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You may remember from a couple of weeks ago, we looked at Psalm 66 and discussed Joy and how a life of true joy could be seen in the life of the Psalmist through praise, sacrifice and testimony. That this was also true of Jesus Christ and lastly that it was also to be true of all those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and have Him as Lord and master of their life. I wonder, where in the intervening weeks between then and now, true joy has taken you. I also wonder what role you have played as a member of God’s orchestra of joy during that time. Tonight, we will look at another aspect of being instruments of God’s orchestra of joy - obedient service!
So, please turn in your bibles to Leviticus 9v22 and let us witness together a scene of great and exuberant joy!
The first seven chapters of Leviticus talk about the different offerings or sacrifices that the nation of Israel was to make to God. Then in chapter 8 we see the beginning of the priesthood and the joyful work of Aaron and the priests. Their main role of service was to act as mediators between a holy God and the people of Israel, particularly in the role of making those offerings and sacrifices. In fact, they were the ultimate multi-taskers, as they seemed equally adept as butchers, doctors, teachers, quality assurors and public health inspectors! The passage we have in front of us tonight shows the
culmination of this priestly ordination.
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1. Great joy!
Read Leviticus 9v22-24
Israel was a nation, chosen by God, to be His people and to be a shining light of God’s glory to the world around them. This nation, God’s treasured and precious people, however, way back in Exodus 19, refused to be a nation of royal priests. Instead they preferred being represented by Moses and Aaron. So Moses and Aaron have gone into the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle to meet with God. This was where Moses and Aaron would meet with the Lord during the travels to the Promised Land. The whole nation is waiting for them! So Moses and Aaron, as we just read, come out, give a blessing to the people and God’s glory appeared to the nation!
WOW! That must have been some blessing Aaron gave! Whatever his words were in v24, they were words that invocated Almighty God’s power, presence and peace to be with and upon His people. No wonder the people fell on the ground with their noses in the dirt as an act of joyful worship and praise to God!!
The burnt offering and fat portions on the altar were consumed in a great fire emanating from the manifestation of the glory of God! So amazing was this sight that a tremendous wave of exuberant joy overcame the people and they all fell with their face in the ground! There was probably a mixture of amazement, surprise and reverent fear! That must have been a tremendous sight to behold! Falling face forward was a characteristic method of showing total surrender and submission to a king or master. Here it is adopted by the Israelites as symbolic surrender to their God! The infinite, almighty, majestic and glorious God, was living and being worshipped by His people. This God was a holy God and these people were to be His people.
So there is tremendous joy in the nation of Israel and this is evident in their spontaneous act of submissive, voluntary worship and expressions of thanks to their Almighty God. Moses and Aaron had followed God’s guidelines obediently and the
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nations true joy was in evidence. Not just joy as an emotion, but true joy as evidenced through sacrifice, praise and testimony!
Now it would be very nice to just stop there, but the story continues! The Bible is an honest book! Just as the celebrations were concluding and the priests were taking up their sacred roles, something happens!
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2. Great tragedy!
Read Leviticus 10v1-11
These two men, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron the High Priest, start their duties. They take their pans, fill them with hot coals from a fire, place aromatic incense on the coals and offer this to God as an act of worship. The fire from the glory of the Lord comes out, engulfs them and they die. What happened? They hadn’t followed the strict guidelines as given by the Lord and had therefore violated all the instructions given to them. Strict regulations were required by sinful humans to be in and work in God’s holy presence!
How different can these two scenes be? In the first passage we looked at, fire represented God’s presence and spoke of His love, warmth, purity and blessing upon His people. Here though, the fire represents a different aspect of His presence through his active holiness and therefore danger and judgement.
Who were Nadab and Abihu? They were Aaron’s eldest sons and had received a privileged upbringing. They had seen God working from close quarters. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak with God and receive the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, they were there. They had just spent the previous week in training for their new jobs as priests in service to God. No doubt they had witnessed at close quarters, the fire we spoke of earlier in Leviticus 9v24. So they were not only important people, but also experienced.
