“The Lord spoke to Moses.” This is the refrain of Leviticus, beginning each of the sections of the Law given on Mount Sinai and in the Tabernacle. For the most part, Leviticus is twenty-seven chapters of Law—regulation upon regulation, prohibition and commandment, rules and codes governing every aspect of the life of Israel. Buying and selling, hygiene and diet, dress and conduct, social and religious laws. Everything demands that the whole self be dedicated to God. The Law requires holiness: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
So to be God’s people, we must be what He is: holy. And if there is any question about what holiness looks like, Leviticus describes it at length. Holiness towards God is inseparable from holiness towards neighbor. And between all the commandments and the regulations, God gives the reason for this holiness: “I am the Lord your God.”
Holiness towards the neighbor and holiness toward God requires that we judge and rebuke: “In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor,” and “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor and not bear sin because of him.” We are to examine our neighbor’s conduct and help him live within the boundaries of God’s Law. But isn’t that a fearful command! To rebuke and judge our neighbor isn’t a one-way street. To do so to him means that we open ourselves to the same judgment and rebuke! We have all sinned against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed. Our sins are just as bad, if not worse, than our neighbor’s.
We are not holy. Only one who is holy can judge righteously and rebuke. So because of our unholiness, we cannot judge and rebuke, the very things God demands that we do. So we are caught in a vicious circle: we break the Law, and so cannot do the Law. This sin is continually tightening and constricting and loading the weight of the Law upon us until we are crushed. As we hear the Law in Leviticus we feel that crushing weight. We have not been what God commands that we be. We are under the rebuke and judgment of the Holy One. To suffer God’s rebuke and judgment is to die.
But because no one can be holy like God, God became man. He lived a holy life, faultless in every thought, word, and deed. So the first and only Man to keep the Law kept it perfectly. And so He was pleasing to God the Father, the One that sent Him. But His work was not to earn His own salvation. He was born without sin and therefore needed no saving. His work was to save you, to redeem you, to win you back from sin, to rescue you from death and the devil, to purchase you to be God’s own.
To do that, He took from you. He took from you all your sins and placed them upon Himself. He who is holy bore the crushing weight of the Law. The Words He spoke to Moses, the command to be holy, convicted Him as the greatest sinner ever to live, for He bore the sins of the whole world. In His suffering and death we see the just penalty for sin. In His separation from the Father you see what you have earned. In His death He paid the ransom to bring you back. The Lord your God who is holy died to take away your transgressions of His Law. He fulfilled the Law for you that you be declared holy, just what His Law demands that you be.
In Christ you are declared holy, just as God Himself is holy. Holy in what you do; holy in what you do not do. In Christ you are judged innocent. In Christ, you are reconciled to your neighbor. In Christ, chapter after chapter of the Law is of no effect to you, for the Law has no authority over one who has died. And you died to the Law, being Baptized into Christ. And risen to new life, being raised from the Font, you are a new creation. In Christ, the crushing weight of the Law is removed. You are free. You are a child of God. He has done what He promised: He has helped you; He has delivered you; He has provided atonement for your sins for His Name’s sake. He is the God of your salvation.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.