I’ve been a pastor for 35 years. I’ve pastored local congregations. I’ve served on the mission field in a different country. I’ve served as a hospice chaplain with people who have been diagnosed with life ending diseases and as a hospital chaplain with people who are very sick, or having surgery, or recovering from surgery or recovering from pneumonia, or have attempted suicide or are struggling with mental health issues and need extra support. I preach each week to people in the nursing home and those who are suffering from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia. I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed with families whose loved one is about to die or who has already died. I’ve prayed blessings over newborn babies and people over 100 and everywhere in between.
The one common need I find over and over again is the need of the person going through crisis to know that God is with them. Everyone goes through challenges and difficulties, losses and pains in life. It’s not a question of, “Will bad things happen?” or even, “Why do bad things happen?”, it’s more a case of, “When bad things happen what resources do you have to draw from to help you get through it?”
As God’s people, Israel was being transformed from slaves to the people of God who were to be a light to all nations, they were going to face many challenges on that journey of transformation. They had a desert to cross. They had numerous enemies to face who all wanted to prevent them from reaching the promised land, and once they arrived in the land, there were enemies who wanted to take the land away from them and turn their hearts away from undivided loyalty to God.
To get through these challenges Israel needed regular assurance that God knew them and that God was with them. If you’ve been a Christian for most of your life, it is likely that you know these things already. You know that God knows you by name, that before He formed you in your mother’s womb he knew you. You know Jesus’ promise that he will be with you always, to the end of the age, right? There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right? (More about that in a minute).
The people of Israel were spiritual babies. They were just starting to learn about who this God is and to get used to the idea that God would stay with them and not abandon them. They needed a lot of reminders. So, in addition to having a tent of meeting constructed in their midst (see yesterday’s devotion) they needed to know that they had representatives who would go before God regularly on their behalf. So God set aside a group of men who would serve as priests. They had a special calling and were set apart or consecrated to do the work of a priest.
Today’s reading describes the various pieces of clothing that the priests wore and the purpose of each item- ephod, breast piece, robe, tunic, turban, urim and thummin, gold plate, sashes etc… of all of these descriptions in Exodus 28 one in particular stands out: “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 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. (11-12). So when the priest went before God, he went bearing the names of the sons or tribes of Israel. This was a reminder that they were there on behalf of the entire people of God. The message for the people was that the priests would bear on their bodies a constant reminder to God of His beloved people.
We might ask the question,” if God is perfect and all knowing, why would he need such a reminder? ” I would say that the reminder wasn’t for God as much as it was for the people to have the assurance that they were being constantly brought before God. Prayer works the same way for us. When someone prays to God on our behalf, they aren’t exactly bringing new information to God’s attention. God knows our needs before we ask. One of the benefits of intercessory prayer is to remind us that we are not alone in the midst of our needs. When I was first diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and radiation lots of people were praying for me. It brought me great comfort and encouragement to be reminded regularly that people were remembering me before God’s throne.
In Exodus 29 it provides a description of the rituals that were used to consecrate or set apart the priests for their duties of bringing the people before God. Notice how the consecration involved sacrifices and blood. In order for the priests to go before God on behalf of the people, their sin and guilt had to be covered over by blood. In fact, every day, morning and night, a lamb was to be sacrificed to God. “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.” (42-43)
This served as a constant reminder that God was holy and sinless, and that human beings are sinful and needed to be cleansed and forgiven of their guilt in order to come near to God’s presence. As a result: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (45-46) These daily sacrifices served as a constant assurance to God’s people that He was their God and that He was with them.
As Christians, we are not required to sacrifice a lamb day and night in order to be assured that God is with us. Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He, as the high priest and the sacrificial lamb, went into the most holy place with his own blood and offered a sacrifice that covers over all of our sins once and for all. (Once you read the book of Exodus, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is much easier to understand… check it out). When Jesus was first prophesied in Isaiah 7 it was said that he would be a sign that God is with us (Immanuel means God is with us). In the name of Jesus we can be assured that God is with us – not because we are perfect or sinless, we are no more sinless than the nation of Israel was, but we have been made holy by the blood of Jesus.
Earlier I asked the question: “There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?” That fact is, we all have times when we forget that God knows us and that Jesus is with us. This is a danger when everything is going well in our lives- when we are busy enjoying the blessings that God gives us and are on a roll, we can get so caught up in enjoying the gifts that we forget to worship the one who gives them to us, God. It is also a danger when things are tough and we are hurting and feel all alone or worry that God isn’t answering our prayers. When we go through spiritual depression or the dark night of the soul we can forget that the Lord promised never to leave us. We need constant reminders, in the good times and the bad times. That’s why we need to gather regularly with other believers to find encouragement and strength, so we don’t forget. That’s why we need to regularly break bread and drink the cup at communion, to help us remember. You and I need ongoing reminders that God is with us, that God remembers us. We need to know others are bringing our names before God in difficult times, and we need to remember to bring others before God during their difficult times. We may not have to wear ephods and robes and rub lamb’s blood on us, but as Christians we are all priests and we all need to go before God regularly on behalf of each other and behalf of people in the world, in the name of Jesus. Don’t forget to remember, God is with us and God will never forget you.
Today’s Bible reading can be read at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+28-29&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 30-32 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)