Sermon on Exodus 29:1-46 – “What Does it Take to be Clean?”

Sermon for Sunday, January 16th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 30:1-10 ESV] 1 “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2 A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3 You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. 4 And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”

New Testament reading:

[1Pe 1:13-19 ESV] 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 12:1-8 ESV] 1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Sermon Text:

[Exo 29:1-46 ESV] 1 “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, 2 and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil. You shall make them of fine wheat flour. 3 You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams. 4 You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. 5 Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 6 And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. 8 Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, 9 and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons. 10 “Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. 11 Then you shall kill the bull before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 12 and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. 13 And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. 15 “Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 16 and you shall kill the ram and shall take its blood and throw it against the sides of the altar. 17 Then you shall cut the ram into pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head, 18 and burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. 19 “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 20 and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. 21 Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him. 22 “You shall also take the fat from the ram and the fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and the right thigh (for it is a ram of ordination), 23 and one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the LORD. 24 You shall put all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. 25 Then you shall take them from their hands and burn them on the altar on top of the burnt offering, as a pleasing aroma before the LORD. It is a food offering to the LORD. 26 “You shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s ordination and wave it for a wave offering before the LORD, and it shall be your portion. 27 And you shall consecrate the breast of the wave offering that is waved and the thigh of the priests’ portion that is contributed from the ram of ordination, from what was Aaron’s and his sons’. 28 It shall be for Aaron and his sons as a perpetual due from the people of Israel, for it is a contribution. It shall be a contribution from the people of Israel from their peace offerings, their contribution to the LORD. 29 “The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him; they shall be anointed in them and ordained in them. 30 The son who succeeds him as priest, who comes into the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place, shall wear them seven days. 31 “You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. 32 And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 33 They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy. 34 And if any of the flesh for the ordination or of the bread remain until the morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire. It shall not be eaten, because it is holy. 35 “Thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Through seven days shall you ordain them, 36 and every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. 37 Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy. 38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

 

Introduction

What does it take to be clean?

There is the popular saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

But here we ask about spiritual cleanliness. What does it take to be spiritual clean, to be holy and truly close to godliness?

In our text today we find God’s elaborate instructions to Moses for the consecration of the High Priest, for how the High Priest is to be cleansed before working in the Tabernacle as the minister and intermediary between man and God.

And because God is holy, His High Priest is also to be holy. Not just anyone can go into the holy of holies, and you can’t just go in willy-nilly, but specific criteria must be met.

So God gives a series of commands for how to consecrate the High Priest for service to Him. To set him apart, and to cleanse him.

I. Consecration of the High Priest

There is a lot that goes into consecrating the High Priest. In fact, it is a 7 day ordeal. This makes any special service that we have today, whether an ordination service or a communion service, it makes these seem short. The service for the ordination of the priest lasted 7 days. All of which was necessary to prepare him, to set him apart, for service.

Included in the consecration are the (1) sacrifices, the (2) special garments, and the (3) blood of the sacrifices.

A. Sacrifices

The sacrifices includes a bull, 2 rams, and 2 lambs. From these come both meat and blood. Then also there is the bread and the wine also offered up to God.

1. Bull (v. 10-14)

Of the bull, God has them kill it before the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then its blood is put with their fingers on the horns of the altar. That is the corners of the altar, and the remainder is poured out at the base of the altar. And a bull is a large animal. This is a lot of blood.

The fat, the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with their fat is burned on the altar.

The rest, the unwanted flesh and skin and dung are brought outside the camp to be burned. More about that later. First we have the rams.

2. Rams

Of the two rams, one is to be killed and its blood thrown against the sides of the altar. The whole ram, cut into pieces and washes is burned on the altar.

This is called the “ram of ordination.” Today, a pastored being ordained is more likely to get a cake for the celebration than a whole ram. But presumably they didn’t have cake yet during Moses’s time.

The second ram is killed and the priests are to put some of its blood on the tip of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and the great toes of their right feet. The rest is to be thrown against the sides of the altar.

We see that the altar has blood now on the corners, the sides, the top, and the base. The entire altar is covered with blood.

And the priests have blood on them.

The fact that blood is on their toe goes to prove their shoelessness mentioned last week. They are without shoes, walking on holy ground. And the big toe of the right foot is covered in blood.

The Bible calls it the “great toe” and you might imagine it is the king of the toes, looking down on the others.

3. Lambs

Also sacrificed for the consecration of the priest are the lambs.

One in the morning, one at twilight, each of the seven days.

And with the lamb is offered flour, and oil, wine, and grain. The point is that much needs to be done in the realm of sacrifice to cleanse the High Priest and prepare him for his work. But it is not just about sacrifices.

B. Garments

To consecrate the High Priest for service, he must also wear the special garments that we read about last week. The breastpiece, the ephod, the robe, the linen undergarment, the turban, and the sash, each made with the most expensive materials.

The priest is not naturally holy or set apart. He is not chosen for this task because of his natural holiness. Rather it takes an elaborate ritual to consecrate him for the ministry.

Even for the High Priest to be seen as clean it takes a lot of work.

What hope is there for us? We put on our special garments – we call them our “Sunday best” – and they are perhaps almost as uncomfortable as the Priests garments. You remember, those garments are full of rocks. Twelve stones on the breastpiece, a stone on either shoulder, and two more stones – the Urim and Thummin – against his heart.

So we put on our suits and dresses on Sunday, but these do not make us holy. These do not make us clean.

I think of the olden days when a clean person had a bath once per month. In our time one might shower every day, but their physical cleanliness swiftly deteriorates with ever passing minute afterwards.

And one’s spiritual cleanliness; if you’re showering every day, are you praying every day? Are you reading the Bible every day?

