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Drawing Near Through God's Man / Leviticus 8-10

Leviticus 8-10 as preached by Timothy O'Day.

Leviticus is all about answering this question: “How can a sinful people dwell with a holy God?” And, as we saw in Leviticus 1-7, the first answer is “sacrifice.” But this week we see the second answer to the question and it is, “The priesthood.” And in order to understand why this is the second answer, we need to look at what the priesthood is and then draw some applications.

Understanding the Priesthood

1. A priest is a mediator between God and man

2. A priest is one who is set aside by God to be his mediator

3. A priest is an individual who represents a corporate body

4. A priest is obedient to God's Word

Obeying God in light of the priesthood

1. Believe that God keeps his word

2. Acknowledge that you need a mediator

3. Come to Jesus as your High Priest

Drawing Near Through God's Man

A few years ago there was a stir among evangelical churches in the United States because a well known pastor of a very large church suggested and even wrote a book about “Unhitching” Christianity from the Old Testament. The sentiment from the pastor was that people were getting hung up on aspects of the Old Testament and he thought it would be easier to attract people to the gospel by at least minimizing the Old Testament if not just jettisoning it all together in regard to emphasis. Being that this is our second sermon in a series through the book of Leviticus and that Zach is currently doing a semi-regular series through the Minor Prophets, I think you can tell where we stand on this issue. But that isn’t to say that part of the premise suggested by this pastor isn’t true. It is. People are confused by the Old Testament. But the answer isn’t to cut it out. The answer is to open our Bibles, open our eyes, and to open our hearts to God’s Word. The answer is not to shy away from the Old Testament. That would be like ignoring the engine of a car because it is too complicated. After a while, you will lose the whole car.

As we read through Leviticus 8, 9, and 10, you might wonder why God has organized his people this way and, even more to the point, why we should study it. After all, we are not under the Old Covenant and, as we read in Hebrews 7 and 8 earlier, the priesthood with the Old Covenant has passed away. It might even be tempting to say that these chapters, and the Old Covenant priesthood, simply don't make sense and seem unnecessary. But the priesthood is not a random feature. It is actually integral to the storyline of the Bible and to the reality of what God is doing with all of creation.

We said last week that Leviticus is all about answering this question: “How can a sinful people dwell with a holy God?” And, as we saw last week, the first answer is “sacrifice.” In order to understand that we looked at what sacrifice was. But this week we see the second answer to the question and it is, “The priesthood.” And in order to understand why this is the second answer, I want us to first look at what the priesthood is and then I want us to draw some applications from what we learn about the priesthood in these chapters.

Understanding the priesthood

In order to grasp the significance of these chapters, you must first grasp some basic aspects of what it means to be a priest. So let’s begin by outlining some aspects of the priesthood.

First, a priest is a mediator between God and man. A mediator works to bring accord between two parties. As we have already stated, Leviticus is about this very question: how can sinful man (one party) dwell with the holy God (a second party)? A mediator, a go between, is needed. So Aaron, the high priest, and all those who come after him, serve this role of mediating between God and man. The High Priest in Leviticus does this in three primary ways…

  1. In sacrifices: he carries the blood of the sacrifice into the tabernacle and places the sacrifice on the altar. If you recall our discussion from Leviticus 1-7, the priest does not usually make the sacrifice. The animal is provided by and killed by the one making the offering. He does carry it into the tabernacle, though, and he also places the sacrifice to be burned on the altar. In this role he also examines the animal. He is acting as God’s servant and representative. When sacrifices are made for the people as a whole, as we see in Leviticus 9 and as we will see later on in Leviticus, the priest does make the sacrifice on behalf of the people and thus also represents the people to God.

  2. In teaching: God instructs Aaron in 10:10 saying, “You are to teach the people of Israel all that statutes that the LORD has spoke to them by Moses.” This is more than just teaching about sacrifice. Deuteronomy 17:9 includes instruction from Moses to take hard cases to the priests so that you would know what to do. In other words, God’s law, God’s instruction, is for more than just ceremony. It is able to instruct in all of life and the priest is to teach the people God’s law. Priests are indicted in Hosea 4:6 for not knowing and teaching God’s law to the people.

