Numbers 4:20 – but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”
Ephesians 3:12 describes for us that we, in Christ, may approach God freely and confidently. This is a wonderful truth and a blessed freedom that we have received from God. We have not, however, earned this right. We are free to approach God, to spiritually enter into his presence, because God grants us an imputed righteousness in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means that we wear a righteousness, a perfection, that is not ours—that is foreign to us—but which God allows us to have because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.
While I am thrilled to know that I have freedom to enter into God’s presence because of Christ, it is also important that the people of God remember that such a freedom is no small thing. Reading in the book of Numbers, we see God give a set of instructions for his people as to how to handle the holy things in the tabernacle. The job of the Levites is not only to care for the objects in the tabernacle, but also to guard against the people of God getting too close to them, seeing them, touching them, and dying for their lack of holiness.
In the verse above, God tells the Levites exactly how they are to deal with the holy things. IN the prior verses, he had told them that a particular group of Levites were to go into the holy place and cover up the holy things so that no other Levite could see them. They were to use the specially designed carrying poles to carry the items so that nobody, absolutely nobody, would dare to touch the holy things. And in the verse above, God warns that for an unauthorized person to look upon the holy things would be for him to forfeit his life.
Now, think with me for a moment. Why is it that these men would die for looking at the holy things? They are not, after all, touching them or making them dirty, are they? No, but there is a sense in which an unholy person would defile a holy thing by looking upon it. The only alternative is for the holiness of the object looked upon to cause the immediate death of the one who dared look at it.
Mankind in our sinfulness simply cannot look at God or any of his things. We cannot bear to hear his voice. We cannot bear to stand in his presence. Were we to speak his name, talk of his things, or look upon him without his protection, we would surely die, and it would be right. However, God has chosen to be merciful. He has chosen to protect us from the all-consuming holiness of his glory. He has chosen to offer us a way, not only to be forgiven of our sin, but to be able to actually look into the word of God and to behold, in a small way, his glory. God has granted us the highest joy and the greatest mercy imaginable by allowing us to enter into his presence through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, let me say this to you who are believers: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t miss this point. You and I do not deserve to know God. We do not deserve to hear his word. We do not deserve to get to sing his praise. WE do not deserve to be allowed to pray to him. We do not deserve to partake of the Lord’s Supper. We do not deserve to be allowed to hear a sermon. WE do not deserve to be allowed to see the beauty of his creation. But he has chosen to love us. HE has chosen to give us mercy. HE has chosen to allow us to become his children (John 1:12-13). And we should give him thanks. We should marvel at his mercy. We should be in awe of his holiness. We should fall to our knees and cry, “Glory to God!” We should tremble to think of entering his presence, and then, by Christ’s grace, we should eagerly and humbly talk to, obey, and worship our loving heavenly Father.