Opening Prayer: Almighty and Gracious God, we are your holy people, gathered in your holy name, to feast upon your holy word and gifts. Pour out your life giving and illuminating Spirit upon us now as we consider your holy word. Grant this for Jesus’ sake, Amen!
Today is Pentecost, the high feast of the Christian year when we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit by the Lord Jesus Christ. Today we worship the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son as the one who has anointed us, filled us, and empowers us for service.
After the priests were washed (29:4), Aaron was vested in his garments (29:5-6) and anointed to sanctify him (29:7), his sons are vested (29:8-9), and then a series of sacrifices and rituals commenced. There were three animals to be offered: a bull and two rams (29:1). Aaron and his sons lean their hands on each of the animals before they are slaughtered (29:10, 15, 19). As with the individual worshipper, the animal represents those who lay their hands upon it (cf. Lev. 1:4). It is not an accident that this same ritual of ordination is still a central part of ordination in the new covenant (cf. Acts 6:6, 1 Tim. 4:14). Ordination is a call to substitutionary death through sacrificial ministry.
The sacrifices are a sin offering (29:14), an ascension offering (29:18), and a peace offering (29:28, 32). Since these represent the priests, they suggest different aspects of priestly service: they are to be a ministry of atonement/forgiveness (sin offering), they are a ministry of reconciliation and reunion (ascension offering), and they are a ministry of peace and rejuvenation (peace offering). This is the same order that the cleansing ritual of the Nazirite follows (Num. 6:16-17). This suggests both that the Nazirite was a kind of temporary priest, but also that priests are Nazirite-like warriors of Yahweh. The blood of the ram of consecration is put on the extremities of the Aaron and his sons (29:20), and blood and oil together is sprinkled upon them (29:21). A very similar action is also prescribed for the cleansing of lepers (Lev. 14:14-18). Notice the priest gets at the beginning what both Nazirites and lepers get at the end. For Nazirites and lepers, their separation was temporary and unusual, for priests, they are separated permanently and vocationally. It is their calling to be separated as holy to the Lord.
The action of “filling the hands of Aaron” is integral to the ordination ceremony (29:24, Lev. 8:27, cf. Num. 6:19). The meat of the peace offering and the bread of the wave offering are to be eaten in the holy place: it is holy food for holy people (29:33-34). The priestly ordination in some way appears to make Aaron and his sons the equivalent of the altar: just as the priest is cleansed and anointed to consecrate him (29:1, 7-9, and his garments 29:21, 29), so too must the altar be cleansed and anointed to consecrate it (29:36). As blood is put on the extremities of the altar (29:12), so too, blood is put on the extremities of Aaron and his sons (29:20). The conclusion is that the altar is “most holy” (like the Most Holy Place), and therefore whoever touches it must be “holy” (29:37). Presumably, the altar is considered “most holy” because it carries the sacrifices directly into the presence of God; likewise priests are walking altars in so far as they carry the blood of the sacrifices directly into the presence of God in the tabernacle. Just as the sacrifices are placed upon the altar, they are placed upon the palms of Aaron and his sons. Priests are walking altars.
Worship for Glory for Evangelism
The final verses of this chapter outline the daily worship that the priests are to offer in order that God’s glory might sanctify the children of Israel (29:43-46). The glory of God dwells with Israel in order that they may know and remember the Exodus-gospel. The glory of God appears in order that God might be known. It is this reality that actually occurs in the closing verses of Exodus (40:34-38). When the glory of the Lord comes down into the tabernacle, Moses is not able to enter the presence of the Lord (40:35), and the glory of the Lord appears as a great cloud and fire “in the sight of all the house of Israel” (40:38). The tabernacle is the house of God, and with one great fire over top of it, it is a portable altar: when it moves, Israel follows (40:36-38).
Pentecost and Today
What we see in Exodus 40 is precisely what occurred in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out. There, a rushing, mighty wind came and “filled the whole house where they were sitting,” but instead of one, centralized fire over the house, “there appeared divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:3-4). The new house of God is the Church which is made up of all the people who have been anointed and sanctified by this Spirit-presence of God.
If the priests of the old covenant were called to minister as sacrificial substitutes for the rest of Israel, and if they were called upon to be ‘walking altars’ for the nation of Israel, it cannot be more plain that this is what all Christians are called to in the new covenant. The reason that fire comes down upon each of the believers at Pentecost is because they have all been turned into altars. They have all been consecrated, made holy, anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore you are called to that sacrificial ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. The worship that you enact here is meant to bring the glory of God to the world in order that they might know God. Live out your liturgy in the power of the Spirit.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we ask you for a double portion of your Spirit now. Even as Elisha was granted a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, we ask for the Holy Spirit of your servant Jesus to be poured out upon us with greater power. We ask this that we might be your faithful ministers in our families, in our communities, in our work place, and in here in your Church, that we might be means of grace and peace.