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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Holy Priesthood for the LORD
Text:Leviticus 8:1-36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Servanthood
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-09-17
Updated:2017-11-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 133:1,2                                                                  

Ps 115:5,6                                                                                          

Reading – Leviticus 8; Leviticus 9:22-24; Hebrews 7:23-28

Ps 135:6,7,9,10                      

Sermon – Leviticus 8

Hy 42:1,2,3,4,5,6

Ps 84:1,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, getting a new job can be a complicated business. Say you want to become a school teacher—it can take a while to get there. First, you need a few years of formal training. Then you must be officially certified by the government, and cleared to work with children. Then you have to apply for a job, fill out forms, sit for interviews. When you finally do get the position, there’s a contract to sign, and workplace training, and orientation. You probably need to buy a whole set of new clothes, and start preparing lessons, and setting up a classroom. It’s not a straightforward matter, becoming a teacher. Unless you’re working at a fast-food place part-time after school, most jobs require a lot of study, and preparation and accreditation.

In Leviticus 8, there’s quite a process of preparation for the priests before they start their work at the tabernacle. Now, the sons of Aaron had no choice when it came to a career—by birth, this is what they had to do. But it’s likely they would’ve studied for it, to become experts in God’s law. And today we’ll see that the way they entered the priesthood involved much ritual and sacrifice.

With this chapter, there’s a change in Leviticus: a change from laws to stories, in this chapter and the following two. It’s a reminder that Leviticus isn’t just a law book, but it’s part of a continuing history. The LORD had redeemed Israel from Egypt, then guided them through the wilderness, all the way to Mount Sinai. And that’s where they still are in our text.

From the mountain God has been giving his law and other instructions. One set of directions was about how to build the tabernacle. It was built, and at the end of Exodus, God accepted it as a holy house of worship, for the cloud of his presence filled it. It stood at the centre of the camp, a testimony to God’s glory. In these first seven chapters, God has been telling his people about how to approach Him there through sacrifices of blood.

And if there will be sacrifices, there must also be priests who can bring them into God’s house. For this is what the LORD said earlier in Exodus 29:43-44, “I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to me as priests.” This is what happens in our text: the tabernacle is consecrated, and the priests are consecrated. We see a picture of God’s great holiness, a foreshadowing of Christ our high priest, and we see the shape of our calling as priests today.  

Moses ordains Aaron and Sons as holy priests of the LORD:

  1. they are clothed and anointed
  2. the required sacrifices are made
  3. their ministry is ready to begin

 

1) they are clothed and anointed: If you have some time later today, you should read Exodus 29. This is where God gave detailed instructions about how to ordain the priests. And when you put that chapter in Exodus beside this one, practically every verse in Leviticus 8 is an echo of the commands that God had given previously. It’s a refrain in our chapter: “Moses did such-and-such, as the LORD had commanded him.” Because that is said so often, we could overlook it. But it underlines just how carefully Moses was carrying out God’s Word. This ordination was going to set apart the priests to work at the tabernacle, and to fulfill the holiest office in all Israel. This was a big deal—a person could be serve only if he’d been called by God, and ordained according to his Word.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Moses gathers Aaron and Sons and all the necessary material. Verse 4 also says “the congregation was gathered together at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” When it says that “the congregation” was gathered, this likely means the group of elders, those men who represented all Israel. It wasn’t just a big moment for Moses and the priests—this was for everyone to witness and to celebrate. This was their life, the holy God dwelling among them! Nothing was more important.

The ordination begins: “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water” (v 6). Notice that even though God had already chosen them as priests, they need cleansing. They can’t enter God’s presence until they’d been purified by washing and sacrifice. Picture those priests, being splashed and rinsed with water from that large basin in the tabernacle courts. This was an outward washing, but it represents how God is cleansing them on the inside. Compare it to our own baptism: Not one of us can stand before God, and not one of us is ready to work for God, but we need Him to wash us, sanctify us from sin.

