prophet Nathan.
Nathan confronts David’s sin cunningly by telling a story about a rich man who stole a poor man’s little lamb.
And David is furious. You can see the hardness of his heart in this moment. He’s delusional in his sin. His mind is blind to his transgression.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”2 Samuel 12:5–6 (ESV)
David is in the place of Leviticus 20 here. He’s in the mindset of Numbers 15. He’s on the razor’s edge.
Then here comes grace against his heart. Has he gone too far?
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! … David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house.2 Samuel 12:7–15 (ESV)
David still bore the consequence of his sin. It cost him dearly. But he was forgiven and found grace. Why?
Because after the confrontation, he found himself in the line of sinners in Leviticus 4 and 5. He realizes he’s wrong, and he finds grace in guilt.
The Slippery Slope of Picking Up Sticks
The reason I’m sharing this with you today is to counsel you from God’s Word on the danger of sin. You can get carried away.
So how do we keep from going astray?
- Stay in God’s Word.
- Stay around God’s people.
- Stay sensitive to God’s Spirit. (Respond quickly to conviction)
I’m meeting with some of the young guys in our church in a discipleship program called Every Man a Warrior. In our reading last week, it said, “In 2009 conference speaker Steve Farrar shared this shocking research. He interviewed more than 200 pastors who had fallen into disgrace by having affairs with women in their church. In doing the analysis, he discovered 3 deadly mistakes virtually every man had made. They each admitted in the 12 months before the affair started:
- They had stopped having a daily time with God.
- They had stopped being accountable to other men for their time with God.
- They had counseled women behind closed doors.
Sin will take you past the point of grace. But it doesn’t happen suddenly. It’s a slippery slope you walk on for an extended period of time. You don’t need worship. Then you don’t need the Bible. Then you do what you want to do, thinking that you don’t need to return to God.
You believe in God, but you’ve got a boat. You know the Lord, but He’s no longer enough to get you off the lake. You believe in Jesus, but you’ve got to go hunting.
The face of blasphemy is not Chicago cop killers. The face of blasphemy is all over Facebook in boats, on ballfields, in tree stands. The face of blasphemy is too busy for God because he’s got so many sticks.
It’s a dangerous place, past the point of grace.