“And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
God had a big plan to move in with His children! First, of course, God needed a house. We studied about this “house” (a.k.a., the tabernacle) last time in Exodus chapters 25 through 30. Now, in Exodus 28 and 29, we read about the priests who will serve as the caretakers for this special dwelling place of Yahweh.
One of the first things we learn about the priesthood is that not just anyone could be a priest. First, you had to be a member of the tribe of Levi. After that, you also had to be from the family of Aaron. A rather slim selection process, don’t you think? Under the New Covenant, however, we believe in the priesthood of all believers: “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” (1 Peter 2:5, NLT. See also 1 Peter 2:9.) We read more fully about this exciting plan for all of God’s people in Revelation 5. In contrast to an exclusive priesthood selected from a single tribe, Revelation 5:9-10 paints a picture of universal inclusion, declaring that God has chosen all of us “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” to be “kings and priests” before Him. How cool is that!?
As I was thinking about this reality–this awesome privilege of being invited to serve as a priest for my Savior–I started reading about the priests’ dedication ceremony in Exodus 29. Here, I began to notice a fascinating progression. In fact, I think we can identify five particularly relevant steps that parallel our own call to priesthood in the New Testament era:
1.) The priests are chosen in advance. You couldn’t just wake up one day and decide you wanted to be a priest. There wasn’t a “priesthood election” you could run in. No, God had pre-designated the family of Aaron alone to serve as His priests. (See Hebrews 5:4.) Being chosen as a priest had nothing to do with how spiritually-gifted you were or how hard you worked at the church. It was a calling extended to you simply because of whose family you belonged to. Likewise, as Christ reminds us in John 15:16, we did not choose Him – He chose us! We didn’t go chasing down God, attempting to impress Him with our good deeds. He came hunting after us! Before the world began, our Heavenly Father predestined every one of us to be an irreplaceable member of His holy family: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV. See also verse 11 and Romans 8:29-30.)
2.) The chosen must respond. Exodus 29:4 tells us that the priests had to present themselves at the entrance of the tabernacle as a part of the ceremony. In short, the call to priesthood was of no effect until the chosen responded to the opportunity. And so, while God has predestined (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11) each one of us to be His children–and, therefore, His holy priests–we must each choose to accept this invitation for ourselves.
3.) The chosen are washed. I think it’s interesting that the priests didn’t wash themselves first, before responding to the call of priesthood. No, first they respond, and then they are washed. And notice they don’t wash themselves – the washing is done to them. In fact, of all these steps, the only thing the priests are responsible for actively doing for themselves is step #2 – to respond. Likewise, we don’t have to clean ourselves up before coming to Christ. We can simply come. We will then be washed by Jesus Christ Himself, through His blood. It’s not something we can do for ourselves. As we are baptized into Christ’s family, we are completely dependent on Him to wash us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (See John 13:8, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, 1 John 1:9.)
4.) The chosen are clothed. As we accept Christ’s salvation for us, we have to remove the filthy garments of our own works (Isaiah 64:6). That is, our own best attempts at pleasing God and trying to earn His gift of salvation. We instead must allow Jesus to cover us with His own perfect garments of glistening righteousness. (Read Zechariah 3:1-5, Galatians 3:27, Revelation 3:18.)
5.) The chosen are anointed. The anointing symbolized the fact that God had set these men apart for a special purpose. In our lives today, we have the Holy Spirit’s anointing! Not only does this anointing set us apart for service to God, it also enables and empowers us to fulfill His calling in service to others. (See 2 Corinthians 1:21, Ephesians 2:8-10, 2 Peter 1:3, 1 John 2:20, 27.)
Another aspect of this study that I found particularly interesting was in Exodus 28. This passage describes how Aaron, the high priest, was to wear two specific articles of clothing which would continually remind him of his intercessory ministry for the people. First, he was to wear a pair of sacred onyx stones bearing the names of the tribes of Israel: “Fasten the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod as a reminder that Aaron represents the people of Israel. Aaron will carry these names on his shoulders as a constant reminder whenever he goes before the Lord” (Exodus 28:12, NLT). Second, he would wear a special chestpiece, crafted with twelve brilliant gemstones, each representing a tribe of Israel: “In this way, Aaron will carry the names of the tribes of Israel on the sacred chestpiece over his heart when he goes into the Holy Place. This will be a continual reminder that he represents the people when he comes before the Lord” (vs. 29). So what do we get out of this? Two things, I think. 1.) A priest must work for the people, bearing their burdens “on his shoulders.” 2.) A priest must love the people, wearing their cares, fears, and joys “over his heart.” What a powerful reminder of our high calling as God’s priests. But, more importantly, what a beautifully profound illustration of Christ’s high priestly ministry for us! He bears our burdens on His shoulders and He carries our cares over His heart. He understands everything we are going through, and He is always ready to pour His unfailing grace and unsurpassable peace into our lives. I hope that you find that thought as encouraging today as I do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV)