I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Exodus, chapter 30. Exodus 30:17-21. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. This winter we are exploring the intersection of worship and mission. We are looking at how God instructed his people to worship in the tabernacle, how that pointed ahead to Christ, and what that means for our worship and mission today as the church. We have looked at the outer courtyard of the tabernacle as well as the altar of sacrifice. This morning we move further in to the tabernacle to listen to God’s instructions surrounding the bronze basin, sometimes known as the bronze laver. It’s Exodus 30:17-21, but before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me.
The LORD spoke to Moses: You shall make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it; with the water Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die; it shall be a perpetual ordinance for them, for him and for his descendants throughout their generations.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Back in June of 2013, I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I was not ordained as a priest. I occasionally get called that by people and I don’t usually correct them or get offended, but my ordination is not to a priesthood. There are a lot of theological and biblical reasons for that, but one of them is that we believe the bible teaches that all Christians have a priestly calling, what is known as the “priesthood of all believers.” Because of Christ, you get to be a priest. As we take a deep look at the bronze basin, I believe we will see how it reveals the shape of our calling as priests, in the name of Christ, to GO IN to God in worship and GO OUT to the world to minister. We will first look at what the bronze basin meant for the people of God in their worship at the tabernacle and temple, then we will see how the bronze basin was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, before finally seeing how this relates to our own calling as priests in God’s house.
- Aaron & the Priesthood
What was the bronze basin for and what did it mean for God’s people in their worship in the tabernacle?
Let’s get a picture in our mind a second. God gives Moses instructions on how the people are to build the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, the place where Israel would come to God in worship. They are to build an outer courtyard of fine twisted linen and bronze pillars that is 150 feet long, 75 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall. On the East side they are to have a screen doorway 30 feet wide. When someone enters the tabernacle for worship, the first thing they would encounter is a bronze altar of sacrifice, which we talked about in detail last week. This was where the animal would be killed, its blood drained, placed on the altar and turned to smoke. The blood would be sprinkled on the horns of the altar and occasionally on the people, depending on the sacrifice. On the other side, at the far end of courtyard, is the tabernacle itself, a covered tent where God promised to meet with his people. We will begin to talk about that next week. But between the two, between the tent and the altar, God told Moses to place a bronze basin on a bronze stand for washing and it was to be filled with water.
As we picture this in our minds, the first thing we may notice is that the bronze basin stands at the physical, geographic center of the tabernacle. With the altar on the east side and the tent on the west, the bronze basin stands right in the middle.
But it also important that we know that the bronze basin was only used by priests. If you were not a priest, the farthest you could go into the tabernacle was the altar. Beyond that was only for the priests to go. The priest might go into the tent of meeting, into the tabernacle itself on your behalf, but you could not go yourself. So when we reach the center of the tabernacle, at the bronze basin, we are dealing exclusively with the priests, with those sons of Aaron, Moses’ brother, that God designated to serve in the tabernacle leading the people in worship.
The bronze basin is both the geographical center of the tabernacle and the center of the life of the priest. If you were a priest serving in God’s temple, you life and work revolved around the bronze basin. When you entered, you washed your hands and feet. If you were required to go in to the tent of meeting, you washed your hands and feet. When you came out, if you needed to go out to the altar, you washed your hands and feet.
From the basin, the priest would move in one of two directions: The priest would go in to God’s presence or go out to the people toward the world to minister. It’s verse 20: When they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near to the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water so that they may not die.
The life of the priest had this double movement centered around the bronze basin. The priest would GO IN & GO OUT. Go in to the presence of God, Go out toward the people to minister. Go in to draw near to God, and Go out to draw others near to God. GO IN & GO OUT. GO IN & GO OUT. GO IN & GO OUT. This the calling of being a priest in God’s house. You go in to God’s presence and Go out to the people. All centered around the bronze basin.
What did they do at the bronze basin? They washed their hands and feet. Washing. Washing in the Bible is about cleansing, but not about germs. We had a good conversation about germs in consistory on Monday, about the Flu virus, SARS, and the new Corona virus coming out of China. So we decided to switch from shaking hands to waving for a couple weeks and also to make sure there was hand sanitizer available so that people could be clean and germ-free.