In the action and practice of sacrifice and instruction, the priest is acting on behalf of God and on behalf of the people. He often represents the people to God; but he also serves as God’s agent before the people. And we need this agent because man is sinful.

Second, a priest is one who is set aside by God to be his mediator. To be this kind of man, a man who is to mediate between God and the people of God, Aaron must be set aside. God must do something to him. And that is what Leviticus 8 is all about. In Leviticus 8, God directs Moses to carry out all that he commanded Moses already in Exodus 29. In that chapter, God instructed Moses on how he was to consecrate Aaron and his sons for the priesthood. We see in 8:1-3 that Moses listens to the Lord’s instruction and takes Aaron and his sons and assembles the people of Israel together. This ceremony is to be public because they will represent the whole assembly to God as priests. So in obedience to the Lord, Moses…

  • Dresses them (8:6-9) in clothing that sets them apart and is symbolic for their role (more on this later)

  • Anoints them (8:10-13) so that they are set aside and marked out for this special role. Anointing took place as a sort of commission and marking as God’s choice.

  • Makes sacrifices to atone and commission them (8:14-29), we see that Moses offers sacrifices for Aaron and his sons. Like I said this served two purposes: first to atone for their sins and second to consecrate them for this special task of the priesthood.

All of this is interesting because Moses plays the priestly role in this action and Aaron and his sons take the role of the offerer described in Leviticus 1-5. All of these sacrifices are for the express purpose of atoning for their sins, as is expressly stated in 8:34, where Moses says, “As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you.”

Another interesting and unique featured to this ceremony is that Aaron and his sons have blood set on their right ear, right thumb, and the big toe of their right foot (8:23-24). Most likely what is going on here is that the part represents the whole. The blood was placed on the ear because they were being set aside to listen carefully to God’s instruction. Blood was placed on the right thumb because their hands were to be about God’s work. And blood was placed on their right big toe because they were to always walk in God’s ways. The blood, then, cleansed and set them apart wholly to God’s service.

What should stand out to us here is the extent of the work to be done in order for Aaron and his sons to serve in this role. Sin runs deep; defilement runs wide. Leviticus 8 is all about the cleansing and atoning of Aaron and his sons so that they may serve as priests. Then, as we see in Leviticus 9, they still must sacrifice for themselves to atone for their own sin again before they can make a sacrifice for the people. What stands out to in the priesthood, then, is the sinfulness of man and the mercy of God to atone for it—even if it calls for going to great lengths to do so.

Third, a priest is an individual who represents a corporate body. Aaron is the High Priest. He is one man. His sons are also priests and individual men. And while they may often times mediate between individuals and God for their sins (see Leviticus 1-5), they do not merely represent individuals who want to have a one-on-one relationship with God. In chapter 9 we see that Aaron and his sons represent all of Israel to God. That is to say, they represent a corporate body before God. We read in 9:7, “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD commanded.’” The attitude of the people was not, “That is my priest.” When the people looked at Aaron they would say, “That is our priest.” He represented all of God’s people.

This reality is backed up by the very clothing that the priest would wear. In Exodus 28 the clothing is described and, in verses 9-12, we see that part of the priestly clothes would be stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel so that when the priest entered the tabernacle he would bear the names of all of the tribes of Israel before the Lord.

The point is this: the one true God does not offer a “build your own religion.” He gives the call for us to draw near, but we do not simply draw near in any way that we fancy. Israel was to draw near through their priest. The priest served as a reminder of their corporate identity. Every time you looked at him you would remember that he represented all of Israel before God.

Fourth, a priest is obedient to God’s Word. Or at least, a priest should be obedient to God. He cannot plan on being a priest for long if he isn’t. Leviticus 8-10 stresses the obedience in a couple of different ways. It stresses it positively. Almost every verse in Leviticus 8 is obedience to the Lord’s commands in Exodus 29. There he instructed Moses in how he was to consecrate Aaron and his sons. Moses (and Aaron’s) obedience is stressed by the refrain of “As the Lord commanded Moses” after Moses did a certain action (8:4,5,9,17,21,29,34,36). Similarly, Leviticus 9 is obedience to the Lord’s instruction in Leviticus 1-7. There we also see the refrain, “as the LORD commanded,” after obedience to his word occurred (9:6, 7, 10).

