Priesthood

Series: God Reigns

Sermon by David Strain on Oct 9, 2016

Exodus 27:20-31:18

We’ve been working our way through the book of Exodus together over the last year or so and we’ve seen lately how God has given instructions to Israel through Moses for the construction of the tabernacle, that special tent in the camp of Israel in the wilderness where God would make His presence known and meet with His people. This morning we’re going to – this is perhaps foolhardy of me – but we’re going to conclude this section of the book of Exodus and look at the remaining material that begins in chapter 27 verse 20, and runs all the way through chapter 31. We’re not going to read all four chapters; I’ll summarize some of the material and then we’ll turn our attention particularly to chapter 30. Before we do that, if you wouldn’t mind please bowing your heads with me as we pray together.

Lord our God, we come to You and we pray that You would do what You did that day with the crowd, what the Lord Jesus did that day with the crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fishes – He multiplied it so that there were an abundance and more than enough for the needs of all who gather. Would You take Your Word today now and, by the Holy Spirit, so multiply it and apply it so that it nourishes and satisfies all of us with the Lord Jesus and His Gospel? For we ask it in His name, amen.

Turn in your Bibles to Exodus chapter 27 at verse 20, on page 68. Chapter 27:20-21, talk about providing oil for the lampstand in the tabernacle. Chapter 28, deals with the various garments or aspects of priestly vestments that the high priest and the other priests are to wear. There’s a summary of it in 1 to 5. The ephod, which is a kind of tunic that the priests wore, and then the breast piece with the names of Israel engraved upon it take up the remainder of the chapter as well as the turban with a golden plaque reading, “Holy to the Lord.” That’s all part of the priestly vestments. Chapter 29, stays with the priests, only now the focus is not on what they wear but on the ordination rituals that set them apart and consecrate them for the work. Various sacrifices – it begins by the priests donning their sacred garments and then being anointed with oil. And then there is the sacrifice of a bull and two rams that go along with their ordination service.

We’re going to read chapter 30, in a minute, so turn forward to chapter 31. You’ll see there that having given lots and lots of instructions on what is needed for the functioning and the construction of the tabernacle, God now provides the help of the Holy Spirit to Oholiab and Bezalel and to others so that they might have the skills necessary to manufacture the tabernacle and its furnishings and utensils. And at the end of chapter 31, wonderfully at the conclusion of all these instructions on what they must do, there’s a reminder of the Sabbath commandment that says not what you must do but calls us to rest. It’s a very well placed reminder at the end of this whole section. So let’s turn our attention now to chapter 31, on page 70 as we hear the Word of Almighty God:

“’You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it, you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement, he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.’

 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord's offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord's offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.’

 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.’

 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it, you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations.  It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’

 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take sweet spices, stacte, and onychia, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.’”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

You know, to get a car started sometimes you’ve got to get out and push, right? Sometimes there’s a problem; it won’t start. If there’s a hill you can roll the car down, that often helps. Of course, there’s no point pushing the car down the hill and beginning to pick up momentum if, as you begin to build speed, you suddenly remember the reason the car won’t start has nothing to do with the motor and everything to do with the fact that you forgot to fill the tank. So without fuel, the engine just won’t run. No matter the momentum you build, it will be of absolutely no use. You’ve got to have fuel for the engine to drive the car, to pull the car.

Sometimes in the long obedience of the Christian life, we can feel ourselves wondering how in the world we’re ever going to continue to press on. Where do you get the fuel to get going when keeping on going can be challenging and hard? Ever feel like that? Our passage actually helps us answer those two questions. It sets before us our duty very clearly in chapters 30 and 31, but before it does that, it reminds us of the wonders of the Gospel that will fuel our obedience to the praise and glory of God in chapters 28 and 29.

If you’ll look at the last two verses of 27, first of all, you’ll see those two parts of our passage represented. In verse 20, the people are to bring oil for the lampstands. That’s their work. And then 21, Aaron and his sons, the priesthood, they’re to maintain the lampstands and there are the two parts of our passage. There’s the work of the priests, 28 and 29, and the work of the people in 30 and 31. And let’s look first of all at chapters 28 and 29, and I want you to see here two Gospel principles. And then when we look at 30 and 31, we’ll see five Gospel practices. So this is a seven-point sermon; we’re going to move quickly. It’s communion Sunday; don’t rebel! I promise we’re going to move fast! But let’s look at 28 and 29, two Gospel principles first of all.

