Grasping God’s Purpose: “Suit Up!” – Exodus 28

Uniforms… they seem like they are all around us! They identify our favorite sports team, our neighborhood policeman, and even our local plumber! The uniform, in most cases, was carefully designed to aid in the work of that particular craft, as well as identify the man or woman as part of the company or team. God’s team of intercessors was no different. God showed us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the furniture, fabric and fragrances of the Tabernacle – but he also showed it in the foremen and their fashion! These important individuals were called by God and chosen for their task – and their uniform helps us understand their Divine purpose. God chose the priests, and then carefully specified the uniforms they were to have. The care and planning of each portion was obvious, but it reflected the purposes of God in the work the men were called to accomplish.

Key Principle: The uniform gives away the identity. The care in creating it reveals the importance of the work prescribed.

What do the garments tell us about the purposes and priorities of the servants of God?

Before we explore the topic, keep this in mind: A believer has both their identity in Christ and their position in Christ.

  • Recognizing our identity is the key to walking in confidence when the enemy attacks to condemn us. We are a son or daughter of the Great King – and therefore we have our Father’s affection. Our failures will not pluck us from His hand, and our lack of confidence in some stages of life is not an indication of our Father’s love – just our own frailty. Standing in our identity will give us courage to face failure and continue to grow.
  • Recognizing our position of responsibility is the other end of the spectrum. Jesus His followers were called to bear fruit. We are called to be priests – intercessors for a wayward world to God.  1 Peter reminds: (2:9): “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” Careful reminders abound in Scripture of our priestly duties. Reminding ourselves of these duties will give us encouragement to get busy.

In this lesson we identify the choosing and dressing of God’s priests – on the way to recognizing their work. We peer through the cloth of the uniform into the heart of the priest, in order to be encouraged to walk in our position. Take note: we are BOTH princes and priests – both sons and servants. It is both our greatest goal and our deepest privilege as a child of our Father in Heaven. None of us feels like we have mastered our role – but we must grow in understanding of it!

Truths That Enlist God’s Servant Team

#1: God picks the servant team – not the leaders, nor the mob (28:1).

28:1 “Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.

God chose who He wanted. Moses didn’t pick Aaron, and we don’t pick our ministry team – we acknowledge them. We recognize God’s call in their lives and do what we can to grow them into the role God has indicated through their giftedness. They may or may not be our first choice – but they are God’s choice, and that is all that matters! That doesn’t mean that the people voted themselves in either…there was a process. Even now, there is a way God indicates His hand is upon a life – and those who choose to look carefully will see it.

Pastor James May wrote (my paraphrase): God is still “Looking for a Few Good Men” – not in the sense of men “deserving of his grace”. Not one of us will ever be worthy. God is looking for “good men” in the sense that He seeks a man whose heart will both allow God to dwell within, and will surrender his will to God’s will. He seeks one who will desire to become as much like God’s Son as a human being can become. (

We should not be deceived into thinking either that we have earned our position through some special mark of character – which leads to pride, nor that we are a random act of God – which opens the door to discouragement. We are chosen. How that works may  not be at all clear to us. Why God did this may also not be at all clear. Yet, the evidence and clear Word of the Scripture is this: God called His servants. He knew what He was getting. He is not facing buyer’s remorse – He is fighting to get us to be productive. He is calling us to take up our Cross, follow Him, bear fruit – and not make excuses. We have been called into a time of war – and it is time that we take up our posts on behalf of a country that is falling away, on behalf of other believers that are weakening at the walls, on behalf of the Great King – whose service is far more important than our personal exaltation and pleasure.

#2: There is ordained intent in the adornments – the uniform has a purpose (28:2).

28:2 “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.

Look at the way God commanded Moses in this verse. I was particularly struck by the relationship between Aaron and Moses. Look at the way God told Moses to get the garment for Aaron made – He said it is for YOUR BROTHER. Aaron would need to be respected, even though he was so familiar. This had to be a hard reality, if Moses and Aaron were anything like my brothers. It is easy to disregard those who are close at hand. Jesus said in Mark 6 that “a prophet is without honor in his own country.” Familiarity breeds contempt – and contempt is the opposite of respect.

We are living in a time when respect is not getting its due. The casual nature of everyday life in the twenty-first century has made respectful people stand out. Believers need to pay special attention to the respect due to leaders – and to those who have charge over souls. We need to be especially vigilant not to overlook the unbelievable gifts that God has given us. I am overjoyed and humbled to be a part of the lives of young people as they train to follow God. It would be easy for us to disrespect and discard the incredible gift of our youth. We may easily become guilty of “despising their youth” and not take their potential seriously. We wouldn’t be the first:

One author wrote: “I see no hope for the future for people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today. For certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wild and impatient.” (Greek poet Hesiod c.700 BCE).

