Two weeks ago, Matt read several chapters outlining the design details of what was the centerpiece of faith in the living God in ancient Israel. It’s called the Tabernacle. It was a tent-like structure, with an ark, an altar, tables, lampstands, curtains, and more.
This portable tabernacle was the focal point of worship and forgiveness for Israel for the next 400-500 years, until King Solomon built the permanent structure, the temple.
Though this tabernacle was portable, it was a beautiful, glorious, and elaborate object where God’s presence came down to dwell among the people.
Exodus 28:2 says, “Make holy garments for Aaron, for glory and beauty.” Everything about the tabernacle and the garments of the priests was for God’s glory and all of his beauty and splendor. And for our benefit. The details in these chapters are in God’s eternal Scripture, so they are gloriously important history.
But honestly, it’s all rather foreign to us today. We have no experiences like this with animal sacrifices, a high priest with elaborate clothing, with gold objects, and magnificent jewels. We can wonder, “What in the world is all this for?”
But it’s extremely important for us to understand the purposes here, for it powerfully helps us to understand what Christianity is all about. You see, Christianity is not a “new religion” from Judaism, even though our passage is from 1400 B.C. Rather, Christianity is the ultimate fulfillment of what we are about to read.
Today’s passage—Exodus 29— is actually squarely in the middle of the larger passage from the past 2 weeks. Here in Exodus 29, instead of describing design details of an ark and altar and curtains, the Lord gives Moses instructions about the high priest.
We’ll dig into this, but before we read this, here is my key point today: We must understand that the high priest was absolutely central to Israel’s relationship with God. The high priest was central to forgiveness and worship.
And the same thing is true for us today in Christianity. Like we saw two weeks ago, the things in Exodus are a shadow of the reality that came centuries later in the Person of Jesus Christ. He became our Eternal High Priest. Today’s passage is all about the priesthood. And we will see the glory of this role… and how it affects your journey as a Christian today.
Exodus 29: Consecration of the Priests
That’s a preview so that our chapter today might will make more sense when we read it.
Vs. 1-9 (CSB)
1 “This is what you are to do for them to consecrate them to serve me as priests. Take a young bull and two unblemished rams,
2 with unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers coated with oil. Make them out of fine wheat flour,
3 put them in a basket, and bring them in the basket, along with the bull and two rams.
4 Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the tent of meeting and wash them with water.
5 Then take the garments and clothe Aaron with the tunic, the robe for the ephod, the ephod itself, and the breastpiece; fasten the ephod on him with its woven waistband.
6 Put the turban on his head and place the holy diadem on the turban.
7 Take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him.
8 You must also bring his sons and clothe them with tunics.
9 Tie the sashes on Aaron and his sons and fasten headbands on them. The priesthood is to be theirs by a permanent statute. This is the way you will ordain Aaron and his sons.
Vs. 1 is the key to the whole chapter: This is instructions on how to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests to God. This chapter describes is an elaborate, holy, seven-day ceremony with glorious and beautiful clothing for Aaron, the high priest. Clothing with gold and colorful fabrics, and beautiful jewels. Clothing unparalleled in its splendor. And this ceremony included animal sacrifices and lots of blood.
Admittedly, this is all strange and unfamiliar to us, but this is all according to God’s own command. It’s important here and elsewhere in the Scriptures that we not expect that the ancient world to conform to our world and our experiences and likes and dislikes. Rather, we need to insert ourselves into that world and receive it for what it actually is.
First, what does it mean to consecrate? There are several synonyms for this word: Make holy. Sacred. Set apart. Sanctified. So here in this elaborate 7-day ceremony, Aaron and his sons are being set apart…made holy, at least in a ceremonial sense…to enter into the presence of our glorious, holy, pure Almighty God.
Let’s define terms now.
What actually is a priest? In general terms, a priest is someone who serves God on behalf of the people.
Then within that group of priests, one of them was anointed by God as “the high priest.” His job was special and holy, for he alone was permitted to go into the innermost place of the Tabernacle. Direct access to God. And he was to offer blood sacrifices to make atonement for sins…First, atonement for his own sins. After that, atonement for the sins of the rest of the people.
Essentially, the high priest is a mediator between God and man. No man or woman, including Aaron, is truly holy. No one in Israel could ever go into the presence of the Most High, All-Glorious God on his/her own merits. They needed outside help. Israel needed a priest. A mediator.
So this ceremony— done by faith and with great care—makes Aaron acceptable to go into God’s presence in the tabernacle. God set it up that only Aaron and his direct descendants can ever be the priests for Israel.
10 “You are to bring the bull to the front of the tent of meeting, and Aaron and his sons must lay their hands on the bull’s head.
11 Slaughter the bull before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
12 Take some of the bull’s blood and apply it to the horns of the altar with your finger; then pour out all the rest of the blood at the base of the altar.
13 Take all the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them, and burn them on the altar.
14 But burn the bull’s flesh, its hide, and its waste outside the camp; it is a sin offering.
Specifically, this sacrifice here is for the priest, Aaron, and his sons. It is to make atonement for their sins so that they are cleansed spiritually and can then go into the presence of God.
