Reverence and Awe – Leviticus 16:2-5

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark [of the covenant], so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.’”
Leviticus 16:2-5

This is the beginning of the Lord’s instructions for the Day of Atonement. The day each year in which sacrifices were offered to atone for the sins of Israel: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). It’s a powerful foreshadowing of what Christ has done for us…but that is not where God is stirring my heart to focus today.

Today, my attention is drawn to the strict requirements for Aaron, the high priest, to follow in order to approach the Lord. “So that he may not die.” Those are powerful words, and it was not an empty threat. Entering into the Holy Place behind the veil was a very serious matter. He was entering the presence of the Most High God, and God was establishing that this was not to be taken lightly. And I wonder…how much of this reverence have we lost in our own hearts?

Because the God we approach today is the same God who issued these precise instructions. Jesus’ sacrifice did not lessen His majesty or holiness. The veil to the Holy Place was torn upon Jesus’ death, opening the way for us to come to Him in relationship – but He is still holy.

A few weeks ago, I started contemplating Hebrews 12:18-29:
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them…Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering…and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

It was the last phrase that I was really seeking to process: “For our God is a consuming fire.” It’s one I never really have grasped. I still feel it’s a bit beyond me, but I sense that Leviticus 9:23-24 gives us some insight. The first offering had been given at the newly constructed tabernacle, “and Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”

This is the consuming fire of the Lord. There is mercy here, for He accepted their offering and demonstrated this by sending out fire to consume it. There is also an intense display of His power, evidenced by their reaction.

And even in these days, when Jesus has established a new covenant and provided the way for us to have a personal relationship with this God, we are still to reflect reverence and awe in our approaching Him. In our worship. In our prayers. In our lives, as we seek to walk in a manner worthy of this Most High God who has saved us from sin and wrath and declared that we are His.

We see this reverence in the apostles. In Paul, as he wrote to Timothy: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). In John, the disciple who was Jesus’ closest friend while He was on earth: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys to Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Our approach to this Most High and Holy God should not be done without thought. How often do we come before Him with halfhearted prayers? There is closeness here, yes. A personal relationship. He is Abba, Father. We are told to bring our cares, to pour out our hearts before Him. He hears us, He sees us, He counts our tears. I believe delight and laughter also have their place here, as expressions of joy and relationship. But let this closeness inspire all the more awe in our hearts. And overflowing thankfulness. Because we recognize who He is, and how great the sacrifice of Jesus was that we can approach Him without fear of being consumed by the fire that is our God…because our perfect sacrifice took the fire for us. We can now experience what Jesus spoke of in John 16:26-27, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

We can now approach God, but let us measure our hearts to not become complacent and view Him without reverence. Praying in the name of Jesus recognizes who He is, the depth of His sacrifice to bring us into relationship. It is because of Him that the author of Hebrews could write:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16);

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:19-20);

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Let us draw near, sprinkled clean in Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Let us hold fast our confession of hope, hope that we will be accepted through the blood of Christ, for He is faithful. There is a balance here. Reverence and awe, recognition of our Most High God. And confidence that we will find mercy and relationship. Because we are loved. With a love manifested on the cross. The apostle John assures us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

Oh, the intricacies of this relationship. They could overwhelm in our efforts to wrap our minds around them…but we can see them as beautiful as well. Ours is this powerful and mighty God. Creator and Lord. A consuming fire. This is not taken lightly. And yet we can approach Him with confidence, knowing He is faithful, allowing His perfect love for us to drive out our fear. It was in love that God the Father sent His Son to be our sacrifice, so we could know this close relationship and the fullness of joy within. We are beloved children of the King – so let us draw near and enjoy that relationship, always mindful of His position and the unsearchable greatness that is His.

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