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“The Iniquity of the Holy Things
“And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron's forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” (Exodus 28:36-38)
How we lament the sin with which we serve our God! Our hearts mourn the fact that evil is mixed with everything we do. Our souls are heavy with the burden of felt iniquity when we read, or pray, or sing, when we hear, or preach, or try to worship! We are compelled to lament, with John Newton, “Sin is mixed with all I do!”
Here, in Exodus 28:36-38, the Spirit of God shows us a portion of Aaron’s priestly garments that stood as a constant representation of every covenant worshipper’s condition before the Lord God, as the worshipper stood before the holy Lord God in the person of God’s appointed priest and mediator. This part of Aaron’s dress displayed both personal iniquity and perfect holiness of all who were represented before God by Aaron.
Here comes an ancient Israelite to worship the Lord God at the tabernacle. His heart is full of gratitude and praise. He understands the meaning of what was done for him on that great and glorious high day in Israel, the Day of Atonement. He understands, appreciates, and rejoices in the slain passover lamb and the scapegoat which foreshadowed Christ the Redeemer whom he trusted. He understands, appreciates, and rejoices in the Aaronic blessing ceremonially bestowed upon him through that sacrifice, which symbolized all blessings of grace and salvation heaped upon chosen, redeemed sinners through the blood and righteousness of Christ.
He is coming now with a gift of praise, a thank offering, something he wants to give to the Lord God his Savior, just for his glory, just for his praise, just because he wants to. Ceremonially, he pictures a redeemed sinner, forgiven, accepted in the Beloved, justified and sanctified in Christ. Still, he cannot come to God except by God’s high priest wearing this royal, priestly mitre, with this plate of pure gold upon his forehead — “Holiness to the Lord!” Thus, the priest of God places the gift of the forgiven sinner upon the altar of God, bearing for the redeemed sinner “the iniquity of the holy things…that he may be accepted before the Lord.”
As Aaron was set apart and distinguished from the common priests by his glorious garments, how glorious, how beautiful is the Lord Jesus in the eyes of God! How glorious and beautiful is he in our eyes! Spurgeon once said, “The unveiled sight of him will be our heaven. Our present view of him is our salvation, comfort, strength, and sanctification!”
Why was Israel’s high priest so majestically, so royally adorned? The Holy Spirit tells us, — “Such an high priest became us” (Hebrews 7:26). It was becoming for us to have the Lord Jesus, this gloriously arrayed High Priest. God himself declares, it is becoming that we should have a High Priest decked out in “gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen.” And he has covered us with the robe of his righteousness and made us comely with his comeliness which he has put upon us.
“Jesus, in Thee our eyes behold
A thousand glories more
Than the rich gems, and polished gold,
The sons of Aaron wore.”
As Israel of old had need of one to bear the iniquity of their holy things, so you and I, as we come to our God with our gifts and sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, as we bring to him the calves of our lips and the services of our lives, must have One who is able to bear the iniquity of our holy things. We need one who is “able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Blessed be his name, Christ Jesus our Lord is such an High Priest over the house of God! By the merit and efficacy of his perpetual intercession, by the perpetual merit and efficacy of his blood and righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ makes both us and our worship and service, us and our sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise “accepted before the Lord.”
How I thank God that he who is the unceasing, everlasting Representative of this sinful wretch, he by whom alone I come to God, by whom alone I offer myself and my sacrifices to the holy Lord God, is the One who wears upon his head the mitre of God’s priest and upon his forehead the pure plate of golden “Holiness to the Lord!”
The iniquity of our holy things is something we must recognize, acknowledge, and confess (1 John 1:8-10). This is a subject we all prefer not to think about, let alone discuss. Oh, none of us minds a little, pretentious self-deprecation. We take great pride in out-doing one another in that. But none of us wants to think about, let alone discuss — “The iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their gifts.”
All that we do for God and for others is deformed and tainted by our polluted hearts and dirty hands, both by human infirmity and sin. Even a casual scrutiny of our most saintly deeds discovers the leprosy of iniquity popping out in this body of flesh. Our apparent loveliness is horribly unlovely! Our greatest sanctity is evil! We have need to pray over our prayers, to weep over our tears, to repent of our repentance, and to confess the sin of our confessions!
When our most fervent prayer has been groaned, and our most self-denying act has been performed, and our most liberal offering has been given, and our most powerful sermon has been preached, and our sweetest anthem has poured forth its music, all must be bathed in the precious blood of Christ, the blood that “cleanseth us from all sin!”
