There’s an interesting passage in Leviticus (no, seriously…) about the “centralization” of the Israelite offering system (Lev 17:1-8). Apparently the Israelites were offering their sacrifices in the open fields themselves instead of bringing them to the tabernacle so the priest could offer them to the Lord. God says they must bring them to the priest, or be cut off from the people.
At first blush this seems a bit nit-picky and controlling to Western ears. After all, it sounds pretty democratic to have everyone offering their sacrifices instead of setting up this institutional hierarchy that demands the priest perform the sacrificial rituals. Why all the fuss, Yahweh?
On an organizational level, it seems they had fallen prey to premature decentralization. They were out there offering sacrifices, but it was to a “God” of their own definition. They were sacrificing to “goat idols,” just to be safe. It seems everyone was worshiping their own personal “version” of God. The centralized tabernacle rites were there to guard the “definition” of God, so to speak, so people didn’t end up worshiping a god of their own making.
It wasn’t so much that God was fussy about “doing the sacrifice thing right,” it was that his people were being led astray by false definition of who He was. He commands Moses, “They must bring them to the priest, that is, to the Lord, at the entrance to the tent of meeting and sacrifice them as fellowship offerings.” The priest was the one who, through the symbolic actions of sacrifice, spoke the truth about God to the people and guarded them from worshiping idols.
This is precisely one of the ways Jesus is our “high priest” now. He defines God for us. Through his actions and words in the Gospels, we see a true picture of what God is really like. Jesus is the definition of God. He is the one who speaks the truth about God to us and guards us from worshiping a god in our own image.
Like the Israelites, we are tempted to define God in a variety of false ways, based on our background and experiences. We see him as the sadistic police officer, ready to punish and harm at a moment’s notice. We see him as the frustrated parent, constantly exasperated with his children. We see him as the apathetic bureaucrat, bored with humanity. But these are idols, false gods that block our view of the true and living God.
Which is why Jesus came: to reveal the Father to us. To show us in embodied form what God is really like. Over against the sadistic police officer god, Jesus chases away all her accusers and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Over against the frustrated parent god, Jesus speaks of a Father who runs to his rebellious son, throwing a lavish party for him. Over against the apathetic bureaucrat god, Jesus weeps at the tomb of his friend and raises him to life. Over against all of these false gods, Jesus speaks to us, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one. Whatever I do is what the Father is doing.”
This is why Jesus says we come to the Father “through” him. When we do so, we know we really are worshiping the Living God and not a figment of our imagination or a cultural artifact. Jesus represents God perfectly to us. He is our center.
Try making this affirmation:
God looks just like Jesus.
God has always looked like Jesus.
There has never been a time that God wasn’t like Jesus.
We haven’t always known this, but now we do.
Can you relate to the difficulty of keeping your “definition” of God focused on Jesus? In what ways are you tempted to define God apart from Jesus?