The Principle of Representation

The first principle in chapter 28, is the principle of representation. The principle of representation. Moses is given instructions on the high priests’ garments. Two words are used to describe those garments in verse 2. Do you see them in verse 2? They are for glory and for beauty. The two Hebrew words there, “kabod” and “tafe rit,” glory and beauty, are actually used throughout the Old Testament to describe God Himself. There’s something of the beauty of God is to be reflected in these magnificent garments that the high priest will wear. And if you will look at verse 5, you’ll see that the garments are even made from the same materials as the tabernacle itself – blue and purple and scarlet yarn and fine twined linen. The ephod, that’s the special tunic that the high priest would wear, is made that way, verse 6. And so too is the breast piece that covers it in verse 15.

And then if you look at 22 to 29, there’s quite a bit of material about golden rings, two on each side of this breast piece that the priest is to wear by which it is to be attached to his tunic. It’s extremely reminiscent, isn’t it, of similar language used to describe the golden rings that are affixed to the ark of the covenant and the table of the bread of the presence and the bronze altar and the altar of incense and the basin for washing. There are these golden rings that even the breast piece that the high priest wears is reminiscent of the furniture in the tabernacle itself. And in verse 33, we learn that around the hem of the high priest’s garment are embroidered pomegranates, garden imagery, designed to evoke Eden. Like the cherubim stitched into the thick curtain that separated the holy from the most holy places. Eden imagery, the place where the presence of God dwells. You put all of that together and you have in the figure of the high priest someone who is to be the embodiment, the representative of the presence of God in the midst of His people. The tabernacle itself is mirrored in miniature in the high priest’s garments.

The People Represented Before God

But then do notice verse 9. If the high priest represents God to the people, he also represents the people before God. Verse 9. There are two onyx stones; one on each shoulder of the high priest. They’re engraved with six each of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Similarly, in verses 17 to 21, the breast piece has four lines, each of three precious stones, each stone bearing another name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Interestingly, in the last book of Scripture, Revelation chapter 21, the Apostle John has a vision of the Church, the people of God, which he describes as the holy city, New Jerusalem. It has twelve foundations. On each foundation is the name of one of the twelve apostles. And then in verse 19 of chapter 21 he tells us each foundation is made of a single, precious stone – jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst. These are the stones on the high priest’s breastplate. The breastplate and the stones on his shoulders with the names of the people of God engraved upon them signify and teach us that the high priest is the representative of his people, bearing them before God. The high priest is the representative of God to Israel and of Israel before God.

That’s the point of verses 29 and 30, isn’t it? Look at verses 29 and 30. “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of judgment on his heart when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD. And in the breast piece of judgment, you shall put the Urim and the Thummim,” devices for discerning God’s will and rendering judgments in cases in Israel. “They shall be on Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.” So that’s the high priest’s role. Do you see it? He is the representative of the people in the presence of God.

Holy to the Lord

And then look at the instructions in verses 36 through 38, for this turban that he is to wear on his head. You might remember how, centuries later in the prophecy of Zechariah chapter 3, the prophet had a vision of the high priest in his own generation, a man called Joshua. And Joshua is dressed not in the finery of the high priest’s robes, but he’s in filthy, stained garments. And beside him is Satan, accusing the high priest. The high priest, remember, is the representative of Israel. And Israel, representatively, is filthy and dirty and is being assailed by Satan. And as the prophet watches, the filthy garments of the high priest are taken away and the angels begin to dress him in the priestly garments from our passage. But then as Zechariah watches it all, he rather audaciously if you think about it, interrupts the vision and says, “Don’t forget the turban! Put the turban on his head!” Why is he so concerned about the turban? Because it bears the brass plaque, “Holy to the Lord;” the golden plaque rather, “Holy to the Lord.” It’s the final declaration that instead of the filthy garments and no matter the accusations of the evil one, he is holy to the Lord, holy in the sight of God. That’s what Zechariah is looking for, that great declaration.

Our Need for a Perfect Representative

It’s actually what we need to hear too, isn’t it? In the filth of our sin, the righteousness of a perfect representative to replace our filthy garments with robes of His own pristine purity, crowning it all with the declaration of God that we are, no matter what Satan says to the contrary because we believe in the Lord we are holy to the Lord. If you follow the logic of Paul’s argument in places like Romans chapter 5, you will discover that that is precisely what we have in the person of Jesus Christ – a representative who can act for us. In fact, there are two great representative figures in human history. Paul says in Romans 5, there’s Adam, because of whom all that he has represented, the whole human race, have fallen into sin and are constituted sinners in the sight of God. But there’s another, a second, great representative of humanity – the Lord Jesus Christ, because of whom all who believe are counted righteous in the sight of God. The declaration is made, “Holy to the Lord.” The filthy garments are taken away and you are robed with the righteousness of our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Himself. So that’s the first principle I want you to get ahold of - the principle of representation.

