Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Holy Priesthood: Finding Yourself in Exodus

 I often make the assertion that we can find relevance and spiritual truths for today in the Old Testament scriptures, because while Israel is a real place with real people, it also serves as a physical example of spiritual truths that God wants us to understand as His redeemed people. If you don’t believe me, check out Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 10; he believed that too! 

Exodus is such a great place to begin to show you examples of this, because so many of the phrases we use today and the ways that modern believers identify themselves stem all the way back to Exodus.

For example: 1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

and Hebrews 4:14

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

These are scriptures from which pastors and teachers make the assertion that the body of believers is a royal priesthood, and that our high priest is Jesus himself.

So…what does that mean exactly? What is our role as priests to God? What is Jesus’ role as our high priest? 

Well, I’ll answer that question with another question: How can we learn what it means about who we are, and who Christ is, if we do not understand the priesthood which they were referencing? That is the best place to start. Once we understand the God-created priesthood of Moses’ day,  then things begin to make sense for us as we step into our modern day priestly roles. 
The priesthood of Israel was created by God in Exodus, where we read that God appointed a leader, Moses, used him to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt, and brought them to the wilderness to give them instructions on how they would now live as His special, set apart, redeemed people.

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:1-6)

From there, God begins to instruct Moses-he gives Him the Ten Commandments, and ordinances that the people are to live by, a code of behavior, a way that God’s people should interact with one another. They had not been pulled out of Egypt just to go on living like slaves. So God had to tell them how they were to live as newly freed children of God. Make sense?

Next, Moses receives instruction about assembling this priesthood and their place of service, the tabernacle. This small group, consisting of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and his sons only, would receive special garments and instructions and be ordained officially. They would be the ones responsible for bringing the sacrifices to the Lord. They would be allowed into the inner tent of God’s tabernacle, they would offer sacrifices in behalf of the people, maintain the house where God’s presence would dwell; they would have the responsibility of keeping the light burning, but the privilege of fellowship and closenessnworhbthenAlmigjty in a special way. But as for the ‘Holy of Holies,’ that most holy place in the center of it all-only Aaron would be given access to this place, as he was responsible for making atonement for Israel as a whole in that time and place.

In chapter 29 we are told how a Levitical priest becomes consecrated. Watch how practical and relatable this for us! 

Read through this chapter and notice a few things:

1.       Moses is to wash Aaron and his sons (This would have been their hands and feet) (v. 4)

Ritual washing would become known as a sign of regeneration, being made new. A great example of this thinking is baptism. Here something new was certainly taking place. A priesthood was being born. Moses, God’s representative, stooped down and cleansed those who would be God’s ministers. Moses was, at this point, in a position of higher rank-he was the one with whom God spoke face to face. God said earlier in Exodus 7 "You shall be as God to them." So when Moses cleanses the feet of the disciples, it is as if God himself was cleansing them, making them into something new. The God principle here is that only YHVH can cleanse someone, purify them for service. We cannot cleanse ourselves. He must create us anew.

When Moses washes the hands and feet of Aaron and his sons, it is a prophetic shadow of the moment when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. There, God himself again instituted a priesthood-this time a spiritual one - to which we also belong.

2.       Aaron and his sons are anointed with oil (v. 7)

Now here, Moses was to take the oil and literally drench the priests with it. Their entire heads and beards were covered. The Talmud tells us that there was a very particular manner in which this oil was applied. The pourer went from right to left, and from the back to the front. Now isn’t that interesting. Because of the ‘cross’ of anointing, they are ordained priests. Because of the cross of Christ, we can be anointed by the holy spirit. It is a prophetic picture of receiving anointing and covering of the Holy Spirit. He literally drenches us, completely covering us.

3.       Aaron and his sons are given new garments, a new appearance (v. 8-9)

Here the priests are now given new garments. Simple, clean, modest white linen garments. Their appearance from this point forward would be totally different. They are given new, clean garments, the attire of a holy priest, set aside for service to God. Their outward appearance would reflect this. In the same way, we are told that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allows us to be made new, fresh, clean.

It’s also worth mentioning that only the High Priest alone would wear the colorful garments of blue, scarlet, purple and gold. The rest wore simple clothing reflecting purity and consecration, and let all the glory go to to that senior mediator between heaven and earth. They deflected the glory to him, as we should deflect the glory away from ourselves, becoming nothing that He, King Jesus, might be all the focus, the beauty, and the glory.  

4.       A sacrifice has to be offered (v. 10)

Notice that in this verse Aaron and his sons are to place their hands on the bull. They literally put their weight into it, leaning on the animal. The picture here is of the transference of their uncleanness, their sinfulness, into that animal, which will be sacrificed. It took the life of an innocent animal to atone for these priests, that they might approach the Holy God. In the same way, our Messiah became that sacrifice for us, His spiritual priesthood. His innocent blood was shed for us, He bore the weight of our sins. When we place our faith in Him, we are leaning on Him, our sacrifice, transferring all of our sins to Him that we might approach the Holy God. 1 John 1:9 says that in confession we are purified of our sin-and that is exactly the picture that we see here.
5.       The blood is placed on the ear, the thumb, and the big toes (v. 20)

Here the blood of the sacrifice is literally applied to certain places on the bodies of the priests. The right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe. It was the blood that purified them, and it had to be applied to them physically. We know from the new testament scriptures that the blood is what purifies us from sin (1 John 1:7), so in a spiritual sense, when we claim faith in Jesus as our Messiah, His blood sacrifice is applied to our lives. Why the ear? Messiah should be the filter through which everything we take in must go. We must know the Word, the truth, that we might process the information that we hear. Our ears must be purified that we might learn to hear the Lord speak to us, through prayer, through His creation, through the teaching of the Word. Why the thumb? Try to pick something up without your thumb. Try to hold on to it securely. It’s very difficult, right? The strength of our grip is in the opposable thumb. And the strength of what we embrace, what our hands do, must be in Christ. He is now our strength. In Him we find our ability. And all that we do should be as a representation of Him. And finally, why the big toe? Do you know how hard it would be to stand up without your big toe? It provides stability. Everywhere you go must be determined by stability and reliance upon Him who has redeemed you. Every step you take, you are His, and no matter where He leads, you can rely fully on Him to care for you.

So what we can understand, when we focus in on what was happening here that this parallels our faith relationship with God through Christ. These procedures show is a physical representation of the spiritual transformation that must happen if we want to successfully serve our God - We are ordained as a part of this spiritual priesthood through the same things that this levitical priesthood. Through confession of our sins and placement of our trust in Messiah as the sacrifice, we can be brought close with God - We are purified by His sacrifice we are washed and regenerated, through baptism. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit, the sign of our covenant with Him. We are changed inwardly as a result of our ordination into His priesthood, and our outward appearance should reflect that.

 All that we hear, all that we do, everywhere that we go-should be filtered through His word, should be as a representative, and in Him we find our truth and our strength and stability. We never rely on what we see or perceive alone-we learn the voice of YHWH and act upon it.

That is what it means for us to be a kingdom of priests; it is more than an empty title or a sentiment - it reveals our purpose, our focus, our privilege and our call as His redeemed. 

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