A Kingdom of Priests? (The Story: Chapter 5)

“You will be my treasured possession... You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:5-6 NIV

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. 1 Peter 2:9-12 NIV

Moses went up to meet with God on Mount Sinai and came down with a message for the Israelites: I treasure you. I have set you apart with these commands so that you will bless the world. 

The Israelites were no longer slaves, but treasured. They were no longer in captivity, but free. They were no longer powerless, they could change the world. 

Peter picks up this passage from Exodus and affirms the identity and calling of the first century believers. As Christians we are a kingdom of priests. Treasured. Free. World Changers. For Peter, kingdom doesn’t refer to a political realm, just as nation doesn’t refer to a country or state. The kingdom is the Kingdom of God--God at work in the world to fulfill Jesus’ prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And God calls us priests to accomplish that mission.

Priest is a hard word for protestants. We have ministers, not priests. We believe Jesus is our Great High Priest, the only mediator between God and human beings. 

Priest comes from the Greek via Latin presbyter, which is our word for elder and the root word for Presbyterian. The regular word for priest in Latin is sacerdos. These two words have distinct functions. The presbyter is the elder or minister who leads others in worship and teaches, and the sacerdos offers sacrifices or “mediatorial” work between God and man. 

In our church I serve as presbyter (leading worship and teaching) and sacerdos (administering the sacraments of baptism and communion). In my role there is a work among the people (minister) and there is a work between God and the people (priest).

But since the protestant reformation we have affirmed the priesthood of all believers. What does that mean? I think these two roles of minister and priest apply to every follower of Christ. 

The minister role is captured in the “one anothers’ of the new testament--receiving God’s love and mercy and then offering that love and mercy to others by comforting, forgiving, teaching, honoring, welcoming, submitting to, loving, and encouraging one another. We minister to one another. 

And every believer has a priestly function. A priest mediates between God and human beings, offering sacrifices, praying for the people on their behalf. Moses pleaded with God for mercy when his people sinned against God. Jesus is our high priest interceding on our behalf to God. 

I like the word pontiff. We use it mostly for the Pope, but it is the French word for bishop. We use the word pontificate when we don’t want someone preaching at us, or talking down to us.  But pontiff comes from the Latin pontifex literally means "bridge-builder" (pons = bridge and facere = to build). The bishop is a priest who builds a bridge between God and human beings. 

What if we saw our priestly call within the priesthood of all believers as building bridges between God and our neighbors? Between God and our children? Between God and our co-workers? Between God and those who disagree with us, hate us, hurt us, offend us or ignore us? How do we do that? 

I think sometimes our instinct as Christians is build walls instead of bridges. In a recent blog Thom Schultz says 87 of the unchurched view Christians as judgmental. I think scripture tells us to build bridges with authenticity and humility. 

Peter writes,” But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” (1 Peter 2:9-12 Message)

It means living differently in the world among those who don’t know God. God gave Moses new commands to set them apart as people who love God and love others. Jesus summarized the law with the same two emphases. If we obey his commands we live differently, as light in the darkness, offering a way to live that leads to life. And when others see new life they point to God.

And it means blessing others. God’s whole design for his people was to bless them in order to be a blessing to others. God have Aaron a priestly blessing for his people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

In what ways is God calling you to be a minister and priest today?

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