[This past Sunday, I preached on Mark’s presentation of Christ as our Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Here is the transcript of that sermon.
§ I. The Priesthood of Christ in the Gospel of Mark
Today, we will be looking at the Gospel of Mark topically. I think it’s a good idea to do this, in order to see our Lord as Mark is presenting him. We’ve talked about this some here and there is our studies on Mark, but we’re going to look at this in greater detail today. We’ll be looking at the priesthood of Christ in the Gospel of Mark. Of course, the Lord is presented as prophet, priest, and king in all four of the Gospels. But in each one, this is done somewhat differently. So today, we’ll be looking at the priesthood of our Lord in the Gospel of Mark.
§ II. Why Are We Doing This?
So why are doing this? Well, here are some reasons why I think we should do this brief study.
1. It will help us, I hope, better see the connection between the Old and New Testaments. And this, I hope, will encourage to continue to press on through the Old Testament, even when the significance of some of it seems to completely escape our understanding. The Scripture is a unity revealed by God, not a collection of unrelated letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and books. There have been men throughout history who have tried to separate the Old and New Testaments, claiming that the Old was no longer necessary. But, again I say I hope!, will be shown to be absolutely false today.
2. It will help us better see our Lord Jesus’ person and work. The details of the Gospel of Mark are there for a reason, and that reason is to reveal the glory of the Trinity in the redemption of sinners. The Father sent his Son to provide atonement, forgiveness, cleanness before God, and reconciliation to God, and the Spirit reveals this in Scripture, applying it to God’s people. In particular, when we look at the details surrounding the Lord Jesus’ person and works, we more clearly understand who he is. And knowing him more, we can rightly worship him more, in Spirit and in Truth. There are many ideas out there, and in our own idolatrous hearts, about who Christ is and what he came to do. I hope this study today will remind us of what the Scriptures actually teach us.
§ I. From the House of Slavery to the House of God
The Book of Exodus begins and ends with a house. The first house is figurative – it is what the Lord calls the house of bondage, i.e. Egypt, in Judges 6:8 and Jeremiah 34:13, as well as the house of slavery in Exodus 20:2, 4 times in the book of Deuteronomy, and in several other places in the Old Testament. The second house is literal – it is the tabernacle, the special place where our Lord would meet with Israel. He calls the tabernacle his house in Exodus 23:19 & 34:26, and numerous places throughout the Old Testament. In the first house, there is slavery & alienation from our Lord; in the second house, there is forgiveness and fellowship with our Savior. In the first house, there is a harsh taskmaster who does not pardon the failures of his slaves; in the second house, there is a loving King who prepares his people for their future – they will sin and, therefore, will need atonement, forgiveness. In the first house, there is a wicked king, the Pharaoh of Egypt, who retracts his promises, dealing unjustly with his slaves. In the second house, there is the One Righteous, Triune King who promised Abraham that he, Abraham, would be the father of many nations – who promised Abraham that in our Lord Jesus Christ the whole world would be blessed. Note that Israel was not delivered from the house of bondage, the house of slavery, to be without another house. Rather, they were delivered to be a peculiar people who met with God in his house. They weren’t delivered from the rule of Pharaoh to have no ruler at all. Rather, they were delivered from Pharaoh by the true King, Yahweh, the ruler of all creation, to have him as their Ruler in a special, covenantally distinct way unknown by another nation at that time.
So when we start reading the book of Leviticus, we must keep this in mind. These laws for atonement are given to the people of God who had been delivered from the house of bondage, people whom God employed in the building of his special house, i.e. the tabernacle. These are people who had received the Law, watched rebels against the Law be slain before their eyes, and understood that the wages of sin is death. And now they are being given a remedy for the sin they would inevitably commit.
§ II. Forgiveness in the House of the Lord
In Leviticus, then, we see that for God’s people the house of Pharaoh, the house of bondage, has been replaced by the house of God. Whereas Pharaoh was a harsh taskmaster, our Master’s house is the place where sin is acknowledged and atoned for. Sin is acknowledged, but it’s remedy is ready at hand, in the hands of God’s ordained priest. Listen to the constant refrain of the first few chapters of Leviticus –
The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. ‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him…’”
– Lev 1:1-4.
“…the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 4:20.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 4:26.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 4:31.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 4:35.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.”
– Lev 5:6.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 5:10.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 5:13.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 5:16.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven.”
– Lev 5:18.
§ III. Cleansing in the House of the Lord
It’s not only the forgiveness of sin that is given in the house of the Lord, by the hand of God’s chosen priest, but also cleanness before God. Consider –
“…the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
– Lev 12:8.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”
– Lev 14:20.
“,..the priest shall make atonement before the Lord…”
– Lev 14:31.
“…the priest shall make atonement for him…”
– Lev 15:15.
“…the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord…”
– Lev 15:30.
We could go on, but I think the point is pretty clear. In the house of the Lord, the priest provides God’s people with atonement for sins and uncleanness. And this implies something else that happens in the house of the Lord through the priest.
§ IV. Sin and Uncleanness Identified by God’s Chosen Priest
We already mentioned this a bit earlier, but it is beneficial for us to think on this some more. In the house of the Lord, God’s chosen priest identifies uncleanness and sin. We have to think of this because we have a tendency to forget that God’s chosen priest is instructed to discover sin and uncleanness in God’s people. God’s people sin, at times, without even seeing that we have sinned. Yet that doesn’t mean that we are, therefore, without guilt. God declares that those who sinned unintentionally have “…indeed incurred guilt before the Lord” [Lev 5:19]. If God’s people don’t know that they have sinned, and yet they are accountable for their sins – even those of which they have no knowledge – how can they be forgiven, cleansed, and made acceptable unto God in worship? The Law of God, read by the priest of God, will reveal this to God’s people.
And what about the uncleanness God’s people incurred by simply being in the world, around the dead, around unclean animals, around uncleanness from their own flesh (i.e. their own bodies)? The Law declares what makes a man or woman unclean. Not only this, but the priest who reads the Law of God has been given the task of identifying uncleanness in other cases as well.
So what we see here is that uncleanness and sin is not something determined by cultural standards. Rather, it is what the Bible tells us it is. Scripture teaches us what is to be called unclean or clean, righteous or sinful. Although the work of the Law has been inscribed on all men’s hearts, sin perverts our understanding of God’s Law. So we don’t look to our natural inclinations or society’s blessing. We can, and often do, agree with our unbelieving neighbors about what is right or wrong. Listen to our Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-48.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Note that here we learn that we can love in a way that is identical to how the world loves, namely by only loving those who love us. And we learn that we can greet others in a way that is identical to how the world greets others, namely by greeting only our brothers. And our Lord tells us that this isn’t our calling as his holy people. We are called to love all people and greet, i.e. show hospitality and kindness, to all people. We are called to be as God wants us to be, i.e. like himself. And we need the Word of God to teach us how to be like God, how to love even our enemies, as the Lord loved us, once his enemies, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In the house of the Lord, then, the priest of God’s choosing presents us with the knowledge of what is righteous and holy and clean; and he identifies what is unrighteous and unholy and unclean.
§ V. The Word of God Orders Worship
The priests were to follow God’s instructions regarding worship. If they didn’t, they were punished swiftly. We read of one such instance in Leviticus 10:1-3:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
Aaron’s sons offered fire God had not authorized, strange fire, as the King James puts it. Rather than doing what God had commanded them, they did something else which he had not commanded them to do. And so fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
The point here is that the priest of God’s choosing orders the worship of God as God has commanded him to. He doesn’t add to or take away from God’s commands regarding worship in his house. It isn’t only our behavior that is addressed by the priest of God, but the priest’s actions as well.
§ VI. Christ is Our High Priest
So how does this connect with the Gospel of Mark? Let me read some statements from Mark to you, and briefly talk about how they connect to what we’ve discussed about the priest in the house of God. We’ll just refer to the passages of Mark leading up to the end of Mark 5. We haven’t gotten there yet in our study on Mark, but this, I think, can help us better grasp what God is teaching us in the latter portion of Mark 5, too. So I’ll give a very brief summary, and show how these portions of Mark also contribute to seeing our Lord as our priest in the Gospel of Mark.
Mark 1:23-25: And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Our Lord cleansed the House of God of the unclean spirit. He is superior to Aaron, because he not only identifies the unclean – he has the power to overcome it and cast it out.