In the Bible, washing is about cleansing, but it is not really about germs. Sure, washing your hands repeatedly with the kind of work the priests did would help keep germs away, but washing is always deeper than that in the Bible. As we said earlier, once you get past the altar into the tabernacle, you are only dealing with priests. Priests were called to be holy, to be clean, because the closer you were in the tabernacle, the more holy things you handled and the more clean you needed to be. So in part, the repeated washing was connected with the call of the priests to be holy as God is holy because they were charged with entering closer into God’s presence than the average person. The priests were held to a higher standard of moral and spiritual cleanliness because of the nature of their calling. So whenever you GO IN to God’s presence in the tent, you wash. Whenever you GO OUT to the altar to minister to the people, you wash. You wash because you need to be cleansed, but also to remind you of the calling you have to be holy.
Because the basin and the washing required there is about cleansing, but it is also about calling. We know this because there is an interesting part to God’s instructions about the basin. It’s verse 19: with the water Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. Again in verse 21: They shall wash their hands and their feet so that they may not die. Twice in this short passage we are directly told that the priests, the sons of Aaron, are to wash not only their hands, but also their feet. Why wash the feet?
I have heard some suggest that it was common custom for people to wash their dusty feet when the entered someone’s house and a sign of respect, so since priests served in God’s house, they washed their feet. I think there might be something there, but the priests did not just wash their feet when they went into the tent, but also when they went out to the altar. Whenever they moved anywhere, they had to first stop and wash their hands and their feet.
I think it is most likely that the washing of the feet means that the bronze basin was about both cleansing and calling. Not only were you to wash you hands, the instruments God gave you to do your work, but you were also to wash you feet, the instruments God gave you to go where he calls you to go. So as the priests carried out their calling to GO IN & GO OUT, to GO IN to draw near to God and to GO OUT to draw others near, they went with washed hands and washed feet. They went not only cleansed, but consecrated for their special work they were given to do. (THIS SECTION MAY NEED WORK)
So the bronze basin was the geographical center of the tabernacle and the center of the work of the priest. From the basin where they were cleansed and called, the priests would GO IN to the presence of God and GO OUT toward the people, toward the world, to minister. They would GO IN to draw near to God and GO OUT to draw others near. This was the life of the priest and it was centered around this bronze basin in the middle of the tabernacle.
- Jesus Christ
At this point you might be thinking, “That’s interesting information, Pastor Stephen. I feel like I may have learned something this morning, but I am not really sure what to do with this.” Trust me just a little bit longer.
On the road to Emmaus, after his resurrection, Jesus came alongside two disciples and opened the Scriptures to them. We are told that, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27). All of the Scriptures point to Jesus Christ, so when we look at the bronze basin and the work and calling of the priests, we should expect to see that it points us to the glory of Jesus Christ.
The bronze basin points to Christ and the cleansing that he provides through his shed blood and also to the waters of baptism, which are a sign and seal of this promise to us. The priests would wash again and again, virtually every time they moved they needed another washing. However, in Jesus Christ, instead of washing again and again, we are washed once for all in the waters of baptism, which are a sign and seal of the promise that Christ’s blood will cleanse us from sin. Not only does the altar point to the once for all sacrifice of Christ for us, where his blood was poured out and we, the guilty, are called to cling to the horns of the cross like a guilty person would cling to the horns of the altar. Not only that, but the bronze basin itself points to the cleansing that only Jesus can provide. At the basin, the priests found their hands – what they did – and their feet – where they went – cleansed and made holy. In Jesus Christ, and signified and sealed in the waters of baptism, we find what our hands have done and where our feet have walked cleansed and made holy. Jesus is the cleansing water of the basin, who makes us clean so that, like the priests, we may not die as we draw near to the presence of God.
But there is more than that. Jesus Christ is not only the bronze basin where our cleansing is found, but he is the great high priest, far greater than Aaron and his sons. Jesus is the one who goes in and goes out. Jesus goes out to the world to minister, to make an offering to the LORD so that others might draw near to God. Jesus is both the priest making the offering and the lamb being offered.
But there is more. When a son of Aaron would go out from the bronze basin to the altar to minister to the people, when he went back to the basin or even farther to the tent itself, the people, the worshippers could never go with them. He would go on their behalf, but they could not go with him. But Jesus goes out to the world, goes out to minister by offering himself for the sin of the world, in order that he might bring us with him into the presence of God. Jesus goes out so that we might go in. That’s Jesus’ priesthood, greater by far than Aaron’s. Jesus goes out so that we might go in.
But there is more. We said that the bronze basin for the Old Testament priests was not just a place of cleansing, but a place where they were centered in their calling to GO IN & GO OUT. It was a place of calling.
In that great teaching tool of the reformed tradition, the Heidelberg Catechism, it summarizes some of what we have been talking about this morning. Join me in Question 31:
Q31. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?
