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A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS


Speaker Helen Jenkinson

INTRO

In July, after 30 years as a Food teacher I am hanging up my apron and school has advertised my job, stating the job description and a list of the qualities they want for someone in that role. Every job has one doesn’t it? But if that advert was for someone to become a Priest of the Living God, I wonder what the person specification would say? And what responsibilities would they be expected to fulfil? Well this morning, if we are Christians, if we are in Christ- the bible says that we are part of a kingdom of priests. We already have the job, but maybe we need to become a bit clearer on what our job description actually says! So this morning we’re going to look at why we are called priests- what it meant in the old testament, how that changed after Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for us today

BACKGROUND

I was reading that rabbis would often use the technique of connecting passages together in order to convey biblical truth. It’s the sort of thing Jesus did a lot- think about when he explained the scriptures about himself to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. So it will be useful if you have your bible handy as we’re going to try and string passages together so we can get a fuller picture of what it means to be part of a royal priesthood. Our first stop is in Revelation. Remember it is John, one of Jesus’ best friends who, in his old age, a prisoner on the island of Patmos, gets an opportunity to have the curtain lifted on another reality to the one he is living in. What is happening in the heavenly realms. Jesus is telling him- look John, I know you’re suffering but your troubles are only momentary. I’m going to show you my reality. Caesar might think he’s in control but he absolutely isn’t. I am! What an encouragement that must have been to him.


So let’s start with Revelation 1: 5- 6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.


So what does this phrase ‘kingdom and priests’ actually mean? To understand it we have to go all the way back to Exodus.


In kid’s life we have been learning about how the children of Israel were delivered out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of bondage. And at Mount Sinai God makes a covenant with his people. This is what God instructs Moses to tell the people as an introduction to his giving of the law that we know as the 10 commandments: Exodus 19: 4-6

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”


So from this we know that Israel was God’s treasured possession. Out of all the peoples of the world, Israel was special. This phrase- treasured possession is used elsewhere of a king’s private treasury. His jewels, his riches, his wealth. Was it because they were better or more deserving than other people? Not at all. But they were the people who God decided would make Him known to the world. A people who would manifest God’s character to the people around them. Now we know that Israel failed spectacularly at times in this role, but one thing that did come out of it was the system of the priesthood.


It says in the verse that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. The priests represented the Lord to the people. Aaron who was the first high priest had garments that were made of the same material as the curtain of the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle in order to represent God’s glory. In other words, the normal Israelite couldn’t go into the Most Holy Place to witness God’s glory there, but they could see Aaron and witness God’s glory reflected albeit imperfectly in the high priest. The priests also represented Israel to God. Aaron’s ephod had stones in it representing the 12 tribes of Israel. When he stood before God, Israel stood before God; when he entered the holy of holies once a year on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals as atonement for his sins and the sins of the people, when he presented the blood of the sacrifice which secured forgiveness, Israel benefitted from it. So the presence of the priests was to create the possibility of a relationship with God. In turn, Israel was to represent God to the world through mission and present the world to God through prayer. The world couldn’t see God but they could see Israel. So God’s intention was that Israel as a whole would be an ambassador, representing God to the nations- demonstrating to the nations the character of God. So I want you to hold those thoughts about the priesthood for a moment. God’s words to Moses also says that Israel was to be a holy nation. Set apart. Different from the other nations around them. God is saying “you may see what other people in the land I am giving you may be doing but I want you to be distinctively different. The 10 commandments are an illustration of this. They were designed to be missional. They were given to shape the life of Israel so that as a nation they displayed the goodness of God. God was creating one area in the world where his goodness could be seen. His people were his prototype- his working model. Now we know that this didn’t happen. Israel looked around them and saw the gods the Canaanites worshipped and often joined them- worshipping idols and taking part in all sorts of pagan rituals. In the days of Samuel they declared they wanted a king just like the other nations around them, ignoring the fact that God was their king. But have you noticed that God’s covenant promise was that all God’s people would be priests- A kingdom of priests. Not something that was reserved for a special few. The old covenant system of priesthood was a picture of something a lot more wonderful.