A little closer to our day, another well know speaker said: “Youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter a room. They contradict their parents, talk too much in company, guzzle their food, lay their legs on the table, and tyrannize their elders.” (Socrates – 420 BCE).

Keep marching through time, and another wrote: “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents of old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behavior, and dress.” (Peter the Hermit 1274 CE).

My point is that it is easy for people to become familiar, and not have both great expectations and great humility to be in the presence of God’s unique gifts placed all around them. As I stand before the congregation in which I serve, I do so knowing that the team around includes some of the best people I may ever have the joy of serving beside. I have known godly men and women, and I work with some that tower above their generation. Yet, it is common to see people act like they are nothing special. I am here to testify to the truth – they ARE SPECIAL. This work is God’s – and it is special. May respect be a common character mark of the people of Grace.

It isn’t enough to be recognized – we need to be dressed. There is a look to match a heart. God gave the uniform as much for the wearer as for the crowd. The care involved in dressing for the work would have made the man pause and recognize the realities of the office. God intended the leader to deliberately and intentionally adorn the priests with glory (kawvod) and beauty (tif-aw-raw’)! The word beauty was used of the HONOR due God’s Temple. The idea was that Aaron was supposed to adorn himself with the honor of the office he held. He was not as important as the office itself – and that is something leaders should consider in ministry, even today. Do we LOOK the part of God’s servants?

#3: The adornment must not be haphazard – nor should the work be sloppily done (28:3).

28:3 “You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me.

The process of adorning must be done by skilled and faithful workers that will set apart the adorned one. The echo of Paul’s words to Timothy about his desire for those who desire to lead rings in our ears: 1 Timothy 3:2 “…An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable…” Dress up a man whose heart is God’s – and you will draw your eyes to character. Dress up an ungodly man and put him in leader’s clothing – and you might as well be putting lipstick on a pig. The damage done by leaders unworthy of their vestments is legendary – and we must take all our offices of service seriously. That is true of ever usher, Sunday School teacher, ABF leader, Deacon, Elder or Pastor, It is true of children’s workers. Our people are a SACRED TRUST placed upon our shoulders by God’s election and empowering. Each duty is sacred – because people matter to God!

#4: The adornment was chosen by God and specified in His Word (28:4,5).

28:44 “These are the garments which they shall make: a breast piece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me. 5 “They shall take the gold and the blue and the purple and the scarlet material and the fine linen.

Not only is the priest chosen by God, but what adorns a priest is also specified by God. It isn’t enough for us to give them what we want them to have – we have to provide for them based on God’s specs! What do people need to know to be ready to lead others to Jesus? The Word specified it.

I would argue that too much time and money is invested in teaching people things that are not the essentials expressed in the systematic study of God’s Word. It is as though people are choosing their own colors, fabrics and trim – in the form of seminars, songs and sermons. God gave us what we need to know, and we need not wonder about the curriculum – He made it plain. He has given us more helps than any generation before us – and we seem to learn less. Puritans barely had but a Bible – but they learned it.

Let me ask you: How well do you know the Word? Are you making measurable gains in your understanding of it? Do you invest time in learning both what it says and how the internal principles apply to your decision making on a daily basis? If asked, right now, can you tell what each book in the library of God is about? Will you be able to do that in another year, two or three at the rate of your study? Do you know where to open its pages to rescue a man or woman with a broken heart, a failing marriage, or a wayward child?

Why are so many places of worship measured more by the worship band than the clarity of the Word? We must do our best to build a worshipful atmosphere, but that is not our main goal. We must be clear: what changes men and women from brutish and selfish fallen beings to godly servants is but one thing – the renewing of our minds by the work of the Spirit through the Word of God. I want deliberately to encourage you to get into its pages. In the swirl of modern life, God’s Word remains unchangedbut sadly unopened by many a believer. Do not expect God to design a special uniform to your specification. He has chosen what you need – now it is your turn to gather around you skillful workers and assemble the garments that will mark your life.

The next three segments of the text relate the WORK of a priest, as seen through the uniform functions:

#5: The uniform reminded the servant of the weight involved in intercession (28:6-14). The first work specified was PRAYER for people.

28:6 “They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. 7 “It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends, that it may be joined. 8 “The skillfully woven band, which is on it, shall be like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 9 “You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. 11 “As a jeweler engraves a signet, you shall engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel; you shall set them in filigree settings of gold. 12 “You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for a memorial. 13 “You shall make filigree settings of gold, 14 and two chains of pure gold; you shall make them of twisted cordage work, and you shall put the corded chains on the filigree settings.