- Because he has been ordained by God the Father
and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit
our chief prophet and teacher
who fully reveals to us
the secret counsel and will of God concerning our deliverance;
our only high priest
who has delivered us by the one sacrifice of his body,
and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;
and our eternal king
who governs us by his Word and Spirit,
and who guards us and keeps us
in the freedom he has won for us.
Christ was not Jesus’ last name the way that I am Stephen Shaffer or Mike is Mike Veer. Christ is a title, meaning that Jesus has been anointed by God. He was anointed to be prophet, priest, and king. All the prophets of old, all the priests who ever served in tabernacle or temple, all the kings over Israel and Judah, they pointed ahead to the true prophet, priest, and king – Jesus. Jesus was anointed, was called and consecrated by God, for this work. And summarizing Scripture, the catechism says very similar things to what we have been saying about Jesus as our high priest. Jesus is the priest who has delivered us by his one sacrifice. Jesus has gone out to the altar to offer himself for our sins. But Jesus also continually pleads our case – this is prayer, which was done before the altar of incense in the tent of meeting itself, which we will talk about in a couple weeks. But Jesus is our great high priest who GOES IN and GOES OUT for us.
If this is why Jesus is called Christ, because he is anointed of God to be our prophet, priest, and king, then join me in Question 32:
Q32. But why are you called a Christian?
- Because by faith I am a member of Christ
and so I share in his anointing.
I am anointed
to confess his name,
to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks,
to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life,
and afterward to reign with Christ
over all creation
“Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing.” Jesus is the only high priest who offers himself for us so that we may be cleansed, we might be declared innocent in the court of God, so that we might draw near. Jesus is the only high priest who GOES OUT and then GOES IN and brings us with him. Yet, we who by faith in Jesus Christ bear the name of Christian, are members of Christ and share in his anointing.
We are now priests in God’s house, sharing in the anointing of the one true high priest, Jesus. It is now our calling to GO IN in worship, and to GO OUT in mission. It is now our calling to GO IN to draw near to God and GO OUT to draw others near.
Because the bronze basin is not just about cleansing, but about the calling to be a priest. The priests washed their hands and feet and then went in to the house of God, washed their hands and feet and went out toward the people, toward the world. The washing became the beginning of their movement IN & OUT, it was the center and starting point for their particular calling as priests.
Is there another story in the Bible, where a there is a basin and feet are washed? Is there another story where those who are washed are said to share in Christ? Is there a story where Jesus actions would have declared to those who knew and were deeply shaped by the worship of tabernacle and temple that they were now priests in the service of God?
It’s John 13:
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Jesus takes the basin, fills it with water, and washes their feet. This is an act of humble service, but it is also what priests did before they would GO IN & GO OUT, before they carried out their special work of ministry in God’s house. By washing their feet, Jesus is telling them through his actions that they are now priests, that they are now called to GO IN & GO OUT, to GO IN to draw near to God and GO OUT to draw others near. It is now the calling of washed disciples of Jesus Christ to GO IN to the presence of God in worship and prayer and to GO OUT toward the people, toward the world in ministry and mission.
Because of the work of Jesus on the cross and at the empty tomb, because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, because we have been marked with the sign and seal of baptism, the washing of Christ, we who bear the name of Christian have a priestly calling. Baptism, too, is about both cleansing and calling. At baptism we declare that as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly Christ’s blood and his Spirit wash away our souls impurity, that is, all my sins. At baptism, we have the sign and seal of God’s promise to wash and cleanse us through his blood pour out on the cross. But in baptism, we are also given a calling. We are called, like the sons of Aaron of old, to GO IN and to GO OUT. We are called to worship and mission. To draw near and draw others near.
The priests of the Old Testament found the center of their calling at the bronze basin. From there they would go in to the tent or go out to the people to minister. At the basin they were cleansed and were called to worship and ministry. We, as members of Christ, the true high priest, now share in his calling. We, are called to GO IN in worship and GO OUT in mission.
So friends, Go In. Jesus who died for you to remove your guilt also washes you to remove your uncleanness, to make you holy, so in his name enter into the house of God, come into his courts with praise, draw near to him in worship, in prayer and song taste the sweet presence of God. Know that Christ has washed you clean and go in and draw near to the Lord.
So friends, Go Out. Just as Aaron and the priests washed so that they could move toward the world, toward the people, and minister, so too you have been washed clean by Christ so that you also can go out into the world to minister.
GO IN to draw near to the presence of God and GO OUT to draw others near. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.