Friday, February 10, 2012
looking for Jesus in Leviticus: “priest”
The Word for today:
Leviticus 19, 20
The book of Leviticus derives its title from “Levi,” the tribe from which the priests of Israel came.
We see the book of Leviticus on a prophetic level, but when first written it was seen on a practical level, as a manual for the priests who served in the temple.
We hear the word “priest” differently than the people of Israel heard it. For us, “priest” often has a slightly stuffy, detached-from-reality connotation. Priests, in our experience, don’t work in the real world with bankers, bricklayers, and bridge builders.
“Priest” also carries, in our hearing, a hint of the ridiculous. I mean, they wear costumes to work. And funny hats. And some of them can’t even get married, for heaven’s sake.
But the odd fellows of our experience were not what the average Israelite thought of when he heard the word “priest.”
When Jacob Six-Pack, in the time of the Levitical priesthood, envisioned a priest, he thought of a man in the prime of life (they served only from 30 to 50) whose daily duties left him blood-stained, world-weary, and spiritually spent.
Approaching the temple with a lamb for his offering, Jacob looked into the eyes of a man who, at the end of his shift, was up to his elbows in blood, and up to his eyeballs with killing. Priests in those days didn’t welcome you into their paneled offices, offer you tea and a seat on the couch, discuss your feelings and failings, and leave you with a feel-good message.
Jacob Six-Pack saw, instead, a man who was an instrument of atonement. He was literally steeped in the bloody wages of sin:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)
He longed for the day he could retire, when he would never have to wring the neck of another pigeon, or subdue another lamb as its throat was slit.
When we think of Jesus as our high priest, we experience his priesthood technically, as if he were our authorized proxy with power of attorney.
If only we could look into the sin-sickened eyes that Jacob Six-Pack saw when he handed his lamb, or pigeon, to the priest.