Leviticus: Aaron and His Sons Complete the Ceremonies

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 2, 2005

Leviticus 9:1-24

If you have your Bibles, let me ask you to turn with me to Exodus, chapter 40.  I really meant that!  Exodus, chapter 40.  I’ll get you back to Leviticus 9, but I want to remind you of something that we’ve already seen.


In Exodus, chapter 40, beginning in verse 34, we have the account of the filling of the tabernacle with the glory of the Lord.  It’s a picture of God’s coming near to His people, of sharing with them the experience of His presence in the midst of them.  You remember that in the time of the defection of Israel in the golden calf incident, one of the things that the Lord had said to Moses is, ‘Look!  I’ll lead the people up to Canaan just like I said I would, but I won’t go in the midst of them.  I won’t go with them.’ And you remember, we said many Christians today would have said, “Great!  We get to go to the Promised Land!” 


But that wasn’t Moses’ response. Moses’ response was, “Lord, if You’re not going to go up in the midst of us, just kill us here.  Just end it all here, because the whole point is to be with You.  The whole point is to commune with You.”  And so when at the end of the Book of Exodus the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle, it is a climax of grace, because this people doesn’t deserve God to dwell in their midst; and yet, God in His mercy has still inhabited the tabernacle which He had commanded Moses and the people to build, and so it’s a glorious consummation of so many of God’s promises to His people when He fills the tabernacle with His glory.


But, you will notice that something is missing.  We’ve got a tabernacle and the glory of the Lord is in it, but there are no priests to minister there.  Have you noticed that?  So far, the sacrifices of Israel have been managed by Moses himself.  He’s been in charge.  But God is concerned that there would be a distinct division of responsibilities in the nation and people of Israel, and so Moses is not primarily going to be the priest of Israel. And so, a priesthood has to be created. 


Well, turn to Leviticus 1.  Beginning in Leviticus 1, we start seeing these sacrifices detailed.  The responsibilities of the people of God in offering the sacrifices, and the responsibility of the priesthood, which hasn’t been appointed and ordained yet, in the offering of those very sacrifices. And the first several chapters of Leviticus, all the way to Leviticus 7, deal with the instructions of these sacrifices.  We’ve been studying them for several weeks on and off on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. But when you get to the end of chapter 7, there are still no priests! 


So, when we got to chapter 8 of Leviticus, there we found out about the ordination of Aaron and his sons as the priests and all the specific details that they had to fulfill in order to be officially and lawfully ordained as priests for God in Israel. And that’s what we’ve just studied in Leviticus 8, the last time we were together in this book.


Leviticus, chapter 9, tells us the story of the glory of God descending and appearing to all the people on the occasion of the inauguration of the priestly service of Israel.  Now Moses will hand over the priestly oversight to Aaron, and Aaron and his sons will now perpetually serve Israel as priests to God on Israel’s behalf.  And that’s the story that we have before us in Leviticus 9. And there are too many things in this passage for me to be able to do justice to tonight, but maybe I can get to five things out of this passage as we work through it.  So before we read God’s word and hear it proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing.


Our Lord and our God, we bless Your holy name for Your word, and we ask that as we hear it tonight we would be mindful of the great privilege that we have of union and communion with You through Jesus Christ. And we pray that as we read and hear of these ordinances of old, these things that You provided as shadows and types of the good things to come in Jesus Christ, that we would see them with Christian eyes, realizing the applications: the applications that You have for us that far outstrip even these glorious blessings which You have heaped upon Your people of old. We ask all these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Hear God’s word in Leviticus 9.


“And it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect, and offer them before the Lord. Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without defect, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the Lord, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the Lord shall appear to you.’’  So they took what Moses had commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the whole congregation came near and stood before the Lord.  And Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.’  Moses then said to Aaron, ‘Come near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for all the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for the, just as the Lord has commanded.’


“So Aaron came near to the altar and slaughtered the calf of the sin offering which was for himself. And Aaron’s sons presented the blood to him; and he dipped his finger in the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar, and poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. The fat and the kidneys and the lobe of the liver of the sin offering, he then offered up in smoke on the altar just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  The flesh and the skin, however, he burned with fire outside the camp.


