When we began studying the book of Leviticus a few weeks ago, I said that it’s about how the Lord is able to provide a way for his chosen, but sinful people to dwell with him. Who may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place? Who can do it? — because he is holy and he does no wrong; but we are sinners who do wrong all the time. How can sinners come into the presence of a holy God and hope to live? How can we dwell with him?
At the end of Exodus, the Lord’s people had constructed the tabernacle according to the word of the Lord. And then, when everything was ready, the Lord’s glory-cloud descended from Mount Sinai to settle upon the Tent of Meeting in order to signify that the Lord had come to dwell among his people. But how could they dwell with him and not die? Well, the Lord was able to provide a way for them to dwell with him. What they needed were sacrifices and a priest. Through the work of the priest and by offering up sacrifices to the Lord, they were able to come before him in worship and to dwell with him in peace.
And so, in chapters 1 to 5 of Leviticus we read the instructions which the Lord gave them concerning the sacrifices. There was the burnt offering when an animal was slaughtered in place of the people who themselves deserved to die for their sins. Then there was the grain or tribute offering, which the people brought to demonstrate their gratitude to the Lord. Then there was the fellowship offering, when the people enjoyed a fellowship meal together in the presence of the Lord. And there was the sin or purification offering, when the blood of an animal was used to cleanse the Tent of Meeting from the guilt of the people.
And then there was the guilt or reparation offering when the people brought their offerings to make up for and to pay for their sins. The burnt offering and the grain offering had to be offered every morning and every evening to deal with the general sinfulness of the people. The other offerings were brought on specific occasions to deal with specific sins. But by means of these offerings, the people were able to atone for their sins and to receive forgiveness from the Lord.
And having provided instructions in chapters 1 to 5 for the people so that they would know what to bring and when to bring it, the Lord provided instructions in chapters 6 and 7 for the priests so that they would know what to do with the offerings which the people brought.
And then, in chapter 8 the Lord gave instructions to Moses about how to ordain the High Priest and his sons to the work of the priesthood. Do you remember? Aaron had to put on the special clothes to wear. And then the tabernacle and everything in it as well as Aaron the High Priest were anointed with oil. And then offerings were brought to the Lord: a purification offering and a burnt offering and an ordination offering. And then Aaron and his sons were sprinkled with oil and blood in order to consecrate them. And afterwards they ate a fellowship meal in the presence of the Lord.
That’s what happened on the first day; but afterwards Aaron and his sons were not allowed to leave the tabernacle for seven days; and on each day of those seven days they had to offer a bull to God in order to purify the altar.
So, the Lord gave the people instructions about the offerings they were to bring. And then the priest was ordained. And now, in chapter 9, we read how Aaron began his work as a priest, serving in the tabernacle on behalf of the people.
The First Offerings
In verses 1 to 4 we have Moses’s command to Aaron and the congregation about the offerings they were to make that day, which was the eighth day after Aaron’s ordination. So, sacrifice these offerings, Moses said to them, because the Lord is going to appear to you today.
Aaron was to bring a purification offering and a burnt offering for himself. And the people were to bring a purification offering and a burnt offering as well as a fellowship offering and a grain offering.
Then in verses 5 and 6 we read how they obeyed his command and brought to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting what Moses had told them to bring. And once again, Moses made clear that the Lord was going to appear to them that day.
And so, in verses 8 to 21 we read how they did what Moses commanded. In verses 8 to 11 Aaron sacrificed the purification offering for himself. Then in verses 12 to 14 he sacrificed the burnt offering for himself. In verse 15, he sacrificed the purification offering for the people. In verse 16, he sacrificed the burnt offering for the people. In verse 17, he sacrificed the grain offering for the people. And in verses 18 to 21 we read about the peace offerings he sacrificed for the people.
And so he did everything which Moses commanded him to do. And, according to verse 22, Aaron then lifted up his hands towards the people and he blessed them. And then, having offered the appropriate sacrifices in order to secure God’s forgiveness for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people, Aaron, together with Moses, was able at last to go into the Tent of Meeting, where he stood in the presence of the Lord — for the very first time — on behalf of the people whom he represented. Remember: the names of the tribes were written on two precious stones which were fastened to the ephod; and their names were written on twelve precious stones attached to his breast piece; whenever he entered the presence of the Lord, he was standing there on their behalf and as their representative to plead with the Lord to accept their sacrifices and to forgive the people.
