Note: below is the manuscript for my sermon, it is not a transcription. Therefore, there will be some differences between this text and the sermon audio.
Review and Introduction
Last Sunday, we looked at Jesus as our Prophet. Jesus is a prophet because he bore witness to the word of God and he spoke with authority concerning the nature and the purposes of God. But Jesus was a unique prophet because he referred to himself as the subject, the source, and the fulfilment of all prophecies.
Jesus came immediately after John the Baptist, who was the last in the old era of prophets. We are now in a new era of prophets, following after John and Jesus. Jesus said that even the least of those in the kingdom of God are greater than John the Baptist. This makes every one of us who identify ourselves as Christians, prophets.
The main way we are to be prophets in this world is by bearing witness to the life of Jesus. We tell people the Jesus stories and show them that they are true by the way we live. We demonstrate to the world the power and truth of Jesus by living in the same way he lived—with grace, humility, love and compassion.
However, without the priestly nature of Christ, we would not have available to us the benefits of the most radical act of grace, humility, love and compassion that has ever been demonstrated. I am referring to Jesus’ death on the cross.
Jesus lived as a great prophet. He spoke with commanding authority. He taught with greater wisdom than anyone has ever seen. He corrected people who were doing wrong and pointed people to right living.
But, he died as a great priest. This is the subject of the message this morning.
Who is Jesus? He is our priest.
Before I continue, we will be observing communion together. I think it is incredibly fitting to have communion on the Sunday we look at Jesus as our priest. For it is in the act of taking communion that we proclaim Jesus Christ as the final and complete payment for our sins.
As we continue this morning, keep in mind the significance of what we just did. This is not a trivial thing. We observe communion because Jesus is our priest and our salvation. I hope as we learn more about who Jesus is this morning, the meaning of communion will take on a greater significance for us all.
I will be answering this morning the same questions as I did last week.
1. What are priests?
2. What makes Jesus a priest?
3. How does this impact us?
What Are Priests?
The problem with identifying Jesus as our priest is that we do not understand the role of a priest in our society. The office of priest does not exist in the same way it did in Jesus’ time. So, let’s briefly take a look at what priests were and what they did as it is described in Scripture.
The simplest definition of a priest is this: “A group of men charged with the responsibility of mediating between God and his people, ensuring proper worship, and maintaining the spiritual health of the people of God.” (DBT)
The first mention of people doing things that resembled priesthood were Cain and Abel, who made offerings to God from the fruit of the harvest and of their flock.
Then, Noah built an altar after the flood and made sacrifices to God.
Abram built an altar to God after seeing the land that God would give to his ancestors.
After receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions from God at Mount Sinai, Moses built an altar to God and had the young men of Israel make sacrifices on it. Shortly after this event, God established the perpetual priestly office, starting with Moses’ brother Aaron and his sons.
Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.
Following this establishment of priesthood, no other person in Israel could be a priest, except for someone from the line of Aaron. Some of the priestly responsibilities included:
- Keeping the charge of the tabernacle. Numbers 18:1, 5, 7.
- Offering sacrifices. Leviticus 1:1–6:30; 2 Chronicles 29:34; 35:11.
- Lighting and trimming the lamps of the sanctuary. Exodus 27:20, 21; Leviticus 24:3,
- Keeping the sacred fire always burning on the altar. Leviticus 6:12, 13.
- Blessing the people. Numbers 6:23–27.
- Purifying the unclean. Leviticus 15:30, 31.
- Deciding in cases of jealousy. Numbers 5:14, 15.
- Deciding in cases of leprosy. Leviticus 13:2–59; 14:34–45.
- Judging in cases of controversy. Deuteronomy 17:8–13; 21:5.
- Teaching the law. Deuteronomy 33:8, 10; Malachi 2:7.
- Blowing the trumpets on various occasions. Numbers 10:1–10; Joshua 6:3, 4.
- Carrying the ark. Joshua 3:6, 17; 6:12.
- Encouraging the people when they went to war. Deuteronomy 20:1–4.
The duties of the priests would have been considered the most important responsibilities in all of Israel. For it was through the priest the nation had access to the presence of God.
What Makes Jesus A Priest?
Because you know we are thinking about Jesus as our priest, you may already be thinking about the ways in which Jesus is a priest as I have been describing the role.
The entire office of priesthood throughout the history of Israel was meant to set the stage for Jesus’ arrival as the ultimate high priest. The sacrificial system was meant to point to Jesus. The holy garments and the cleansing rituals were meant to point to Jesus. Every instruction God gave to Moses was intended to prepare the nation of Israel for the coming Messiah.
And since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too. If he were here on earth, he would not even be a priest, since there already are priests who offer the gifts required by the law. They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.
As we think about Jesus being our priest, we need to remember that Jesus didn’t just abolish a man-made system that was flawed and ineffective. He made the old system complete, and established an order that is more permanent. He finished the task of salvation that God began through the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The laws that God gave to Moses were never meant to bring salvation, they were meant to show us that we can never do it on our own. They were meant to show us that we need a saviour.