And so we enter the new covenant and I want you to think back to what we learnt about the priesthood of Exodus. The pictures of the old covenant are perfectly embodied by Jesus, our great high priest. We said that the priesthood was designed so that people could see God’s glory. What does John say?


John 1: 14. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth


Jesus is the radiance of the Father’s glory. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. In the old covenant the high priest had to cleanse himself before he could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jesus who knew no sin was the only one truly qualified to make atonement for our sin by his death on the cross. His death brings us forgiveness. He fits the person specification of the High Priest perfectly doesn’t he? And as he cried ‘It is Finished’, the curtain in the temple separating God and man was torn in two from top to bottom. We now have full access to the Father through what Jesus has done for us on the cross, not like the high priest who only had access on the day of atonement. Let’s hear what Hebrews 10: 19-22 says:


Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.


In the old covenant the priests had to be descended from Aaron. In the new covenant we do not have to be descended from Aaron to be part of the priesthood. We have something much better. We have been chosen to be adopted as sons and daughters of the living God. We don’t have to prove ourselves in a job interview before we receive our status as sons or daughters, we have been chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight, as it says in Ephesians 1. So what does this mean for us? Do we just sit back, and enjoy our privileges as priests? Of course not. That would be the same as someone being appointed to a job and then never doing anything in that role! So what does it mean for us to be a royal priesthood? Let’s look at what the apostle Peter says:


1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.


Do you see how Peter uses the same language as Exodus to describe Christians?


1. Chosen

We sing a song that starts with “Who am I that the highest king should welcome me” don’t we? The initiative is all with God- not with us. Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him”. When we became a Christian we responded to the Holy Spirit’s invitation. Just like Israel, we weren’t chosen because we were better than anyone else. In his divine grace and wisdom God decided to make us his treasured possession! If that’s not enough to get us on our knees in worship to Him on this Pentecost Sunday I don’t know what is!

2. Royal

Peter also says we are a royal priesthood. Why royal? Because we are sons and daughters of the king of kings! There’s lots of controversy at the moment isn’t there about Prince Harry and how he feels about being royal. And lots of the problems are arising because he and his family have different ideas about what his royal status actually means in practice. Now it’s not my job here to make a judgment either way but what I do know is that the royal family feel that they are in a privileged position and that requires certain standards of behaviour and ethics. And as we’ve seen throughout the years quite a few royals have not lived up to the standards that have been assumed they should meet, in various ways. But shouldn’t it be even more so true for us? We’re not descendants of Queen Elizabeth. We’re children of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Corrie Tem Boon said ‘God has no grandchildren’. So wherever we are we are representing him and the values of His kingdom. We don’t ever stop being part of the royal priesthood- on bad days as well as good.

3. Holy

Which brings us onto the third thing that Peter says. We are a Holy Nation. The whole law was set up by God to demonstrate the set apartness of God. How Israel was to operate was so different to the people around them- Their reverence for God above all else. Their refusal to worship idols. Their trust in God to supply their needs, reflected in keeping the Sabbath. Valuing the people around them by treating others as they would want to be treated. And that should be our call too. Those values should permeate into everything we do, say and think. They should govern our relationships with each other and those we come into contact with on a daily basis. Israel was called to be distinctively different and so are we.

4. God’s special possession

We saw in Exodus that Israel was to be God’s treasured possession. And it’s the same for us. We can know God as our Father. He cared for Israel as the best kind of Father cares for his children. With tenderness, responding to their whinging and wining as we saw last week at kids life and he cares for us in the same way. He always has our best interests in mind. The scriptures also speak of God being a Father to the fatherless. Whether your relationship with your father was or is good, bad or non-existent, you have a heavenly father who sees you as His. You are his special treasure.