If you look closely at the verses, you will notice that much of the description is about the “chevrons” – that is the “shoulder pieces”. The “weight” of the intercession before God fell to the servants chosen for that purpose – they were to carry the needs of the people with them and remember them constantly before the throne of God. They pressed on the servant, and they also constricted his reach.

We need to spend a few moments here, because we are again losing sight of this vital quality. Servants of God need to be able to pray, desiring to pray, careful to pray, hungry to pray, joyful in prayer. The fuel of the movement of God’s church is prayer. We cannot excuse our laziness nor accept our passivity… God is worthy of more. Even among believers, prayer is often tacked on to an event – as if the work we do is more important than the seeking of God’s empowering and blessing. We almost treat prayer as a “last resort”, like in the little story I read recently:

I heard a story of a ship that was sinking in the middle of a storm, and the captain called out to the crew and said, “Does anyone here know how to pray?” One man stepped forward and said, “Yes sir, I know how to pray.” The captain said, “Wonderful, you pray while the rest of us put on life jackets–we’re one short.” (Author unknown. Taken from

We treat prayer like it keeps our food from giving us illness, and keeps the boogeyman away while we sleep. It is NOT intended to do anything to your food, nor is it a good luck talisman for our night watches. Prayer is the seeking of God’s audience – the emptying of self-will and the resetting of expectations. Prayer IS the work. A handful of men and women that can pray can stop an army, change a nation, and pull lives back from the brink.

I mention this because many believers are in danger of seeing announcements as equal to prayer in their church services. In a great many church gatherings in our nation, we have become “Club Jesus” with a cross where the Moose is in other meetings. I am not being glib – I am being pointed. Call a meeting to discuss money and you will get many more people than calling a meeting to pray for a known and serious issue. The church will slog on anemic until its forces are engaged on their knees. Men and women of God, servants of the King, must be people who pray. God doesn’t need it – we do. He isn’t lonely, grasping at ways to become meaningful in our lives – He is HOLY and COMPLETE. It is the church that is starving for God’s direction and empowerment – not God that is going hungry. A primary work of the servant of God is carrying the needs of the flock, and praying for them. Intercession isn’t an add-on – it is the heart of the work.

#6: The work of discernment is a chief concern for the leader (28:15-30). The second work specified was DISCERNMENT.

28:15 “You shall make a breast piece of judgment, the work of a skillful workman; like the work of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen you shall make it. 16 “It shall be square and folded double, a span in length and a span in width. 17 “You shall mount on it four rows of stones; the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald; 18 and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree. 21 “The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes. … 30 “You shall put in the breast piece of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD; and Aaron shall carry the judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.

Judging direction was a major feature of priestly work, but it was not entrusted to just any priest. The high priest carried a special responsibility before God and the people to seek the Lord on their behalf, and to call direction for them. The issues involved in people’s sin and offenses against one another have NEVER been a simple matter. God offered to the High Priest a specific way of understanding His desires – and God makes that same offer today. God’s will can be discerned, but it takes work. It takes the careful application of His timeless Word after serious and considered study.

I am amazed at the haphazard nature of decision making among God’s people. What a joy to serve with men of God that will study for themselves and will match Scriptural thinking to a problem! We seem unwilling to admit that God’s Word isn’t as simple as the persuasive article we read last week on a passage. Don’t misunderstand me here- I want to encourage study of the Word… let there be no doubt. At the same time, real decision making must be made with God’s directives in a way that is neither rushed nor haphazard. Too much is decided in haste. The consequences of expedient decision making can be hazardous to the life of the servants of God. Take your time! Learn the principles systematically. Don’t think that an article makes you an expert, but DIG into God’s Word. People’s lives are at stake in the poor handling of God’s Word.

I live in a generation of ministers that will answer to God for their casual handling of eternal truth.

  • We will face God for the way we have allowed so called “liberation theology” to take the place of God’s salvation message to Central and South America.
  • We will be called into account for the way we have allowed psychology and counseling to replace propositional truths clearly and un-apologetically espoused from pulpits that were on fire with God’s presence and holiness.

The state of ministry in America is not good, but it is not finished. There is much we can do to lift high God’s truth. It begins with prayer, and it is nourished by the Word. Preaching needs to once again be lifted to a place where it stirs the heart and moves the mind.

#7: The work of seeking God is as holy as sharing God – and must be carefully prepared (28:31-35). The third work was SEEKING GOD.

