10 “Then you should bring the bull in front of the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons should lay their hands on the head of the bull. 11 Then you should kill the bull before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 12 and should take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you should pour out at the base of the altar. 13 And you should take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you should burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.
laying hands on the head
This less elaborate sin offering ritual was part of the process of ordaining the priests for service within the temple. Before that is possible, the priests themselves must undergo cleansing by means of the substitutionary blood sacrifice of the young bull. Without the atonement which this ceremony signifies, no access to the presence of God can happen. Even though the priests of Aaron’s line are already set apart for the purpose of bringing people to God, they also suffer the same problem that the people do: they sin. The wages of that sin is death. So, they are instructed to place their hands on the head of this young bull. Their guilt and unworthiness are to be symbolically transferred onto the bull, which had no guilt. The punishment of death that they deserved would now be taken on by the innocent animal. So, even though the priests were destined to serve God, they themselves must first receive forgiveness and cleansing.
The ultimate meaning of this ritual is found in Christ. Without his sacrificial death on the cross, no one can access God for anyone else. Even our prayers would be of no avail before a holy God who demands perfection and wholeness in his presence. But, the good news of the gospel is that after the death of Christ we are able to come into God’s presence. Yet we cannot presume to do this in a casual way. We, as ordained priests of the new covenant, are in just as much need of personal cleansing as the sons of Aaron were. We must lay our hands on the head of our redeemer, and accept his grace and his sacrifice in our place. Only then will we be fit to enter into the presence of the LORD and intercede on behalf of others.
LORD, we accept your loving sacrifice in our place. We trust in you to take away our guilt, and give us access to your throne. We accept this as the first step in our new lives, and the prerequisite for ministry.