The Effective Priest

A Sermon on Leviticus 8 & 9 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 10/4/98


Early this year a long-time friend phoned Howard Hendricks, Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. It seems that this friend was moving to the Dallas area and wanted Howardís recommendation for a church to attend. "Well, tell me, what kind of church are you looking for?" asked Howard. The friend laid out a long series of requirements, including the theological position of the church, the quality of personal relationships, and the absence of cliques and groups. Howard responded, "Friend, youíre looking for a perfect church. I donít know of a church like that, but if you find one . . . donít join it. Youíll ruin it!" Howard went on to tell his friend, "Do you have people in your church? Well, if youíve got people, youíve got problems."

In our series on Leviticus, we have been studying the offerings and the priesthood, these provisions God made to deal with the problems of the people of Israel. For when youíve got people, youíve got problems. God knows each and every one of our problems, our shortcomings. Through the priesthood he pictures both how we can overcome these problems, and how we can minister to our fellow believers who face similar problems.

You recall that the offerings dealt with five basic human needs:

In foreshadowing Jesusí death on the cross, these offerings display God reaching out to man. Through the person of Jesus Christ, God gives us true love, true joy, and true peace -- what all of us desire most.

We also spent two weeks examining the priesthood. We noted that God uses the priesthood for "image projection," for showing us truths about ourselves, and truths about Jesus. Beginning at Mt Sinai, God laid out his plan for establishing a nation of priests. But Israel failed to live up to God's requirements. Peter tells us that we, the church, have become that royal priesthood. Every Christian, then, is called to priestly service. We emphasized that this reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is not a license for each of us to interpret the Bible any way that we like, but rather an opportunity, an empowering to serve others.

In addition, we have noted several characteristics of priests. When the time came to establish the priesthood, God chose Aaron's family to serve. He didn't call for volunteers -- God did the choosing. Second, the chosen priests were washed prior to their ordination, symbolizing the "washing of water with the word," the cleansing of the word of God in our lives. Third, God prescribed a specific set of clothing for the priests which is rich in imagery. The outer tunic represents our position before God, clothed with his righteousness. The breastpiece, woven with twelve stones for the twelve tribes of Israel, represents our ministry to people, our responsibility to take the people before us whenever we enter God's presence. And the golden plate on the turban or headpiece, you recall, is inscribed with these words: "Holy to the Lord." This shows our need for practical holiness, our need to live lives worthy of our calling, if we are to have an effective priesthood.

Chapter 21 gives some examples of how we can be disqualified from priestly service if we fail to observe practical holiness. We are not to depend on the flesh as we minister, we are not to depend on our own efforts. Also, the blind, the lame, and the stunted are disqualified from service -- effective priests must see the truths of God's word, must walk day by day in the light of His truth, and must grow to maturity, not being content with remaining babes in the faith.

So Chapter 21 provides us with negative requirements: donít be blind, or lame, or stunted, donít depend on the flesh. This morning we will conclude our examination of the ordination of the priests in Leviticus 8 and 9 by focus on the positive aspects of God's equipping us for effective ministry. These, then, are the positive requirements for effective ministry.

So please turn in your Bibles with me to Leviticus 8:10. We will not read together all of chapters 8 and 9, although I encourage you to read this section in its entirety on your own.

10 Moses then took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. 11 And he sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times and anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. 12 Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him.

After washing and dressing the high priest, Moses takes the anointing oil and sprinkles it on the tabernacle itself, the altar, and the basin; he then pours it over Aaron's head. As we have pointed out before, the oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This represents the flip side of our not depending on the flesh. We must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than on our own abilities or on human methods of motivation and control.

In verses 14-21 Moses presents the sin offering and the whole burnt offering for the priests. Since we have considered these offerings in some detail in the past, we will move quickly here. Do note, however, that Aaron and his sons must place their hands on the animal, they lean their weight on the animal that is going to be slaughtered. Through this action they identify themselves with the animal to be killed. This identification is twofold: they are indicating their willingness to die to self, and they are acknowledging their own sinfulness, their need for a substitutionary death.