28:31 “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 “There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn. 33 “You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. 35 “It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, so that he will not die.

Entering the presence of the Lord is a sacred thing – and it dare not be taken lightly. We are all aware of the need to witness, but far fewer recognize the need to SEEK GOD in our lives. We must intentionally seek the Father. For the priest of old, there was a way of showing intent – it was by putting on the right robe before entering.

Francis Chan: “We are a culture that relies on technology over community, a society in which spoken and written words are cheap, easy to come by, and excessive. Our culture says anything goes; fear of God is almost unheard of. We are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. The wise man comes to God without saying a word and stands in awe of Him. It may seem a hopeless endeavor, to gaze at the invisible God. But Romans 1:20 tells us that through creation, we see “His invisible qualities and divine nature.” (When we look into the vastness of God Heavens, what is our reaction?) Are we Speechless? Amazed? Humbled? When I first saw those images, I had to worship. I didn’t want to speak to or share it with anyone. I just wanted to sit quietly and admire the Creator. It’s wild to think that most of these galaxies have been discovered only in the past few years, thanks to the Hubble telescope. It means they have been in the universe for thousands of years without humans even knowing about them. Why would God create more than 350,000,000,000 galaxies (and this is a conservative estimate) that generations of people never saw or even knew existed? Do you think maybe it was to make us say, “Wow, God is unfathomably big”? Or perhaps God wanted us to see these pictures so that our response would be, “Who do I think I am?”  R. C. Sproul writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”

The last two portions of the text relate to ADMONITIONS to the Priest:

#8: The uniform reminded the servant of God’s distinct call of his life (28:36-38). Admonition: Pay attention to walk as a priest.

28:36 “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ 37 “You shall fasten it on a blue cord, and it shall be on the turban; it shall be at the front of the turban. 38 “It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

One of the purposes of the priestly adornment is consecration – he needed a constant reminder that he was not his own. Who cannot hear the words of 1 Corinthians 6:19 to believers that were walking in amnesia. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Stuck right on the front of his head was a simple sign – you belong to MY PURPOSES, MY CALL, MY ENDS.

How we have compromised on this in the lives of so many a servant of God! In the simple realm of purity, we have heard the story many, many times. We need the old sign: Holy to the Lord!” We need it on our TV sets, hung above our computers, Stuck beside our magazine racks.

Annie Dillard, in her book The Writing Life, tells of an experiment that was done with butterflies. The experiment involved placing a male butterfly with a female butterfly of his own species. Then they placed a painted cardboard butterfly alongside them. The cardboard butterfly was bigger than the female — bigger than any female could ever be. The male ignored the living female butterfly next to him and went to the painted cardboard butterfly over and over again. Dillard adds, “Nearby, the real, living female opens and closes her wings in vain.” It is a picture of the world in which countless males are trapped today. Staring at painted cardboard butterflies they are squandering their own resources and defrauding the real, living, breathing females in their homes. But then you don’t have to establish a relationship with cardboard butterflies. You don’t have to put up with their failures — nor do they have to live with you and discover yours. There are no expectations from you. You don’t have to communicate with them. An inviting smile is painted on their faces and they don’t even know you. Perhaps it is better that way. (sermon central illustrations).

It is the work of the high priest to keep the distinctiveness of God before him at all times. Remember, it was NOT the HAT that was holy – it was to be the MAN of God. The hat just kept the sign to remind him that his choices needed to match his big hat.

#9: The uniform kept focus on God – and not on the distraction of His servants (28:39-43). Admonition: Stay out of God’s way when it comes to glory!

28:39 “You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen, and shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash, the work of a weaver. 40 “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics; you shall also make sashes for them, and you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty. 41 “You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests. 42 “You shall make for them linen breeches to cover their bare flesh; they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs. 43 “They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and to his descendants after him.

God made a dress code for modesty and holy care among those who served Him. He wanted them to work well and offer no distraction to the flock. The same was said in the early church. The issue of distraction for men and women was addressed – men with ego seem in argument and women with ego seen in immodesty. Both wanted to attract self attention…

1 Timothy 2:8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

We need to be very careful not to rob God by trying to make ourselves the main attraction. We are here to serve our Holy Father – and not to have faith directed primarily at us. Paul urged (1 Cor. 11:1) that believers at Corinth: “Follow me as I follow Christ!” The call of the priest is to lead them to God’s glory, for God’s glory – not to become a superstar or a distraction

You see, the uniform gives away the identity. The care in creating it reveals the importance of the work prescribed. We have a great call, and a holy commission. The line of those who served before us is vast. The line behind us watches and waits. Will we take up the call?