Yet in spite of all this, they did what was contrary to the guidelines given them. They were disobedient. We don’t know why they did it. It could have been old hairy legs satan whispering in their ears “Go on. You have a go now. Your dad did it, didn’t he? So can you. Don’t worry about those guidelines God gave you. it will be alright tonight, my sons. You felt good and happy, didn’t you? Trust yourself.”
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It could have been pride, jealousy or impatience that led them to disobey the strict guidelines, or in light of 10v8 perhaps too much wine! Perhaps they were caught up in the excitable fever of the joyful occasion and wanted joy like a drug! What may have seemed right to them, most certainly wasn’t right to God. Perhaps they thought they were doing God a big favour by zealously embracing their roles as priests and wanting to offer as many sacrifices as they could! We will never know!
But we do know, that regardless of the reason for doing so, they actively disobeyed God. They chose to do it! Not only was it a fragrant disobedience but also a flagrant disobedience. In offering a “strange” or unauthorised fire, they had disregarded God’s instructions for the timing, place or manner. They had been set apart and dedicated to a life of serving God and His people and had now paid the ultimate consequence for their disobedience. Their disobedience is referred to again in Leviticus 16 in the regulations for the annual Day of Atonement. Regulations probably given to ensure that this never again occurred! Aaron, their father, was silent – stunned I would imagine! He has seen at firsthand, that in a life of true joy, God requires obedience over sacrifice. Aaron and his remaining sons were not to mourn or appear to be sorrowful. This was to signify the seriousness of Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience. To us this may seem harsh, but Aaron and his remaining sons had to prioritize service to God over commitment to family. This was symbolic of Joy – Jehovah Over Yourself. Aaron and his other sons had to remain engaged in priestly duties and responsibilities. Other members of the family were allowed to mourn however.
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3. A God of Judgement
Now today, in the 21st century, we have a problem. We are quite comfortable with a God of love, peace, joy and kindness. In the movie Crocodile Dundee, Mick Dundee announces that “Me and God – we’d be mates”. If that is the limit of our vision of God, then may I suggest that our vision and opinion of God is too small? Perhaps our God is too nice and too comfortable. Yet a problem seemingly remains. How on earth can a God of love, peace, gentleness, kindness and joy act like this against two of his dedicated servants, Nadab and Abihu? Is not that a God who is at odds with himself?
The first thing we can say here about God is that while He is most assuredly a God of love, kindness and peace, He is also a God of judgement – a God who judges. That is plainly evident from this passage. We need to acknowledge him as a great lover, but also as a terrifying Judge. Not just a friend, but also a Judge! The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire! Remember also, that God always prefers obedience to sacrifice.
We all have, I am sure, at some point liked to think of God as being all love and never judging. People say: “It will be alright in the end, because the love of God conquers all.” Well, that love involves judging! The judgement of God is unbiased. God shows no favouritism and He is always just and right. It is a reflection of His mercy, that nobody can claim God is unfair. But God is not merely a God of mercy, peace and love but also as we have seen, He is a God who judges and administers justice impartially in accordance with His mercy, peace and love!
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4. A God of Wrath!
Not only is He a God who judges but He is also a God who has great wrath – it is an essential, permanent and indelible part of His character! His wrath may be slow to
burn, but it is still anger and wrath! The holiness of God requires that He punish sin through His wrath! What sort of God would He have been if He had not done what He did to Nadab and Abihu? What if He had said, “That’s ok boys, you will get it right next time.” Then He most would certainly be seen as a capricious, unjust, fickle and hostile being.