And when Aaron and Moses came out, they once again blessed the people. And the glory-cloud of the Lord appeared to all the people. They saw God’s glory in their midst. And fire came from the glory-cloud and in an instant consumed their offerings on the altar, as if to show that God had accepted them and was pleased to pardon them. And the people fell down on their faces and shouted for joy.
Why did they shout for joy? It was because the Lord had provided a way for his chosen, but sinful people to come before him in worship and to dwell with him in peace. Though they deserved to be slaughtered by God for their sin and rebellion, God was pleased to look upon their sacrifices which Aaron the priest offered on their behalf them; and he was willing to pardon them. And so long as they had a priest to represent them before the Lord, and so long as they had sacrifices to offer to the Lord, they knew the Lord would not destroy them, but would welcome them and bless them, instead of cursing them which is what they deserved.
On his first day as a fully-ordained priest, Aaron had to follow a prescribed ritual, which the Lord had commanded him through Moses to follow. And Leviticus chapters 1 to 9 are full of ritual, aren’t they? All these different offerings and how they should be sacrificed. Now, people today are often sceptical about rituals, aren’t they? Even in the church, you’ll find well-meaning believers who dismiss rituals as out-dated and as meaningless. It’s only empty ritual, they’ll say; and what matters is the Spirit and what’s in a person’s heart. But the Lord is the one who commanded his people in the Old Testament to follow these rituals in order that they could meet with him in worship.
And it’s the same in the New Testament, because the Lord has commanded us to follow his instructions for baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here are things for us to say and to do. In the Lord’s Prayer, he has given us a pattern to follow for when we pray. In other places in the New Testament, he has told us how to worship him. The Lord has always given his people rituals to follow so that they might meet with him in worship.
But, of course, the Israelites weren’t allowed to make up their own rituals. They had to do what the Lord commanded. For instance, go back to verse 6 where Moses said to Aaron:
This is what the Lord has commanded you to do.
And we read about God’s command in verse 7 and in verse 10. Their worship was regulated by God’s word. In the same way, our own worship always needs to be regulated by God’s word so that we will worship him in the way that he has commanded and in no other way. We’re not free to make things up ourselves; we not free to use what the Apostle Paul calls ‘the wisdom of the world’. We’re to pay attention to what God has revealed about how to worship him.
A Better High Priest
And, of course, the work of Aaron in this chapter was designed by God to reveal the work of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest who is so much greater and better than Aaron. Aaron had to sacrifice offerings for himself, because he was a sinner like the rest of the Israelites. Remember: he was the one who made a golden calf for the people to worship; and on his first day as an ordained priest, he had to offer up to God a calf as a sin offering for his own sins. But the Lord Jesus never ever sinned; and so he never needed to offer a sacrifice for himself. And he didn’t offer up to God bulls and rams and other animals, which can never really pay for our sins. Instead he offered to God himself as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice to pay for our sins in full and for ever. —
And because he has paid for our sins in full and for ever in order to reconcile us to God, we can therefore come before the Lord in worship with confidence and joy. We don’t need to stay away because we’re afraid of his wrath. We don’t need to worry when we meet before him in church that he’ll strike us down for our sins. And when we confess our sin before him, as we always should, we don’t need to be afraid of his wrath, because we know that, for the sake of Christ, he will pardon us for what we have done wrong. And at the end of the service, when it’s time to leave, he sends us away with a benediction — a blessing and not a curse — because we have peace with God for the sake of Christ, our Great High Priest.
And then one day, the Lord Jesus Christ will come from God’s presence to gather us together and to lead us into God’s glorious presence in the new heaven and the new earth, where — as John tells us in the book of Revelation — we won’t need the sun or the moon to shine on us, because the glory of God, the glory of God will give us light and the Lamb of God will be our Lamp. On Aaron’s first day as a priest, the Israelites saw the glory-cloud of the Lord over the tabernacle; and that was a foretaste of the glory which all of God’s people will see, when Jesus Christ appears again on the last day.
And as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, our Great High Priest will appear a second time in order to bring salvation — salvation in all its fullness — to those who are waiting for him. So, just as Aaron came out of the earthly tabernacle and appeared before the people, so the Lord Jesus has gone into the heavenly tabernacle; and one day he will appear again before us in order to lead us — and all who are waiting for him — into God’s glorious presence in the new heaven and the new earth where we too will be made glorious like him. And so, we look forward to that day, and we say ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come’.