The High Priest Standing Between The Dead And The Living

September 26, 1999 / No. 2960

Dear Radio Friends,

I ask you to open the Bible with me today to God’s Word in Numbers 16:47, 48. There we read, “And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.”

We do not have time right now to read the entire chapter. This is something you should do yourself today to acquaint yourself more accurately with the background of this Scripture. Let me just tell you that in this chapter the authority of Moses and Aaron had been challenged by Korah, a man of the tribe of Levi, and by Dathan and Abiram, men of the tribe of Reuben. God had shown that this rebellion against Moses and Aaron was a mortal sin. You may remember that the earth opened up and swallowed those rebels and their followers, covering them in a living grave.

We would have imagined that the murmuring of the children of Israel would cease when they witnessed such an event, or that they would only dare to gather together in little bands to express their dissatisfactions with Moses. But not so. On the next day the whole congregation, we read, as an unholy mob, gathered before Moses and Aaron charging them, “Ye have killed the people of the Lord.” They blamed Moses and Aaron for what had happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Evidently they think that if Moses had prayed, the people would not have been destroyed. For God always heard Moses.

Now picture in your mind the scene in which our text takes place. There is an infuriated mass of two million risen up against two men (Moses and Aaron). No doubt whatever would have been suggested by a leader would have instantly been accomplished. Were it not for the awful majesty of God which surrounded Moses, Moses and Aaron would have been torn to pieces. As the people rushed forward, the cloudy pillar, the Shikinah glory of God, descended upon Moses and Aaron and the glory of the Lord appeared. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces. The people stood back. And Moses and Aaron pleaded with God that He would spare the people. For God had said to Moses and Aaron, “Get you up from among this congregation that I may consume them in a moment.” God’s wrath goes out. A plague of death strikes the people of Israel mowing them down rank by rank. It is then that Moses tells Aaron, “Up, Aaron. Take fire on your censer from the Holy Place. Run in among these rebellious people. Swing the censer back and forth with holy energy.” And it is as Aaron the high priest stands between the dead and the living that the plague is stayed.

The whole scene is typical of Jesus Christ, our true High Priest. It is a magnificent picture or type of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us by His intercession and atonement. The wrath of God against our sins should have fallen upon us. Eternal death should have claimed us for our rebellion against the living God. But our Lord Jesus Christ came in among us and interposed. He placed Himself between that wrath and us. This is the truth of our salvation. God has given His Son to be our atonement, our intercessor, and our Savior. He arose and stood for us so that we might never die.

I see in these verses, then, first of all, a loving intercession. We have here a picture of the loving intercession of our great and only High Priest, Jesus Christ. When Aaron, who was the high priest, ran among the people, holding high the brazen censer filled with incense taken from the altar of the tabernacle and waving it among the people, this represented Christ’s all-sufficient intercession for us. We read in verse 46, “Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation….” The censer which Aaron took was made of brass. It was a pole with a cup or bowl on top. Coals from the altar of incense would be taken and incense was sprinkled over the top in order that a smoke or fragrance would be emitted. This represented the prayers of the high priest in the behalf of God’s people. It represented the work of intercession. That bowl or censer would be full, full of sweet odors acceptable to God. That represented the merits of Jesus Christ, as God sees those merits and sees His children which He foreknew in the counsel of His election, sees them in Jesus Christ. Behold the Lord Jesus Christ. He ever stands before God with His censer. His merits go up before the throne of God. As our intercessor, Jesus Christ pleads before God His merits in our behalf. He pleads His positive obedience to God’s law. In our place He did everything we should have done. And that obedience is His own bloody sweat in suffering for our sins. It is His righteousness, His suffering for sin. This He holds up before God. And it comes before God as a fragrant perfume scenting the courts of heaven. He was anointed to offer up this incense. He is the true High Priest.

Hear the Word of God: Wrath is owed to you and me. We have rebelled against God. That is what sin is. God, in His mercy, has sent His only begotten Son for His children. His intercession, His work, His merit goes up to God in our behalf.