Verse 22 begins the description of a different type of offering, the Ordination Offering. Let's read from this verse to the end of the chapter:

22 Then he presented the second ram, the ram of ordination; and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. 23 And Moses slaughtered it and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. 24 He also had Aaron's sons come near; and Moses put some of the blood on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand, and on the big toe of their right foot. Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood around on the altar. 25 And he took the fat, and the fat tail, and all the fat that was on the entrails, and the lobe of the liver and the two kidneys and their fat and the right thigh. 26 And from the basket of unleavened bread that was before the LORD, he took one unleavened cake and one cake of bread mixed with oil and one wafer, and placed them on the portions of fat and on the right thigh. 27 He then put all these on the hands of Aaron and on the hands of his sons, and presented them as a wave offering before the LORD. 28 Then Moses took them from their hands and offered them up in smoke on the altar with the burnt offering. They were an ordination offering for a soothing aroma; it was an offering by fire to the LORD. 29 Moses also took the breast and presented it for a wave offering before the LORD; it was Moses' portion of the ram of ordination, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 So Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar, and sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments, on his sons, and on the garments of his sons with him; and he consecrated Aaron, his garments, and his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.

31 ∂ Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, "Boil the flesh at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and eat it there together with the bread which is in the basket of the ordination offering, just as I commanded, saying, 'Aaron and his sons shall eat it.' 32 And the remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire. 33 And you shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days. 34 The LORD has commanded to do as has been done this day, to make atonement on your behalf. 35 At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, that you may not die, for so I have been commanded." 36 Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses.

I want us to focus on the strange blood ritual described here. But first let us briefly consider three other elements of the ordination.

First, Moses takes the fat and the kidneys and burns them before the Lord. Recall that fat has positive connotations for the Israelites, not negative as in our culture. The fat represents all that is best in life. In offering that up to God, Moses and the priests are acknowledging that God is the source of all that is good, of all the richness of this life.

Second, the priests are separated from the assembly for seven days prior to the beginning of their ministry. They must stay at the doorway of the tabernacle. Once again, this pictures their holiness, their separateness, their call to belong to God in a special way.

Third, during these seven days they are to eat the consecrated bread. This is, in part, a foreshadowing of our communion services; they are drawing their sustenance from God, feeding on Him and His word.

Let us now turn to the blood ritual. Read verse 23 with me once again:

23 And Moses slaughtered it and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot.

Moses then does the same to Aaron's sons. What possible meaning can there be for this strange procedure?

The blood symbolized both death to self and atonement through the death of another. So when the priests see the blood of the sacrifice placed on their bodies, they are to recall their need to die to self daily, hourly, and the cleansing that they have received through the sacrifice for sins.

So why is this blood put on the ear, the thumb, and the big toe. What does this have to do with having an effective priesthood? Let us look at these in turn:

An effective priest must hear the word of the Lord as one redeemed

As you can imagine, with six kids in our family at times our house can be rather noisy. Sometimes our children have a difficult time hearing me when I call them. But I have noticed something interesting: Some words are easier to hear than others! Even when the noise level is high, I can almost whisper, "Would anyone like to have some ice cream?" -- and six kids will show up at once. But if, with the same noise level, I call out, "It's time to clean up!" -- everyone continues playing, as if they are unable to hear me.

Now, we are in the process of teaching our children to be attuned to Mommy and Daddy's voices, to hear us regardless of what else is going on in the house. But we all have a tendency to ignore what we don't want to hear, don't we?

For us as priests, it is absolutely vital that we attune our ears to God. We must hear God when he speaks, and then submit to him, whether he says what we want to hear or not. Each of us must hear God as one who has died to self, so that our own desires do not affect our obedience; hear his words as those that come from one who dearly loves us, one who came and died so that we might live. So our ears are stained with blood, to remind us to listen and obey without thought of self, and to listen to the words of the God to whom we have access through that very blood.

When we do that, the word of God comes alive. We become like the Thessalonians, to whom Paul wrote:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

An effective priest must hear the word of the Lord as one redeemed.

An effective priest works with hands that constantly remind him of his need for cleansing -- and his having been cleansed.

Now let's consider the thumb. Have you every considered how useless your hand would be without a thumb? Without the thumb, you could do almost nothing with your hand. Indeed, some of you will recall that an ancient punishment described in Judges 1 involved cutting off the thumbs and big toes of captured kings. Thumbs are vital for work.