The Principle of Substitution

Then the second principle is there in chapter 29. It’s the principle of substitution. These two great Gospel principles – representation, now substitution. Notice carefully that there’s a series of sacrifices required in order to ordain and consecrate the priests. And especially notice in chapter 29 verse 10, and again in verse 15, and again in verse 19, do you see Aaron and his sons are to place their hands on the heads of the sacrificial victims before they are slain. It is a symbolic act of transfer, the transferal of their sin and guilt to the victim who dies instead of them. It is a picture of substitution. And we’ve seen over and over again, haven’t we, that the blood of the sacrificial substitute points to the Lord Jesus Christ. The blood of these victims is applied both to the altar and to the priests. It satisfies God and it cleanses them. It’s applied to the tip of their right ear and to their right thumb and to the big toe of their right foot as a way to save all of them. They are entirely clean by the blood shed here – covered, every faculty of their fallen humanity, covered by the blood.

God is satisfied and they are cleansed by the blood of a sacrificial substitute which points us, as we’ve seen in Exodus over and over again, it points us to the work of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake, God made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because He represented us, Jesus Christ could act instead of us and bear the wrath and curse of God, the penalty of our sin in our place. All of our guilt, if you like, was bundled together and reckoned to His account. It’s as though we placed our hands on His head and a great transfer was considered to have taken place. He was treated as we deserve and His righteousness was reckoned to us. Paul says He was “submerged beneath our sin.” He was made to be sin, who knew no sin; engulfed by it, considered to be thoroughly identified with it. Reprobated before God because of it. He was the appalling abomination of our foulest transgressions in the sight of God while at the same time having no sin of His own. So the Father looked on His Son and saw all your careless words, all your lustful thoughts, all your despairing doubts. He looked at His perfect, obedient Son and He saw your degradation and your disobedience and He damned Him. He didn’t damn you. And then He looked at you, wretched in your helplessness and spiritual death – filthy, guilty, damnable – and He said over you, He said over me, “Because of our substitute, ‘Holy to the Lord.’” He said over you what He said over His Son, “This is My beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

So do you see, these are two foundational Gospel principles we need to get ahold of – representation and substitution.  And they rivet our attention to Jesus Christ so that now we see Him bearing more than just the weight of a wooden cross and the cruel insults of the crowd as He goes to the place of crucifixion. Now we see Him bearing a much greater load, terrible in its crushing weight, pressing down upon our Savior, bearing the infinite burden of my sin, your sin, as He goes to the cross to pay for it in full. Richard Cecil, I think it was, famously put it like this. “He went to the cross to drink to the dregs the cup of wrath without mercy that we might drink the cup of mercy without wrath.” “In my place condemned He stood, and sealed my pardon with His blood; Hallelujah, what a Savior! Hallelujah, what a Savior!” Our representative and our substitute.

Five Gospel Practices:

And as we get ahold of the Gospel, of the work of Jesus Christ for us, it will begin to combust in the engine of our Christian lives and it will propel and enable us to live for His glory, not because we are trying to make Him love us, but because we see that He already loved us and gave Himself for us and we want to honor Him with a life of joyful obedience. And that is the focus of chapters 30 through 31. I’m going to move through this very quickly, so buckle up! There are five Gospel practices here that I want you to see that should be part of our response to those two great Gospel principles. Are you ready?

The practice of prayer

Look at chapter 30, verses 1 to 10, first. The practice of prayer. The practice of prayer. Moses is given instructions for an altar of incense. It’s located in front of the curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. And in verses 7 and 8, we’re told Aaron is to burn incense there morning and evening whenever he tends the lampstands. Revelation chapter 5 verse 8, says that the incense that John sees in the heavenly temple is a symbol of the prayers of the saints. The incense cloud, morning and evening ascending to God, is designed to be a picture of the prayer of God’s people ascending before God’s throne. How do you respond to Jesus, our representative and substitute? You let your prayers go up to God day and night. A person who grasps the wonder of what God has done for them in Jesus will be a praying person and a church that grasps the work of our representative and substitute, that lives in the grip of the Gospel, will be a praying church. The practice of prayer.