“Then he slaughtered the burnt offering; and Aaron’s sons handed the blood to him and he sprinkled it around on the altar.  And they handed the burnt offering him in pieces with the head, and he offered them up in smoke on the altar.  He also washed the entrails and the legs, and offered them up in smoke with the burnt offering on the altar.  Then he presented the people’s offering, and took the goat of the sin offering which was for the people, and slaughtered it and offered it for sin, like the first.  He also presented the burnt offering, and offered it according to the ordinance.  Next he presented the grain offering, and filled his hand with some of it and offered it up in smoke on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning.


“Then he slaughtered the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings which was for the people; and Aaron’s sons handed the blood to him and he sprinkled it around on the altar. As for the portions of fat from the ox and from the ram, the fat tail, and the fat covering, and the kidneys and the lobe of the liver, they now placed the portions of fat on the breasts; and he offered them up in smoke on the altar.  But the breasts and the right thigh Aaron presented as a wave offering before the Lord, just as Moses had commanded.


“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.  And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”


Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word.  May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.


Can you imagine what sorts of emotions would have run through the hearts and minds of the people of Israel when they were told by Moses that God was going to appear to them again?  You remember the last time He appeared to them? It was at Sinai, and the people were terrified!  They were so terrified that they said, ‘Moses, could you do us a favor?  Could you always, from now on, speak on behalf of God so that we never have to hear Him speak to us directly again?’  They were absolutely terrified by God!  You remember, before He came and visited them at Sinai they were crowding next to the mountain, and tempted to put their feet on the mountain, but the next time after God thunders the words of The Ten Commandments, where do you find them?  Far away from Mount Sinai!  They’d run!  There’d been a stampede!  And now God says through Moses, ‘I’m coming to appear again.’


And there would have been mixed emotions.  There was awe, wasn’t there, in the hearts of the people of God as they thought of the visitation of God again?  And yet, at the same time there was a remembrance that that very visitation was a sign of God’s mercy to them, because they didn’t deserve it. They had proved to be idolatrous; they had followed after other gods; they had broken the first commandment before Moses could even come down the mountain to deliver it to them! And the second commandment, too, and all of the rest; and yet the Lord in His mercy had still kept them for His people, and deigned to dwell in their midst.  And so, here at the inauguration of the priestly service in Israel, God’s glory is going to appear again to the people of God.  And I want you to see four or five things in this great passage.


I. As the Lord commanded.


The first thing is the emphasis over and over in this passage that we have seen throughout the Book of Leviticus and from the second half of the Book of Exodus on, and you see it in these repeated phrases.  Look, for instance, in verses 7, 10, and 21:  “Just as the Lord had commanded.”  That’s how they’re going to offer the sacrifice: Just as the Lord had commanded Moses. That’s how they’re going to offer the sacrifices.  Verse 21: “Just as Moses had commanded.”  We see here that the priests were to do absolutely what Moses told them, because what Moses told them to do was what God had commanded for them to do.  We see here the call for priestly obedience to Moses, not because Moses in and of himself was God; not because Moses in and of himself had authority, but because he was delivering God’s word to them.


Now, you say, ‘Come on…we’ve heard that emphasis over and over.’  That’s right.  You have.  But when we get to Leviticus, chapter 10, next time, you’ll see why that emphasis needed to be repeated.  It would not be long before these very priests who were to minister strictly in accordance with the commandment of God would take matters into their own hands.  It would be in the chapter after their inauguration as priests in Israel that they would grievously sin against God—not once, but twice!—and break His commandments as to how they were to serve Him. It is always a temptation to serve God the way we want to serve Him instead of the way He tells us that He wants us to serve Him.  It’s the old ‘Thy will, not my will’ dilemma of the Christian life, and we so often want to do it our way. We want it to be ‘my will be done’ instead of ‘Thy will be done.’  In the priestly service it was vital that the priests did things God’s way in order to remind the people that the only way you can come to God is God’s way.  You can’t make it up as you go along. There aren’t many roads up the mountain.    Not all roads lead to glory; only one road, the way that God has told us to come.  And so it was vital that the priests obey God so that the people of God could understand there was one way to God,one way to His worship, one way to His glory and communion and presence. And so that’s emphasized in this passage.


