Friday, June 5, 2009

Sunday School - the law and sacrifices (6) priests

The questions came thick and fast this week. "How were the priests chosen?" "Where's the tabernacle now?" "What did you learn when I was away?!"

We've watched the tabernacle being built and we've seen God's glory rest on it. We've learned how sin and uncleanness keep us from God's holy tent. We've seen how we're forgiven and cleansed through sacrifices. But this is all pretty pointless without priests.

You can't just walk straight into God's presence, or you'll die! You need a go-between to approach God on your behalf. You need a priest, someone to go near God and offer sacrifices for you.

To mediate between God and humans, priests had to be human like us, but they also had to be holy like God. No-one could be a priest if he wasn't from the priestly family. No-one could be a priest unless he had no physical defects. No-one could serve as a priest if he'd come into contact with anything unclean. (Lev 21-22)

The priests were protected from the messy parts of the sacrifices. They protected the tabernacle from the touch of unclean hands. They represented God to the Israelites. They represented the Israelites to God. They came between people and God.

Out of all the world, God set apart 1 nation for himself: the Israelites. Out of the 12 tribes of Israel, God set apart 1 tribe to look after the holy things: the Levites. Out of this tribe, God set apart 1 family as priests: Aaron and his descendants. Out of this family, God set apart one man, and his oldest son after him, to serve him as high priest: Moses' brother Aaron.

Here's how Aaron was consecrated as the high priest and his 4 sons as priests (Lev 8-9). You'll notice that most of the steps have to do with being cleansed from sin and uncleanness and set apart as holy for God's service:

  • washing with water
  • dressing in clothes designed to give "honour and dignity" (Exod 28:2) - he was dressed like a king!
  • anointing with oil - to set him apart for leadership
  • sin offering, burnt offering, fellowship offering - Aaron laid hands on the head of each animal to put his sin on them
  • blood on the right ear, right thumb and right big toe - to cleanse him from sin and uncleanness top to toe
  • sprinkling with oil and blood - to set him apart for God's service and cleanse him from sin and uncleanness
  • wave offering of meat from the fellowship offering and unleavened bread from the grain offering
  • cooking and eating meat and bread from the offerings - to show he shared in the benefits of the offerings
  • 7 days waiting at the entrance to the tabernacle with daily sacrifices - he couldn't walk straight in to God!

On the 8th day, Aaron took up his high priestly ministry, offered sacrifices for the first time, and blessed the people. Fire came from the presence of the LORD and burned up the offerings on the altar. The people shouted for joy and fell facedown. What a day that must have been!

As I told the children the story of Aaron's consecration I "dressed" a drawing of a high priest, "anointed" him with oil, and "sprinkled" him with oil and blood. Here's our high priest wearing undergarments to cover his private parts to show respect (Ex 28:42-43);

a fine white linen tunic to show purity and holiness (Ex 28:39-41, 39:27-29);a blue robe with pomegranates on the hem in royal colours (blue, red, purple) alternating with bells - these rang as the high priest entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement so he would not die (Ex 28:31-35, 39:22-26);a richly woven ephod and sash in royal colours and golden thread (Ex 28:6-14, 39:2-6);a breastpiece in royal colours with 12 jewels engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, hung from gold chains from 2 onyx stones each engraved with 6 of the 12 tribes on the ephod's shoulder pieces - the high priest carried the names of Israel over his heart as he went into the Holy Place on their behalf, and carried inside the breastpiece the Urim and Thummim, used to make decisions for the people of God (Ex 28:6-13, 39:8-21);a white turban with a gold plate engraved "Holy to the LORD" (Ex 8:36-38, 29:30-31).The high priest was dressed like a king! But then his beautiful robes were sprinkled with oil and blood:The children were horrified to see me putting oil (sewing machine oil) and blood (red paint) on our beautiful picture. I wonder if the Israelite craftsmen felt the same, seeing all that fine white linen, gold-embroidered cloth and precious jewels splashed with blood? What a vivid picture of the cost of sin!

Here's our finished high priest:
I'm sure I haven't discovered everything the priests did, but here's what I've found out so far. I had no idea they were so busy!

All of which brings us to Jesus, our Great High Priest, the one perfect, eternal high priest. We don't need any others! He is the perfect go-between, fully man and fully God, free from sin and uncleanness so he never has to pay for his own sin. He offered the one perfect sacrifice for all time when he died on the cross. He teaches us God's ways, cleanses us from sin, and prays and pleads for us before the throne of God.

Our tabernacle model came into its own this week, as I explained where the priests were and weren't allowed to go, and showed the children the bronze basin for washing, and the incense altar, lampstand and table the priests tended in the Holy Place. Here they are:

Here's our page for the week (white for purity and holiness):

Next time, we'll be talking about the Day of Atonement.

If you'd like to see or use my Sunday School lessons, either these or my lessons on the fruit of the Spirit or Romans, please contact me.

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