Designer Fire Danger

Frank Sinatra singing “I did it my way” was truly an epic vocal performance. But you and I singing “I did it my way” when serving the eternal self-existent/self-proclaimed I Am that I Am; not so good! In fact, in today’s taste of Torah; swiftly and severely, we see that playing fast and loose with the commands of God is the equivalent of playing fast and loose with the person of God.

Our portion of this week’s portion is Leviticus 10:1-3. It reads: 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 fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 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.

This passage consists of two parts: The event in verses 1 and 2, and the instruction in verse 3. Concerning the event, notice that Moses doesn’t explicitly tell us exactly what the sin of Nadab and Abihu was. Most likely though it was an incense offering that in some way, shape, or form violated God’s previously given directives concerning the specifics required for proper execution of a particular aspect of priestly service. In other words they profaned something holy with something unholy. In that way they were disobedient and undiscerning. These two priests took their own censers and brought in fire that was strange in the sense that it wasn’t acceptable because it wasn’t compatible with Israel’s worship. Now the text doesn’t say where Aaron’s sons got their fire. It could have been from a common fire in the camp or from a pagan shrine. We don’t know. But regardless of this fire’s origin, because it wasn’t authorized, because it didn’t correspond with what was prescribed, it contaminated the sacrificial ritual of the LORD. To say this another way, this was a situation in which there was absolutely no room for any innovation or alteration.

And so, in verse 2, in direct response – to the direct disobedience of presenting counterfeit fire; ironically both Nadab and Abihu are destroyed by authentic fire. That’s the event.

Then in verse 3 we have the instruction. Moses told Aaron that this judgment resulted from failure to respect the LORD’S holiness, His absolute moral perfection, and His appropriate corresponding concern that there’s complete compliance with what He desires His glory to be associated with. Interestingly though we don’t see Aaron protesting this judgment. Why is that? I think it’s because he solemnly accepted the rightness of God’s action in judging his sons’ sin.

But in contrast to Aaron’s response, I suspect this is why we might emotionally struggle with the severity and intensity of this judgment: For most of us, it takes some time and prayerful reflection to faith embrace the truth that God is so radically holy it took only one sin by the first Adam to condemn the entire human race (cf. Rom. 5:12); which means God decision that rebellion in this instance requires death is totally and righteously in sync with who He is.  And on the other side of this divine attribute shekel, for most of us, it also takes some time and prayerful reflection to faith-embrace the truth that God is so radically gracious it took only one act of obedience by the second Messianic Adam to make the entire human race potentially savable (cf. Rom. 5:18)!

Now, within the context of the Mosaic covenant, the path to relational intimacy with God was holiness; holiness in the sense of being different and set apart. God is holy because He is different from us. We’re sinful and He’s not. He’s at one end of the purity spectrum and we are at the other. And in order for a sinless Being to interact with an inherently sinful being in a positive nurturing relational fashion, the reality of sin required sacrifices. Uncleanness required cleansing. And priestly service required consecration.

Today, by virtue of our confident trust in Messiah’s divine authority and finished atoning work, God has made us holy in our position before Him. When God looks at us, despite our old default pattern of living independently of Him, He’s looking at the complete obedience and moral perfection of His Son. This declaration of imputed righteousness is the essence of justification. But in the real life in real time way we roll, we must intentionally and proactively pursue holiness to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. This is progressive sanctification. And in order for that to effectively and consistently happen, we need to be singing, “I’m doing it His way!

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