Jesus died as the ultimate sacrifice, offering not an animal, but himself, his pure and spotless blood, as the payment for our sins. And because he rose from the dead, his sacrifice is permanent. There is no need for more sacrifices. It is finished because Jesus finished it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us more about Jesus as our priest, and how it should impact our lives as believers.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
We see here that Jesus is called by the author of Hebrews a great High Priest. He is a great High Priest because although he faced all the temptations we have faced and ever will face, he never gave in. He never sinned.
Think about this for a moment. I’ll use the image of hunger to help us understand what this means. For most of us in this room, when we fell hungry, we eat until we no longer feel hungry. The feeling of hunger is uncomfortable, so we try to get rid of it by eating. However, for many millions of people in the world, that is not the case. When they feel hungry, they may have to wait many hours or even days before they can even have a little bit to eat.
Now, who of all the people in the world do you think has truly experienced hunger? Is it those who satisfy their hunger immediately, or those who must wait days before they can eat? I have sat with and heard the stories of people who hadn’t eaten anything more than a bowl of rice in days. I wouldn’t dare to think that I know hunger like they do.
Now, think about the temptation of Christ. For most of us, at least if we are honest, we tend to give in to our greatest temptations. Think about a sin that just keeps coming back time and time again. When the temptation to sin in that area comes, how long does it take before you give in? Jesus never did.
Now, who do you think knows temptation better? You and I, who give in all to easily to temptation? Or Jesus, who never once gave in?
The ministry of priesthood is one of compassion. We cannot be mere teacher of each other. We need to have compassion for one another. Because Jesus has experienced the full portion of temptation, he knows what we are going through. He is a priest who truly understands how hard it is.
But that’s not all. Read verse 16 again: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” His ministry is not just the ability to come alongside us and comfort us. He is able to help us. He has access to God’s mercy and grace, and has the power to deliver us from temptation.
Jesus is a priest because he himself was the sacrifice required to pay for our sins. Jesus is a perfect, eternal priest because he never sinned, he conquered death, and is now continuing to minister to us through the Holy Spirit in times of need.
How Does This Impact Us?
There are two main ways Jesus’ priesthood impacts us.
First, it impacts us because his priesthood allows us to enter the presence of God.
When God established the priestly office in the nation of Israel, he only allowed the priests to enter the most holy place, which is where the presence of God was dwelling. This was a great privilege and also a great burden. One wrong move and the priest would be struck down by the holy wrath of God. No one would dare enter unless they were a priest according to the laws of God, and unless they underwent the required cleansing rituals.
However, because Christ has performed the final act of sacrifice and cleansing as our high priest, we are free to enter God’s presence. A key difference between the priests that came before and the Jesus as our priest is that Jesus is an eternal priest.
Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
We are impacted by Jesus’ priesthood because we now have unlimited access to God and his grace. Jesus continues even today to minister to us, giving us help as we continue to struggle with sin and temptation.
Second, it impacts us because, just as is the case of Jesus’ prophetic identity, we take on the identity Jesus’ priesthood. We become priests in the order of Christ.
Last Sunday we saw that 1 Peter 2:9 instructs us to be prophets. The same passage tells us that we are priests:
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.
Our being a priest and being a prophet needs to work hand-in-hand. Our instruction of one another and our care for one another cannot be separated.
I would like to share a couple quotes from two heroes of mine, Pastor Eugene Peterson and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They speak about our identity and our responsibilities as members of the Christian community. We belong to each other because of our common identity in Christ. Therefore, we are not islands unto ourselves.
[quoting Bonhoeffer]: ‘Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us.’ And what Christ has done is anoint us with his Spirit. We are set apart for service to one another. We mediate to one another the mysteries of God. We are priests who speak God’s Word and share Christ’s sacrifice. (Eugene Peterson, Long Obedience in the Same Direction , 181)
The priesthood of all believers is not an arrogant individualism that, at least in matters dealing with God, doesn’t need anyone. It is a confession of mutuality, a willingness to guide one another in following in the way of Jesus, to assist and encourage, to speak and act in Jesus’ name, and to be guided by another to speak and act in Jesus’ name. In the community of the baptized, there is no one, absolutely no one, who is not involved in this priestly leading and being led. (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way , 14)
In short, the basis and identity of our community, the church, is not the holiness of each individual member. We are not the church because you and I are able to act a certain way. We are the church because of our common identity in Christ. We are priests under Jesus. This is a benefit that came with our adoption into God’s kingdom, not because of what we have done. It is a gift, not something we have earned. And, all of those who call Jesus their Lord have this gift, so none of us can claim more right to it than another.
Here is the challenge I was faced with as a result of this study. Before I offer correction or instruction to others, I need to ask myself, how am I loving them? I mean, in what ways have I demonstrated that I love those who I am correcting or teaching?
This is particularly important to those of us who are parents. Early on as a parent I came across a word that has affected my way of parenting significantly: exasperate. This means to annoy or irritate another person. We can exasperate our children by only speaking to them about the things they are doing wrong. There is no person in the world who takes this sort of instruction well.
If you have experienced this sort of relationship, you know that it wears on you and you dread the times when you have to talk to someone who only offers correction.
If we are to live in the same way that Jesus lived, we will not be the sort of teachers who exasperate others. When we offer correction, it will be offered out of love and compassion and grace. So then, our responsibility as the people who identify ourselves with Jesus, is to bear witness to the Jesus stories with compassion, with grace, with love and patience, serving one another as Christ has served us.