Text: Exodus 30:1-10, Leviticus 6:1-7, Hebrews 5:1-4, Hebrews 9:12
Priests made intercession for the sins of the people. The Old Testament priests brought the sin offerings of Israel into the presence of God and asked the Lord to receive the offerings and forgive the people. Priests were mediators, set apart for the bloody, solemn work of interceding through prayer and sacrifice. Their role existed because the people were never without guilt.
My father and I didn’t see eye to eye about my post-college plans. I had gone to a respectable school, earned a pair of respectable degrees, and taken out my respectable share of student loans. The job was done, and it was time for the real work to begin. So, I did what any newly qualified college graduate does: I accepted an unpaid internship that had nothing to do with my degrees.
Dad wasn’t mad at me, necessarily. But he certainly wasn’t happy.
At the time I was driving a light green Mazda 626, nicknamed “the Beast” for the frequency with which it required costly repairs. The bank loan for “my” used car was in my name and my dad’s, and I was responsible for the monthly payment: $296, if I remember correctly. The unpaid internship offered a monthly stipend that was roughly $100 more than that amount.
Each month, I sent the lion’s share of my paycheck to my hometown bank with a slip from that car payment book. And each month, I stretched the remaining dollars to pay for meals, clothes, gas, and an occasional coffee. This was my modus operandi for several months, until Christmas of that same year. In the Christmas of 2001, in the house where I grew up, my dad handed me a small, wrapped box. Inside was the Beast’s payment book, its pages stamped “paid.”
My dad had paid in full the debt I couldn’t.
The priests of the Old Testament had the somber and bloody task of making payments on the sin-debt of God’s people, offering regular sacrifices on their behalf. The Messiah—the One the prophets foretold—had not yet come, and the sins of the people had to be atoned for as prescribed by God’s law. God is always and completely holy, so the priests stayed busy, interceding with prayers and sacrifices for the sin-plagued hearts of God’s people.
It is believed there was no chair in the temple because the priest’s work was never done. “The altar is especially holy to the Lord” (Exodus 30:10). When could a priest possibly rest?
Old Testament priests were constantly making payments on a debt they could never eliminate. Only Jesus could mark it paid in full. But Jesus hadn’t come yet; only the promise of Jesus had come.
When my dad paid off my car loan, it wasn’t just freedom from debt that I celebrated. It was my father’s love—his approval. In this one act, he had demonstrated that he accepted me right where I was, no strings attached. It was a true gift of love, given but not earned.
My dad was a good man, but he is not my savior. The priests of the Old Testament were called by God to intercede for the people, but they were not messiahs. Hebrews 5 says of the priest, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also subject to weakness. Because of this, he must make a sin offering for himself as well as for the people” (vv. 2-3).
Only Jesus could give what the souls of the people—and yes, the priests—really needed. Only Christ could provide the ultimate sacrifice that would pay all our debts and theirs, “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12). Only Christ could offer complete love and unmerited favor to sinners the likes of us.
Thanks be to God, the true Priest was coming.