Last week we started off our processing of the book of Leviticus by diving into sacrifice or offering. Chapters 1-7 talk about a handful of specific ones: burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. But what does that have to do with me or with our relationship with God today?
We talked about the beauty of relationship with God: God desires relationship with us, and what we do in that relationship matters–it has value.
The key to our processing of this and really of Leviticus as a whole is in digging deeper than just the “laws.” The text is loaded with hyperlinks to process, and that will be our focus in this series. So we have to remember the context and keep it in mind.
Here’s some background to remember: the Isrealites settled in Egypt during a famine, and because of Joseph's position in Egypt, they were provided for. Out of a less-than-ideal moment–the brothers selling Joseph off as a slave and tricking their dad into thinking a wild animal killed him–there was provision and blessing.
But after more than 400 years, Joseph was forgotten. The number of Isrealites had exploded and Pharaoh oppressed them, out of fear and wanting to control them. This is in stark contrast to God. They suffered slavery, infanticide, and oppression.
Moses entered the story in the book of Exodus, and in his being provided for, his failings, his obedience, his missing it, his going for it, there were plagues, there was the Passover, there was the crossing of the Red Sea, and now in the wilderness, God has led them to Mount Sinai.
And here in the Biblical text there is a zooming in, a slowing down. Exodus slows at this moment; Leviticus really slows down; Numbers slows too, surrounding this moment of God giving direction to His people. There is so much context and content here in this moment in Biblical history. Please be a student of it.
One thing we see here is the incredible contrast between Pharaoh and God. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians, is distant and oppressive and has zero relationship with the Israelites. He is manipulative, insecure, and dismissive of them, and he uses and fears them. And God, the God of the Isrealites, Yahweh, is leading them, providing for them, wanting connection with them, helping them, hearing them, loving them, empowering them, remembering them.
And while this contrast is over the top, it did not lead to a utopia. It still was process–a complex process of relationship.
And as we walk into Leviticus, it started off with this blast of offerings to bring to God, and it is important to see the desired relationship. And so last week we asked, what does Christ’s sacrifice communicate about God and humanity?
Now today we come to Leviticus 8-10, the priests. Take a few minutes to build these lists together:
What connects people/us/you to God? What distances people/us/you from God?
Now that we’ve built these two lists, I am going to ask you two questions to help walk us into what we are looking at today. First:
If relationship is universally seen as a good thing, why isn’t relationship easier?
Now, holding to the conversation you just had and bringing the lists that you just made, here’s a complex and important dialogue moment:
If God desires relationship with us, why doesn’t it just happen? (Why isn’t it “easy?”)
Before we dive into the priests today, it is important to process a little about the priests’ world–the tabernacle.
Let me put a very simplified overview of the tabernacle out there. In Exodus 25–31 and 35–40, the Isrealites are out of Egypt, and they are given a challenging project: build a tabernacle, the physical dwelling place of God.
The tabernacle was a sacred tent and grounds that they constructed to exacting specifications and that they carried as they traveled in the wilderness to the promised land. The tabernacle was sacred because it was the physical place where the heavenly God dwelled on earth.
Trying to wrap our heads around this is helpful in seeing the beauty of this. God dwelled in the tabernacle and the temple (physical presence with His people).
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, and at that moment the temple curtain tore:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split. (Matthew 27:51)
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
The curtain was torn. We are the temple of God. Keep that future tense (our current tense) in mind as we go back to the tabernacle.
It had a special design with a holy place–the outer courtyard– to the most holy place–the entrance into the tent. The most holy place was also called the Holy of Holies. The closer you get to the center, the more sacred the space becomes. The closer to the dwelling of God, the more sacred the space became.
The people that worked in the tabernacle were the priests. They cared for the temple, the place for connection and relationship with God. They offered sacrifices for themselves and for the people, in penance for the things that break that connection or relationship with God. And they announced God’s blessing over the people–their connection and relationship with God.
Connection and relationship. The priests represent God to the people and represent the people to God. So the tabernacle and the priests are a conduit–a connection–a link between God and humanity.
The idea of having a holy place was not new or unique to the Isrealites. It was a part of what they saw in Egypt–wherever Pharaoh was, was their holy place, and there were many likenesses of him. But the difference was that there was an absence of an image or likeness–there was no statue of God in the holy place. Because we–humanity–are created in God’s image.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
This is a foundation to where we are going. Let’s do a deeper dive and go back to Genesis and the beginning. In Eden, there was the greater garden, and in the center of the garden was the tree of life–a picture of the tabernacle. The garden was this picture of perfect relationship with God. Adam and Eve were commanded to keep and work the garden, and they were asked to be the connecter (priest) between God and creation. Just like the priests were asked to do with the tabernacle.
But we see in Genesis 3 that this relationship is broken in the Fall. But from the Fall, Biblical narrative is a recurring circling back to the Garden, that place of perfect relationship with God, the dwelling place of God and humans.
Let me fast forward to Jesus’ words in John 14:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:15-20)
It is challenging to wrap my head around God’s dwelling in the tabernacle: the sacredness of the space, the dwelling of God, and the priests working the tabernacle, caring for it, offering sacrifice on the people’s behalf, speaking God’s blessings over the people. And it is now challenging to wrap my head around God dwelling in us.
How does contemplating the tabernacle and the priests give us perspective to God’s dwelling in/with us?
Before we process, let's turn to Leviticus! The priests were installed and given instructions in this section of Leviticus (chapters 8-10) And in chapter 9 we see some results or impacts from the priests’ efforts.
They took the things Moses commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the entire assembly came near and stood before the Lord. Then Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” (Leviticus 9:5-6)
Moses said to Aaron, “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded.” (Leviticus 9:7)
Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. (Leviticus 9:22)
Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. (Leviticus 9:23-24)
Blessing. Appearing. Relationship/Connection with God.
We see God is holy (a loaded phrase). God desires relationship with humanity. The priests were the intermediary to God and to God’s presence. And God dwelled among the people.
And now, God is holy. God desires relationship with humanity. Jesus is the high priest. God dwells in us.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:1-6, see Psalm 110)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. (Hebrews 8:1-6)
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (1 Timothy 1:1-7)
Let’s pull this together. The priests were about these things: Blessing. Appearing. Relationship/Connection with God. Now Jesus is the High Priest: Blessing. Appearing. Relationship/Connection with God.
How are we to perceive Jesus as our High Priest?
In Exodus–in the timeframe of the writing of Leviticus–God called the people to be priests to the world.
“‘You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:6)
That call may have not been fully lived out. But the call is on us now.
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)
Remember the theme of Leviticus: God desires relationship with us and what we do matters. Now here’s a final conversation that brings all that we have talked about today together:
Why would God want you and me to be the priesthood–blessing, connecting to God, facilitating relationship with God?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Foundations to Jesus as the High Priest: Hebrews 4:14-15, Hebrews 5:1-6, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 8:1-6, 1 Peter 2:4-10, 1 Timothy 1:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9
- What has Jesus done for you?
- What was the purpose of a priest?
- What is the significance of Jesus being the High Priest?
- What is the significance of God dwelling in us and Jesus being the high Priest? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Bible Reading Plan:
- 1 Samuel 18
- 1 Samuel 19
- 1 Samuel 20
- 1 Samuel 21
1 Samuel 22