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March 11,2018 Every Believer a Priest

 

Scripture reading

 

4             ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5             Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6             and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19: 4-6, ESV)

 

5             you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 (I Peter 2:5, ESV)

 

            But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9, ESV)

 

It was God’s desire was for the nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests in which every individual was a priest. Unfortunately, due to their rebellion and failure, most of the Israelites lost the priesthood. Recall that at the time of the Passover all the children of Israel offered the Lamb without the help of a special caste of people. This was because they were all priests. Every house was a part of the priesthood.

 

Because all the Israelites would not take up the mantle of a priest – they just wanted to “get by” – the Lord would later assign just one tribe, the Levites, to be priests.

 

What is a priest? If you look in a dictionary you might find a definition along the lines of “serving God professionally.” That might be the connotation that the word has taken over the centuries. But it is not the original meaning of the word and that is what we want to know. A simpler definition is just someone who serves God. This is right but what does it mean to serve God?

 

Most Christians would answer that to serve God is to work for God. This answer is wrong! Of course, serving God will sometimes include work. But such an answer is off the mark. One author has rightly said,

 

“To say that a priest is a person who serves God is right, but to say that to serve God is merely to do something for God is wrong.”[1]

 

“To realize what a priest is, we must first know God’s eternal plan. God has a purpose that He desires to accomplish. God has a plan to work Himself into a group of people that he might be their life and that they might become His expression. Based upon this plan he created man and then, after man fell, He continued to pursue this plan with a called-out people – people called out from the world to Himself.

 

Man was destined to receive God, to be filled, saturated, and permeated with God and to have God flow out of him that he might be the living expression of God! This is a brief definition of a priest.”[2]

 

The Old Testament priesthood was not according to God’s highest revelation. It was instituted because of the Israelites failure to all be priests of the Living God. Under the New Covenant the Lord would seek to restore his original intention that every member would function as a priest. We saw this in the two passages in Peter’s first letter that we read. Peter’s letter is for every true believer, those who have received the “sprinkling with his blood” (1:1).

 

Verse 5: all are “a holy priesthood.”

 

Verse 9: all are “a royal priesthood.”

 

Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church went back to the Old Testament notion of a priesthood, re-enacting a clergy-laity distinction among God’s people and instituting priests with distinctive clothing and restrictive functions. They have brought back or, more accurately, imitated the Levitical priesthood when God has done away with it. The Orthodox Church has done the same thing.[3] This puts to death the calling of every child of God.

 

The Protestant denominations have faired slightly better, but not by much. The Reformers and those after them did away with a formal priesthood but, in practice, still retained a sharp distinction between clergy and laity. The New Testament and, thus, God’s ordained way knows of no such distinction. There are elders and deacons but these are not separate castes. They are not “clergy.” They are nothing more than brothers who are mature in the faith and are able to teach the faith and defend the faith.

 

I would like to very briefly consider three people who personify New Testament priests. The first is John the Baptist. Technically, John was part of the Old Covenant. He lived and died under the Old Covenant. Yet, there were powerful aspects of his life and ministry that contained elements of the New Covenant. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). He was the forerunner for and prepared his listeners to receive the Lord Jesus. He preached the same message that Jesus and the apostles preached: repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was on the cusp of the two great covenants.

 

“John was born into a priestly family. His father, Zachariah, was a chief priest, one who took the lead in the priestly order. John was born a priest, yet he did not fulfill his function in the temple. Instead, he went to the wilderness. He did not wear the priestly garment nor did he eat the priestly food. Rather, he had camel’s hair for dress and ate locusts and wild honey. He went to the wilderness and told people, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near’ (Matt. 3:2). This is how a New Testament priest begins. The duty of a New Testament priest is to offer up sinners. John was a priest, being born into a priestly family. Yet the age had changed. He would no longer be a priest of the Old Testament; he came to be a priest of the New Testament.”[4]

 

John fulfilled his ministry. He would not offer up sacrifices as did the OT priests. Instead he offered up sinners. He offered up those who needed forgiveness. He was a New Testament priest.

 

The verse that shows that John was carrying out the ministry of a NT priest and also introduces our second person is Romans 15:15-16.

 

15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (NASB)

 

Note that the apostle Paul writes that he is “ministering as a priest the gospel of God.” He calls himself a priest! What does a priest do in the new covenant? He ministers the gospel. This just means that he tells people about the gospel. Those who respond (and that is up to God, not you!) are the “offering!” They are made both responsive and acceptable by the Holy Spirit. A NT priest just opens his or her mouth and the Holy Spirit does the rest! But there is something that John and Paul had to do. Open their mouths!

 

John and Paul had this in common: they were not silent.  They had something else in common. Remember that John was filled with the Holy Spirit.  So was the apostle Paul. Indeed, this was why they did not keep silent.

 

In his letter to the Thessalonians he writes:

 

4             For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5             because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. [5]

 

Paul tells them that he brought the gospel to them in the Holy Spirit. He “ministered as a priest the gospel of God” in the Holy Spirit. As we read the book of Acts we see that the Holy Spirit was enlivening, empowering, and directing Paul in his evangelism.

 

Since St Patrick’s Day is only a few days away, the third person I would like us to consider is Patrick.

