If Leviticus chapter 21 were the only chapter of the Bible you’d heard of, you’d probably draw some very false conclusions about the nature of our God. Here in our reading from this morning, God forbids the high priest from tending to any dead body, even the body of his father or mother, showing that God does not want His priests bringing the defiling thing called death into His presence. God doesn’t want His priests, especially the high priest, marrying any woman except a virgin–no divorced women, no prostitutes, no woman who could pass the defilement of fornication onto them. And God will not accept any man as a priest who is blemished–that is, who has birth defects or lasting injuries.
So if this was all you knew of the Scriptures, you might draw the conclusion that God has no interest in the dead or the defiled or the deformed. You might conclude that He is hard-hearted towards them and wants them cast out of His presence forever. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
As the rest of the Scriptures show us, why does God place such rigid qualifications on who may serve as His priests and as high priest? Because the priest is a type of Christ. He represents the pure, sinless, spotless Son of God who will come into the flesh and intercede for the people. He represents Christ, who is utterly without sin and who is therefore the only one who can bring death before God as a conquered victim instead of as a defiling virus. The priest represents Christ who will purify His adulterous bride with His blood and transform her into a pure virgin. The priests must look like Christ to enter the holy of holies because Christ is the only one who will be pure enough to enter the presence of God. The priest must be without blemish in appearance because Christ is without blemish in His soul, unstained by sin, pure and worthy to die for us. And, of course, by showering us in His purity, He will give us the right to enter that divine presence as well.
So because of our great High Priest, death no longer can defile us or claim us. Now the sexually immoral can walk into the arms of God, knowing they are no longer sexually immoral but are covered by the impurity of sin, but are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Now the crushed, the broken, and the lame can leap into the arms of their Father in heaven because Jesus Christ their high priest has sworn to eternally restore their flesh with His resurrection glory. Now the dead, the defiled, and the deformed can find peace in the arms of the God who has always loved them, always cherished them, and who was always going to cure them with His mercy. Now the temple curtain has been torn in two. Now we all belong to the royal priesthood of the baptized and can enter into the presence of God with joy, knowing that this is exactly where we belong.