It is noteworthy that the obedience of the priest is what leads to the greatest blessing: experiencing the presence of God. Everything that Aaron does in chapter 9 flows from obedience to the Lord. In 9:6 Moses speaks this promise, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” Moses is giving Aaron instruction on how to sacrifice in accord with what the Lord revealed in Leviticus 1-7. Through the work of the priest and the execution of sacrifice, we have the answer to the question, “How can a sinful people dwell with the Holy God?” And as Aaron walks in obedience, we see that after the sacrifices are made by God’s mediator, God keeps his promise. 9:23-24 reads, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. (24) and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” This expression, “fell on their faces,” isn’t abject terror; it is awestruck joy and reverence. The glory of the Lord is his visible presence among the people (cf. Ex 24:16-17). God is present with his people, visibly, as the priest obediently executes sacrifice according to the Lord’s instruction.

Leviticus 10 stresses the importance of obedience in another way, though. In contrast to the obedience of Moses and Aaron, which led to the joy of God’s presence, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, disobey the Lord. We read in 10:1 that they each took their censer—an instrument for burning incense—and used them to offer unauthorized fire before the Lord. Now, many people have tried to figure out what these two did exactly. I honestly do not think we can know what they actually burned and offered. And I don’t think we can know because it wasn’t communicated to us in these verses. And it wasn’t communicated because it doesn’t matter. Here is what matters, look at the last bit of verse 1: “which he had not commanded them.” What matters is that they did not do what the Lord commanded. They treated his worship as common thing that could be done as they liked and did not set him apart. They tried to worship him in a way that they decided was right; not how he had revealed. As we see in verse 2, the result was that fire came out from the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. After this, Moses was instructed by the LORD to tell Aaron, as we see in verse 3, “among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” If you do not heed God’s word, then the fire of his presence will become the fire of his judgment.

Aaron is warned that to enjoy this special role as priest requires obedience. Verse 3 is clearly saying that if you have the pleasure of nearness to God, then you will be held to a higher standard to live in such a way as to show him as holy. It isn’t surprising, then, that the rest of chapter 10 notes Aaron’s careful obedience and even his caution in handling the things of God related to the priesthood. God is holy and is not safe when you approach him outside of his revelation.

How do we obey God in Light of This?

How do we approach and apply these realities under the New Covenant? Hebrews 7-8 clearly states that this priesthood has passed away along with the covenant to which it belonged. Now we are under a new covenant. But even under the New Covenant, there is much we can take from these chapters and walk in. Here are a few areas of application for us.

First, believe that God keeps his word. In these chapters we have God’s detailed instruction on how to experience the blessing of his presence. Israel had the awesome privilege of being counted as God’s people and having God himself dwell among them. This set them apart from every other people. Having the one true God as your God and having the pleasure of his nearness is not something to take lightly. In speaking of the unique privilege that Israel has in having God with them and having his law, Moses writes in Deuteronomy 4:6-8 speaking of the laws and statutes, “Keep them and do them, for that till be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as al this law that I set before you today?” The Law, then, was not a burden. It was a privilege because it set them apart as God’s special people with whom he would dwell.

But, as we saw with Nadab and Abihu, to disregard God’s word is to forfeit your life. And this is a principle that remains unchanged between the Old and the New Covenants. Just think of a few of Jesus’ statements...

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

(John 5:24)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

(Matthew 7:24-27)

Listen carefully: if you disregard God’s words, you may find pleasant experiences now, but you will find ultimate destruction in the end. Sin lies to you. Sin whispers in the moments of temptation, “If you obey God, you are going to miss out on something really incredible!” That is the lie of sin. But contrast it with the truth of obedience: if you sin you will be missing out on the blessing of obedience.

The truth of the matter is that if you sin you will be missing out. Sometimes I think that we can be so wary of legalism that we do not stress this point enough. We are so afraid of being legalistic that we deprive ourselves and others of the real joy of obedience. Say no to legalism—which is to trust that you are justified before God by keeping his law—but say a resounding “yes” to believing God’s promises that obedience will lead to your true joy. I don’t mean that if you obey God will make you healthy, wealthy, and prized. I mean that you will have clear communion with God.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Second, acknowledge that you need a mediator. You need a mediator for at least two reasons.

