By Jamin Roller
In modern-day Capernaum, Israel, there is a beautiful Catholic church called St. Peter’s Church. Capernaum was Peter’s hometown, and the church is built right above what is left of what many believe to be Peter’s house. In the middle of the church is a glass floor where you can look and see the remains of the house. Jesus taught, performed miracles, ate, and even slept there. As you look at the partial walls and old floors that remain, you can imagine what it would have been like to be there when the house was packed with disciples gathered around Jesus, hanging on His every word.
My first time visiting Capernaum, I didn’t experience any of that. I had read all about Peter’s house, and was eager to see the church and look through the glass, but was stopped at the door by an older man dressed in priest’s clothing who kindly looked at me and said, “I am sorry, you can’t come in. No shorts allowed.” I looked down at my pasty, white shins, looked up at him, and as politely as I could, said, “Seriously?” “Yes. This is a holy site. No shorts allowed.”
Holy means separate or set apart. The church being declared a holy site meant there were rules you had to follow since the place was different from ordinary places. It demanded, literally, that I change to honor the uniqueness and set-apartness of the site. Here is the idea: shorts are casual, the site is holy, and something has to change for me to be able to enter.
My response when I read passages like chapters 11, 12, and 13 of Leviticus is similar to what I said to the priest. Eat these foods, not those foods. Don’t touch these things. Wait this long after childbirth. Stay away if you are sick.
What that reaction reveals about my heart is a lack of seriousness for what it means that God is holy. He is holy and demands that the Israelites change in response (Leviticus 11:44–45). It’s not about arbitrary rules or meaninglessly high standards. It says something to them and to us about the sacredness of our God. He is completely holy, pure, and set apart. Just like being told “no shorts allowed” helped me understand St Peter’s Church is no ordinary place, the rules outlined in these chapters help the Israelites, and us, understand that there is nothing ordinary about God.
You see, God did not simply want to get His people out of Egypt; He wanted to bring His people into His holy presence. These rules and rituals are a help to His people so that they can enjoy His presence without dishonoring His character.
Passages like these help me understand even more how wonderful Jesus is. Mark 7 and 1 John 1 tell us the rules and rituals from Leviticus have been fulfilled in and replaced by Jesus. God is no less holy, but the means by which we are welcomed into His presence are secured by and mediated through our perfect Priest, Jesus.