Aaron himself—God’s high priest—is a shining example of the LORD’s grace. When you read Exodus 29 later on, and then a bit further in the story, something terrible happens. Up on the mountain God is instructing Moses about the appointment of priests, and how to set up the tabernacle, but then his words are rudely interrupted. There’s a commotion below, as the Israelites dance and party around the golden calf! Even at the same time that God is explaining the way of true worship, his people grow tired of waiting. They make an image of the LORD, because they want to worship Him however they please.

In this shocking event, Aaron is not the instigator, but he is a willing accessory. He goes along with the people, and helps them set up the image. It’s only through the intercession of Moses that God has mercy on Israel and doesn’t destroy them all. Even so, when we get to Leviticus, we don’t really know if Aaron will be allowed to become high priest. This failure was a huge stain on his résumé, and God had good reason to reject him entirely.

So it’s a remarkable thing in verse 6: Aaron is washed, for he will yet be appointed to this high office. God will use him still! It’s like the apostle Peter, who shamefully denied Christ, yet was restored and made a leader. This is something that every one of us can relate to, whether we’re leaders in the church or not: we know our many failures, how deeply we’re stained. Each of us should be disqualified, yet God keeps and cleanses us, to show his glory! Praise God that He doesn’t need perfect people to serve his church!

Aaron is washed, then he is clothed in the garments of the high priest. This clothing is described more fully in Exodus, and summarized in our text. First was the tunic, a long undergarment. Over that was a blue robe, fringed with bells and pomegranates. Then was the ephod, a kind of vest made of coloured linen, held in place by a woven waistband, and featuring two stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes. The ephod went over the shoulders and chest. Over the ephod a breastplate was worn, which was another piece of material decorated with gold and twelve precious stones, inscribed with the names of the tribes. In the breastplate was also carried the Urim and the Thummim, two stones that were used for receiving messages from God. Somehow these stones were able to reveal God’s will; when a question was asked, through them God could give his reply. Finally, on Aaron’s head a blue turban was placed, and attached to it was a golden plate. On that plate was inscribed the words, “Holy to the LORD.” We could say something about each piece of these garments, but our chapter is long. Altogether, Aaron was a remarkable figure in his priestly clothes.

Now, it’s hard to appreciate what it meant for Aaron to be clothed with all these fancy garments. In our society there’s not many areas where official uniforms are still used—they seem overly traditional, too impersonal. Some churches still have formal robes, as well as universities and law courts. What a uniform like this does is draw attention to a person’s office. It’s not about his name or his personality, but it’s about his job, his function.

In putting on these clothes, Aaron puts on the dignity and glory of the priesthood. It’s ornate clothing, because it symbolizes the importance of the work he will do: he will mediate between God and his people. For the Israelites, when they saw the high priest in all his splendour, he stood for everything that the nation was supposed to be: he was holy, wise, privileged, and lived close to God.

That’s a good point for us to link to the work of Christ. For example, in Revelation 1, John sees a glorious vision of Jesus. With his eyes like flames of fire, his head and hair white like wool, He’s a striking figure. One of the things about him is that He’s clothed with a robe, and girded about the chest with a golden band (Rev 1:13). His clothing is like that of a priest, and his work was the work of a priest. Hebrews tells us that Christ entered not the tabernacle on earth, but heaven itself, and there in God’s presence He is interceding for us. He represents us constantly before the LORD. Greater than Aaron ever was, Jesus is glorious: “holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7:26).

And when we look at Christ our high priest, He’s the model and example of everything that we must be. This is why God calls us to imitate Christ, to resemble him in our thinking and doing. In fact, it’s through Christ that we too become priests. Peter says that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9). After reading Leviticus 8 all about the high dignity and honour of the priesthood, consider what a privilege it is: that you are a priest, that you are called to service, allowed into God’s presence, and holy to Him!

If we’re going to do our job as priests, we too need to be clothed. Think of how God calls us to “put on the breastplate of faith” (1 Thess 5:8). Or like Paul says “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col 3:12). If you’re a priest, then put on the garments of holiness! This is our uniform—this is what should distinguish us as God’s people. Beloved, is this what people see when they look at you? Do they see a life clothed with Christ?

Coming back to Leviticus 8, Aaron is clothed, and then he’s anointed (v 12). A fragrant blend of oil and spices is poured over his head. In the Old Testament, oil was associated with joy, and that smell of the spices would’ve saturated his hair and robes. It meant that Aaron was chosen and authorized by God for a special role in worship.

In fact, it wasn’t just the priests who were anointed, but everything was: the tabernacle and all the utensils, the altar of burnt offering, and the basin for washing. You could smell it everywhere, and you knew: this was consecrated, set apart for a sacred purpose. There’s a special term for being anointed, the Hebrew word Messiah. When Aaron and his sons received that oil, they are “messiahs.” God has given them a holy task; they’ve been set aside for this special work, for the good of God’s people.

That word connects us again to Jesus. Listen to what He said in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of God is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus was anointed, not with oil and spices, but with the water of his baptism and the Holy Spirit. Later in his ministry, when a woman pours expensive perfume on Him, Jesus says that she has anointed him… for burial. He is the Messiah, for He came to suffer and die, to be the priest who offers himself for his people.

And once more, it’s through looking at Christ that we see our own calling. In baptism, He sets his mark on us. Today He allows us to share in the same Spirit He has, and to be anointed with the sweet aroma of the gospel. As John writes, “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20). Because God wants us to serve, He has prepared us to serve. God never just throws you into the task you have to do, but God equips you.

As one aspect of that, think about your place within this congregation. In Psalm 133, David says, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments” (vv 1-2). Do you hear the comparison? Aaron received a beautiful priestly anointing: it was generous, flowing everywhere, the unmistakable sign that God wanted him for the job. In the same way, God gives his Spirit generously to us, that we might serve together.

In the church, some receive this gift, others receive another. But everyone receives something. And however we’ve been enabled, God calls us to use our gifts for the good of his people. As David says, “How good and pleasant that is!” It can bring blessing to those around us, and glory to God. Beloved, how has the Spirit equipped you for service in the church? How are you adding to the joy of fellowship through works of love?

 

2)     the required sacrifices are made: Once Aaron is clothed and anointed, the next part of the ordination ceremony begins, the making of sacrifices. There are three main offerings: a sin offering, a burnt offering, and an ordination offering.

We learn about the sin offering in chapter 4. This had to be the first offering in the ceremony, because it dealt with any unintentional sin on the part of the priests. If Aaron and his sons will bring offerings for others, they first need to be holy themselves. So they present a bull, and lay their hands on its head, to show that the animal is their substitute.

And once again, it’s not only the priests who are cleansed, it’s the altar. Moses “took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. And he poured the blood at the base of the altar, and consecrated it, to make atonement for it” (v 15). Even the altar must be purified with blood, washed with the holy detergent. This shows the deep effects of sin. Not just the priests and their clothes, but the tabernacle, and its furniture, and its equipment—all of it was blemished, and need cleansing.

At the tabernacle two fundamentally different worlds are meeting: the utterly perfect and holy domain of God, who cannot bear even one small dash of sin—and the thoroughly broken and impure domain of mankind, who cannot do anything without sin. It’s amazing that these two worlds can meet at all! This is the core concern of this whole book: How can an unholy people dwell with a holy God? But God in his grace makes it possible. In Christ He cleanses us, atones for us, and sanctifies us. For He wants us to live with Him!

The second sacrifice in the ordination ceremony is the burnt offering. According to Leviticus 1 every burnt offering was to be completely consumed with fire. Now that the priests have been purified from sin, this offering shows that they’ll be totally dedicated to God. Their entire life will be spent in the LORD’s service. They won’t have other jobs, but this will be their work: ministering at the LORD’s house.