To be spiritually clean, it is going to take a lot more than the occasional visit to church.

For the High Priest, his consecration took not just the right garments, but all of the sacrifices, and then, especially, the blood.

C. Blood

The blood is used to purify the altar. And the blood is used to purify the priest.

Everything is cleansed with blood, and blood is everywhere.

The blood is on the ears, the fingers, and the toes of the priest. And also upon his palms.

Sin is deserving of death, and blood is the symbol of death. So the death of animals, and their blood, reminds the people of the death that they deserve.

But even the animals that are sacrificed for the cleansing have unclean parts. The animals without blemish still has entrails and unwanted parts. And so these are placed “outside the camp.”

II. Christ, the Only Holy High Priest

This provides a connection to Christ, as he was sacrificed outside the camp.

Jesus Christ was the actual holy High Priest. Rituals were not needed to make him holy, for he already was holy.

But though Christ was holy, he was treated in the worst matter imaginable as if he were unholy, unclean, and completed unwanted.

When Jesus died at Golgotha, aka Calvary, he died outside the camp. It was a place outside of the gates of Jerusalem. There is some debate about precisely where Christ was crucified, but all agree that it was somewhere just outside of Jerusalem. And outside the city was a place of defilement, uncleanness. A place for lepers and trash heaps.

They brought Jesus to this hill where he was sacrificed like the unwanted parts of the animals in the Exodus.

[Heb 13:11-12 ESV] 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

And the purpose of all of this is for God to unite with his people.

We might say, in summary of the gospel of substitutionary atonement:

The clean was treated as unclean so that the unclean could be treated as clean.

The clean (that is Jesus) was treated as unclean (and so put outside the gate) so that the unclean (that is his people) could be treated as clean, seen as holy in the eyes of God.

All for God to unite with his people. That is the conclusion we have in our Exodus passage. That all of the cleansing is for God to be with His people.

It says:

43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

And God did come and dwell among his people in the person of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for sins, the truly holy High Priest.

And notice that it is God that does the consecration. Though He has given many rituals for the people to undertake, it is ultimately He that cleanses. “I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.” “I will consecrate the ent of meeting and the altar.” “Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate.” It is the Lord that does it.

This is good news for us, we who are unclean, which is all of us, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And he who says he has no sins deceives himself and the truth is not in him.

And this makes such an apt metaphor, but cleanliness always comes from outside. You don’t clean one dirty object with another dirty object. If you wash a car with a greasy rag the car will remain greasy. You don’t take a bath in a stagnant pond, but must use clean water.

So it is that man needs something – SOMEONE – who truly is clean in order for us to be cleansed. We need Jesus.

So what are we then to do? We’ve seen how the priests are consecrated for service. How are we to be made ready for service to the Lord in our lives? How are we to be made clean?

Application 1: Realize Your Uncleanliness and Need for Christ

First, we are to realize our uncleanliness and need for Christ.

We see in our passage that even the high priest is unclean. Even parts of the animals sacrificed for cleanliness are unclean. Even the altar is unclean. If these things are so, then surely we are unclean.

We must not think that we can clean ourselves. We must not hope in our own works.

We need someone else to wash away our sins. We need an alien righteousness, a substitutionary atonement, a sacrifice of of the most holy, perfectly clean, perfectly sinless Jesus Christ on our behalf.

This is what it takes to be clean. It takes the work of God himself in Jesus Christ.

We must look upon Jesus Christ on the cross as our savior and believe in the promise that his death outside the camp was for our salvation, for our eternal spiritual cleanliness.

Application 2: Seek the city that is to come.

Then, we have a second application. Seek the city that is to come.

The Hebrews passage quoted earlier gives an application when we read it further:

[Heb 13:11-14 ESV] 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

This reminds me of:

[Pro 3:5-6 ESV] 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

And of:

[Mat 6:33 ESV] 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We are to seek the city that is to come, the kingdom of God.

Now, some have complained that the Christian, so looking forward to the next life, denigrates the present life. This need not be the case.

When it says “we have no lasting city” we must understand that especially in the ancient world the city was a place strong and stable, providing rest and refuge to its inhabitants. But there is nothing in this world that is so stable, and we are to put our faith in no thing. But this does not mean that we should not thank the Lord for this life and this world. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t use our time wisely in this world. We are indeed called to great things even though this isn’t our eternal home.

We are to thank the Lord for the here and now, and for the then and there. We are to joyfully live in this world, all the while looking forward to the age to come.

Why do we look forward to this age, and not merely revel in the current world? It is because in the age to come we will be not only declared clean in the sight of God, but we shall be fully made clean, to sin no more, to live without guilt, without the enemy satan at our heels, and without death upon the horizon. We shall know and do only the good, and God shall be ever before our sight.

The commentator A. W. Pink says this:

“In His providential dealings with them, God often gives His people painful reminders of the fact that “here we have no continuing city.” We are prone to be at ease in Zion, to fix our hearts on things below, to settle down in this world. We like to feel that we are anchored for a while at least, and make our plans accordingly. But God blow upon our schemes and compels us to take up the stakes of our tents, saying (Micah 2:10) “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest; because it is polluted.”

“The Christian has something far better than an insecure and non-continuing city on earth, even the Father’s House, with its many mansions, eternal in the heavens.”

So let us seek this house in heaven.

Though the Lord Jesus Christ has attained rooms in houses even mansions for us in heaven, yet we are called to continue to endeavor after his ways. To follow the Lord who has already won for us our salvation. To follow the Lord who has cleansed us from all unrighteousness. It is in his name, the Lord Jesus Christ, that I pray. Amen.