The Church as New Covenant Levites (Sermon Audio)
I am __________.
In individualistic cultures, these words are usually filled with various accomplishments, activities, or vocations. I am a musician. I am a doctor. I am a (recovering) alcoholic. However, in more communal cultures, this sentence is more likely completed with relational predicates. I am a son. I am a mother. I am a husband.
Of course, studies that have employed this fill-in-the-blank test have only produced general trends. Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider what words you use to introduce yourself. Are you first and foremost defined by what you do? Or by who you are with? Or is it some combination of the two?
This Sunday we will again consider the priesthood in Israel and how the family vocation of guarding the temple defined the Levites. At the same time, we will see how the events of their history inform the backstory to our own priestly calling. As Isaiah 66:21 says of the nations who will come to Christ in the new creation: “Some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites.”
Indeed, for those in Christ we find that we both have family and a vocation that fills in the blanks of our life and gives us both redemption and service in God’s kingdom. Like the Levites given to the priest to serve God in his house (Num. 8:19), we too are servants given to Christ, who in turn has given us to the church (Eph. 4:8, 11–12).
Therefore, learning the history of the Levites is not just learning someone else’s family history. If you are in Christ, it is your family history, not to mention a key part in how God has brought redemption to the world.
This week’s sermon can be heard online. Response questions are below, as additional resources.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ”
Malachi 2:1–9 (ESV)
1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2 If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. 3 Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. 4 So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. 5 My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 8 But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, 9 and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”
1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
- Who are the Levites? What role do they play in tabernacle? (See Numbers 3:1–10)
- How did the Levites “earn” the right to serve with the priests? (See Exodus 32:26–29; Deuteronomy 33:8–11)
- What does the service of the Levites teach us about God? His holiness? And service before the Lord?
- Read Malachi 3:1–4 and Isaiah 66:21. How do the Levites apply to the Church today? Note the way the Levites are given to priests (Num. 3:6–10; 8:19) and the way Christ’s people are given to him in Ephesians 4:8 and Psalm 68:18.
- How does finding your family history in the priestly story inform your faith? Does seeing this family vocation have more or less weight that commands to serve, give, and defend the faith? Explain your thoughts.
- If the church (those in Christ) are now the house where the Spirit dwells, how do Spirit-filled believers fulfill their priestly calling?
- How might Numbers 25 apply to the gospel? How does understanding the priestly role of protecting God’s house relate to church discipline?
- What is one step you can take to trust in the High Priest? Guard God’s house? Or teach the people about his new covenant (i.e., proclaim the gospel)?
Forgive me for the more academic list of resources. Unfortunately, there is not much on the priesthood at a popular level. And maybe that’s because there is also not much at an academic level either. May the Lord raise up more writers, singers, and poets (like Handel) who capture the priesthood of Christ and his people in song.
- Gary V. Smith, “Paul’s Use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8,” JETS 18.3 (Summer 1975) – This article explains how Ephesians 4 applies the language of “giving” Levites to the priests to Christ and the Church.
- Hank Voss, The Priesthood of All Believers and the Missio Dei: A Canonical, Catholic, and Contextual Perspective, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016). – This book has a helpful discussion on the priesthood of believers, in relationship to Christ. N. B. Voss does not use “Catholic” to describe Roman Catholicism, but the Universal (i.e., Catholic) Church.
- David Schrock, “A A Family of Royal Priests: Why the Priesthood of Believers Must Be “IN Christ” (ETS Paper 2018)