This is an edited version of a sermon preached for PCEA Loresho Community Church on Sunday 10th March 2022 from Leviticus 8:1-9 and Hebrews 3:1-6
One of the most common things in the COVID season has been an upgrading from Old Operating Systems (OS) to New Operating Systems (OS). The radical change brought about by the COVID period has meant that companies and organizations have had to shift from how they viewed things before COVID. The Church has not also been spared, but many Church leaders are still exploring how to upgrade their ministries towards this new season. There is a sense in which an old Operating System and a new Operating System are similar. Well, to begin with they are systems. Secondly, they are there to serve a function. But when you begin analysing the two systems much closer, you begin to see clear differences between the Old and New Operating Systems. New Operating Systems have much more functionalities and capabilities that make Old Operating Systems look unhelpful.
Now this is not far removed from our two passages this morning. In these passages, we find both a level of continuity and a level of discontinuity between the “old way” of doing things and the “new way” of doing things. Both passages show us how approaching God in both the Old and New Testaments was through faith in the promises of God. In the Old, ordinary people could approach God through faith in God’s provision through the sacrifices that ordinary priests offered. In the New, ordinary people can approach God through faith in the Ultimate Sacrifice that our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, offers. However, in the 2nd Reading, Jesus Christ is presented as much much better, much much purer, much much more effective than Moses, and the entire Old Testament priesthood system.
The Old Way of Priesthood and Sacrifices
In the Old Testament, God is presented as one who is separate from what he has created. The word that describes this uniqueness between the Creator and the created, is the word, Holy. In fact, the main message of Leviticus is Holiness – How, because God’s people belong to him, they are called to live holy lives in all they do. Now we know that that was (and is?) not always the case. And this creates a sort of barrier in how imperfect people can relate with a perfect God. However, because God is so gracious, he had provided a way for the people to approach him and to be restored to him and also to one another – through offering something in the place of another. In the OT, sometimes it was a bull, a lamb, a dove, grain offerings, depending on the socio-economic capacity of the one offering but also depending on the aim of the offering. It is a concept we also find in some of our traditional African societies. In Leviticus 1-7, we get the background of the sacrifices.
- Burnt offerings – were offered for daily common sins
- Sin offerings – were offered to restore community life
- Guilt offerings – were offered to make for reconciliation between people
- Grain offerings – were offered as thanksgiving for daily provision
- Peace offerings – were offered as thanksgiving for fellowship with God
These offerings were central to how the Old Testament believers related with God and each other. And the people who played a prominent role in all these were the priests.
The Functions of Priests
A simple way to think about the priests is that they represent God to people, and they represent people to God. They are like a go-between or in modern language, brokers – actually, “holy brokers”. Leviticus 8-10 teaches us about the priesthood and its importance in the lives of the Jewish communities. In summary, their JD (Lev 10:8-11) was simple
- To help people distinguish between the clean and unclean, and between the holy and unholy
- To teach the people the whole Word of God – without selectively reading only the good parts of the Word of God.
However, what is striking as we read the Leviticus passage is that although they were holy “brokers” they were not perfect. In fact, they have to be washed and purified (vv.5-6) before they can participate in the religious ceremonies. As an example of something bad that happens when priests do not follow the correct guidelines is found in Leviticus 10. Leviticus 10 captures the horrifying tale of two priests, Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons who were destroyed by a “fire from the LORD” because they had participated in their priestly duty in an unfitting manner (10:1-2). God wants his people to learn that his character is Holy, and his people must lead Holy lives.
Why is God so detailed in how this priesthood should function in a clean way? Well, because he is just about to introduce the Tabernacle – this is where God would dwell with his people. And if he dwelt there, then what goes on there and the kind of people who serve there, had to do it perfectly.
It reminds me of how our parents used to host visitors in our childhood. There were special mugs and plates, only for visitors. These were the most expensive “china” – not the country – but the cutlery, that was reserved for only the special guests. I think the point was that, if you are waiting for someone special, you act in a special way. I think this was what God wanted his people to live – if he, the most important and powerful person was coming to dwell with them, then they had to bring out their best!
