Any of the several hundred great kids that ran cross country for me at Williamsport High School can tell you that the title today is my famous final word to them on the starting line of every race. I would say, “OK, remember now, no pressure – just don’t mess up” and then I’d immediately turn around and walk away. It was meant to communicate that while this was indeed a serious athletic event, we should also have fun while competing (and winning!).
Moses’ brother Aaron – the high priest for the nation of Israel – received pretty much the same message from God … although there was no humor whatsoever attached to it.
In today’s reading, we have laid out the prescription for the sacred annual event in Israel known as “The Day of Atonement” (listed on our calendars as Yom Kippur). To cover this chapter 16, we will use three days of readings – today gives the basic overview of it, with the following verses over the next two days detailing the precise activities to be observed.
The first verse gives a historical context as to exactly when this revelation came to Moses – to be passed along to Aaron. It was (presumably soon) after the death of two of Aaron’s four sons. This is recorded six chapters earlier in Leviticus 10. It is not exactly clear what Nadab and Abihu did when it says they came before the Lord with “unauthorized fire,” but whatever it was, it is apparent that they should have known better and were not being respectfully accurate about how they were serving. Fire came out from the Lord and killed them on the spot – and Aaron and the two other brothers were essentially told to stay there and not grieve over them at all! All of this happened on day #1 that Aaron and the boys were doing their priestly job.
So – back to our chapter 16 – if you were Aaron, and Moses came to you and said, “The Lord says that you are not to go behind the curtain into the most holy place where resides the ark and the mercy seat whenever you want to” … would you, in light of what you saw happen to your boys, be ready to listen and to apply every detail? And, oh my – there were details.
This ceremony was to occur but once a year; Aaron was to wear certain garments that were clean – and he was not to be stinky himself; Aaron was to prepare a sacrifice for himself and his family, since they were sinners; and Aaron was to secure two goats to make atonement for the sins of the people. We’ll circle back along with the text in the next two readings to go over these details and what they mean.
But today, let me make one main point about this whole scenario. Notice how in the old economy of the Old Covenant that it was a scary sort of “stay away” kind of thing? The picture is of a God who is filled with wrath at sin – one who could only be approached in very precise and prescribed ways. The reason for that is … well … God was angry at sin and could only be approached carefully in specified ways. But then, in the New Testament economy of the New Covenant, the attitude is one that is grace-enriched with an entire open-armed flavor of “Come unto me!” Why the difference? In a word – “propitiation.” God has been satisfied by the covering (atonement) for sin that was paid by the blood of Christ. Remember the moment of the death of Christ and what happened?… The thick curtain in the Temple that separated off the most holy place was ripped open and people could even see into this place that was continuously hidden from sight – representing that the way to God had been opened to all.
Are you getting this? Are you picking up on these “cross words”?? They are important. How about making plans to worship with us this Friday night at 7:00? We’ll talk about this some more.
16:1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
Let’s identify two more cross words on the word search puzzle today – again, the final words list and all letters will be available three weeks from today!
Faith – This is “believe” in the sense that you place your “trust” in it. It must have been difficult to have trust/belief/faith that Jesus was the Son of God if you were there seeing him hang on that Roman cross. But there were 500 or more witnesses who could testify to the truth of resurrection – yet, faith remains necessary to apply the Gospel message, being saved by grace through faith.
Hell – All of the great enemies of God are defeated by the cross and the resurrection: Satan, sin, darkness, death … and hell.