Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Bulls and doves: equally useless

This morning we started reading Leviticus. It starts where Exodus ended - as a narrative and in terms of theme. God’s people have access to his presence; access is only allowed through blood sacrifice. So the depth of grace and the sinfulness of sin are brought home, and brought home, and brought home... 

What hit me with fresh power today is the breath-taking equality of it all. We go by stages from the one who brings a bull to the one who brings a pigeon. There is no change in the seriousness of the text, no alteration in the ritual description of what the sacrifice means: ‘It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.’ Each worshipper comes into the presence of God equally. 

Discounting the current soaring prices in the Chinese racing pigeon market, the difference between a bull and a pigeon is vast. Modern markets can't be equated with biblical times, but current bull prices from $4000 to 20 000 guineas (various sites) compare rather impressively from a live “fancier’s” pigeon starting from £10 - £40 or a wood pigeon for its meat from £3.25. 

I can think of no context where such a disparity in value would not make one iota of difference. One man brings his Mercedes E class; the other brings his Matchbox model - both are welcome. One man offers his riverside penthouse; the other brings his tent - both are accepted equally. Sadly this is a lesson that the church needs to learn and relearn; the principle is here in Leviticus 1, but that doesn't stop James having to hammer it home all over again. 

But the glory of this egalitarianism in Leviticus is not that God chooses to ignore differential values. It isn’t that he kindly overlooks the disparity in a commitment to fairness. It goes deeper. The various sacrifices actually are of the same value in terms of their purpose in that context. All are equally valueless. It is impossible for the blood of a bull, or sheep, or dove, to take away sin and make for safe entry into the presence of the holy God. There is no differentiation. 

The sacrifices were demonstrations of faith and hope in the gracious, forgiving and providing God of Israel. They pointed to the seriousness of sin, they pointed to the need of atonement, but, for any Israelite who really thought about it, they could never be sufficient. The authentic provision was still ahead, glimpsed and longed for, and trusted in advance. 

The equality of bull, sheep and pigeon in Leviticus 1 is not down to an egalitarian principle only. Not that there is anything wrong with egalitarianism, but cart mustn’t drive horse. The equality of the sacrifices is down to the one, once-for-all, unique, sufficient, every-kind-of-people’s-sin-atoning sacrifice to which they pointed. Bull, lamb and dove are equal because of Jesus. 

There is one mediator, one sacrifice, one atonement, one propitiation for the whole world. Whoever we are, whatever we have done, whatever we have - we have one place to go, one cross to look to, one Saviour to call to, one equal and glorious hope. You may own farms and factories, hotels and shipping lines; you may have nothing but the grubby clothes you slept in on the pavement last night - either way, you need to know God, and God has given the sacrifice that all of us, equally, need. 

So glad of that. 

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