Today we read some interesting events in Leviticus chapter 10. Aaron’s sons have been ordained priests. One day soon after they apparently tried to take a shortcut and use different fire to burn the incense in the censor. Bad idea. They are immediately struck dead and consumed by fire from heaven.
Is God really that picky? Does he really care what embers are used to burn incense?
The answer lies in the fundamental nature of God. What does he want / need from us? Of course, God doesn’t need anything from us. However, he does desire something for us. He desires that we love him. Why? Not for his good but for our good. Love for God can be expressed in many ways. The first is in the desire of hearts expressed through prayer. The second is the way we live our lives. The third, which is really a combination of the first two, is in the proper worship of him. God does not desire this because he needs it. He desires it because it shapes us. It conforms us to him. By taking the time and making the effort to properly worship God we allow ourselves to be molded into his image. That is why the details matter. That is why God cared what embers were used to burn the incense. That is why it matters what Jesus meant when He said, “This is my body” and “do this in remembrance of me”. That is why it matters that Jesus founded a Church and which one it is.
Today’s we read the second half of Peter delivering the first preaching of the Apostles. A large number of the crowd are quickly converted and then hey quite naturally ask, “What shall we do?”
Peter’s answer is NOT, ‘have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ or “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior” or “let Jesus into your heart” or “say the sinner’s prayer”. You won’t find any of those things in scripture. Rather, Peter says to the converts, “repent and be baptized…” Of course, the call to faith in Jesus is implicit in the entire sermon, no one is denying that. However, we see here that having faith is a call to conversion and a call to action. Repentance implies sorrow for ones sins, the asking for forgiveness and penance to make right that which was once wrong. Repentance without penance, without changing the outward actions of one’s life has the danger of being hollow.
Peter also invokes the need for baptism. We know that baptism was part of the gestalt of the ancient world. There were many different baptisms and people understood the symbolic nature of the ritual cleansing. Peter’s call to baptism comes directly from Jesus’ direction in the closing verse of the Gospel of Matthew:
19* Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20* teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Would Jesus instruct the Apostles to go forth and perform a merely symbolic ritual as part of the preaching of his definitive and fully effective revelation? That seems unlikely. Thus, we can say that baptism must be necessary and effective.
The passage then tells us that the new coverts devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, fellowship and the breaking of the bread. Why would this act be singled out as a specific thing the new converts were doing if it is merely symbolic remembrance of the Lord? Did Jesus come to replace merely symbolic acts of the Old Testament with new merely symbolic acts of a New Testament? Again, this suggests that the breaking of bread in necessary and effective.
Finally, we can note that the converts still attended the temple and celebrated the breaking of bread in their homes. At this early point in time the converts still considered themselves Jews. They attended the temple both because they had not yet fully realized that the old law had been rendered ineffective and because they initially presumed that everyone would be converted. Ultimately, they would be expelled from the temple when their preaching became emphatic that their brothers were missing the messiah.