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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Matt's Messages - Substitution & Celebration

“Substitution & Celebration”
Life in the Wilderness
March 4, 2007
Numbers 8:1-9:14

Before we get into chapter 8, I want to see what you remember from the first 7 chapters that we’ve studied so far this year.

Q. Where is Israel right now?

A. Camped at the Base of Mount Sinai.

Q. What have Moses and Israel been up to in the first 7 chapters?

A. Census, Organization, Purification, Dedication, Blessing, Offerings, etc.

It takes a lot to set up a new nation, doesn’t it?

It probably seems to you (it has to me) that Israel is never going to be ready to march towards Canaan. Wally and Nesta left on a month’s vacation. They probably thought we’d be in the Promised Land when they got back! Here we are in chapter 8 with the lamps and more Levites!

One of the reasons why it’s taking so long is that there is a lot of preparing to do to go from being slaves in Egypt to being a new holy nation ready to conquer. (And we don’t see everything because we’ve skipped the things in Leviticus they were supposed do!)

Next week, they will begin their march towards Canaan. Next week.

But there are still some important things left to do before they leave.

And we’ll see some of them this week in chapter 8 verse 1, through chapter 9, verse 14.

And as we do, I want to draw your attention to two major themes that are highlighted in this text and which come to full realization in Christ Jesus.

“Substitution and Celebration.”

The first four verses in chapter 8 are about the menorah–the seven lamps on the lampstand in the Holy Place in the Tabernacle. Verse 1.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, 'When you set up the seven lamps, they are to light the area in front of the lampstand.'’ Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the LORD commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: It was made of hammered gold–from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the LORD had shown Moses.”

Now, we’re not going to spend much time on this part this morning. It’s not clear to me why this text is located in this particular place. Probably because chapter 7 ended with the LORD speaking to Moses in the Holy of Holies. So this instruction about the lampstand in the Holy Place makes some sense to be here. But I’m not sure.

What I do want to point out about this passage is where the light shines.

The lampstand was in the Holy Place. How many holy windows were there in the Holy Place?

None right? No windows at all. So this is the light in the Tabernacle that says that God is home. And what is it shining on? Well, it doesn’t say here, but from what we learned in Exodus, the light (if it is shining forward) shines on the Table of the Bread of Presence.

Now how many loaves of fresh bread were to be put on that table every day? 12.

So I think there may be a picture here of the light of the LORD shining on the twelve tribes of Israel–the people of God.

So in many ways, this is a picture of the blessing we saw in chapter 6: “The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

And that grace is a key feature of the next section. We move from lamps to Levites. V.5

“The LORD said to Moses: ‘Take the Levites from among the other Israelites and make them ceremonially clean.’”

Remember the Levites? Are they the priests?

No, they are the support staff for the priests.

In Leviticus chapter 8, there is a ritual for cleansing the priests.

Here in Numbers chapter 8, we have a ritual for cleansing the Levites.

Before Israel can march, the Levites need to be cleansed and put to work.

What is the ritual? V.7

“To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes, and so purify themselves.”

Water makes sense for cleansing.

A shave makes sense. But what a shave this was! Their whole bodies.

How many Levite men were there? 22,000 right? (Chapter 3.)

22,000 men shaved 100% bald. Are the Jews famous for being bald? No, they’re much more into beards and stuff. Here are 22,000 Jewish men with every hair on their body shaved off.

And then their clothes got washed.

They were a picture of purity. Just like we were just singing.

But that’s not all. They also had to have sacrifices. V.8

“Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.”

“Bring the Levites to the front of the Tent of Meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. You are to bring the Levites before the LORD, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. Aaron is to present the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the LORD.”

Now slow down. I’ve never seen this before as I’ve read Numbers many many times.

How many people are supposed to gather in front of the Tent of Meeting?

Well, all of the Levites for one.

And then the whole rest of the community or congregation of Israel!

How many fighting men? 603,550. At least those men were called forward. This is a massive assembly!