So far, Leviticus shows us
- God’s character: God is serious about holiness because his character is holy
- God’s people: His people are called to be holy
- God’s priests: The priests provide a way (an imperfect way) for people to be restored to holiness
Enter Jesus, the Great High Priest
So in a sense, the priesthood system is very foundational to how we understand the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hebrews, presents him in our passage as the Great High Priest.
God’s word invites us to consider how Jesus not only mirrors the priesthood system in the Old Testament, but how he significantly fulfils it. There is a comparison with Moses, in that both were faithful. But there are significant differences – the passage tells us that Moses was a servant, Jesus is a son; Moses had lesser glory, Jesus has more glory.
The comparison is made between a temporary dwelling place (mabati – these are semi-permanent houses in Kenya’s slum areas) and a permanent house (think of a mansion). Now we live in a city that likes to make distinctions based on where one lives. Some people who live in mansions, say, without words “I can never be caught walking around those mabati houses”! Some people who live in mabati houses, say, without words “I can never be worthy of living in a mansion”. It seems that though these two groups of people make distinctions, they both share the same concern: They desire to live under a roof that is well secure.
In God’s great design, he makes no distinctions between people and has provided a better house for all who trust in Him – The only requirement to live in God’s secure house is through faith in his Son. In fact, the Hebrews passage reminds us that fundamentally, we are all the same. We live in these bodies that are weak and prone to diseases, weaknesses and even death. The passage before our Hebrews reading goes beneath the surface, by unpacking our greatest fear on earth – the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). But on the other hand, the Hebrews passage points us to the Great High Priest, the one who perfectly represents God to us, and the one who perfectly represents us to God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have deliverance, victory and peace in this life, and in the life to come. This is how the Hebrews passage puts it:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has power to destroy death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”Hebrews 2:14-15
The Word of God therefore turns our attention from ourselves, or from the Old Testament priests, and focuses us on Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest – CONSIDER JESUS CHRIST. To consider means to pay close attention to, to remain fixated upon, to careful meditate upon – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is greater than Moses. The Priesthood of Jesus Christ is much more powerful that that of Moses (and Aaron). While the priests in the Old Testament had to be cleansed from their impurity, Jesus Christ is the pure one!
While the Old Testament priests had to offer sacrifices continually, Jesus Christ “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
A single offering.
An eternal perfection.
That is what you get if you have trusted in Jesus Christ.
Let me draw us to a few areas of application as we get to the end of the sermon:
- If you are trusting in your own righteousness – do you see how God’s standards of holiness are so high that you can never hope to attain them by your own strength or good life? Simply put, our best efforts will never match God’s holy character. If you may be in such a position this morning, let me put it clearly for you – you are staring into a dead end.
- Jesus Christ our only hope – If you are facing a dead end, then there is still good news for you: Jesus Christ is your pathway to life. He is the perfect one. He is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. He is the effective Priest. He will bring you to God without a guilty conscience. He will give to you a new life. Trust in God’s holy provision for your imperfect life. Trust in Jesus Christ, your only hope.
- Reject the call to go back to the old – We live in a country where Christians are being tempted to return to the old. Imagine how retrogressive this would be – to return back to the old OPERATING SYSTEM, when you have already migrated to the NEW OPERATING SYSTEM? Imagine, mixing the precious blood of Jesus Christ, with the ordinary blood of goats? (1 Pet 1:18-19) How dare we spun such a great salvation as we have received in Christ? May we remain progressive by holding our confession to Christ Jesus.
- Living new lives – To those of us who have trusted in Christ, and call ourselves Christian – What does it mean to be a Christian from our passage? It means living a holy life – a life set apart towards God. This is the “heavenly calling”. It is to run our businesses, to deal with our hardships, to make future planning, to go through our education and to raise our families in ways that look different from the world we live in. The Christian calling is a calling to live a different kind of life than what is common. That is why the reformers recovered the understanding that we are now part of the prieshood of believers. We ordinary Christians can bring God’s presence wherever we are. Unfortunately, the Church has compromised in many ways. I talk to young people and they keep wondering “can I give my life to Christ and his Church, and yet there is still corruption, and divisiveness, jealousy, immorality among so called Christians?” May we not be the stumbling block to the generations that are coming after us. May our lives, through God’s spiritual power, be lives marked with a difference.
Consider Jesus. Live for Jesus.