Vol. 10 — No. 3 January 19, 1969
Numbers 6:1-2ff; Matthew 26:39b; Romans 12:1
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them; When either man or woman shall separate themseives to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord… Numbers 6:1-2ff
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matthew 26:39b
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable Service. Romans 12:1
In Christ Jesus, who saved us so that we might serve Him, Fellow Redeemed:
On this first Sunday of the new year we would direct our thinking to what we should be and what we should want to be during the entire year. We are the redeemed of the Lord. As such I address you Sunday after Sunday. He purchased us—not with some common means of exchange as gold or silver but with His holy life and with the shedding of His precious blood. We belong to Him! This is what we are! He should be wanting to live our lives in such a way that it is evident to all that we really do belong to the Lord, and not to the devil or the world. If this way of living is to be evident unto others, each one of us must first resolve, with the aid of the Spirit of God, to live his life daily unto the Lord.
For many of you this has Special meaning today, for you are to be installed into some office in this congregation. You have been elected or appointed to that position of responsibility and you have consented to it. Thereby you have indicated a desire to give a portion of your time, your strength, your talent unto the Lord.
What you are doing is nothing new For children of God. It has been done since the beginning and will continue until the Lord comes again. But to encourage you we would this morning give you a perspective of this surrendering of oneself and dedicating and consecrating of oneself unto the Lord. He shall do that by considering in its Old Testament form and in its perfect fulfillment by Christ and in its New Testament usage—
In the Old Testament times God had chosen one of the twelve tribes, the tribe of Levi, to be separated and holy unto Him. They were the priests. They were entrusted with all public worship. Their calling was to serve the Lord. Their heritage was the Lord. Their peculiar and special relationship to the Lord reflected and expressed the covenant relationship of God to His chosen people. Of all the nations of the earth Israel belonged to the Lord by virtue of the covenant that He had made with them. The Aaronitic priesthood was to and did reflect the covenant relationship of the whole nation.
But what of the other eleven tribes? What of the lay people? They were also members of the holy nation. They were also royal priests unto the Lord. The law of the Nazarite made it possible for a lay person to enter into a relationship of special self-surrender and self-dedication to the Lord—just as the priests. Of his own free choice any individual could separate and dedicate Himself unto the Lord. The law of the Nazarite prescribed the specific obligations and ritual.
The individual in his vow obligated himself to drink no wine and to eat no product of the grape in any form. Why? Because the fruit of the vine was regarded as the sum and substance of all sensual enjoyments. For the period of his vow the Nazarite was to deny himself sensual delights, for he was not to be living unto himself but unto the Lord. Secondly, the vow specified that no razor was to touch the head of a Nazarite. The thought governing this provision was this that the free growth of the hair symbolized the strength and vitality of the individual who was dedicating and consecrating his strength and vitality unto the Lord. The third provision specified that a person who had taken the vow of a Nazarite could not come into contact with a corpse. This provision prevented even the most intimate and personal of obligations, the burying of one’s own father or mother, from interfering with the person’s dedication to the Lord.
When the period of the vow had expired, the individual had to bring offerings: a burnt offering to symbolize his self-surrender unto the Lord, a sin offering to make atonement for his failures to surrender himself wholly unto the Lord, and a peace offering to give expression to his fellowship with the Lord. The hair of his head was shaven and burnt in the fire on the altar, thereby symbolizing the surrender of his strength and vitality unto the Lord.
All this seems very strange to us, but so it was practiced for some fifteen centuries among the Children of Israel. God had made the Jews His special people. He had chosen one tribe to be a living example of that special relationship, but He had also made provision for others to enter into that special relationship for a definite period of time and even for life, as in the cases of Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist.
One provision of the law of the Nazarite revealed the flaw or the weakness or the imperfection of the ideal that the vow embodied. That was the provision made for the trespass and sin offering. The law itself took cognizance of the fact that no one, who took the vow of the Nazarite, could fulfill that vow perfectly, could live up to it. For the infection of the Flesh by sin has made it impossible for anyone to dedicate and consecrate himself wholly unto the Lord. And so it was that this particular law of the Nazarite also waited for its perfect fulfillment. It also was a type that awaited the coming Antitype. As every other law, so also the law of the Nazarite found its perfect fulfillment in Christ. Let us observe the vow of the Nazarite—
The first test came immediately after His baptism when He began His public ministry. Then was He driven of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil for forty days. Our Lord had the power and the ability to convert stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. But if He had used that power to serve Himself, He would have violated the Nazaritic ideal of dedicating one’s strength and vitality unto the Lord God and not for the service of self. Our Lord resisted the temptation, for He was dedicated to total self-surrender unto His Father in the interest of our salvation.