Yet, “holy things” are still “holy things” in God’s sight, though they are holy things accompanied with our iniquity! Our prayers, our praises, our service to our God, these are holy things, though much iniquity accompanies them. They are holy because they are God’s ordinances, things he has ordained for his own glory. He tells us to serve him. He calls for us to come to him in prayer. He has said, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me.” And when we do what God tells us to do, the act is holy, because it is done in obedience to him, as the ordinance of God.
Such deeds are holy because they are designed to show forth God’s glory. Those sacrifices the Israelites brought were meant to set forth Christ and his glorious work. That made them holy. They were “hallowed” (sanctified) by the children to the Lord. So, our sacrifices (whatever they may be) are meant to be tokens of our gratitude, love, dedication, and homage to God our Savior. Their design makes them “hallowed,” sanctified, holy things.
Our heavenly Father teaches us much precious truth by every institution of the tabernacle, and the temple, and the gospel church; and that makes obedience to his ordinances holy.
These things called “holy things” in the passage before us, were deeds that were holy in the intent of the worshipper. When he brought his turtle doves, or his lamb, or his bullock, he intended to exercise real reverence, true allegiance, and sincere gratitude to God. His intent was holy. Our God is so gracious that he calls our love, and faith, and labor, and patience, “holy things,” because he sees that we truly desire to honor him by these things. He knows what is holy and what is not holy; and though there be a defilement about our “holy things,” yet holy things they are. I know they are “holy things” because God himself here calls them “holy things.”
Iniquity upon Them
They are “holy things,” yet there is iniquity upon our “holy things.” You need no proof of the fact that there is much that must be called “iniquity” in regard to our “holy things.” The slightest honesty of examination into our own hearts and lives will silence every objection. — Our Wandering Thoughts in Worship — Our Deadness in Prayer — Our Meaningless Bible Reading — Our Love of Self — Our Love of the World — Our Lack of Love for Christ — Our Lack of Love for One Another — The Hypocrisy that Defiles Us — The Littleness of Our Faith — The Enormity of Our Pride — The Severity of Our Judgment Regarding Others — The Contempt We Display for Others.
If these are our “holy things,” how horribly evil our other things must be! There is a terrible, terrible, indescribably horrible iniquity about all our “holy things,” a personal iniquity that makes all our righteousnesses filthy rags!
Yet, in the very same sentence in which the Lord God speaks of “the iniquity” that is ours, the iniquity by which we pollute everything, he speaks of “holiness,” perfect holiness, “Holiness to the Lord!” — How instructive and impressive the type!
“And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”
Thus, has Christ, our true Aaron, made a full Atonement for the “iniquity of our holy things;” and the mitre is always upon his head, making both us and our offerings accepted before the triune Jehovah. This sweet gospel revelation is declared plainly in the Book of God.
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2)
In Jeremiah 2:3 the Lord God declares that Israel was “holiness unto the Lord.”
“Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 2:1-3)
The word “holiness” means “sanctified” or “consecrated.” That is what the Lord God declares us to be in and by Christ. — “Holiness to the Lord!” Being “Holiness to the Lord,” we have free access to him always (Jude 1; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 10:10-14). Christ is our Holiness (Hebrews 12:14). He who is our Wisdom, Righteousness, and Redemption, is our Sanctification, too (1 Corinthians 1:30). He perpetually makes us accepted before the Lord 2 Corinthians 5:7-21).
In Zechariah 14:20 the prophet of God declares that in this gospel day, even the horses shall have bells on their bridles that proclaim, “Holiness to the Lord!” Horses are animals used for work, for labor, to pull a plow or a carriage. Zechariah is telling us that in Christ all our works, all our gifts, all our labors for the glory of God are accepted of God, just as we are, just as Christ is, as — “Holiness to the Lord!” Is that not what the Spirit of God declares in 1 Peter 2:5?
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
But there is more, still. In Zechariah 14:21 we are told that every pot in Jerusalem, that is every utensil used by God’s people in this world, every part of your life and mine, the totality of our lives, are like the pots and bowls at God’s altar in the temple — “Holiness to the Lord!”
“In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD’S house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 14:20-21)
Imagine, that my brother! Imagine that, my sister! In Christ you are “Holiness to the Lord!” Your gifts are “Holiness to the Lord!” Your entire life is “Holiness to the Lord!” I could never imagine such a thing, let alone say or write it, were it not plainly written in the Book of God by the Spirit of God.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8)
“And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” (Exodus 28:36-38)
Imagine that! You and I are a people God calls holy, a people whose gifts he calls holy, a people whose lives he calls holy, because Christ bears the iniquity of our holy things always before the Lord. He bears the blood of our atonement always before the Lord, wearing the golden insignia of perfect holiness in his forehead as our High Priest, our Mediator, and our Surety!