Mark 2:1-6: Here we see that the Lord Jesus heals a man who had a withered hand. This man would have been considered to be unclean. Yet our Lord cleanses him, restores him, makes him fit to worship in the house of God. Our Lord, again, not only has the ability to identify the unclean, he can remove uncleanness altogether. And he does so simply by speaking his Word.
Mark 3:11: And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him, and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” This is a very compressed narrative telling us that Christ by his very presence split the darkness with his pure light of holiness. He is better than Aaron and Aaron’s sons. Christ is the greater priest who drives out what is unclean.
Mark 3:22-30: In this passage, our Lord Jesus likens himself to one who is plundering a house by removing the unclean spirits from men. For instance, in the synagogue. Christ is cleansing people. However, he is also cleansing the house where God is to be worshiped.And note that the unbelievers state that Jesus had an unclean spirit. He, however, states that his work of cleansing/cleaning is by the Holy Spirit. He has come to identify and drive away uncleanness, whether spiritual beings who are unclean or sin itself.
Mark 5:1-20: The last time we met we went over this passage, which is also too long for us to look at again in all of its details. But here is what we noticed about it: It shows us Christ remaining perfectly clean while he stood among the dead (who are unclean), the unclean spirits, the Gentiles (who were ceremonially unclean as well), and driving unclean pigs out of the land or from the earth. He identifies and removes uncleanness, yet again.
Mark 5:25-34: The woman with the issue of blood in this section of Scripture was, by the standard of God’s law, unclean. She was an outcast from the life of Israel. Yet she recognizes that our Lord Jesus has the power to cleanse her, to restore her, to make her whole. So in faith she reaches out, and she is made well. She recognizes that he can make her clean. Christ is God’s priest who not merely declares men clean but makes men clean before God. The woman, apparently, sees this rather clearly. He can make her well. And he does. And he declares that she has been made well.
Mark 5:35-43: Here the Lord Jesus raises the daughter of a Jewish ruler from the dead. He does this by taking her by the hand and declaring “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Jesus’ priesthood is better than that of Aaron. For our Lord does not become unclean by touching the dead, he overcomes death and uncleanness by his holiness by his life by his impeccable purity. He is God’s priest, identifying and purifying the unclean, overcoming them by the power of his holiness.
Mark shows us that Christ repeatedly cleanses the unclean person, the unclean synagogue, the unclean town – and he does this by overcoming the unclean by his impeccable purity. The sinless one has taken one the likeness of sinful flesh. He has come down from heaven to dwell on earth. He walked down here among us, among the unclean Gentile and the Jew possessed by unclean spirits. He walked among the unclean woman with an issue of blood, and among the unclean sleeping dead.
And he remained clean. Sinless. Perfectly Pure.
Even his enemies understood that although he touched the dead, and he touched lepers, and he walked among Gentiles, and communed with Gentiles – sitting with the demoniac and conversing with him – he couldn’t be accused of being unclean. The very author of the Law came and tabernacled among us not to be a priest after the order of Aaron, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Our Lord drove out the money changers, and rightly ordered the worship of God in the temple.
Our Lord made crippled men perfectly whole and acceptable worshipers before God.
Our Lord made the dead undead, making them, thereby, clean.
Our Lord made the only lasting and effectual sacrifice for the sins of God’s people, the sacrifice of his sinless life on calvary. And through his death made his people priests unto God. Making us – we who were spiritual lepers, spiritual cripples, spiritual corpses reeking of wickedness and sin – acceptable to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, Making our prayers acceptable to our God and Father.
And we see this in Mark’s Gospel whenever he removes the uncleanness from a person, from a temple, from a house, from a land (e.g. the Decapolis). The word unclean isn’t incidental. It is very significant. It shows us that our Lord is the priest of God’s own choosing, the one who would not merely teach us right and wrong, declare us wrong for having sinned, but who would offer himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and who would continue as our mediating priest before God to ensure that we always have access to the most Holy place.
By grace, he has made us clean, he keeps us clean, and he promises that when he comes to receive his church into eternity, we will be forever clean, robed in white garments, the garments of salvation that forever recall his love for us.
Let us pray.