- Exodus 28:6-21
- John 17:11-19
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we might make the mistake to disregard everything the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices and offerings. It is true that we living on this side of the cross of Christ do not need an earthly high priest, neither an altar, nor sacrificial animals. Moreover, we don’t need a temple which is divided in different sections where only certain privileged people may enter, and others are excluded from those sections.
Jesus Christ was the end of the sacrificial system. In Him we have access to the Father, but then only if we by faith rest solely on his complete righteousness. We understand from last week that their is no other Saviour, no other other link between the Holy God and sinners. The Holy Spirit is the promised Comforter who takes us by the hand to this only Saviour. No other person or persons can make the claim Jesus made: what belongs to the Father belongs to Him—and whom the Father gave to Him, He saved.
The shadow of the old covenant
But having said this, we cannot disregard certain aspects of the Old Testament priesthood which acted like a shadow of the real High Priesthood. For as long as the tabernacle of the old covenant was in place, so says the writer of Hebrews, they served as
“… an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:9–10, NIV)
This writer continues:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. (Hebrews 9:11, NIV)
Our reading from Exodus this morning took us to beginning of the office of High Priest. Aaron was that person, assisted by his sons.
There are three particular themes in the symbolism of the garments of the high priest.
- The first is beauty. The Bible describes the quality and design of all the items of clothing, together with the use of colour and precious stones. But beauty is dominant in the breastplate; the Hebrew word translated approximately as “breastplate” has as its basic sense “beauty” or “excellence.” The clothing symbolises beauty, while beauty describes the office. The high priest, Aaron, fully robed, was a splendid figure, and the splendour of his garments indicated the magnificence of the office with which he had been entrusted.
- The second theme is the role of the priest as representative of Israel before God. The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on the two onyx stones in the ephod, and in the 12 precious stones attached to the breastplate. The high priest entered God’s presence to seek deliverance from God’s judgment for his people and in order to keep the people constantly in God’s remembrance. Verse 12 states:
Aaron will bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial. (Exodus 28:12)
On the breast piece there four rows of precious stones with the name of one of the twelve tribes engraved on each one.
Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of decision over his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. (Exodus 28:29)
- The third theme is the role of high priest as the representative of God to Israel. The Urim and Thummim, (objects kept in the breast piece of the High Priest and used to discern the will of God) were kept in the breast piece, by means of which God made known his will to Israel.
The eternal High Priest
When Christ came to be our High Priest He first of all came not in splendour, but as a ordinary human being. But Hebrews says about Him:
For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)
He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He made his dwelling with us and we have seen his glory, the glory as from the Father (John 1:15). In his prayer (John 17) Jesus prayed to the Father:
And now, Father, glorify Me at your side with the glory I had with You before the world was created. (John 17:5)
Only He could declare:
Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. (John 17:10)
Like the high priest He revealed the will of God to his people. On his heart were the names of those who belonged to the Father. After Christ completed his work, the office of high priest disappeared, because
“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. (John 17:6, NET)
But like the high priest He intercedes for those who belong to the Father, having their names engraved on his chest.
My dear friend, before the splendour of our High Priest, who is our Lord, our Saviour, our Mediator and our God, we need to stand in awe and worship. He is the only One who knows the Father as an equal. He is the only One who has made the Father known to us; without him we lived in darkness, but in Him we were translated into light; once we were blind, but now we see. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
But He is also the only One who may stand in the presence of the Father with our names in his heart. He says,
When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost … so that the Scripture could be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NET)
If you believe and trust Him will all your heart, soul, mind and all your might, if his sacrifice as the Eternal High Priest is you only hope to one day stand before the throne of the Father, know this: your name is on his heart.
The intercession of our eternal High Priest
To complete his mission He had to go back to the Father where He came from. Yes, He would send them the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them, but He interceded for those who belong to both Him and the Father even before He left them. He was facing the most terrible anguish and loneliness, but He did not pray for Himself. One commentator puts it like this,
“I come to Thy presence where there is fullness of joy, and to Thy right hand where there are pleasures for evermore. I come—to where the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God; but these, these are in the wilderness. I come—where no enemy can follow me, where no temptation can assail me, where no weariness can distress me; but these, these are in the world. I come—to reap the trophies of my great victory. I come’—to grasp the scepter, to wear the crown, and to ascend the throne. I have been weary here, but I shall soon be weary no longer; the way has been rough and thorny, but it is all over, my haven is almost reached; yet these, these are in the world!”
What does He ask?
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name.” (17:11)
We who are followers of Christ don’t have a home in this world. Our Lord says, “… they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (17:14, 16) This is profound statement. Jesus Christ makes a comparison: He is not of this world, so are his disciples not from this world. How is this possible. We have to go back to chapter 1:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)
Nicodemus also had to hear from our Lord that natural birth does not make anyone a child of God. The Pharisees thought they were children of God because they were descendants of Abraham (8:33), but Christ made it clear:
He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:47, NKJV)
Being born from above those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour got now citizenship: it now rests with Christ at the throne of God. At the moment we are like sojourners, like foreigners on a 465 visa: we can can one be here if we have a job and a sponsor. And we have both. Jesus said,
As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:18, NKJV)
Do you still remember that you have a job to do? You have to represent your Lord as ambassador; you have to tell of his glory, his salvation, his love. And you have to love as Christ loved; you also have to pray as He taught you, pray that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to bring in the sheaves to the storehouse.
Why does He ask?
Our job is not an easy job. Although we have good news, and although the news and the grace are free, this world hates us. Why? Their master, the devil, hates Christ, and so he hates us too. The world does not hate us for being loving, caring for the sick and the needy, providing shelter to the helpless, or care for the elderly—they actually constantly remind us of our duty to be loving. But when we love to the point that we want them to bow before the Saviour and give Him all they have, and receive salvation as we have receive by grace, they spit on us.
Whoever thought to be a Christian is glamorous need to rethink his or her claim that his indeed a Christian. Being a Christian is being on Christ side, and to be on Christ side is to face a hostile world. The brother of our Lord, James understood this all too well. He writes:
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NKJV)
He who wants the good of what Christ offers, while still clinging to the things of this world, is like an adulterer who tries to split his devotion between more than one person. It’s either Christ, or the world—not both.
But if you follow Christ with an undivided heart, know this: our Lord is mentioning your name to his Father: “Protect them from the evil one.” (17:15)
I’ll end the sermon here. I had in mind to still touch on Christ’s prayer for our joy and sanctification. But let’s just conclude to say this: if you know Christ as your High Priest, you’ve got it all—you’ve got reason for joy because He has sanctified you when He walked through that temple curtain which separated God from sinners, and now He is appearing before the Father on your behalf.
The price is paid; hallelujah! Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 April 2017