So the thumb, I suggest, stands for our work. As we work, we are to see Christís blood on our hands. We must acknowledge that on our own we can accomplish nothing for God. But when we are cleansed by the blood of the lamb, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

With this reminder ever before us, we canít be self-righteous, we canít be proud, we canít boast. Whatever we accomplish of lasting value must result only from God's work, must result only from that blood on our thumbs. On our own we are sinners in need of cleansing; by God's mercy, we are cleansed and empowered to accomplish His tasks.

Also, the blood on our thumbs keeps us from feeling offended our unappreciated. The blood on our thumbs keeps us from being discouraged when people don't respond to our ministry. For, you see, we are not looking for the praise of men. Our task is to be faithful to our calling, to work selflessly at whatever God calls us to, and to leave the results to him.

Remember Paul's "thorn in the flesh?" Paul felt that this physical limitation was hindering his ability to fulfill his ministry. Paul was discouraged that despite repeated prayer God did not heal him. But God answered Paul, saying,

9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12)

As you do your work as a priest, remember that there is no room for self. See Christís blood on your hands. Know that on your own you can accomplish nothing, but that through continual dependence upon God you will have a rewarding and effective ministry, accomplishing all that God intends.

So, the blood on the ear symbolizes our need to hear as those who are redeemed; the blood on the thumb symbolizes our need to work as those who are redeemed. We turn now to the big toe.

What is the role of your big toe?

An effective priest walks with God, knowing that he is a sinner, yet cleansed from all sin.

Without a big toe, walking is pretty tough. In Hebrew, "walk" is frequently used to connote the moral quality of one's life. So in Genesis, Enoch and Noah are said to have "walked with God," meaning they lived their lives with a constant sense of His presence, living uprightly before him. Similarly, in Genesis 17 God tells Abraham, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless."

So the bloody big toe symbolizes the moral quality of our lives, as we live conscious that the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all sin. Each step, each minute of the day, the toe goes before us, red with blood, reminding us that we are covered, we are justified, we are right with God because of Jesus' sacrifice. We need that cleansing every day, every step of the way -- and God provides.

Thus, the bloody toe reminds us that we need to keep short accounts with God. We fall again and again -- and we need to look to that blood on our feet, reminding ourselves that we are ordained by God for a special task that requires purity. We then need to confess that sin so that we might be forgiven, and once more serve as an effective priest.

So the blood is a reminder of our weakness, our need for confession. Just as importantly, however, the bloody toe is a reminder that complete forgiveness is ours through that blood. For Satan will accuse you, saying, "Who are you to think that God will work use you! Look at what you have done! Arenít you ashamed? God could never use someone who has done that! Just give up!"

When Satan confronts you with your unworthiness, how should you respond? Point to your toe! Look to that blood on your toe, and know that each step of the way, every step of your life is covered by the blood of Jesus. Every mistake, every sin, every failure is redeemed by this most precious blood. So, yes, you on your own are unworthy -- but, praise God, because of Jesus' blood you can boldly approach the very throne of God. And, praise God, you have a ministry not based on your own worthiness, but based on what Christ has accomplished in your heart.

So that is the meaning of the blood ritual: We must hear, we must work, and we must walk as those who both need redemption and are redeemed.

The result of an effective priesthood

Let us turn briefly to chapter 9. We left Aaron and his sons isolated in the tabernacle for seven days. On the eighth day they come out and, for the first time, offer sacrifices for themselves and for the people of Israel. Can you imagine the excitement? God has described all these sacrifices and the ordination in detail -- and now, at long last, God's people are able to witness these wonderful pictures of God's provisions for meeting their needs. We have previously considered the details of these sacrifices, so let us read only the last three verses, 22-24 of chapter 9:

22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 ∂ And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. 24 Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

See the result of an effective priesthood?

When Godís chosen priests are filled with the Holy Spirit, live on Godís word, listen to his voice, walk in the knowledge of his redeeming love, and serve according to his plan, GOD IS GLORIFIED. The fire of the Lord bursts forth and consumes the offering. And the people shout -- they are overcome as they see God in action. This is the result of priestly ministry.

Just so, we glorify God when we act as effective priests. When we die to self and live for God, by his power and by his word, we display God's love and power just as Aaron and his sons displayed God's love and power.

