In the weeks since we have been unable to publicly worship together and I have been posting my messages online, some people have asked if I could say a prayer or give a blessing in the videos. There are a few reasons why I haven’t been doing that which I’m happy to discuss more if you’d like to contact me. This week’s reading from 1 Peter 2:2-10 gives me an opportunity to explain one of my reasons in more detail.
Peter addresses the people who are reading his letter in several ways in this short passage. I want to focus on the way he calls his readers ‘a holy priesthood’ (v5 NIV) and ‘a royal priesthood’ (v9). To understand what Peter is talking about when he uses the term ‘priesthood’ we need to go back to the Old Testament and the sacrificial system of worship in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.
God originally created people to be in relationship with him (Genesis 1 and 2). However, that relationship was broken because of sin (Genesis 3). To establish a way for this relationship to be restored so that the people of Israel could connect with him again, God chose a group of people from the tribe of Levi to be priests (see Exodus chapters 28 and 29). Their role was to stand between God and his people, not to keep them apart but to bring them together. These priests offered sacrifices, firstly in the Tabernacle and then the Temple in Jerusalem, so the community of faith could have access to God and receive his mercy, grace and blessing. Through the ministry of the Old Testament priesthood, God’s chosen people were able to live in relationship with God and receive his goodness.
Then Jesus came and changed everything. Parts of the New Testament, such as the Letter to the Hebrews, refer to Jesus as our great High Priest who fully opened a new way for all people to have access to God’s presence and blessing (Hebrews 10:19-25). He did not do this by offering the same sacrifices as the Old Testament priests. Instead, Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus took away all sin and everything else which gets in the way of a relationship of love with our Father in heaven. Jesus, who is fully human and fully God, stands between humanity and God as our great High Priest to bring us together and unite us as one. This ended the Old Testament priesthood and gave all people access to God through faith in Jesus.
Peter uses this picture of the Old Testament priesthood to tell us that, because we are God’s chosen people through faith in Jesus, we become the way that God connects with the world and people can have access to the presence and blessing of God. We are united with Jesus through faith, and so, just as he stands between God and humanity to bring us together as our great High Priest, now we also stand with him between God and humanity to bridge the gap and connect the world with God’s presence and blessing. As a holy and royal priesthood through faith in Jesus, God gives us as the body of Christ, the holy Christian church, the responsibility and the opportunity to represent God to the world, and the world to God.
Peter says there are two important ways in which we do this. The first is in verse 5 when he refers to Christian as a ‘holy priesthood’ and talks about ‘offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (NIV). He uses similar language to Paul in Romans 12:1 who encourages his readers ‘to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’ (NIV). We can offer our whole lives to God to thank him for the life of Jesus he gives us through faith. These ‘spiritual sacrifices’ can also mean acts of worship such as our prayers for each other, the Church, our nation and the world, in fact anything we offer God in faith and love for everything he has given us in Jesus.
Peter then writes that as ‘a royal priesthood’ we can ‘declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (v9 NIV). Our spiritual sacrifices are how we bring the world to God. We also bring God to the world by declaring his praises to the world. Praising God is more than telling God how good he is or how much we love him. We also praise God by telling others about the good that God has done for us. In particular, we declare God’s praises by telling others what he has done for us in Jesus – his love grace, mercy, peace, hope, and more. We function as God’s priests when we tell others about how God calls us out of the dark places of life into the light of his love, joy, peace and hope through faith in Jesus.
It is vital that we understand that this is not just the job of our pastor or minister. One of the reasons why I am not including prayers, benedictions or blessings in my messages is that you do not need me to do that for you. In public worship our congregation has called me to do these things on behalf of our community of faith, but God calls every Christian to function as his priests by offering spiritual sacrifices like prayers and declaring God’s praises by blessing others. I see this time when we are unable to worship together as an opportunity God has given us to do what Paul says is the role of the pastor in Ephesians 4:11-13, namely to equip Christ’s people to do the work of ministry. It is not the job of the pastor to function as a priest for you. According to Ephesians 4:11-13, the pastor’s role is to equip God’s people for the work of ministry so that you can function as God’s holy and royal priesthood by bringing the world to God through your spiritual sacrifices and by bringing God to the world as you declare his praises in your lives.
So pray for each other and for the world. Bless each other and bring God’s blessings to the world. Declare God’s praises by speaking words of grace and love and forgiveness and peace in Jesus to each other. Stand between God and the world, not to keep them apart but to bring them together as you offer spiritual sacrifices and declare God’s praises. Be the holy and royal priesthood God has chosen and called you to be. Because right now, with everything going on in the world and in people’s lives, we, as God’s holy and royal priesthood, have an unprecedented opportunity to bring a struggling and hurting world to God, and God’s infinite and perfect goodness to the world.
More to think about & discuss:
- Have you ever been in a situation where you have been able to bring two people together? Share your story and describe what it was like for you to be able to bring them together.
- When you think about the role of priests in the church, what comes to mind? How is that similar or different to the role of the Old Testament priests? How is it similar or different to what Jesus does for us as our great High Priest?
- Can you imagine yourself in the biblical role of a priest? Explain why or why not…
- How much do you rely on your pastor to do the work of a priest by offering spiritual sacrifices and declaring God’s praises for you? What is your reaction to the idea of being equipped to do this more in your life? Do you like the possibilities it offers you or not so much? Please explain why…
- What are some spiritual sacrifices you can be offering God in your life?
- How can you declare God’s praises in your life this week?