Have you ever suddenly come to the horrifying realization that that smell is you? Maybe you didn’t put enough deodorant on. Maybe you ate something really garlicky! The bottom line is that something smells, and it’s you. I’m a sweaty person, especially when I’m nervous or uncomfortable, so this happens to me a lot. My favorite is when it happens on the weekend when I’m at church or out and about. I press my elbows into my sides and stay very still. I worry that everyone else is wondering what that smell is. So I hang back, because why get in someone’s face when I know I don’t smell very good?
A smelly situation can be solved by bathing in water and waiting until the sun goes down (verses 6-7), but when Leviticus 22 makes these suggestions, it’s talking about a different kind of uncleanness. Levite priests who are unclean in any way, whether by touching a dead body, touching something defiled, or contracting a skin disease, must wait until they are clean before coming to service at the sanctuary (verses 4-6). Cleanliness requirements apply to not just the priests, but the sacrifices also. Every sacrifice must be a beautiful, flawless animal – any defects or blemishes made the sacrifice completely unacceptable (verse 20). Imagine all the checking and double-checking that had to be done before coming to the tabernacle. And we complain about having to wear suits and dresses!
The Treasures Within:
Back Up A Little
It all does seem to send a specific message, though. Something like, If you’re going to come to Jesus, you have to come correct. Don’t come dirty. Don’t come defiled. Don’t come with a jacked up sacrifice. Come clean, come prepared, come good. If that sounds foreign to you, it’s because it’s the exact opposite of the mantra churches have been repeating for years: CAYA – come as you are. You don’t have to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus. You don’t have to look pretty. You don’t even have to smell good! Come and bring your broken, dirty heart to God and He will accept you, no rituals required. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
But wait! As we’ve seen before, times were different in these B.C. days. Jesus had not yet walked the earth. He hadn’t yet died on the cross, becoming the perfect, defect-less, blemish-free Lamb. He hadn’t yet sacrificed himself, forgiving all sins and cleansing all uncleanness, making it so that anyone could approach God and be accepted as they were. And before anyone can say poor Israelites, we’re reminded that the same Jesus who died for our sins died for the Israelites’ sins. Still, the tabernacle was necessary because it made plain to them and to us this wild, novel concept: perfection is required to atone for sins. Goodness, cleanness, and correctness must be present in order to wipe away the stain of sin. This makes sense, right? All good, right?
Know Who You Are
Or is it? Isn’t God the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow? Or did He really change His tune on how we come before Him? Can we really come from any situation, from any past, and be welcomed by God?
Couldn’t the Israelites? Any given Israelite standing in the tabernacle may not have recently touched a dead body or an unclean animal. And the sacrifice standing before them may have been spotless. But did that mean that their thoughts were clean? Their hands? Their hearts? We know, like we know, how imperfect the Israelites were, but God accepted them anyway. He accepted them as they were, but at the same time, He required the spotless animals and evening bathing in order to make sure they knew who they were.
To be told you are unclean, to be told that there is something wrong with you is jarring. But it’s necessary in order to come before God. We say “come as you are”, but that doesn’t mean that you’re awesome already. It’s not supposed to mean that God’s happy with where we’re at. You can come to a hospital as you are, but no one expects you to stay as you are. You come because you’re sick and you want to get well. The same is true of our God. We come before Him as we are, with all our baggage and sin and trauma and fears and disorders and He immediately gathers us into His warm, safe arms. But He also immediately heals us. He immediately shows us a better way to live. He immediately makes us clean. We can’t have that if we’re not willing. We won’t get that if we don’t realize just how badly we need Him. So come as you are, but know that our Savior wants to transform you, and that you need it.
God’s Message To Us:
“The only unacceptable sacrifice is no sacrifice.” Bringing a deformed, stunted sacrifice to God was not only against God’s law, it was disrespectful and lazy. There was incentive to bring a messed up animal to God’s sacrifice – the good ones back at your camp could be used for food or milk or hide! But God wouldn’t accept these sacrifices because they were halfhearted. They denied God’s power to forgive sins. They denied the need for atonement in the first place! That’s not too far off from a person who “comes as they are” without acknowledging who they are, who God is, and why they need Him. Jesus wants us, all of us, no matter what we’ve come from, but we’ve got to want Him too. So have we come to Jesus waving our smelly armpits around, happy with who we are? Or have we come to be changed?
What do you think? Do you agree with the “come as you are” mentality? What message did God place in this chapter for you?