It’s not a popular subject these days in our churches! Most churches mumble when it comes to bible passages such as this! While most sections of our society, and indeed parts of the church, view God as a doddery benevolent being, sitting benignly in the sky in His rocking chair and mildly ‘tutting’ when people disobey His commands. But God is not a benevolent Grandfather figure and neither is His wrath or anger unwarranted, immoral, cruel, fickle, spiteful or capricious! God’s wrath is always to administer and mete out a divine loving justice, which corresponds to God’s innate and essential characteristics and attributes of light, perfection and holiness. That’s the picture given by all the Bible writers. When we speak of a perfect God in human terms, whether that is His being a wrathful judge or tremendous lover, it reflects the imperfect limitations of our humanity. We were made in the image of God and not the other way around!
Secondly, God’s honour was at stake! He is both zealous and jealous for His own honour and name! He can only act within the confines of His own characteristics and attributes! He must always work out of His immutable holiness! God was passionate about living at the centre of His people and there was no way He could allow renegade priests to disobediently defile His dwelling place!
Nadab and Abihu were punished because they worked in His immediate presence as illustrated by verse 3 “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.” If God had not punished them, then that would have made God out to be a hypocrite and a liar, acting contrary to His own
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essential nature and He would be seen as an impotent God with seemingly multiple personalities. This story illustrates that Nadab and Abihu had to serve as an example, which is why we have the story.
Thirdly, Nadab and Abihu broke the guidelines, given by God on how to enter into His presence. They took the wrong fire, went at the wrong time and were ill prepared for such an occasion. They entered a place of God’s holy presence in a sinful and disobedient state. People full of sin can never enter into a place where God resides, because God is uniquely holy, sinless and perfect without fault or defect.
Nadab and Abihu chose, for whatever reason, either intentionally or unintentionally, to break God’s guidelines in how, where and when to offer a sacrifice. There is no indication, however, from the Biblical text that they were eternally separated from God at their death, as in judgement of their sins. But rather it seems they were judged according to what they did with their abilities, talents and gifting as ministers in His service.
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5. So what’s all this got to do with us today?
So what’s all this got to do with us today in the 21st century? Over and over again in the Old Testament, we see that the nation of Israel were to be a people of service separated out for God! Under the terms of the covenant God made with them through Moses, that was the core of God’s agreement with them. It commenced with the stipulation “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me (Exodus 19v5)”.
This covenant was with the nation of Israel in order that those who believed God’s earlier promise to Abraham could know how to live a life worthy of being God’s people: to live a life relating socially to God and to other people. It was also to show how humanity could approach God on God’s terms alone and not on their own conditions! God was and is a perfect and holy God! His people, Israel, were to be a holy and separated people of service and to reflect God’s glory and greatness to the other nations!
This covenant was only in place until the Messiah came and made the perfect sacrifice. All the Old Testament Covenants pointed towards the time when the Saviour Messiah would come – God would come Himself to save His people! The Mosaic Covenant was never meant as a means towards salvation. It was given that they could realize the helplessness of their own efforts to save themselves and their need of God's help. One day, there would be a New Covenant between God and humanity and this Mosaic covenant would be fulfilled!
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6. New Covenant?
So what is this New Covenant? Four primary features are:
• • • •
God will write His law on the hearts of people. God will be their God, and they will be His people. God will indwell people and they will be led by Him All sins will be forgiven and removed eternally
This new covenant was and is sealed only through the perfect sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus on the cross. His blood ensures the truth of this New Covenant. His death pays the penalty for the sins of all people who choose to say yes to God and follow Him. This New Covenant finalizes what the Mosaic Covenant could only point to: the follower of God engaged in a dynamic relationship of Joy with a God who loves them.
No longer would human priests need to mediate between God and humans, because Jesus Christ, the full visible manifestation of God, would fulfil that role as mediator and all people would have access to God through Him! Amazing stuff! You and I have instant access to Almighty God. We can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence and assurance because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God no longer dwells in a Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle or the Temple made of stone – He now lives in each believer – immediate access guaranteed! Amazing and yet how often we don’t avail ourselves. But it is more than that, because as royal priests of this New Covenant, for that is what we are, we too are called into a joyful life of obedient service of God!
