Numbers 16:44-48 “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.’ And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”
Why do people die? Why don’t we just live forever? Death is such a universal reality that we can almost become numb to it. But why IS it? One way to answer this question is with the observation of how people die. For example, some people die from illnesses, some from accidents, others from murder, some from war, some as judgment for a capital offense, and some kill themselves. But why? It’s an answer for which we must turn to the Scriptures for it is there that we find the statement: “The wages of sin is death (Romans 5:8).” It’s a penalty for disobedience to God, plain and simple.
From the beginning man was given a law by his Righteous Judge, that if he chose to disobey God’s command, no matter what it was, it was in that day that he would surely die (Genesis 2:17). Of course, we all know about the story of Adam and Eve whose disobedience ushered in this death sentence. And as sin entered their life, it has been passed on to all their progeny. In Romans 5:12 we are told “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” It’s a fact of life whether we like it or not.
As we look around us and as we examine our own life, we find that everyone sins – and everyone dies. There are no exceptions. But sometimes the fact that death is the direct judgment of God is more evident than others. One such example is in the passage above from Numbers 16. This is from the account known as “Korah’s rebellion,” when Korah and 250 other leaders of Israel died because of their flagrant rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At its heart, this rebellion was nothing less than a flagrant sin against God, Who had chosen Moses and Aaron as Israel’s leaders. Then the rest of the people blamed Moses and Aaron for that judgment and by this sin, which again was an attack against God Himself, God poured out His wrath in a plague. But then we see Aaron, the high priest, running into the midst of the people as the plague raged, and making atonement for them before God. We are told that Aaron “stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”
It is in this act that we see an Old Testament shadow of our Great High Priest, Jesus, the Savior of the world. You see, it is only Jesus, in our own day and age, that stands between the dead and the living. Although death has passed on all men as a result of our rebellion against and rejection of the Son of God, this same Jesus has come into the world to offer atonement for our sins against Him. It was in the face of our own rebellion, it was “while we were yet sinners” that Jesus, like Aaron in this Old Testament account, entered our world to save us. However, unlike Aaron, who offered incense with fire from the altar for this atonement, Jesus offered His very life for our atonement, for it was only His sacrifice that could spare us from the ultimate consequences of our sin.
It is this one Man, this only begotten Son of God, that stands at this moment as the divider between the living and the dead. As death rushes so swiftly upon each one of us, it is only as we place our faith in our Great High Priest that the plague of death can be stopped. Every one of us, at this very moment, stands on one side or the other – spiritually dead in our sin or spiritually alive in spite of our sin, saved by the One Who gave Himself up for us on the cross. Jesus, in His great love for the world stepped into a world plagued by the sting of death and personally bore the penalty that was due us as the judgment of God on all sin. What an awesome High Priest is this One.
So, on what side do you stand: on the side of death as a result of your sin, or on the side of life because you’ve placed your faith in the One Who died so you might live? You see, a Great High Priest has come into this world to save us, for He’s the only One that can.