Today, we’re concluding our series from the book of Exodus about God’s plan for His people. God rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt. They were set free through mighty miracles, the ten plagues on Egypt and the miraculous escape through the Red Sea. Yet, the stories that we’ve studied are not just ancient history. They have important application to our lives today.
However, there is much confusion about the role of the Old Testament for believers today. Some tend to dismiss much of the Old Testament as being irrelevant today. Others bring aspects of Old Testament practices into their lives and churches mistakenly. The Old Testament must be read through the lens of the New Testament. In other words, you must understand the New Testament in order to properly understand the Old Testament.
The Old Testament speaks of the old covenant that God made with Israel, based on the law. The New Testament speaks of the new covenant that God made through Jesus, the promised Messiah. Today, we’re going to talk about God instituting the priesthood in the Old Testament with Aaron as the high priest. As we read the New Testament, we see that Jesus is now the high priest.
Hebrews 8:1 (ESV) Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant. He offered, not the blood of animal sacrifices, but His own blood to bring forgiveness for our sins.
Hebrews 8:6 (ESV) But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
The new covenant has replaced the old covenant. The old covenant pointed forward to the new covenant that came with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Our message today is entitled “Access to God.” In the old covenant, only the priests could offer sacrifices, only the priests could draw near to God’s presence in the tabernacle or temple. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s manifest glory was. Today, under the new covenant, there is no longer any special order of priests, who mediate between man and God.
Revelation 1:5b-6 (ESV) To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This and many other verses tell us that Jesus has made all believers priests to God the Father. Each believer in Jesus has direct access to God. You don’t need to confess your sins to anyone else, you can confess them directly to God. You can enter into God’s presence and talk directly to Him. In fact, the very presence of God lives inside each believer through the Holy Spirit. Today, we’re going to learn from the Old Testament principles on how we, as believers, can live as priests and enjoy access to God.
Exodus 28:1-2 (ESV) “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.
After delivering Israel from Egypt, God is now setting up the old covenant system of access to God. Aaron and his sons were chosen to serve God as priests. As people could not directly have access to God, priests served as the mediators between man and God. Priests offered sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. The high priest could come into the presence of God. The priests were to clothed with special garments that were appropriate for the special position before man and God. They were set apart form others by being …
Exodus 29:7 (ESV) You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.
This verse speaks of the anointing of Aaron, the high priest with oil. He was anointed to signify God’s empowerment coming upon him to accomplish His ministry to the Lord. In both the Old and New Testaments, anointing with oil signifies empowerment through the Holy Spirit. The priests were then …
Exodus 29:44-45 (ESV) I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.
To be consecrated to God means that an item or person is set apart for service to God. The tent of meeting and the altar could only be used in worship to God. The priests were to work for no one else, they were to serve God alone. There were special rules and regulations that governed how the priests offered their sacrifices and carried out their duties. The Old Testament priests were set apart for God’s service.
So, how can we apply these principles from the Old Testament priesthood to our lives today? First of all, let’s remember that we are all priests to God. As priests of God, we are also set apart to serve God. We are to be set apart from serving ourselves and from serving sin. In the new covenant, God is not interested in the type of clothes that we wear. Rather we are to be clothed in Christ-like attitudes and actions.
The New Testament speaks of every believer needing to be anointed or baptized in the Holy Spirit. This anointing is the required empowerment to carry out God’s directions for our lives. Finally, we also are to be consecrated to serve God in all of our lives. Last Sunday, we spoke of God’s directions written down in the Bible. These serve as commands for us to follow.
Each New Testament believer has a ministry or calling from God. In fact, I believe that each of us has multiple callings. Each believer is called to ministry to their family, at their work and in their church. We must not take our callings lightly, but must …
Exodus 28:29 (ESV) So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.
Aaron as high priest wore a breastplate, as part of his garment. Mounted on the breastplate were 12 precious stones, arranged in 4 rows. These represented the 12 tribes of Israel. So, when Aaron went into the Holy Place, he was doing so, not just for himself, but as a representative of the rest of Israel. The breastplate also signified our responsibility to …
Exodus 28:30 (ESV) And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and 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.