II. An offering must be made.


But there’s something else, too.  Look at the very first verses. What does Moses tell Aaron to do on this day?  The ordination offerings have already been made.  Atonement offerings have already been offered for these priests in preparation for their priesthood in Leviticus, chapter 8, in the process of their ordination.  But the very first thing that Moses tells to Aaron and his sons is to ‘take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sinoffering’. The priests had to make a sin offering for themselves.  Why?  Because of what Moses says in verse 6: ‘The glory of the Lord is coming, Aaron, and we need our sin covered.’


You see, even though these priests were dedicated and consecrated to the service of the Lord, they fell short of God’s glory. They were sinners. Aaron had already proved that. Aaron’s sons would prove it twice in chapter 10. And my friends, we learn from that that even the most dedicated and consecrated Christian person sins and falls short of the glory of God, and needs God’s forgiveness.  Forgiveness, it will be very clear through this passage, is the foundation of the experience of communion with God. And so God says to these priests through Moses—these priests who have already had atoning sacrifices offered for them in the context of their ordination— He says to them, ‘Look, offer sin offerings for yourself and for the people, because My glory is going to appear.’


There can be no fellowship with God without the forgiveness of sins, because we are sinners and He is not.  He is holy, and so forgiveness is necessary for everything else in the Christian life, and we learn that from this passage.


But notice something very interesting here.  Look at verse 2 again.  It’s strange.  This is the only time in the cataloging of the various offerings for Israel that we’re told that a calf is to be sacrificed.  Bulls are to be sacrificed; lambs, goats, grain…but here, a calf is to be offered by the priests, by Aaron, and for the people.  Now why that unusual sacrificial requirement?


Well, let me make an admission.  I’m not absolutely sure, but for at least 2,000 years preachers and teachers of the Bible have pointed out that Aaron, once upon a time, made a calf for Israel to worship; and the people of Israel asked for a calf for themselves to worship. And isn’t it interesting that a calf is to be offered as part of this sin offering, as they are forgiven before they enter into the service of the Lord?  Did these priests have to offer a calf for themselves and for the people of God because of the golden calf?  If it’s not that specifically, it is certainly because of their own sin, because Moses tells us that explicitly.  But wouldn’t it be interesting that at this inaugural sin offering, if Aaron was reminded of his own defection from God, even at the outset of his preparing to serve the Lord?  If that is not a reminder for anyone going into gospel ministry, or anyone in gospel ministry, I don’t know why.  We are sinners, and we are capable of grievous sin, and we need God’s forgiveness, and we need His sustaining grace.


I’ve told you the story before, but it’s so moving…when Joe Novensen, the pastor of the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was in seminary at Westminster Seminary, Gordon MacDonald was going to speak in New York. He was in Philadelphia, Mr. MacDonald was in New York, and so Joe wanted to go hear him speak, and he wanted to talk with him, and so actually wrote him ahead of time and said ‘could I take you out to dinner?’ And Gordon MacDonald said yes.  Well, if you know anything about Gordon MacDonald, he was a very prolific writer; he’d been the president of InterVarsity Fellowship; he was the pastor of a large Baptist church in New England (and there are not many large churches in New England); and he had written a book, a very famous book, Ordering Your Private World, about your inner spiritual life.  It was very popular when I was in seminary.  And Gordon MacDonald had an affair with his church secretary, and he was deposed from the ministry and disciplined.  And in God’s mercy, his family was restored and he was repentant, and he went around telling that story.  And Joe Novensen wanted to hear that story! And Joe went, and he sat down with him, and he was nervous, because this man was a famous man! And Joe asked him to talk about himself, and about ministry and about life. And at one point, Gordon MacDonald looks at Joe and he says, ‘Joe, are you a Calvinist?’ And Joe goes, ‘Uh-huh.’  And he says, ‘So you believe that there’s enough evil in your heart to destroy the world over three times.’  And Joe said, ‘Uh-huh.’  And Gordon MacDonald looked at him and he said, ‘That was my problem.  I didn’t believe that about myself.’