Therefore, what we deserve – eternal death – is removed from us. Mark that down. His merits, His work, goes up to God in our behalf. You do not need the merits of a human priest. No merits of a dead saint can do you any good. Not the merits of the virgin Mary, not the merits of good works. But His merits, Christ’s merits. Aaron ran among the people as the picture of Jesus Christ. If someone had simply taken a censer and ran among the people, he himself would also have been blasted by the plague. It is Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:26) who is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by Him, seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them. Trust Him. Rely on Him. He stands on our behalf. His intercession alone can avail and save. No man, not yourself, not even our prayers, no work. It is Christ alone who stands between you and death.

We cannot pass from this point without pointing out the wonderful love of Christ to make this intercession. Oh, how Aaron must have loved Israel. Here was a rebellious and a stiff-necked people who had made insurrection against Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were the offended ones. The people sought their lives. And the rebellion of Korah had been directed especially against Aaron and his priesthood. Korah and his followers wished to strip Aaron of his priesthood. But does Aaron now say, “Let them die and all be smitten to the ground”? No, the old man picks up his robes and rushes in among them. It is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sinned against Him, against the eternal God. We said ( Ps. 2), “Let us break His bands asunder; cast away His cords from us.” Yet the eternal Son of God, out of eternal mercy, laid aside all thoughts of avenging Himself, and came among us to die and to save us.

What will happen to Aaron if he goes among the ranks of those who sought to kill him? Yet he descends into the ranks of these rebels. He ran, we read, into the midst of the congregation. Aaron was some years older than Moses at this time. He must have been ninety or possibly a hundred years old. He is clad in his priestly robes. Yet he runs, he rushes. Divine impulse of love was upon him.

Was it not so with Christ? He is no apathetic and indifferent Savior. He made haste to do the will of God. A holy zeal burned within Him. He could say in Psalm 40, “I come to do thy will, O God.” Let your admiration of faith and love go out for Him who came, in the eternal love of God, eagerly, without constraint, to make intercession for the sinners, for us, upon whom the wrath of God should have fallen.

I see here, secondly, a glorious atonement. Aaron’s act of running among the people had this effect. We read in verse 47, “He made an atonement for the people.” This is very glorious. The plague was mowing and moving among the people of God as a fire moves through a dried field of hay. The faces of men and women and children watching it became pale. Heaps upon heaps fell. Fourteen thousand died. All, apparently, will be destroyed. But Aaron interposed himself. He put himself in the pathway of the plague. Not out of harms way. Not off on the fringes. But, as the plague advanced, Aaron stood with arms outstretched and censer pointed to heaven seeming to say, “If the darts of death fly, let them fly against me. I stand between the dead and this people. The pale rider of Death must come upon me. I stand as God’s high priest. Before you can destroy this people, you must march over me.”

So with our Lord Jesus Christ. So with His gracious atonement. Death went out against us. Have you kept the holy law of God? That is not a little thing. Transgression of the law means that the fire of holy justice goes forth to consume your vile sin and your awful, rotten pride. It is Christ who stands before His children, given to Him of the Father, and who says upon the cross, “Let it fall on Me. The wrath and the death targeted for My people, I stand in its way. I will take it upon Me. In their place I now stand.”

Oh, the wonder of grace! Are you, by grace, in Jesus Christ? Do you, by grace, know your undone state, your awful, stinking pride, your sin? What is your protection from your sins and from what your sins deserve? Are you ignoring the issues of your soul? Are you simply thinking your protection is to close your eyes? Do you say, “Let us drink and have a good time – we’ve got time to worry about those religious questions later”? Or do you think that your good works will be your defense from this wrath of God that you deserve? Oh no! Christ is the only protection. There is nothing between God’s elect and hell save Christ. But He is enough. Given by the love of God, Christ stands between the dead and the living. Not ourselves, not our merits. If we stand to answer for our sins, if we bring our own works or merits, the thunderbolts of God’s justice will strike us through. Let us shelter ourselves in Christ by faith as a dove would shelter itself in the cleft of the rock. Hear the Word of God: If you remain an indifferent, careless sinner, what will stand between you and the plague of God’s wrath? Where will you hide when God’s trumpet rings in your ears and His lightnings blaze throughout the earth? What shelter will you find? Will you say with the unbelieving in that day, “Let the rocks and the hills cover us and hide us from the face of Him who sits upon the throne”?