Also included in the breastplate were two stones called the Urim and Thummim. These stones were used in some unknown way to determine God’s will or judgement regarding important questions. Aaron’s responsibility would be to look for God’s direction, not just for himself but for the rest of Israel as well. He was also responsible to …
Exodus 28:36-37 (ESV) “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban.
A gold plate, engraved with the words “Holy to the Lord” was to be fastened to Aaron’s turban. God is holy and this plate was a reminder that the priests represented Him and were responsible to Him. To be holy is to be free from sin, living in right relationship with God. It was the Old Testament priests and our responsibility today to seek God’s direction and reflect His holiness in our lives.
As New Testament priests, we also have a responsibility before God to faithfully serve Him. As Aaron brought the rest of Israel to the Lord’s remembrance, so we should remember others in prayer as we speak to God. We are not some one else’s priest, but those who are not believers cannot come into God’s presence. And those who have wandered away also need God’s help.
As Aaron used the Urim and Thummin to discern God’s direction, so we must seek God’s guidance in every decision of life. Finally, Aaron wore a gold plate inscribed ‘Holy to the Lord.’ Our hearts need to be filled with the holiness of God. None of us is perfect and we all sin from time to time. Thanks be to God that Jesus has made a way for us to be forgiven when we repent. When we confess our sins, He forgives us and cleanses us, to we can continue to walk before the Lord in holiness. As New Testament priests, we must take responsibility to faithfully serve God.
In Moses’ time, the ark of the covenant, where God’s presence dwelt, was kept in a tabernacle tent. Later on, Solomon built a permanent temple to house the ark. After Jesus rose from the dead, God’s presence is no longer concentrated in a special building. God’s presence in the new covenant is in His people. Thus the true church is not a building, but the gathering of believers committed to the Lord and each other in a locality. If each of us as believers are part of a holy temple, then individually …
1 Peter 2:4-5 (ESV) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, …
Jesus Christ is the foundation of God’s present spiritual house. We, as New Testament believers are also living stone, that build upon the foundation of Christ. What God is building with us as living stones is a spiritual house, not a physical house. The purpose of this spiritual house is to be a place for the presence of God to dwell. God’s presence is there in a special way when believers gather together to worship. But God’s presence is also there in the lives of each individual believer, wherever they go. These verses go on to say that …
1 Peter 2:5 (ESV) … to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
As new covenant believers, we are part of a holy priesthood, which means we each are a holy priest. As a priest, we no longer offer physical sacrifices as old covenant priests, we offer spiritual sacrifices. What are those spiritual sacrifices? A major part of them is the spiritual sacrifice of ourselves. We sacrifice what we want to do, in order to please the Lord.
1 Peter 2:9 (ESV) But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The apostle Peter is speaking the New Testament believers, again calling them a royal priesthood, called by God our of darkness into God’s light. Our purpose is to proclaim the excellencies of God, which means to tell others about Jesus. You are part of God’s holy temple as a living stone and a holy priest.
Why do some churches still have priests that you must confess your sins to? This is not a trivial difference in church preferences, but a serious misunderstanding that negates the new covenant and Christ’s sacrifice. Every New Testament believer is their own priest. We can enter into God’s presence by ourselves, we have access to God. We can directly confess our sins to God. We can get guidance from God.
The true church on a world-wide level is made of all true believers in Jesus Christ. Together we are being built together as living stones to form the spiritual building of the church where God’s presence dwells. One is true on a world-wide level is also true of local churches, such as Life Church. We are being built together as a spiritual building where God dwells by His Spirit.
The Old Testament must be read through the lens of the New Testament. As specific people were set apart as God’s priests in the Old Testament, so all believers are set apart as God’s priests in the New Testament. God has called and anointed us with His Spirit to serve Him, in every area of life. Our responsibility is to always look for God’s direction and reflect His holiness in our lives. We are living stones, being built together as a holy temple in God’s church. We are holy priests, with direct access to God. We communicate with God and offer up the spiritual sacrifices of our lives as worship. May God help us to walk close to God as His priests.