The Priesthood of All Believers
by Ted Schroder
“The most vital opinion that a man ever forms is his opinion of himself. It is therefore essential that a man should think accurately of himself. If we desire a just estimate of our own personalities, we must take some pains to weigh the evidence and form one.” (F.W. Boreham)
“Who am I?” and “What can I do?” are two of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. St. Peter tells us clearly: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) “You are priests of the King.” (LB) What does this mean - to be a priest of the King? I was ordained a priest in the Church of England with 17 others in an elaborate liturgy in London. Its significance was not lost on me. But Peter is not referring only to the clergy, but to all who follow Christ. Why did he use this term? It was full of meaning for the people of Israel.
God claimed the entire tribe of Levi for full-time service as priests of Israel. Within the tribe of Levi, Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons were given special status as high priests. The high priestly family had the highest responsibility and privilege to serve in the holy place and most holy place of the tabernacle and the temple. “The Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name.” (Deuteronomy 10:8)
Holiness was to be their chief distinguishing characteristic. Inner moral purity was reflected in their physical perfection. Bodily perfection was to be the model of wholeness and holiness in God’s service. Their garments reflected the design of the tabernacle (Ex.28) and their anointing with oil paralleled the infilling of the tabernacle with the glory of the Spirit of God (Ex.40:34). Aaron is seen to be a mini-tabernacle, a shorthand version of God’s dwelling place among his people.
The priests represented God to the people and the people to God. They were mediators. They had access to God on behalf of the people by offering sacrifices for them. Their offering of incense symbolized prayer for the people (Ex.30:7-10) The priestly tribe was to have no property inheritance with the other tribes. God was to be their inheritance. Their life was to be one of faith – set apart to God.
Like every son of Aaron, every follower of Jesus is a priest. But not everyone understands their identity or exercises their priesthood. Many are entirely ignorant of it. Yet it is the highest privilege of a child of God, the mark of greatest nearness and likeness to God. “Every high priest is selected among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Hebrews 5:1)
A priest does not live for himself. A priest lives with God and for God. His work as God’s servant is to care for God’s house, God’s honor, and God’s worship, making known to the people God’s love and God’s will. A priest also lives with people and for people. “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2) The priest’s work is to find out their sins and needs, bring these before God, offer sacrifice and incense in their names, obtain forgiveness and blessing for them, and then to come out and bless them in God’s name.
This is the high calling of every believer. We have been redeemed for the purpose of being God’s priests in the midst of a needy world. The Christian Church, every Christian believer, is to be a royal priesthood. We are set apart for God’s work. We live for God and for others.
Aaron and his sons were not only chosen to be priests, they were also consecrated (Exodus 29). They were washed and clothed. They were anointed with holy oil. Sacrifices were then offered, and the right ear, the right hand, and the right foot were touched with the blood of the sacrifice. They and their garments were then sprinkled with the blood and oil together. In the same way, as the blood and the Spirit work more fully in the child of God, the power of the Holy Priesthood will also work in him. The blood will take away all sense of unworthiness; the Spirit will take away all sense of unfitness.
As the blood gives the right of intimate access to God, the Spirit gives the power for believing intercession. He breathes into us the priestly spirit and a burning love for God’s honor and the needs of others. We have a ministry of intercession for the world. We lift up in prayer the needs of our families: our children and grandchildren; our friends and our loved ones; the people around us – we take upon ourselves their anxieties, their fears, their despair, their confusion, their doubts, their dilemmas.
God needs priests who can draw close to him, live in his presence, and by their intercession draw down the blessings of God’s grace on others. And the world needs priests who will bear the burden of the needs of others and intercede on their behalf. This is a high and holy work. It is the calling of all God’s people, of all who call themselves Christian. It is not the calling only of a few, first class Christians who are separated off to be full-time, ordained priests, wearing a clerical uniform. Martin Luther in 1520 called all Christians to recover their vocation as priests in the household of God. He declared that baptism was the ordination rite of all Christian believers. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on earth.” (Rev.5:10)
You wear priestly robes in eternal service in the presence of God. They are not human garments but the robe of Christ himself and his perfect righteousness, which is possessed by faith (Rom.13:4; Gal.3:27).
(c) July 24, 2011
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