The Practice of Generosity

Secondly, look at verses 11 through 16 of chapter 30. Now it’s the practice of generosity. There’s a census tax, a kind of levy, used to support and maintain the tabernacle and its worship. Each person, verse 11, is to pay the tax as a ransom for his life. It is atonement money, we are told. We’re being reminded that “we are not our own,” 1 Corinthians 6:19. “We are not our own. We have been bought at a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ.” And since we are not our own, bought at a price, how ought we to respond? We are to respond generously, giving ourselves and all that we have sacrificially. Giving of our time and talents and money for the maintenance of the worship of God and for the extension of His kingdom. The practice of prayer; the practice of generosity.

The Practice of Repentance

The practice of repentance, thirdly. Look at 17 to 21. There’s a bronze basin to be constructed and placed in the courtyard between the altar and the tabernacle. Whenever the priests, Aaron, and his sons are to begin to minister, they’re first to wash their hands and feet. Over and over again they’re to do it. They would be stained with blood from the sacrifices, again and again, they have to come back and wash themselves clean. You remember how in John 13 on the night when Jesus was betrayed He loved His own and He loved them to the end. He stood up from the table, took off His outer garments, wrapped Himself with a robe and washed His disciples’’ feet to their great astonishment. And He explained to them, “You are clean. And a person who has had a bath has no need to be washed again but for his feet. You are clean if you keep My word.” But we, like the disciples, have need for ongoing cleansing even if we’ve been cleansed once for all by Christ when we came to know Him. There’s still daily grime, still daily sin, still much repenting to be done. You don’t come to Christ once; you must come to Christ always. You must come for cleansing to Jesus who takes the servant posture and by His blood, He washes us clean. Our prayer needs to be, “Lord Jesus if you’re willing You can make me clean.” The practice of prayer, the practice of generosity, the practice of repentance – a life of repentance is the Christian life.

The Practice of Ministry

Then fourthly, in 31:1-11, there’s the practice of ministry. After giving instructions about the anointing oil and the incense and how to make it and after all the other instructions about the furniture and the tabernacle and the priestly garments, God does more than simply leave us with the commands. He also provides for us His Spirit, or He provides for Israel His Spirit that they may have the necessary skills to fulfill those commands, to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. And so we’re told in verses 2 and 3, that Bezalel and Oholiab and all able men, verse 6, are given the skills they will need for the work. Bezalel, we’re even told, is filled with the Spirit of God. Back in 28 verse 3, we’re told, “God filled the skillful with the spirit of skill;” equipped for necessary ministry, He gives us the Holy Spirit. Of course, the gift of the Spirit then was limited and constrained and points forward to the fullness of the gift of the Spirit the Church enjoys since Pentecost. Acts 2 at verse 17, Peter quoting the prophet Joel says, “In the last days, God declares, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.’” If you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God dwells in your heart, equipping and enabling you to will and to do of His good pleasure. There’s work to be done, commandments to obey; the tabernacle that is the Church of Jesus Christ is under construction and all of us have our role in its building. But He does not leave us to our best efforts and our own strength. He gives us the Spirit of His Son that we may, all of us, fulfill our callings.

The Practice of Rest

And then finally in 31:12-18, there’s the practice of rest. The practice of rest, of generosity, of repentance, of ministry, and now, at last, the practice of rest. Isn’t that well-timed? You take in all the work that is to be done and it’s exhausting. What a daunting body of instruction God has delivered to Israel through Moses. And at the end of it all He reminds them, “Keep the Sabbath holy, will you? Remember the practice of rest.” Not just rest for your body of course, and we ought to rest; we must keep the Sabbath Day holy, but we must also remember that to which the Sabbath Day points us – rest from dead works to serve the living God by faith in Jesus Christ. We rest on Him and find rest in Him. Sin-sick, world-weary as we are, don’t we need that rest? Resting on Christ our representative, our substitute; resting on all He has done for us, we are enabled to press on. We find the fuel to keep going in that long obedience in the same direction that is the Christian life. I wonder if today you are resting on Christ or are you trying to live your Christian life under your own stamina. You will find it an impossible task, but there is rest for you in only one place – soul-nourishing, heart-deep rest. There’s rest for you in Christ.

Two Gospel principles; five Gospel practices. Get ahold of the Gospel principles. We have a representative, a substitute in Jesus, and you’ll find the fuel that enables you to live out those Gospel practices. Let’s pray together!

Our Father, we’re grateful for Christ, for the Gospel of His saving grace – our representative and our substitute who does for us what we could not do, the just for the unjust, giving His life to bring us to God. Help us to cling to Him and rest on Him, and resting there to find the fuel, supplied by Your Spirit, enabling us to live for Your glory. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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