Let me give you an example of this. In the tape series "Growing Kids God's Way," Gary Ezzo tells of one day when he was suffering from UMS. Now, some of you may not be familiar with the male disease, UMS, but I suspect you all have felt the brunt of it. UMS stands for Ugly Mood Syndrome. Gary had had a tough day at the office when everything imaginable had gone wrong. To make matters worse, he had left the office late and was trying to rush -- but hit every red light on the way home. Upon arrival, his Mood was really Ugly. As he was about to enter the house, he heard a noise in the garage. He entered -- and saw his daughter Amy in the midst of opening a package, with styrofoam peanuts surrounding her. She looked up and said, "Hi Dad! Did you have a good day?" Gary surveyed the situation and blew up: "Amy! I've told you not to let styrofoam get all over the floor -- that stuff's impossible to clean up. And look, my hammer is missing! I bought hammers for each of you girls so you wouldn't use mine. You're responsible for all this, young lady, and you're going to deal with it!" Amy just looked at her dad for a second, then stood up, put her arms out, and hugged him. "Daddy," she said, "you must have had a terrible day. Just let me hold you." Just let me hold you.

Gary comments on her actions: "When I was least approachable, she approached me; when I was least lovely, she loved me." Amy was acting out Jesusí statement: "Even as I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)

On the day of this story, Amy had an effective priesthood. She served her father as a priest, acting out God's love for him. And when she made that little sacrifice, when she yielded up her right to lash back, when she chose to serve in love rather than to speak back in her father's tones, she glorified God! Godís fire burst forth from his tabernacle and consumed that sacrifice, so that the sweet savor of its burning filled the air -- the glory of the Lord was made manifest by this young girl's act of love. When we act as Godís priests, letting his love overflow our hearts and spread to the world around us, God is glorified -- Godís character is revealed through our little, seemingly trivial acts.

Conclusion

This is the God we serve: A God who loves us so much that he redeems us through his own suffering, a God who provides us with all we need for service, a God who has foreordained a ministry for every Christian. This God cleanses us, equips us, meets our every need, and then shows the world what He is like through us.

Isnít this different from many prevalent ideas about God, even in the church?

God is not standing there with a stick, waiting to bop you on the head when you fall. God is not your judge, demanding that you summon up the willpower to live a perfect life, looking down at you, always dissatisfied. God is not some stern, hard schoolmaster like Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre, longing to humiliate you for every careless act.

No. You have dug your own hole, through your sins you have separated yourself from God -- but God provides the way out. If you trust in Him, if you receive Jesus Christ as Lord -- and the invitation to do so is open to all -- then you are family, you are God's beloved, and God -- far from being the uncaring, unfeeling schoolmaster -- is overflowing with tender love towards you. When you sin, when you stumble once again into a habit you thought you had left behind, God's word to you is, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). God's word to you is, "I have loved you." God's word to you is, "There is now no condemnation, there is now no judgment for those who are in Christ Jesus." God's word to you is, "nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." God's word to you today is to behold, to look, to see how great is God's love for you -- so great that he calls you his very children.

My brothers and sisters, no matter what sin you have fallen into, no matter what you may have thought or said or done, when you humbly approach the Lord of the universe and say, with a broken and contrite heart "I have sinned," then you are one of the family. You are free indeed. Earthly consequences for your sin there may well be, but you are right with the God of all, and his love will hold you fast for all eternity.

So walk in the blood. Listen as one redeemed. Work with the blood. Each day offer up a burnt offering, knowing that God has made you his and accepts you wholly as his. Each day offer up that sin offering, acknowledging the inadequacy of even your best efforts. Each day think of that oil flowing over Aaron's head, the Holy Spirit filling you, enabling you to live and serve according to God's plan.

And then know that you are equipped to minister to all these other hurting people, all these others who are deceived by sin, who feel rejected, who feel condemned. Then you can be an effective priest -- not a perfect person who lives by a list of rules, but a redeemed person, a person whose conscience is clear before God, a priest who knows human frailty because he sees himself with open eyes, a priest who offers the promise of God's love and power and acceptance to those who so desperately need it.


This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 10/4/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at the PBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him. The opening story by Howard Hendricks comes from his sermon at PBC on 9/20/98, which is also available on the PBC web site. The tape series "Growing Kids God's Way" by Gary and Marie Ezzo can be ordered through their web site. While not agreeing with every detail of their recommendations for child rearing, Beth and I have profited from listening to these tapes, and encourage others to do so.

Copyright © 1998, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, tpinckney@williams.edu, c/o Community Bible Church, Harrison Ave, Williamstown, MA 01267.

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