There is only one who can stand between the dead and the living. That is Jesus Christ. His work stands between us and that wrath, and it stands forever. All the punishment owed to us, all the punishment owed to those for whom Christ died, was borne by Christ as He stood in the place of those given to Him of the Father. Not to all. To those given to Him of the grace of God. “The ones whom My Father hath given to Me,” He said.

For them He quenched the flames of wrath. He paid the price they could not. He satisfied the fires of the wrath of God against our sins. They are vanquished by His blood.

And this is all of grace. Why? Why did the high priest run among them that day? Well, whatever the reason, this much is clear: It was not found in the people for whom he made the atonement. It was not offered first on request. Aaron did not stand before the people that day as death mowed them down and say to them, “Well, are you willing? God would like to do everything possible. But now I am waiting for a consent on your behalf.” There was no time for such folly. He interposed himself as the high priest of God. It was grace.

There is no difference between the glorified saints in heaven and the doomed in hell except the difference that God, in His sovereign grace, has made. He appointed Christ to stand between them and the death they deserved. There is no difference between those who belonged to Christ and those who perished of themselves. The difference is the grace of God to give a Savior.

I see here, finally, a very particular Savior. Aaron went out alone. Moses did not go with him. The princes of Israel stood still. The troops of the Levites did not run alongside of Aaron. No. If any had joined Aaron that day they would have been smitten and slain by the plague. Aaron stood alone. He is an unaided savior.

Christ stands alone as Savior and Lord. Isaiah 63, “I have trodden the winepress alone; there was none with me.” God never puts your tears of sorrow, your loving deeds, your praise into the censer. But it is Christ alone. God does not take my preaching, He does not take your prayers, your cards, your words of encouragement, and mix that with Christ so that it is Christ and all of these other things and then say, “Well, I see Christ and all of these other things and therefore the plague of my justice will be stayed.” No. It is Christ alone. Nothing can be mixed with the work of Christ. God looks to the work of Christ alone. That is the fragrant and lasting merit of salvation. He is our Savior. Do you hear that? You say, “But I am not worthy. I have no merits. I have sinned against Him. If you knew what I am within, you would respond in disgust.”

Hear the Word of God. The matter of salvation is not a matter of your worth. It is a matter of Christ’s merits and salvation given to you by faith and in the way of humility before God for your sins. He is all-sufficient.

I see death that day come up to the feet of Aaron. But Aaron’s work as he pictures Christ is sufficient to stop the plague so that salvation takes place. He is the Savior.

There are only two sorts of people. Those two sorts are not the rich and the poor, the male and the female, my kind and your kind. The two sorts are in Christ or outside of Christ; saved or lost; saved by grace or condemned according to the eternal justice and sovereignty of God; those redeemed in Christ and those condemned in their sins; those who were given to the great High Priest Jesus Christ and those who will yet remain (according to their own will) obstinate and proud in sin and exposed to the wrath of God. Christ is the divider. He stands between the living and the dead. The living live because of Him and the dead are dead because they are outside of Him in unbelief, impenitence, and hardness of heart. Christ always stands between men. In His Word, right now, He stands between men. In the day of judgment He stands between men. Who divides men? The Son of God divides men. Either, by the grace of God, you love Him as all and you serve Him from your heart, or you must wail and mourn because of Him when God’s just wrath finds you.

What about you? Do you know your hopelessness and helplessness before the judgment of God? Do you acknowledge your sin as rebellion against God? Do you find nothing in yourself to defend yourself, to save yourself, to keep back the just wrath that is owed to you for your sins? Is that you? That is the work of God’s Spirit and grace in your heart to teach you the truth about yourself.

Now hear the Word of God. Christ ever liveth to stand between you and that death. No death, no judgment, no wrath can reach you because all of these were given to Him. His work, His merit, His intercession God sees. In Christ we are saved, in order that we might confess, “All that I have is of Him.”

Is that your confession? Oh, how blessed.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Send it forth unto the saving of Thy children and to the witness of Thy eternal justice. Amen.