  1. You need a mediator because you are a sinner cut off from God by your sin. You dare not approach him on your own merits; you dare not claim to have some kind of right to God—and so many people think that they have a right to God like Nadab and Abihu. You need a mediator because you are a sinner among sinners, so you need God’s chosen man to come to you and atone for your sins; to teach you the ways of God and stand ready to intercede on your behalf. Until you are able to see and acknowledge that you are a helpless sinner, the gospel will just be an accessary to you. How could it be otherwise? Unless you are a helpless sinner, you do not need a Savior. Your good news is, “I can do it,” not “Jesus has done it.”

  2. You need a mediator because God is calling you into his Kingdom, not the other way around. This is a subtle point, so don’t miss it. We can be so self-focused that we consider Christianity something that I am bringing into my life and not as my life being brought into the reality of God’s Kingdom. But the fact of the matter is that when you come to Christ he is not coming into your world, you are going into his. You aren’t taking on the church into your life, you are being brought into the life of his church. God isn’t coming into your life as something or someone who will improve it. When you come to God through Jesus Christ, your old life is gone. You are entering into what God is doing with the whole cosmos. This is why we need Christ to instruct us in this new life. We watch his example and listen to his teaching to become oriented and to stay constant with what God is doing. To say this differently, we need Jesus as our mediator to bring us into accord with what God is doing as he makes all things new.

Third and last, come to Jesus as your High Priest. Aaron and all of the High Priests after him are all types of Christ that help us see God’s plan of redemption. These chapters, then, point us to Christ as the superior High Priest.

Jesus is…

  • The perfect mediator between God and man. As man, he understands our frame; he knows our weaknesses and what we face. As God the Son, the second person of the trinity, he makes God known to us and present with us in a way that the people of Israel may not have been able to imagine. He goes into the presence of God to atone for our sins once and for all; he comes to us in order to instruct us in how we are to live as God’s people.

  • God’s chosen mediator. God the Son was sent by God the Father to take on flesh so that he may fully represent man. As Aaron was anointed by God’s prophet, Moses, so Jesus was anointed by God’s prophet, John the Baptist. As Aaron was consecrated by having blood placed on his body, so Jesus was consecrated as priest by the superior sacrifice of his own blood on the cross. And Jesus is the superior mediator because he is not weighed down by his own sin. Unlike other High Priests, Jesus does not have to make atonement for himself. He is the sinless one who can focus completely on his own people.

  • The man who represents all of God’s people. Jesus represents all of his people, but he also unites all of his people because he gives them his Spirit. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17 that his people would be united is not a mere desire. He makes it a reality by giving us his Spirit. This is why Paul could write in Ephesians 4 that we are to walk in the unity that we have been given. We are united as one body, the body of Christ, because we all share in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. He claims us, marks us, and seals us as his own corporate body. When we look at Jesus, we do not simply say, “that’s my priest.” We say, “That is our priest.” As he enters into the presence of God, he carries the marks of the cross on his body. And that is why we can all say together, “my name is graven on his hands; my name is written on his heart.” On the cross, Jesus died for the sins of his people and continues to carry those marks. We are written on his body.

  • The perfectly obedient mediator. And in his perfect obedience, he brings to us unthreatened fellowship with God. Jesus said in John 8:29, “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As long as we are with Jesus, we do not fear the fire of God’s judgment. It is satisfied in his once and for all offering. But we also do not fear that Jesus will lead us away from peace with God. He will not pursue his own interests as Nadab and Abihu. We can trust him; we can rest in him; we can listen to him and follow him. As we draw near in Christ, we can trust that we will be sanctified and thus show God to be holy and glorious. In Christ, the obedient priest and blameless sacrifice, we are declared holy and are being made holy so that God would be shown to be holy and glorious (Lev. 10:10).

But you must come. So I will end with this question: why would you want to rely on anyone else, including yourself, as you will one day stand before the living God? All are invited now to come to Jesus and to have him as their mediator. So I plead with you: come!


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