And what do they do?

The Israelites who aren’t Levites are to (v.10), “Lay their hands on [the Levites].”

At least 22,000 Israelites (maybe the firstborn?) lay their hands on 22,000 of the Levites.

And they identify themselves with them. Highly symbolic isn’t it?

This is the presentation getting them ready to do their holy work.

But the laying on of hands doesn’t end there. V.12.

“After the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, use the one for a sin offering to the LORD and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites.”

So there is another identification here, isn’t there.

The Israelites laying their hands on the Levites. The Levites laying their hands on the bulls.

Keep that image in mind.

And then v.13.

“Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the LORD.”

22,000 Levites standing there being presented as a wave offering to the LORD themselves!

Not a wave offering in the place of these men but these men as the wave offering.

It might be here that we get a bit of what Paul means when he says that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices!

We don’t know if they literally waved themselves back and forth like a sacrificed wave offering.

But the wave offering was a presentation of a gift in sacrifice to God that God allowed the giver to share in after it was waved.

These men were an offering themselves.

Last week, we talked about giving. Here is the ultimate. We give ourselves. V.14

“In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of Meeting. They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel.”

We saw this before back in chapter 3.

The LORD killed all of the firstborn sons of Egypt.

But He passed over the firstborn sons of Israel if their parents had applied the blood of the Passover Lamb to their doorposts.

And in not killing them, the LORD owned them in a special way.

But instead of demanding the life or service of the firstborn, God took the Levites in their place.

Remember that? 22,000 Levites to replace about 22,000 firstborn?

Here’s our first theme to think about today: SUBSTITUTION.

Did you see it in this passage?

The Levites substituted for the Israelites. Laying their hands on them.
The bulls substituted for the Levites. Laying their hands on them.

Verse 18 again.

“And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel.”

“In place of.”

Substitution.

You know where I’m going to go with that, don’t you?

The Cross.

1 Peter says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (3:18).

That’s the greatest substitution there ever was!

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

The Passover Lamb for the firstborn.
The Levites for the firstborn.
The Bulls for the Levites.

Substitution is near to the heart of God.

It’s how He goes about saving His people.

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Substitution is at the heart of the gospel.

It’s what we are proclaiming when we go to the Lord’s Table.

It’s what we are trusting in to get us to God.

Do you want to get to God?

“Christ died for sins once for all [not a little bit now and a little bit later, not died for sins once but now we work them off ourselves! Once for all!], the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Have you trusted in the Substitute?

He is how you get to God.

“There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Are you trusting in that Substitute and that Substitute alone?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Trust the Substitute.

Now, having trusted the Substitute, what difference does that make?

Notice that these Levites were God’s possession.

V.14 “...and the Levites will be mine.”
V.16 “They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me.” That’s what all of this cleansing is about.
V.17 “...I set them apart for myself.”

Substitution leads to being God’s possession.

Do you see yourself as owned?

We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price.

The Bible says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

What a difference it would make to our lives to realize that we have been branded as God’s!

But notice that the Levites weren’t just bought for God, but God turns around and gives them back to the people. V.18 again.

“And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. Of all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the Tent of Meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”

The Levites were God’s possession, given to Aaron and the rest of the Israelites to stand in the way of God’s wrath and protect them.

We are saved to serve. We are sanctified to serve.

We were substituted to serve.

And serve they did. V.20

“Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the LORD commanded Moses. The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the LORD and made atonement for them to purify them. After that, the Levites came to do their work at the Tent of Meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the LORD commanded Moses. [And they went to work. V.23] The LORD said to Moses, This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.’”

Substitution leading to service.

Now, the second theme that I want to bring out–CELEBRATION–is in verses 1 through 14 of chapter 9.

This chapter tells us the story of the second Passover. Passover 2.0.

We’ve just been reminded of the first Passover–when the Angel of Death passed over the Israelite firstborn whose parents had the faith to apply the blood to their doorposts.