We should comment on the role of Moses in all this. He’s the one who washed Aaron and his sons with water, who dressed Aaron in his priestly garments, who anointed him and the tabernacle. Now Moses presents all the sacrifices. This is because there is no priest before Aaron, so Moses will take on the priestly task of preparing him and his sons. Throughout, you can see Moses as the vital link between God and the people, serving as a priest, serving as prophet, interceding and ordaining and sending. Like Jesus, and then surpassed by Jesus.

Then comes the third offering in the ceremony, one that was special, not brought every day like the others. It’s called the “consecration offering.” The original word means something like an offering for “filling up.” They are looking for God to put into their hand everything they needed for the job. For the priests had a difficult task. They were called to lead in worship. They had to mediate between God and people in prayer and sacrifice. They had to teach and judge according to God’s Word. They had to guard the tabernacle’s sacred property. And finally, they were to serve as examples, models of what the people should aspire to be. No person on his own can do this kind of work—the priests need anointing and filling from God.

After the ram of the ordination offering is killed, something unusual happens in verse 23: Moses “took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.” Then he does the same for Aaron’s sons. What does this blood-dabbing ritual mean?

Blood has a special meaning in Leviticus. Because blood stands for life, it is a cleanser and a purifier. It’s put onto the right-hand extremities of the priests, to signify that the complete person was covered. It’s like when we say, “from head to toe,” and we mean something that’s thorough and full. The priest receives blood on these parts of his body, to show that he’s fully devoted to God. He would have consecrated ears to listen to God and obey Him, he would have consecrated hands to perform God’s will, and he would have consecrated feet to go wherever God commanded.

It’s no different for us today. If you are a priest of God, washed in Christ’s blood, then God says to you, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourself to God… and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13). Are all the parts of your body devoted to God? Your ears, your eyes, your mind, your hands, your feet—do you use these things in his service?

There’s a final offering. It’s called the wave offering, and it shows that the priests are now fit for the task. Some unleavened bread is put onto the fat portions of that last ram, the one for ordination. Leviticus has told us that the fat is the richest part, and so it’s God’s portion. Aaron and his sons then raise the bread and the fat, and move it back and forth in a waving motion before the tabernacle. They present it to the LORD, and then it’s burned on the altar. The priests have done their first act of sacrifice, and they’re just about ready to begin their ministry.

 

3)     they are ready to begin their ministry: One final time, Moses sprinkles Aaron and his sons and their garments with anointing blood and oil. Then the priests are allowed to eat a portion of these last sacrifices and bread—a privilege that will be theirs in the years to come. Finally comes a seven day period of purification. After ordination, Aaron and his Sons must wait for a full week before they start their work.

This highlights that this job is going to be both powerful and dangerous: “You shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded” (v 35). It’s almost mentioned in passing, but the danger for these priests working in God’s house is very real: “that you may not die.” Just two chapters later, you can see how perilous this job can be, when Nadab and Abihu—two of Aaron’s sons—are destroyed for daring to make an impure offering.

But for now, all is well. The seven days pass, then this happens on Day #8. It’s in chapter 9, “Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar” (vv 22-24). The tabernacle had been accepted by God, and now the priests are accepted, and their first offerings are accepted.

For this is what it was all about. All the pomp and ceremony of the tabernacle and priesthood served this one purpose: that the holy God is worshiped rightly. So when it finally happens, the people shout and fall on their faces. They rejoice: God can be among them, and they can dwell with God. Heaven and earth meet, God and man are joined, and there is peace!

We see that same miracle at the cross. Christ our great high priest offered to God one sacrifice in our place, and it accomplished everything we ever needed: cleansing, forgiveness, renewal and glory.

Now we’re blessed to be the people of God, and to live in covenant with Him. By his Holy Spirit, He has formed us into a holy priesthood for God. Whatever your other job and calling and position in this life, this is your high privilege and holy purpose: to present yourself every day as a living sacrifice to God. As the letter to the Hebrews says: Let us then “offer to God our acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (12:28).  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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