Preparation for the Presence of God
Stephen Whitmore, Clacton-on-Sea
AFTER THE DEATH OF NADAB AND ABIHU, Lev. 10, Aaron was prevented from entering within the vail at all times because of the presence of the Lord in the cloud upon the mercy seat. In Leviticus chapter 16 strict instructions are given as to his approach, and the reason given is 'that he die not', vv. 2, 13. Here is a solemn reminder of the holiness of God, and it should cause us to question whether we know what it is to enter the presence of God in reality, or whether we merely carry out a ritual which we equate to entering within the vail.
In the first four verses of the chapter, strict instructions are laid down for the high priest to follow before he can approach the holiest of all. He must bring a sin offering and a burnt offering, and he must wear clothes set aside for this purpose.
The Sin Offering
A young bullock must be brought for the sin offering. This was the usual offering for the priest when he had sinned through ignorance, 4. 1-3. In this instance, there is a recognition that sins exist of which he is, as yet, unaware. We ought to approach His presence in humility, recognizing such is our case before God, yet boldly because we may claim 'the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin', 1 John 1. 7. This is in addition to an exercise of heart to deal with those sins of which we are aware, for these will exclude us from the enjoyment of His presence. While Aaron and his successors required an offering on each occasion, we look to One who has broken the power of sin, set us free from bondage, and destroyed him that had the power of death, Heb. 2.14,15. The bullock is a symbol of strength. It might be used for many purposes requiring strength in the work of the Israelite. The fact that it was 'young' would emphasize that this was not an animal which had fulfilled its life of service and was ready to retire, but rather one in its prime, with a life of service ahead. The cost involved would emphasize what sin means before God.
How aptly this pictures our Lord in His offering: none but He, Son of God yet Perfect Man, was able to pay the price. He stands apart from all others because, in contrast to other men, He had the right of approach and yet, in contrast to angels, He was able to make a way for others to draw near, Heb. 10. 19, 20. By men's standards He had only just begun His public ministry, yet we are reminded that our sins demanded His death, and this was far more important than the miracles and doctrine that marked His public ministry. His death may appear as a needless waste to men, but this only emphasizes the ravages of sin upon the lives of men.
The Burnt Offering
A ram must be brought for a burnt offering. This would suggest the steadfast devotion which marked our Lord throughout His earthly pathway, but particularly in death. Nothing could turn Him aside from the pathway of obedience to His Father. His first recorded words, as a Child of twelve, were 'Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business'? Luke 2. 49. How interesting that the Gospel generally linked with His humanity makes clear that He owned no earthly father. Even at the age of twelve, His heart was occupied with the will of God and the pleasure of His Father. This can be traced throughout His life, until He prays 'Not my will, but thine, be
done', Luke 22. 42, and later rebukes Simon Peter, 'The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? John 18. 11. However hard and dark the path may be, He moves on with steadfast step until He can cry, 'It
is finished', John 19. 30. Here is the determination, characteristic of the ram, manifested in perfection in our beloved Lord. There is an important contrast. The determination of the ram is stubborness to obtain its desire, our Lord was marked by submissive obedience to please His Father.
The challenge that must come to our hearts as we consider these things is surely that we ought to be marked by the same devotion to our Lord as marked His own walk before the Father. If we really appreciate our Lord, then we shall be changed into His image as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to us from the word of God, 2 Cor. 3. 18. The fact that this was offered after the high priest had been within the vail may suggest that this is a consequence of spending time with our Lord. While the sin offering presents the negative view point, highlighting our sin, which bars us from His presence, the burnt offering would bring a positive challenge to us. We are claiming acceptance in all the virtue of our Lord and His finished work, therefore we ought not only to abstain from sin, but also to yield our bodies as a living sacrifice unto God, Rom. 12. 1.
The Holy Garments
Not only must the young bullock and the ram be brought, but Aaron must put on holy, linen garments. These are not the garments which the high priest generally wore, but they were specifically for such exercises. Here we are drawn to consider our Lord as He moved amongst men. He had come to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and as such He did not come with the glory of Godhead shining out for all to see, nor yet in the majesty that shall mark His return to this earth in a coming day. He came in lowliness and humility, with no ostentation. From birth to death, He moved in a lowly fashion, manifesting His glory by His actions but not in such a way that the carnal eye would see it. By the Holy Spirit we know, like John, the glory that marked Him in His life and actions; we see the fullness of His person revealed in the darkness of Calvary. To the spiritual mind, a glory shines there which is unrivalled in our experience. All this is in contrast to the natural mind which says 'And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him', Isa. 53. 2. The coat would speak of His character. Of our Lord, it is recorded 'Thou has loved righteousness and hated lawlessness' Heb. 1. 9. Here is the character that marked Him as He moved here, coming from His heart and manifest in all His ways. This should be our character, if we are moving in the presence of God.
The breeches cover the loins, and as such would speak of movements. Here is where the movements have their origin, the loins are the source of strength for the legs. Once more we are directed to our Lord. His steps were always right. He never needed to retrace a step. He always moved according to the will of the Father, and so we find how frequently He was found in the right place at the right time, whether it be Nain or by Sychar's Well, He went according to the will of the Father.
The girdle would be used by a man to gird his loins. In particular it may be used by a servant to keep his garments out of the way as he performed his duties. Here we are pointed to the Perfect Servant, and led to consider how often Mark records that He acted 'immediately'. Nothing could hinder Him in the pathway of obedience to the Father, no impediment could ever stop the One of whom the Lord delights to proclaim, 'Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth', Isa 42. 1.
The mitre for the head speaks of the mind, and would remind us of the One who was not only without sin in actions and words; but who knew no sin. He, and He alone, is fit to be made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Cor. 5. 21. Inwardly as well as outwardly, rightousness characterizes Him.
In conclusion, if we are to enter the presence of God in reality, we will do so humbly, in recognition of our sinful nature, with true devotion to our Lord, and lives marked by holiness and righteousness. David brings the challenge 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully', Psa. 24. 3, 4.