God is also seen in Scripture as our Husband. This may seem very strange to men, but it is true for you too. Those who trust in Christ are called the bride of Christ. The idea of marriage is that two people agree to commit their lives to one another until death. They enter into a covenant to remain faithful to one another no matter the cost. When we came to Christ it’s like we entered into a marriage covenant. We are now part of one another. And as a husband or wife should be jealous of their relationship with each other, so God is jealous of his relationship with us. We tend to think of jealousy as a sin, but in this context it means making sure nothing or no-one comes between you and your spouse. That’s why in the old testament often God speaks through the prophets like a husband who is devastated that his wife has committed adultery. It was as though Israel had committed adultery with the other gods of the time. Nothing has changed. When we run after things that are not of God, that’s how God feels. Like a jilted husband. But like Hosea, he longs for us to come back into that close relationship with him.


Being God’s treasured possession also means that He is our friend. Not an acquaintance, not a facebook type of friend but the deep and unshakable friendship that we have with only a few people in our lifetime. The kind of friend that will lay down his or her life for you. Someone who sticks closer than a brother. The one who will be with you through thick and thin. One who will walk with you through the good times and the bad. Friendship also speaks of sharing one’s heart with one another. A huge part of that is knowing what the other is thinking. God desires to share and reveal the deepest part of His being to us and he wants us to share ourselves with him.


There are so many other aspects of being God’s treasured possession that we haven’t got time to delve into this morning. But maybe this week, meditate on the truths that He is your father, your husband, your friend but also your good shepherd, your saviour. How wonderful He is!

So why have we been called to be priests? The rest of the verse in Peter gives us the answer. So you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.


We learnt last week didn’t we that through his atonement, Jesus invites us to move from death to life. From darkness to light. And that is the message we need to carry to the world around us. Remember that Israel’s mission was to make God known to the world. To display his character. To be missional. The church is the people chosen to be a kingdom of priests who make God known to the world. The church, Peter says, is the nation which is holy as God is holy. That requires us to lead distinctive lives. We want to make connections with people around us. But what will attract people to the gospel is not our similarities to them but our distinctiveness. It’s the difference that the gospel makes to our lives that will provoke their questions. How we view or deal with similar situations to others in a godly way. But in order to make God known to the world, we need to know him for ourselves. If we are to manifest God’s character, we need to know what his character is. So for the last few minutes we are going to focus on a few aspects of God’s character and some practical ways we can make those characteristics known to the world.

Love

The world is obsessed with love isn’t it? You only have to listen to popular songs or watch romantic comedies or see the books for sale in a bookshop to know that. But this love is what the bible would term ‘eros’. It’s the falling in love feeling we get when we first meet someone we really like. But this is not the type of love the bible talks most about. The bible mostly focusses on agape love. Self -sacrificing love. The kind of love that empties yourself for the good of someone else. The type of love that Paul in Philippians 2 says Jesus demonstrated when he emptied himself and became man. The type of love that keeps you committed to something or someone when it is costly to you. When you don’t feel like it. When you are tired. When the credits role at the end of the film and the characters start to live life together in all its messiness. That’s the type of love and commitment God shows to us and that we should be showing to each other. Why did Jesus keep teaching his disciples that love is the key to all men knowing that they were his disciples? Because the world doesn’t experience agape love that often and when they do, they will recognise that this kind of love is not something that can be generated by human will but only by God.

Mercy and Forgiveness

God’s nature is always to show mercy. He longs to forgive. Think about the parable of the prodigal son. What do we convey about God’s character if we choose to hold grudges or choose not to forgive when we have been wronged? Or choose not to say sorry to people who we have wronged? As Tristan shared with us last week, it was the actions of Rizpah, not David who brought about transformation into that situation because she chose to end the cycle of vengeance.

There’s so many characteristics of God that the world need to see demonstrated through us isn’t there? Maybe this week, as well as meditating on the different aspects of us being God’s treasured possession we can also meditate on how we can demonstrate God’s faithfulness, God’s justice, God’s truth, God’s holiness to the world around us. It would be lovely if we could engage in conversations with each other about it. Put your ideas on the Facebook page. Share your ideas in the WhatsApp group.

Remember we are a kingdom of priests. It’s not just the job of the leaders. As we are the new Israel, God’s special possession, each one of us has the role of representing God to the world.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

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