In Catechism Class, the children learn that Jesus holds 3 offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. He is our Prophet. He tells us the future – He tells us how the world will end and what the judgment will be. He also preaches to us so we will be on the good side of His judgment. He is King. He rules all things for us. He is working through everything to bring us to salvation and thwart the devil’s wicked plans. He is also our Priest. That is what Lent is about. Jesus is our Priest, the person Who makes sacrifices for us. He is not just any priest, but our High Priest.
This title, High Priest, reminds us of Moses’ big brother Aaron. When Moses was on Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus, he didn’t just receive The Ten Commandments and other rules for governing the Israelites. God also started to give him rules for worship, rules He continued to give in the Book of Leviticus. The rites He gave him were designed to be shadows, pictures, of Christ. The Israelites may not have realized what they were teaching them, but Jesus’ Death makes it all very plain.
God chose 1 of the tribes of Israel to serve Him: the Levites. Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah. He was disqualified from the birthright with his older brother Simeon because they slaughtered a city without divine approval. Therefore Jacob on his deathbed declared they would be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel. Simeon eventually lost his identity as a tribe; Levi was scattered throughout the land, for the priests lived throughout Israel.
Moses and Aaron were Levites. God chose Aaron to be the high priest, and his sons and their sons after them were the priests. The rest of Levi’s descendants served the tabernacle. The priests made the daily sacrifices for the people. They made offerings to express sorrow over sin, thanksgiving for blessings, communion with God. They sacrificed daily at morning and evening.
The high priest was in full view on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. This was the 1 day a year anybody was allowed to go behind the veil of the tabernacle into The Holy of Holies, the place where The Son of God dwelt with His people Israel, enthroned on the ark of the covenant. God gave these rules to Moses for Aaron and all who followed him in office. The high priest took a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for himself. He dressed in the holy garments after taking a bath. He took from the people 2 male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He took the bull for his sin offering and made atonement for himself and his house. Then he set the goats at the entrance to the tabernacle. He then cast lots – 1 for The LORD, 1 for Azazel. The LORD’s goat was sacrificed, the other was presented alive and atonement made over it, and then it was sent away to Azazel in the wilderness.
How did this work? After he killed his bull, he filled the Holy of Holies with incense so he would not die by seeing God when he went in there. Then he took the bull’s blood and sprinkled it on the mercy seat. Then he killed the goat and sprinkled its blood. This was to make atonement for the Holy Place, because of Israel’s uncleanness and transgressions and sins. Then he did the same for the tabernacle. Then he did it for the altar of sacrifice, sprinkling blood all over 7 times to cleanse and consecrate it. Once he was done with this atoning he presented the live goat. He laid his hands on the goat’s head and confessed over it all the iniquities and transgressions of Israel, all their sins. Then somebody led it out into the wilderness – eventually they began to push it off a cliff so it wouldn’t come back. Then he changed and bathed in the tabernacle and offered the burnt offerings for himself and the people and burned on the altar the fat of the sin offering. The man who led out the goat washed his clothes and bathed before coming into the camp. The sin offerings were taken outside the camp and burned up. The person who did that also washed his clothes and bathed before coming into the camp. On that day all the people abstained from all things and wore sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning over their sins.
What does this teach us about our sin and about Christ? That’s a lot of sacrifices, a lot of blood, a lot of incense, a lot of baths and laundry! It teaches us what God thinks of sin and what it does to us. It makes us very unclean, us and everything around us. He hates our transgressions – every time we’ve crossed the line God’s Law sets for us, and we do this every day! He hates our iniquities – each transgression earns a guilty sentence, and He calls that sentence a sin too because He wants us to be guilty of no sins. But we are guilty of lots of sins, so much that He sees us, Isaiah says, as covered in the filthiest rags you can find, worthy of nothing but His eternal wrath and punishment. We are guilty of pretending to not be Christians when it suited us, of being mad at our parents, of slapping our friends, of having dirty thoughts, of taking our sibling’s toy, of telling gossip, of being jealous and envious.
High Priest went before high priest. The office was not what it once had been. It had become a Roman political appointment. And Rome sometimes changed high priests. An office that was for life became a status symbol. So Annas had been high priest but now his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas was, and Annas’ sons held the office at other times before and after – and Annas was still alive. So Caiaphas the high priest offered God’s Lamb to be the true High Priest for the life of the world. He sent The Lamb outside the camp to be crucified for all the sins of the world. That Lamb bore all our sins in His Body and died for our sake.
Jesus is our High Priest. There’s a reason we don’t celebrate The Day of Atonement. “Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here.” Christ has fulfilled it. He has made atonement once and for all. He has taken His shed Blood into the heavenly sanctuary and sanctified the world for God. He poured His cleansing Blood over you at Baptism and washed you clean of all your sins and death. He gives you that same Blood at the altar rail to forgive you and give you life. Good Friday is our Day of Atonement. You confess your sins to Him and He forgives them.
He has gone to His Father. There He shows Him His wounds. God remembers what He has done for you. He does not forget. He declares you who believe in Him forgiven. He declares you are worthy of eternal life. He declares Satan no longer is your master, you are no longer enslaved to sin. He declares you are not just His servant, but His own dear child. For His Son has atoned for you. He has made you to be “at one” with Him. Our sins had separated us from Him, made us at war with Him. But the Blood of Jesus has reconciled us to Him. It has made peace between God and man. The war is over. Your sins are not just taken out of a camp but buried in the depths so God can never remember them.
Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King. He proclaims to you these things through His Word. He rules all things to make sure you receive His salvation. He offered Himself up on The Cross to win forgiveness for you. He is at His Father’s throne interceding for you, winning for you all His good gifts. Pray to Him, and you will be answered. Believe in Him, and you will be saved. Ask Him for His forgiveness, and He will forgive.