Priestly Garments

This morning we’re looking at an interesting passage regarding the priestly garments.  I say it’s interesting because it is something that I have not studied much about.  Despite the fact that these are just the clothes of a Jewish priest, there are actually a lot of relatable things for the average Christian in this passage.

Israel was declared to be a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:6.  But the church is also a kingdom of priests as Jesus addresses the church in Revelation 1:4-6.

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

So as we look at the priestly garments this morning, we need to realize that this holds special significance for us as we are priests as well.

I wanted to make it through this whole chapter in one week but it’s long and I just couldn’t do it justice by rushing through it.  Let’s start by looking at Exodus 28:1-5

1 “Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests. 2 Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor. 3 Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. 4 These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests. 5Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.

There are lots of symbols in the priests garments and frankly we’re not going to spend a lot of time with the symbols today.  Many of these things are symbols that we’ve already seen in the tabernacle itself such as the importance of the different colors of fabric.

What is not a symbol and should be easily understood even today is that the clothes make the man.  If you take the same person and put him in a police uniform, a fast food restaurant uniform, a hooded sweatshirt with baggy jeans, or Middle Eastern attire complete with a turban, you’re going to get very different reactions to that same man before he says or does anything.

The priestly garments are to set Aaron and the other priests apart from the rest of the Israelites.  It is something that should bring respect from everyone that they encounter.  What does set apart mean?  In this instance, the priests were literally marked so that they were identifiable.  But we have many different Christian terms that also mean set apart.

To be holy is to be set apart.  God is holy.  Because He is holy and set apart, no sin can approach Him.  This is why we must be cleansed of our sins if we expect to have fellowship with God.

Christians are likewise called to be holy.  We are sanctified by the blood of Jesus.  As I understand the process, and this was a difficult one for me to put into a system when I learned it, there are three meanings when we here talk of being sanctified or being made holy in the Bible.

The first meaning of being made holy is the moment of salvation.  At the moment that you ask for forgiveness of your sins, you are sanctified or made holy.  There is nothing more required for your salvation.  You don’t have just a part of it, you have it all.

The second meaning for being made holy is the process that we struggle with daily.  We are called to be holy.  And even though we have the Holy Spirit to help us live a holy life, we struggle with this because we still have a fallen and sinful nature.  This is not an issue of our salvation however, this is an issue of our maturity.  If and when we fail in our struggle for holiness we will face consequences for our sins as most sins have earthly consequences.  God, however, has already forgiven the sin itself even if we are left to deal with the consequences of the problem we created.

Finally, there will be a day that we are perfectly made holy or sanctified.  This day is yet future and it will only come when we die or Jesus returns.  So, even though I got off topic a bit, the priests are set apart just as Christians are.  Christians are set apart at the moment of their salvation, they are constantly working to live holy lives, and one day they will be made perfectly holy.

Let’s move on to the next part, verses 6-14

6 “Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of a skilled craftsman. 7 It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so it can be fastened. 8 Its skillfully woven waistband is to be like it—of one piece with the ephod and made with gold, and with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and with finely twisted linen.

9 “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel 10 in the order of their birth—six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. 11 Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings 12 and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the LORD. 13 Make gold filigree settings 14 and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings.

The most significant part of the ephod is, at least in my opinion, the stones that sit on the priests shoulders.  And since you’re probably wondering what an ephod is, all I can really say is that it is just a part of the priests outfit.  King David danced before the Lord wearing an ephod and his wife was ashamed and acted as if he was dancing in his underwear.  So assuming that David’s ephod is similar to this, we might best think of an ephod as something like a robe undershirt.

As I said though, the stones are what caught my eye.  There are two important things about these stones, what they look like and where they are located.  The stones contain the names of the sons of Israel and they are located on the shoulders.  The priest is to bear the burdens of all of Israel.  This means that he represents all of the people and not just certain tribes.

As pastor, I understand this symbol well.  I am called to bear the burdens of the congregation.  And frankly, sometimes you guys wear me out.  I don’t mean that in a nasty sort of way.  But some weeks there are a lot of things going on whether its events at the church or people being sick or people dealing with personal issues.  A lot of these things I can’t even do anything about aside from pray, but it’s still  very tiring.

He’s the thing though, I’m not in this alone.  A few months ago we saw how Moses had worn himself out by listening to all of the people problems from morning till evening.  And so eventually the tasks got divided up and Moses only dealt with the big ones.  Obviously I’m not going to say “I can’t be worried about your aunt’s colonoscopy tomorrow, I have someone having heart surgery this week.”  It doesn’t quite work that way.  But the entire church does play a role in this.

Galatians 6:2 tells us: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

This is the way that a church is supposed to work.  When there is a problem, we’re all praying about it.  When someone is sick, we all send cards, make phone calls, etc.  When there is work to be at the church, it’s not supposed to be the pastor or one or two people doing it, we should all pitch in and help.

This doesn’t mean that everyone does everything.  It means that we pick up the slack when it’s needed.  It means that we are to work according to however God has gifted us.  I’ll let you in on a little secret – I am not gifted in every area of life.  Even with regards to ministry, I have strengths and weaknesses.  I consider studying and teaching God’s Word to be one of my strengths.

But I’m also well aware of my weaknesses and I know that I have at least one glaring one.  That is compassion.  The Lord has worked on me a lot in this area but I’ve still got a long ways to go.  Another area of weakness is visitation.  Typically my week goes by and I intend on calling or visiting someone who isn’t feeling well.  I’ll remember at 10 or 11 at night and attempt to remember the following day and forget all over again.  And then come Sunday I’m kicking myself for not calling or visiting.

Let me assure you that if you’ve ever felt neglected by me when you’ve been sick, it’s not because I didn’t care.  And this is where the idea of carrying one another’s burdens comes in.  So what if I am faithful in making every visit and phone call that I want to make.  It’s good that the pastor cares and it can easily be argued that it’s my job to do these things.  But what if no one else makes the effort to see how a person is doing?  What would mean more to you, hearing from one person who feels obligated because it’s their job or hearing from ten or five or three people who contact you because they genuinely care?

Now, don’t mistakenly think that I only call or visit because I feel obligated.  That’s not the case because generally I have a way of avoiding a lot of things that I really don’t want to do.  My point is that care and support from other people of the church should mean even more because you know their support is completely voluntary.

This is slightly as an aside but if you ever want to really learn about love in the Bible, do a study of where the phrase “one another” or “each other” is used in the New Testament.  It shows us how self sacrificial love is truly displayed.

This is just the start of the significance of the priestly garments.  And I didn’t even touch on one other major issue relating to the high priest.  He points to Jesus as Jesus is now our high priest.  Almost the entire book of Hebrews is about Jesus’ work as our high priest.  We’ll look at this in more detail next week as we examine the breastpiece and the other priestly garments.

For this week though, we need to remember that we are all priests and we are all called to carry one another’s burdens.  The high priest carried stones with the names of Israel on them as a reminder.  We don’t have such a visual today but we need to keep lifting one another up and work as one body as the Lord would have us.

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