Think of another scene—Jesus striving for the soul of the woman at Jacob’s well. His disciples had left Him tired and thirsty and hungry. But His weariness and thirst and hunger were soon forgotten, for He found an opportunity to rescue a woman, who had been enslaved by her own lusts. Our Lord pursued that rescue mission, totally unmindful of His own needs. When His disciples returned, they offered Him food, but He refused to eat. The disciples wondered whether someone had come while they were gone and had brought Him refreshments. Jesus responded, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” John 4:34. Here is the perfect Nazarite speaking, the One who had surrendered Himself totally and wholly unto the work of man’s salvation.
This total surrender of self met its greatest test in the Garden of Gethsemane. Suffering and death faced our Lord. The Prince of Life had to die. He who commanded the dead to rise had to yield up the ghost and die. Satan made the most of it—holding before our Lord’s eyes the paradox that the Lord and Giver of life should have to die. Our Lord felt the pressure and the pain. He fell to the ground. He experienced conflict within. He sweat as it were drops of blood. He poured out His anguish in the prayer, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But then came the victory of the faithful Nazarite, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He sacrificed His will to the will of His Father. That was total surrender—done once and only once, but for all mankind, by our Lord.
The vow of the Nazarite, as the Sabbath laws and all the other rules and regulations that governed God’s people in the Old Testament, is no longer in effect in the New Testament. But the ideal remains. And so it is important for us to understand the vow of the Nazarite, that vow of surrender unto the Lord—
No better expression of that vow can be given than the exhortation of St. Paul in the twelfth chapter of Romans: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The Nazarite of old presented his body with all its strength and vitality unto the Lord for service unto Him. St. Paul exhorts us to do the very same thing—present our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord. This is a reasonable request—when we consider that we have been redeemed, ransomed, purchased by our Lord. If we don’t belong to ourselves, but to the Lord, is it not reasonable that the Lord should ask and expect us to present ourselves and all that we are unto Him in His service? What should move us to do this? Not the compulsion of any law, not the desire for recognition or reward, but the mercies of God. Our Lord dedicated His life and finally surrendered His life in death on the cross to redeem us from the guilt and power of our sins, from the tyranny of Satan, and from the grip and grasp of death. All of this was His mercy for us. What is a fitting and reasonable response for any beneficiary of that mercy? This: to present himself as a living sacrifice unto the Lord! This we are to be doing.
What we are to be doing has been expressed in no better way than by Luther in his explanation of the Second Article of the Apostolic Creed. In that Second Article we confess that Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died, descended into hell and arose, ascended and will return again. How what does all this mean for you and for me? What effect does it and is it to have upon us? “I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary; and that He is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent sufferings and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
We belong to Him! What can be more natural than this that we serve Him. That is precisely what you members of the church council and Sunday School teachers, officers of the council, Sunday School, congregation and women’s organization, sponsors of the youth organization, organists and choir directress propose to do. Each of these positions requires a greater or lesser amount of time. If you people did not hold these positions, you would be free to use that time on and for yourselves. What you are doing is saying that you desire to dedicate some of your time directly to the service of the Lord. Each of your positions also require the use of natural talents, acquired skills and efforts on your part. In accepting these positions you are indicating that you are willing to use the talents and capacities that the Lord has given you, together with the skills that you have acquired and the strength and vitality with which you have been endowed, in the service of the Lord. This is what the Nazarites of old did—imperfectly. This is what your Lord did for you perfectly. This is what you intend to do—also imperfectly, but covered by the forgiving and renewing grace of the Lord.
Your willingness and your desire to serve the Lord is a good and an excellent thing. In giving yourself unto the Lord you shall surety receive from Him. In striving to be a blessing unto others you shall most surely receive additional blessings from the Lord. May the Lord strengthen you when you falter, encourage you when you feel discouraged, forgive you when you fail, and finally reward you in His grace for every service rendered unto Him. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.