The Need For Repentance.
Leviticus 27, Luke 15
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:7 ESV
The entire book of Leviticus is a picture of the holiness of God. It would be easy to mistake it as some kind of a divine rule book for life, but at the core it is a revelation of the holiness of God. God’s holiness is contrasted with man’s sinfulness. A holy God cannot coexist with unholy men. His holiness and His justice require that He punish sin, because, ultimately, sin is rebellion against His will. The commands, rules and regulations outlined in the book of Leviticus give the people of God a clear understanding of just how holy their God is. He cannot tolerate sin of any kind, so He requires that His people reflect His holiness in every area of their lives. From their worship and their work, to their home life and personal hygiene issues, God provided them with His non-negotiable requirements. He had set them apart from all the other nations of the earth. He had made them His prized possession, but that high calling came with high expectations. They were going to have to live up to His exacting standards. But God knew they were incapable of keeping His laws. He fully realized that their sin natures would make obedience impossible. So He provided a means of atonement. When they eventually sinned, which He knew they would, He included a way for them to be restored to a right relationship with Him. The entire sacrificial system was intended to provide a means of paying the penalty for their sins and making forgiveness possible. But they had to take their sin seriously. They had to recognize that their sin was a problem and it required a solution. If they failed to take sin seriously, the results would be devastating. But they would have no excuse. They had been told. They had been warned.
What does this passage reveal about God?
The book of Leviticus provides an amazing picture of God’s grace. He did not have to choose the descendants of Abraham as His priceless possession. He didn’t have to redeem them slavery in Egypt. He was not obligated to give them a land of their own. Yes, He had made a covenant with Abraham, but they had broken their part of that covenant over and over again. And yet God would fulfill what He had promised. He would do what He had said. He would accomplish what He had set out to do, not because of the people of Israel, but in spite of them. In reading through the book of Leviticus we get a wonderful, and yet sobering, contrast between God and man. The repeated calls to purity, cleanliness, holiness, obedience, faithfulness, sacrifice, and repentance cannot be overlooked. The people would have been well aware of their sin. God made it painfully obvious that their actions and attitudes were flawed and deserving of His divine judgment and wrath. But if they would simply acknowledge their sin and follow His divine prescription, they could experience atonement and enjoy forgiveness. God had provided a way. It was costly. It involved the shedding of blood and the loss of life. It required an admission of guilt and a desire for cleansing. The people of Israel would have fully understood that their lives were dependent upon God’s grace and mercy. They should have known that their efforts at living in complete obedience to His laws would have fallen woefully short. God’s laws were all-encompassing, impacting every area of their lives. “Leviticus 27 points out that holiness is more than a matter of divine call and correct ritual. Its attainment requires the total consecration of a man’s life to God’s service. It involves giving yourself, your family, and all your possessions to God” (Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. New International Commentary on the Old Testament series).
What does this passage reveal about man?
By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the people of Israel had turned God’s laws into some kind of ritualistic religious endeavor that had long lost its meaning. The rules had become the focus. In fact, the Pharisees had developed their own set of rules and rituals, intended to make them look even more religious than others. Rather than focusing on the holiness of God and their own sinfulness, they had made it all about their own ability to keep their own laws. They took pride in their outward signs of compliance. But Jesus exposed their hypocrisy. He showed up on the scene calling the people of God to repentance. John the Baptist paved the way for His arrival, proclaiming, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham'” (Luke 3:7-8 ESV).
Jesus would later say to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV). His point was that, as long as the Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous, they would never recognize and repent of their sinfulness. These religious leaders had made it all about rule-keeping. They took pride in their ability to keep even the minutest of rules, But Jesus accused them of missing the point. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42 ESV). In today’s reading from chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel, we see once again the Pharisees and scribes complaining about Jesus because, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2 ESV). They were appalled at Jesus’ lack of decorum. He didn’t play by their rules. He didn’t live according to their standards. But they were blind to their own hearts and refused to acknowledge their need for a Savior. So Jesus told them, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous person who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7 ESV). Jesus’ use of irony here is sobering. He refers to the Pharisees and scribes as “righteous,” but their brand of righteousness was fake. As long as they viewed themselves as self-righteous and deserving of God’s mercy and grace, they would fail to receive it. It is a recognition of sin that leads to the realization of a need for repentance. The Pharisees had long since stopped measuring their holiness by God’s standards. They had come up with their own. They had long lost sight of their own sinfulness and their need for salvation. As far as they were concerned, they were fully capable of atoning for their own sins. But they had forgotten the words of the prophet Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
The story of the prodigal son should be the story of us all. He was really no more of a sinner than his older brother. Yes, his sin was more visible and more pronounced. But even the older brother, while seemingly living in obedience to his father, was actually bitter and resentful toward him. He viewed himself as sinless. He saw himself as the faithful rule-keeper. When he discovered that his father had thrown a party for his long-lost brother, he became angry and declared to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:29-30 ESV). Rather than rejoice at his brother’s return, he became resentful and angry, revealing his belief that his “obedience” had somehow earned him favor with his father. But the real point of the story is the repentance of the younger brother. He saw his sin and repented of it. He saw his need for his father’s forgiveness and grace. He came broken and fully aware of his sin. The older brother came arrogantly, stubbornly holding on to what he believed to be his right to a reward.
God has made my sinfulness perfectly and painfully clear. At one time, I was just like the younger son, living in my own sin and trying to determine my own fate. Then I finally reached the painful point where I realized that I was desperately in need of help. I could not fix my problem. I was hopelessly lost and destined to die in my own sinfulness. But God provided a Savior. He lovingly offered me a way out. And it began with a recognition of my own sinfulness and the realization that I could not save myself. Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV). My holiness was God’s doing, not my own. My salvation was provided by God through Christ. It is those who recognize themselves as sinners who realize their need for a Savior. It is those who understand their sinfulness who are most willing to repent, to turn from it, and turn to Jesus as the only sure solution. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV).
Father, thank You for helping me to realize that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. But forgive me that there are still times when I fall back on my own self-righteousness. I can find myself going back to a life of rule-keeping, hoping that I can somehow earn favor with You. But my obedience to Your will should not be based on earning, but a yearning to show my gratitude for all that you have done for me. I want to learn to obey You because I love You, not because I am trying to get You to love me. You have already proven Your love for me by sending Your Son to die for me. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men