Crashing ahead through the whole Bible, we come to Exodus 29 (link). This is a description of the process of consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests. There is an extended process of sacrifice followed by step-by-step instructions of how to dress Aaron and sons as priests.
As you read through this passage, first of all, try not to be grossed-out by the details of animal sacrifice. This is not a passage to read just before a meal with its descriptions of blood here and fat there and entrails over there. We should find it instructive that the details are important enough to be commanded. If you wanted, you could say this applies that in some portions of life God has given commands down to the minute detail and those are to be followed.
Realize this, though: those areas are fewer and farther between than many of us claim.
The next thing to note is that atonement had to be made for the priests even though they were chosen by God to be the priests. That calling did not exclude them from sin or its consequences. In fact, additional sacrifices are made just for the priests because they need to make atonement for their sin so that they can make atonement for the sins of others. In the whole scope of the Bible, only three people make it into the world without sin, and only One stays that way. Adam and Eve start off pure but wreck that bus, while Jesus Himself is able to stay pure before God.
This whole ceremony showed Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the others that being priests did not exclude them from sin. They should have been reminded by this moment that their access to God was not due to an inherent amazingness on their part, but rather was granted by the grace of God.
Additionally, I see something else important here. This ceremony should have scared off any wannabes from the priesthood. As an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, I can remember my ordination ceremony and this much I know, that no one put any kind of blood on my clothes. Nor did I have to wash with water in the midst of the church.
Really, I had to answer for my theological opinions and explain my desire to be ordained. Then I listened to a couple of sermons, listened to the whispered advice and prayers of assembled ministers, and that was that. It was not that hard to do. I’ve seen other people ordained even more easily and for lesser reasons, like tax deductions or so they can perform a friend’s wedding.
Then, somewhere down the road, this easy path to the pulpit opens the door to people saying and doing really, really embarrassing things and all ministers of the Gospel having to answer for their foolishness. Perhaps we should have a more difficult challenge ahead of us to be ministers. Maybe if we had to watch a few animal sacrifices or have some blood put on us, there would be a few less nutcases in the pulpit.
Here is the hinge, though: no longer are these animal sacrifices necessary. It is the Cross of Christ where the blood was spilt to pay for all of our sins. Even the sins of preachers, though these be multiplied in many, many ways. As such, there are no further sacrifices to be offered.
Instead, we should face the future with this idea in mind: no one should stand to the ministry that does not grasp how much it took for God to forgive his sin. No one who does not weep that it would have taken all of that suffering just to forgive him should take the role. Not ever. When we grasp that, we begin to be ready to speak to others on behalf of God.
Further for all of us is the truth that all of the sacrifices are done, and all of God’s people bear the responsibility and privilege of being priests for each other and the world at-large. This should come to our minds as we dress, as we worship, and as we walk throughout life. We are not free to do as we please, for our role is important, too important for us to trade for anything else.
Today’s Nerd Note: There is some value in noting that the commands of God to bring food establish that the food brought is to be shared with the priest. Many ancient religions claimed that the food was for the god, and then priests ate it later without telling anyone. Here, though, it is made clear that the food not consumed by the fire is for the priests to eat.
That openness should translate to modern church ministry in this way: most ministers are supported by the financial gifts given to the church they serve. The people bringing those gifts should know how much of the gifts their ministers “eat". Not your personal grocery budget, but the total that is headed to you in salary. It should not be a secret from those who give it. For the record, the church I serve sees each month the amount that I am paid and vote every year on that amount. No portion is hidden in any weird categories, either.
Also of note here is the command for continual sacrifices. It was the end of the sacrifices in A.D. 70 that marked the fall of Jerusalem more than the actual conquest of it.