And this passage, it seems to me, is a warning to everyone in the gospel ministry.  We’re sinners.  We need forgiveness, and we need God’s sustaining grace to sustain us against sin.


III. The offerings.


And there’s a third thing here.  Notice the flow of these offerings.  It’s summarized for you in verse 22.  It is a summary…it is an abbreviated summary. We could say more about this flow of offerings.  If you want to get technical, it goes from the sin offering to the burnt offering, and then after the burnt offering there are grain offerings, and then after the grain offerings there are fellowship offerings, and then after the fellowship offerings are wave offerings. But look at the summarization in verse 22: after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings, Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.


Notice the flow?  First, forgiveness—the sin offering; then the burnt offering, where the whole animal was consumed—indicating what? total self-dedication to the Lord. First forgiveness, then the devotion to God that flows from that forgiveness, then the peace offering (or the fellowship offering), then communion with the Lord, and then and only then comes the blessing and the glory.  Isn’t that interesting?  Forgiveness; consecration; self-devotion to the Lord which flows from that forgiveness; communion; blessing and glory: there’s the order. There’s the flow of the passage.


You know, it’s so interesting. There are people, I think, who look at this passage and think that in Israel it worked like this: you were God’s person, you were saved by God.  If you were good and faithful, and if along with being good and faithful, when you messed up every once in a while, you offered a sacrifice.  So between your faithfulness and God adding some forgiveness for your occasional slip-ups, then you would be one of God’s people.  There are people that look at this sacrificial ritual and that’s the way they read it—that that’s how righteousness was established in Israel.  You lived after God’s commandments, and when you slipped up every once in a while you came in and you got a sacrifice that fixed up that little problem, and then you went on.  And between a little bit of your righteousness and a little bit of God’s forgiveness you were a righteous person.  You were saved.


But isn’t it interesting that that’s not the flow of the sacrifices?  Your self-devotion, your consecration, doesn’t come before God’s forgiveness and it doesn’t make up for the sin. And there’s no communion before there’s forgiveness. The forgiveness is the foundation of everything else, and so the flow from sin offering, to burnt offering, to peace offering.


IV. Forgivness is provided by God only.


One last thing: notice that this forgiveness was not based on something in you.  This forgiveness for Aaron, his sons, and the people was based on …well, let me put it crudely: it was based on a dead animal given to the Lord.  It was based on a sacrifice. In other words, God provided the ground of your forgiveness; you didn’t provide the ground of your forgiveness.  God provided the ground of your forgiveness in that sacrifice.  God’s forgiveness of you, the lesson was, is not based on something in you. It’s not based on something you do.  It’s based on something God provides.


But the author of Hebrews reminds us that ultimately it was not that animal sacrifice that provided for any of their sins, but what that animal sacrifice pointed to. And the thing that animal sacrifice pointed to was even further removed from you and for what you did.  Because you know, in the Old Testament you had to take an animal out of your own ‘ownings’, out of your own flock, or a sacrifice out of your own means, and that’s what you brought to the Lord.  But in God’s glorious new covenant the Father Himself provides His Son, and the Father Himself is the priest who offers up His Son on the cross on your behalf, so that it is absolutely clear to you that your communion, your fellowship, your experience of the blessing of God is not based on anything in you or that you do!  But it’s based on what God provides.


That’s one of the glories of the gospel of grace, isn’t it, that what God requires, God provides for all those who believe on Him?


Let’s pray.


Lord God, we thank You for Your word in all its glory, and we pray this night that we would have some sense of the greatness of your grace and mercy to us in Jesus Christ; for if this old sacrificial ritual of Israel displays Your mercy, how much more does the life and death and resurrection of Your Son!  Grant that we would receive and rest on it in faith, unto salvation.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Would you stand for God’s blessing?


Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus, the Christ.  Amen.

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