The first Passover Feast was eaten in the dark by the Israelites ready to leave Egypt on the run.

Now, a year later, it’s time for the Passover again. V.1

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, ‘Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.’”

Notice that this is a flashback. It actually takes place before the censuses of chapters 1 through 4.

God speaks to Moses and commands the celebration of the second Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month of the year. One year from the first Passover.

Notice that word: celebrate. Celebrate the Passover.
Your Bible might have the word, “Keep.” Keep the Passover.

Notice how strongly the command is issued.

“Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.’”

Celebrate. But do it correctly.

Keep the Passover, but do it obediently.

And they did. They remembered what God had done in rescuing them. V.4

“So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the LORD commanded Moses.”

But there was a problem. V.6

“But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, ‘We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the LORD's offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?’ Moses answered them, ‘Wait until I find out what the LORD commands concerning you.’”

You see the problem? Remember the purification of the camp from chapter 5?

Remember the concentric circles?

What happened if you came into contact with a corpse?

You had to go outside of the camp.

And you couldn’t eat the Passover.

How important was the Passover? The LORD said if you didn’t do it, you were to be cut off.

So what about someone who within seven days of the Passover had come into contact with a dead body?

Moses asks the LORD. And He gives a very interesting answer. V.9

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites: 'When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or [also] are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the LORD's Passover. [How?] They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. [One month later. Passover 2.1] They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD's offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin.”

Notice how the LORD is both demanding and gracious at the same time.

He is holy and requires full obedience.

But He also provides a gracious way of navigating natural problems like this one.

Those who were providentially hindered from participating could participate a month later–but they had to do it correctly.

And those who could have done it, but didn’t, were to be cut off.

That’s how the Passover was to be celebrated.

What were they celebrating?

They were celebrating the substitute!

They were eating and drinking in remembrance of God’s holy and gracious salvation!

They were celebrating the substitution of the Passover Lamb for them.

And you know where that’s going, too, don’t you?

The Cross again.

And this Table.

The Passover was the meal that formed the basis for the Lord’s Supper.

It was a Passover meal that Jesus was eating with His disciples when He said that the bread was His body and the cup was His blood.

The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ is “our Passover Lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7).

He is the perfect Substitute that we are to celebrate.

Did you notice that the lamb (in verse 12) was to not have any of its bones broken?

John 19.

“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken...’”

He is our Passover Lamb.

We Celebrate the Substitute.

And we celebrate our inclusion.

Verse 14.

“An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born.”

What kind of alien is that? E.T., Mork from Ork, Mr. Spock, 3rd Rock from the Sun?

No, it’s us. It’s most of us.

Gentiles.

Non-Israelites were allowed to celebrate the LORD’s Passover with Israelites!

Exodus says that they had to be circumcised first, but they could be included.

And now in the New Covenant, Gentiles are allowed into Christ without even being circumcised!

All they need to do is exercise faith in Jesus alone.

That’s something to be celebrate, isn’t it?

We who were far from Israel have been included!

Jesus is OUR Substitute.

Jesus is OUR Passover Lamb. Ours, too, by faith.

Isn’t that good news?

Isn’t that worth celebrating?

That’s what this Table is all about.

This Table is all about celebrating the Substitute.

Often, we are quiet and contemplative during our time at the Lord’s Table.

But don’t mistake that quietness for somberness.

We are sober thinking about what Jesus went through for us.

But we are celebrating it!

We are saying, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”

“Hallelujah, What a Substitute!”

“Hallelujah, What a Passover Lamb!”

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Everyone who believes that and is trusting in that alone to be brought to God is invited to eat and drink this celebrative memorial meal with us.

If you have not yet put your faith and trust in the Substitute, then we ask that you not eat and drink but instead consider placing your faith in Him and Him alone.

Because we all need a Savior. We all need a Substitute. And that’s what Jesus has done for us.

Let us celebrate the Substitute who died in our place so that we could be brought to God.

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