So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. Numbers 18:1-5, ESV.
God speaks directly to Aaron and lays the responsibility for the ministry and maintenance of the sanctuary on the shoulders of the priests. Two things stand out in this passage.
First, we see that God’s grace is followed by His call to obedience. He has not struck down the people of Israel for their lack of gratitude and constant complaining though their behavior deserved such destruction. This is pure grace. The Bible makes it clear that the sacrifices offered were never enough to deal with their sin, for “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). God was merciful to them because He is a merciful God. But His mercy is not an opportunity for license. Instead, it is a call to obedience. The right response to grace is to trust and obey grace’s Giver.
Second, we are taught about the priesthood. The priest is responsible for the people’s relationship with God. He stands in the gap. Aaron and his sons had good days and bad days in their priestly work—but we need a perfect Priest. We have such a priest in Jesus, for “it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28).
Debby and I were blessed this last week to enjoy time with family at the 1000 Islands in New York. We had access to beautiful scenery, toured and amazing castle and an old lighthouse site, and enjoyed some good seafood. Even with the restrictions in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, we had access to many wonderful things. What is even more amazing is the access we had, day-in-and-day-out to the throne of grace. Because Jesus bore God’s wrath against us on the cross and defeated death, we were able, whenever we desired, to come before God with our praises and our prayers.
My prayer for you today is that you enjoy the privilege of coming before the throne of God often and, as you do, that you show your gratitude to your Great High Priest by obeying His commands.
While I will not be updating the blog this week, I will be praying for our church family. If you have specific needs, please e-mail or text them to me. I leave you with this great word from a wise Puritan:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. Numbers 15:37-41, ESV
When I worked as an engineer, there was one tool that I found to be invaluable: the yellow sticky note. The documents on my desk had little yellow tabs sticking out all over. There were yellow sticky notes on my overhead cabinets. Often there would be yellow sticky notes on my computer monitor. If I wanted to recall facts or remember to do something, I peeled off another sticky note.
In today’s passage, God instructs Israel to make tassels with blue chords and sew them on the corners of their garments to remind them of something: the need to obey. Trusting in their hearts (their passions) and their eyes (their understanding of the world around them) would not do. So God gave them a visual reminder of His commands to help them pursue holiness and follow Him, their God who rescued them from Egypt.
What kind of reminders do you have in place to help you follow Jesus? Maybe today would be a good day to take stock of them. Make a list. Then thank God for these reminders. Ask Him to use them to draw your attention back to Him whenever you are tempted to just follow your own heart or your own eyes.
I am praying for you.
If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him. Numbers 15:27-31, ESV
The sacrificial laws that God gave to Israel are no longer binding regulations on the people of God, for Christ has become our once-for-all sacrifice for sin. However, we may continue to read of these sacrifices and learn of the character of our God and the nature of our sin.
In our passage this morning, we learn that Israel was to recognize a distinction between unintentional sins, sins of straying or mistake, and high-handed or intentional sins. While we might expect the first to be ignored by God, they are not. These sins require a sin offering to make atonement for them before the Lord. This is true even when the unintentional sin is committed by a foreigner traveling through Israel. God never takes sin lightly.
The intentional acts of rebellion are quite another thing. They are seen as acts of hatred toward God. There is no sacrifice for these. The sinner is to be sent from Israel with his guilt intact.
While we are no longer bound by these laws, we do well to consider the picture they paint of the sinfulness of sin. When our sin is revealed to us, we cannot excuse it or simply write it off as a mistake. Sin is sin. We must deal with it. We can praise God that we no longer need to do so through symbolic sacrifices. Instead, we can take our sins directly to the Son of God who bore them for us on the cross and paid the penalty for them as the perfect once-for-all sinless offering to God. We can confess our sins and know that, in Jesus, they will be forgiven, and we will be made clean (1 John 1:9).
I am praying for you. May God grant you the grace to see your sin, intentional or not, for what it is and grant you the joy of being forgiven and made clean in Christ.