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7. Called to service!
Just as it was for Aaron and the Old Testament priesthood, when we serve and minister, God’s honour is released. This is done because service is to show the beauty and glory of God to others. Serving, service and ministry are never to be about what we as mere humans can get out of it. When that is the motive, God is neither honoured nor glorified. God’s glory and supremacy is to be the ultimate reason for service! God is both zealous and jealous for His glory and honour to be upheld! Nadab and Abihu could testify to that I am sure!
As Christians, as part of our life of true Joy, we are called to serve and minister. We are called to exhibit and show our true Joy - just as Aaron and his family were called into a lifetime of obedient service to Jehovah God. Their JOY motto was to be “Jehovah Over Yourself”. For us, true joy is to be “Jesus Over Yourself”. Each of us here tonight is called to perform a unique serving and ministerial function.
Showing love, serving each other and giving to others are a practical outworking of our joyful obedience to God. The ministries of Nadab and Abihu were cut short and Our ministry, and all Christians have one, is to be
hallmarked with disobedience.
hallmarked by obedience borne out of love for God and Him alone. Devoted obedience to God borne out of a desire to see God glorified, regardless of what other people may say or think.
And we are not left alone to serve in our own power! We would most certainly fail if that was the case! God Himself has lovingly equipped all those who follow Him, to serve! God the Holy Spirit, who lives inside each believer, has endowed each Christian with gifts, talents and abilities for that purpose - service! This is so that the whole church is built up and “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” God wants you and I to be active in service – life long service hallmarked by loving obedience to Him, which reflects our joyful dedication to Him, to His praise, honour and glory!
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8. Judged for our service!
Finally, just as God’s judgement was upon Nadab and Abihu, the Bible also tells us that all those who follow Jesus Christ will be judged according to what they have done, with what God gave them. That includes any spiritual gifts, talents and abilities we have! This judgement will not be for salvation, because if we have decided to follow Jesus Christ, judgement for our sins has already fallen on Him, when He died on the cross.
Of our sinfulness we have been set free and declared innocent! If we here tonight, have accepted God’s free offer of salvation by grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone, then we are declared right with God and in a joyous relationship with Him. Again, it is amazing! However, our belief and faith are to be visibly manifested through joyful obedient service of, and to, God!
This judgement is not for your salvation but for your rewards! As followers of Jesus Christ, God will ask you and I, to give an account of ourselves, and we will be judged according to what we have done. The quality of our work will be tested and our motives exposed – either we did things for God’s glory or we did them for our own glory. We will give an account of the opportunities and abilities entrusted to us as instruments of God’s orchestra of joy.
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For those of us who would call ourselves Christians, the Bible is very clear – you are called to lovingly and obediently serve in some capacity. A life of true Joy is seen in obedient service to the glory of God the Father, through God the Son Jesus Christ, in the power of God the Holy Spirit who lives in you. Tonight, if you are engaging in either intentional or unintentional acts of disobedience, then you need to turn your life around to one of utter obedience to the God you profess to follow.
As a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit within you, as a seal of your salvation. Your body is the temple where God now resides! You can’t hide from Him, so you may as well choose to be obedient to Him in a life of joyful service, exhibiting that true Joy and the hope you have in Him! Just as joy followed Moses and Aaron’s obedience in
Leviticus 9, so too can it be for those of us willing to lovingly serve obediently!
But if you are not a Christian here tonight, then please do make yourself known to us afterwards and we would love to talk to you about becoming a Christian. While you have breath, it’s not too late to start this life of joyful obedience to a loving God and enter into a living and dynamic relationship of true Joy with Him. Don’t leave it so late that you incur God’s judgement for your sins and have everlasting separation from Him and others! God does indeed love you and He is calling you to come into a dynamic relationship of true joy with Him today. Take the opportunity today – come and follow Jesus Christ. He is calling you to respond!
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