So let’s read more of how Aaron and his sons were made ceremonially pure.
15 “Take one ram, and Aaron and his sons are to lay their hands on the ram’s head.
16 You are to slaughter the ram, take its blood, and splatter it on all sides of the altar.
17 Cut the ram into pieces. Wash its entrails and legs, and place them with its head and its pieces on the altar.
18 Then burn the whole ram on the altar; it is a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.
19 “You are to take the second ram, and Aaron and his sons must lay their hands on the ram’s head.
20 Slaughter the ram, take some of its blood, and put it on Aaron’s right earlobe, on his sons’ right earlobes, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Splatter the remaining blood on all sides of the altar.
21 Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle them on Aaron and his garments, as well as on his sons and their garments. So he and his garments will be holy, as well as his sons and their garments.
Blood is placed on Aaron’s earlobe, thumb, and big toe. Literally, he is touched with blood from head to toe. Again, he is being consecrated to go into the presence of Almighty, Holy God.
As I said earlier, this all may seem strange to us. But we need to insert ourselves into God’s plan, and not expect everything we read to fit nicely into the tiny, sanitized portion of our world that we experience in 21st century.
Now I want to zoom out and ask a question: Why did Israel (and why do we) need a high priest and blood sacrifices? I want to answer the question my friend asked, “What’s the deal with all this blood?”
In the next few minutes, I am going to show a graphic that will help answer this question. It may sound complicated at first. But in reality, it explains the entire process of salvation – not only for Israel, but even for us today—the salvation that we have in the gospel of Christ.
So my goal this morning is to make Exodus 29 very understandable. My prayer in the past 2 weeks is that when we are finished, you will understand God a little better. And you understand true gospel of Jesus Christ.
And why did Israel need a high priest? And why do we need one, too? God has a mechanism for this. And a high priest is central to salvation.
First, the two most foundational points are:
- God is holy.
- Mankind is not. We are unholy.
Because of this, we simply cannot enter into God’s glorious presence.
Our access to God is denied. The way is completely blocked.
A key point here is that we grossly underestimate the problem here. This is where we all go awry.
We do somehow understand there is a gap between God and us, and so we try with all our might to gain access ourselves. We strive to gain access and favor with God on our own merits.
- We offer our religious activities. Church, prayer, Bible reading.
- We offer our good works.
- We say, “I’m simply doing the best I can.”
- Or we say, “I will seek God in my own way that feels right to me.”
Everywhere we go in the world, people try to get right with God by their own efforts. We do this because we grossly underestimate two things:
- God’s glory and majesty. His purity, brilliance, and holiness. His “otherliness.”
- Our sinfulness. Our depravity, darkness, impurity, and unholiness.
We simply don’t comprehend our smallness before God and the vastness of this chasm between us. In our deception, we say, “Sure, I acknowledge God is bigger than me, but he’s not that much bigger, really. Is he?” But the truth is, it’s like we are standing at the foot of a glorious mountain cliff towering over us, and we should be overwhelmed with the height and majesty of the mountain compared to our small-ness.
The Book of Exodus shouts to us of his glory. Just hours after God’s astonishing deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea, Moses penned a song that said,
Exodus 15:11 CSB Lord, who is like you among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?
No god ever invented by man or by the devil can match the Lord God.
A few months before that, the Lord appeared to Moses in glory on a mountain:
Exodus 3:5–6 CSB “Do not come closer,” he said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground…” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Even a deeply spiritual man like Moses, perhaps more godly than any other human at that time, was terrified to face God in all his holiness, glory, and splendor. So again, our fundamental problem is always centered around a too-small view of God and a too-large view of ourselves. We are greatly deceived. And the result is that we don’t see our great need.
So now there is no access to God because of his glory and our sinfulness, we are faced with only two options. Only two:
- Judgment. OR
Judgment is the wrath of this Holy God against the corruption and evil in man’s heart. And we all deserve this. All of us. God is absolutely pure, glorious, holy, righteous, and just. So nothing unclean or corrupt or darkened or sinful can ever enter into his presence.
Our only hope is mercy. Our only hope is that somehow God will have compassion on us in our plight.
So what does the Lord do to extend mercy? He does more than simply wishing our sins away. He has a process. A mechanism. The mechanism for extending mercy to unholy man can be summarized by one word: Substitution.
God is just and will punish crimes against him. But because He is merciful, and only because he is merciful, he allows an exchange. In the OT, he allowed an animal to be killed in a holy ceremony, and its blood was offered up in the place of Israel’s blood. A life in exchange for a life.
The word for this is, “Substitutionary Atonement.” This is explained clearly here:
Leviticus 17:11 CSB For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.
Atonement means to cover over sin. To reconcile. To change from enmity to friendship. To satisfy the wrath of God and bring peace.
And the substitute means God allows someone else to die for us. It would be comparable to you committing a horrific murder and receiving the death penalty, but someone else who loves you deeply takes the death penalty in your place. In that moment, justice and mercy meet.