 

Patrick was abducted by pirates from his hometown in Britain as a boy of only 15 or 16 years of age. He was taken to Ireland where he became a slave for a wealthy farmer named Milchu in Antrim (the Northeast corner of the island). There he labored for six years herding sheep and pigs. In his words, he worked in snow, frost, and rain. As one would expect, he missed his family back in Britain and wondered if he would ever see them or freedom again.

 

He did gain his freedom at the age of twenty-two. Eventually, he would return to Ireland many years later not as a slave but to bring them the gospel. In the fifth century Ireland was entirely pagan. He had his work cut out for him. The one previous missionary to the nation, Palladius, found no success. He labored there for years and apparently only a handful of people responded in faith.

 

When Patrick returned he at first encountered great resistance but soon multitudes came to faith so that, in his words, “many thousands” came to faith and were personally baptized by Patrick. It is not an exaggeration to say that Patrick was the vessel the Lord used to convert the nation from paganism to the Christian faith.

 

Like John the Baptist, Patrick came from a religious family. His grandfather was an elder and his father a deacon in the church. But he would go out to the wilderness of Ireland as John went into the wilderness of Judea. For that is what Ireland was in his day – a wild place. He lived among the heathen and proclaimed the good news as a New Covenant priest of the gospel.

 

To what do we attribute his success? He himself answers this question. He attributes his triumphs to the Spirit at least 16 times in his short little book.

 

Patrick was filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

Some may be thinking, “That is wonderful for John and Paul and Patrick but I am just a housewife, a secretary, a working man. Maybe your song is the song of the classic band Rush:

 

I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for livin'
Yes, I'm workin' all the time

[Chorus:]
It seems to me
I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am
I guess that's why they call me
They call me the working man

They call me the working man
I guess that's what I am

I get home at five o'clock
And I take myself out a nice, cold beer
Always seem to be wonderin'
Why there's nothin' goin' down here

 

Maybe you are not drinking a beer, but maybe you are wondering why there’s nothing going down in your life with respect to serving the Lord. If you are not wondering maybe you should be.

 

Maybe you are retired. It’s perfectly acceptable to retire from work but one ought not to retire in service to the Lord.

 

Maybe you are thinking, “I’m just not good with words as so-and-so is.” Here is where we may learn from Patrick. Hear what he has to say about himself.

 

“I blush today and greatly fear to expose my unskillfulness, because, not being eloquent, I cannot express myself with clearness nor brevity, nor even as [my] spirit moves and [my] mind and endowed understanding point out.”[6]

 

Patrick here reveals that he has difficulty expressing himself even though his spirit moves him to and his mind wants to and his understanding is endowed. He is simply not a good speaker.

 

He continues: “And if, perhaps, it appears to some that I put myself forward in this matter with my ignorance and slower tongue, it is however, written ‘Stammering tongues shall learn quickly to speak peace,’ how much more ought we to aim at this (we who are an epistle of Christ) – salvation even to the end of the earth. And, if not eloquent, yet powerful and very strong.”[7]

 

He is saying he has a slow and stammering tongue but he uses it to aim at other’s salvation. He cannot speak well but he is powerful and strong in the Holy Spirit! Indeed, the Spirit would give him the words that he needed. He would quote the Lord Jesus in Matthew 10:20 and apply it to himself because of his experience: “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” [8]

 

John, Paul, and Patrick were, each one, filled with the Holy Spirit, owned by the Lord – they recognized they were not their own, and used by the Lord – they were willing vessels.

 

They were priests of the gospel. This is what each follower of Christ is called to be.

 

The Israelites were called to be a kingdom of priests. But they failed in this calling. The Lord was not pleased with them and removed their place in his eternal plan for a time. He has raised up his church to be a kingdom of priests. Our offering to God is not the blood of bulls and goats. Our offering is sinners to God! If the church, that means you, fails to live out the priesthood then the church, that means you, will be greatly disappointed on the final day.

 

God has a purpose that He desires to accomplish. God has a plan to work Himself into a group of people that he might be their life and that they might become His expression. The very first step in this plan is to have those whom He has called renounce their sin and flee to Christ for salvation. So, those who belong to him already must live as priests of the gospel.

 

Are you? Are you living as a priest? Are you filled? Do you know that you are not your own? Are you being used by the Lord right now as a priest? I am not asking if you are a working man or woman. I am not asking if you are a faithful parent or a faithful husband or wife. I am asking if you are living as a priest of the gospel.

 

If you are then praise the name of the Lord and ask him to continue to use you. If you are not then you must not let things remain as they are. You must fall on your knees and confess your shortcoming. Ask the Lord to fill you with his Spirit so you will be a witness for him. Keep asking and do not stop until he answers.

 

You must open your mouth as did John and Paul and Patrick. The Lord will give you the words.

 

And, I recommend that you read The Confession of St Patrick. This is a short book of about sixty paragraphs that can be read in one sitting. Our family reads this book together every year. You will be encouraged.

 

 

 

 

[1] Witness Lee; Priesthood, The (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1980), 10.

 

[2] Ibid, 11.

[3] This re-enactment or imitation of the OT priesthood took place just a few centuries after the apostolic era, well before the split between the Roman Church and the Eastern (Orthodox) Church in 1054 AD. This explains why these two groups possess a counterfeit “priesthood.”

[4] Witness Lee, The New Testament Priests of the Gospel (Anaheim, Calif.: Living Stream Ministry), 5.

 

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 1:4–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] ¶ 10, The Confession of St Patrick

[7] ¶ 11.

[8] ¶ 20.