Matins Devotion: May 3, 2023
The Day of Atonement was given to the people of Israel to remind them that if God is to dwell in their midst, then the people’s uncleanness must be covered—must be atoned for. But God will not allow himself to be approached by those whom he has not first called and cleansed—and so here he gives a series of commands for how this atonement is to be provided and who is to be given this responsibility.
While there are many pictures surrounding the Day of Atonement that point us to Christ—this morning I want to draw your attention to the high priest’s role so that we can understand better why the writer to the letter of Hebrews calls Christ our High Priest who mediates a better covenant.
First, Aaron the high priest, was commanded to strip himself of his usual garments and wear only the ordinary garments of a servant. Ordinarily when he ministered in the tabernacle, the high priest would wear a very ornate robe woven with blue, and purple, and scarlet threads, and over that a breast piece (called an ephod) which contained twelve individual gemstones. It was a sign of the High Priest’s authority and his glory. But on this Day—the high priest was to remove those garments, bathe himself in water, and wear only a plain white linen tunic of a servant.
Then, Aaron was to purify himself and his house by offering a bull as a sin offering. God commanded Aaron to take the blood from the bull—the blood that had been shed for his own sins—and carry it into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it seven times on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant—what the text calls the mercy seat. Before Aaron could purify the people, he himself had to be purified.
Finally, Aaron and all the sons who would occupy his office after him were commanded to perform this ritual once a year. Notice what God says at the end of this reading: “This shall be a statute forever for you…” The priesthood of Aaron was charged with administering this Day of Atonement perpetually. In other words—though God instituted this ministry of the blood of bulls and goats—it would never be sufficient. It would always need to be repeated. Year after year after year.
In all this, we see why Christ is our High Priest—but a better one. Why his ministry is better. Why his sacrifice is better. Why his priesthood is better. In Christ, we have a high priest who lays aside his glorious splendor and takes upon himself the form of a servant. Who, in his baptism, bathes himself in water—not because he needs to be purified—but because we do. Christ bathes himself in the waters of our sin—so that he can carry them to the altar of sacrifice. There, instead of a bull, Christ our high priest offers himself as a sacrifice. He carries his own blood into the holy places of God—not the ones made with hands which are just a copy of heavenly realities—but into heaven itself—presenting it to the Father—making atonement for the sins of the whole world—making peace by the blood of his cross. And then Christ our high priest cries out, “It is finished.” When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. He is not a high priest like Aaron—he is a better high priest—for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
And now, we have the right to come boldly into God’s presence. To come boldly before the throne of grace. By the new and living way that Christ our high priest opened for us so that we might receive mercy and grace to help us in our need and so that we might have the full assurance that our hearts have been sprinkled clean by his blood and our sins have been forever washed away by the pure water of his Word.