So God in his mercy allows a substitute. In the case of Israel, God allowed an animal—a bull, lamb, or goat—to be offered up. In the case of the gospel, God allowed his Son—the Lamb of God—to be offered up. It’s why in John 1:29, John the Baptist saw Jesus and exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
So we have this blood. This life-for-life substitution. This blood has to be presented to God for our atonement. But we, in our unholy state, cannot present this offering to God by ourselves. Rather, this blood has to be offered up to God on our behalf by someone who is holy.
Who is holy enough to offer it? No one is. Not even Aaron the high priest.
But God himself designated Aaron as the mediator for Israel. So in order for Aaron to be presentable enough to enter into the tabernacle and stand in the presence of God, here in Exodus 29 God provided this elaborate, glorious, holy ceremony to make Aaron clean and pure.
So the priest takes this substitutionary blood into the Tabernacle. Into the inner room, and into the very presence of God. And he offers up the blood as a sacrifice for sins. And the sins of the people are atoned for.
And then Access to God is finally restored.
As we understand the mechanism of God’s plan of salvation in the OT, the gospel of Jesus Christ will make much more sense. This is why Jesus is called the Lamb of God, and our Great High Priest.
42 This will be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance to the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak with you.
43 I will also meet with the Israelites there, and that place will be consecrated by my glory.
44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests.
45 I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.
46 And they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.
The end result of this elaborate consecration ceremony of Aaron the priest is that Israel has hope. They have hope that God’s mercy will atone for their sins, and fellowship with Almighty God will be restored. Not by their own works and effort, but by faith in God’s plan of salvation.
Vs. 45 is beautiful: “I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. And they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt….”
This is the glorious outcome of God’s plan of marrying his justice and his mercy. That he will dwell among his people, and they will know him.
What was true for Israel is true for us, except…we have it better than they did.
Israel had the blood of an animal to offer up. But we have the blood of the Lamb of God.
Israel had Aaron and his descendants, mere mortals, to act as their mediator. But we have Jesus, the Son of God, as our Great High Priest, risen from the dead, serving in heaven on our behalf to make our salvation eternally secure.
The Book of Hebrews goes into great detail on all this, taking 4 chapters to explain it all. But here is one simple yet powerful summary:
Hebrews 9:24 CSB Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands but into heaven itself, so that he might now appear in the presence of God for us… Now he has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.
He is the Only and the Perfect Way into the presence of God.
That is why Jesus said these bold and sure words:
John 14:6 CSB “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is no other Lamb to substitute life for life. There is no other high priest to mediate for us in the presence of God. No one else can do what Jesus has done. No one. Our access into the presence of our glorious God is possible only because of Jesus.
Repeating vs. 45: “I will dwell among them and be their God. And they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt….”
What a just and merciful God who has provided the sure and eternal access into the presence of his glory forever and ever.
So what can we do with this? How should this impact our day-to-day lives? Let me give you something to leave here with today.
Remember your high priest
One of my Top Ten favorite passages in God’s Word, a passage I consider every week, and sometimes multiple times in a week.
Hebrews 4:14–16 CSB Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
If you have never embraced and believed in Jesus Christ, the ultimate outcome of your life is to face God’s judgment. Your sins…your high crimes and treason against God… have justly earned you death.
Romans 6:23 says the wages of our sin is death.
Our only hope is Jesus. We should forsake all our vain attempts at accessing God in our own efforts. We can never be holy enough to access God on our own. We can never serve as our own mediator to enter the presence of our Holy God. Cry out to Jesus to be your Mediator—your Great High Priest—your Access—to the Holy God who dwells in eternal light and glory. Cry out to him and you will find eternal life.
For those of us in this room who have believed….We have already found access to a holy God through the sacrifice and priesthood of the Son of God…rejoice in the life you have.
We are told three things here:
- Keep trusting Jesus for life.
“Hold fast” the confession of your faith. When life seems too hard, when temptations are too strong, we are tempted to quit. To reject God. To look for an easier path of life.
But hold fast to Jesus. He has done the hard, hard work to give you life forever.
- Be comforted Jesus understands you.
He sympathizes. In his time on earth, he endured temptations and pain and suffering, and he knows how hard life can get. More than any mere mortal could ever understand you and sympathize with you in your troubles, Jesus understands you better.
When the battle of life and against sin is wearing you down, find comfort in the rich sympathy of your Great Mediator.
- Boldly go to God in your hour of need.
Go to God with no hesitations when facing your sin, pain, and suffering.
In those times, we often are tempted to pull away from God. Our guilt and shame and weakness tempt us to pull away. But the work of Jesus your Great High Priest is so complete that we can…we must…go boldly to God in our time of need.
We come, not to a throne of condemnation, but the throne of grace. And there we will find gracious words. Kind thoughts. Tender compassion towards you.
Through Jesus the Son of God, our access to God is sure…more sure than Israel’s…because Jesus is more sure. All other attempts to access God is vanity. Empty, worthless pursuits. You and I need only one spokesman. One priest. One mediator. The work of Christ is complete as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”