There are two kinds of people in this world. You could describe them as “the dead” and “the living” – those spiritually quickened and those dead in their trespasses and sins. If we wanted, we could spend the next ten minutes applying different labels to those two groups. And that could be profitable – time well spent.
Peter hints of those two kinds of people in this scripture. He says, “Christ Jesus is Sion’s chief corner-stone.” To some people – to you believers – He is precious. But to the disobedient – those who are unbelievers – He is a rock of offense, a stumbling block. You saints were once NOT the people of God, but now you ARE, because He has showered His mercy upon you.
More than fifty years ago, the Saviour graciously placed me among God’s people. And I can say with all honesty, that I have been blessed throughout my life. The only changes in my life that I would make, if I could, would all be relatively minor. Today, I would rather be what and who I am than to possess the wealth of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. I am satisfied to be on my way to Heaven and not to be headed toward the White House or Buckingham Palace. I prefer to have my name known in heaven, than to be on the lips of all the evening newscasters. Having said that, I will point out that it is easy to say such things, because it appears to be impossible for me to ever become that rich, that powerful or that famous, so why not say it? But I affirm and avow that I am quite content to be a child of God and to enjoy what He has given me.
And speaking of God’s gifts, we could talk of all His promises to His people – FUTURE blessings. It might warm our hearts to consider our promised positions in the upcoming Millennium. Or we could discuss mansions in Heavenly glory, painless glorified bodies, crowns and rewards. But the blessings of the Lord upon his people right HERE and NOW, make the Christian life better than anything this world has to offer. And Peter points to several of these things.
I would like to consider just one of them this morning – “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…” What are the blessings of the Christian’s priesthood? They are greater than that of the United States Presidency or the presidency of any large corporation. I believe that they parallel the blessings of the Old Testament priesthood. But they do NOT parallel, and they have nothing to do with, the priesthood which we find in Mormonism, Catholicism or any of the Protestant denominations. Peter is not talking about ministers – a certain group of men who have passed various classes and risen through different grades of office in order to wear purple robes in church. He is speaking of every believer, calling ALL the saints of God members of “an holy priesthood.” Every Mary and every John, every plumber and every waitress, if they are children of God, are also priests of the most high God. He is speaking of us – you and me. I wish you could understand what a glorious, wonderful office we have been given.
And what might be some of the blessings which go with that office?
Priests have been especially chosen by God – elected to their office by the Lord alone.
There are many things in Israel’s worship of the Lord, which are figures of what we possess as Christians. Ie. the Passover is a multifaceted type of Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave His life a ransom for many. In fact, each of Israel’s various sacrifices are pictures of different aspects of our Saviour. Old Testament rites and ceremonies are pictures as well – circumcision for example. The Tabernacle with all its various parts are types of more important spiritual things. “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:”
None of those Old Testament illustrations have passed directly into Christianity, even though Catholics and Protestants say they have. Baptism is not a replication of Old Testament circumcision, although that is what we commonly hear. We are not commanded to sprinkle blood on our door posts, but rather to put our trust in the Christ of the cross. Among many others, the Old Testament priesthood has not become some sort of Christian priesthood with Papal High Priests and bishops wearing towering miters and scarlet robes. The priesthood to which Peter refers is higher, more noble, and more blessed than anything the Old Testament offered the children of Aaron. However, just as it is with just about everything else in Jewish worship, there are parallels.
Israel’s priests were of the tribe of Levi, that branch of the nation which God separated to Himself from all the rest. They were set apart – sanctified and anointed – to be special to the Lord. And whereas the rest of Israel were given large tracts of land, like various states, Levi was not. They were given designated cities throughout Israel. They could cultivate the land around those cities. But their families were supposed to be fed out of the sacrifices the rest of nation brought to God. The Levites, and particularly Aaron’s family within Levi, were ordained by God to be unique unto the Lord in honor and service. And that same kind of position, beloved brethren, has been given to God’s saints, spiritually.
Lay aside in your minds, the blessings any ordinary Israelite had – consider only the priests. Because, “YE are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…” In this case you are not pictured by the people of Judah, Asher, or even Levi – you are God’s SPECIAL servants.
And as such you are closer to the Lord than any of your neighbors. You are the only ones privileged to enter into the Holy Place within the Tabernacle. There might be a million of your brethren outside, but you are on the inside. Only you are blessed to see the exquisite furniture and decor of the Holy Place. You have access to the light of the candle stick with its seven branches. You may be a person of the Word, the light, not only enjoying it but maintaining it. There is no rule or law which keeps you from sharing what you have learned with others. As you enter the tabernacle, there on the right is the Table Shew Bread. Only you and your fellows have the right – the responsibility – to eat of that bread. And down at the opposite end there is the golden Altar of Incense. You come in with your prayers of sweet aroma and sprinkle them on the fire. You watch as they rise with the heat of that flame into the very presence of the Lord. Not Moses, not even David, had these privileges and blessings, but they belong to you by grace.
Of course, we are only common priests, we have no access to the Holy of Holies where the Ark rests. Christ Jesus is our great High Priest, after the special order of Melchizedek. Only He has gone behind the veil to sprinkle His own shed blood on the Mercy Seat – that covering over the Ark with the angelic Seraphim looking down on it. But there was that day, in which the Holy Place was shaken by the hand of God, and the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place was torn apart. Now the most common of priests – you and I – we can look upon that object which represented the very Person of God. We “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…” with admission to the Lord God our Saviour. If we tried to walk into the Oval Office in the White House, we might be shot by the President’s security detail. I have no desire to enter that room – none whatsoever. But I do have a desire – I feel drawn – into the Holy of Holies. And we can “come BOLDLY unto the throne of grace, (to) obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Consider some of the other blessings of the priesthood.
I’ve already mentioned that Levi wasn’t treated like the other tribes and didn’t receive a large tract of land. Rather, the three branches of Levi, which included the priests, were given 48 cities throughout Israel. The priests were scattered throughout the people to be witnesses and teachers. They were ambassadors of God to the rest of the nation, but they weren’t confined to a single embassy. Within a few miles of anyone in need of counsel or instruction, there were priests of God. What a privilege to be able to share what we know of the Lord with some other desperate sinner?
And among the Levitical cities were the six Cities of Refuge. When a man accidentally killed another, he had the right to run to the nearest City of Refuge. There before the leading residents of the city, his case would be heard and adjudicated. Assuming the man-slayer was not guilty of murder, he could remain safe within the walls of city of the priests and Levites. What a blessed privilege we have in the protection of others. We might even liken that to the special protection we provide to the world today through the Holy Spirit. One of these days, when we are all translated, the restraining hand of the Spirit will be withdrawn as well – and the world, our Israel, will experience the hellishness of the Tribulation.
As I was studying this week, an incidental thought occurred to me, related to that last point. Revelation 4, 5, 11 and 19 all speak about the 24-four elders surrounding the Lord’s heavenly throne. For example there is Revelation 5:8 – “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” The usual interpretation of the 24 elders is that they represent the saints of God. In looking at all the references, there are several good reasons to make that application. But I have to confess that I’ve always wondered about the number 24, and then other day something clicked.
In I Chronicles 24, David and the High Priest, divided the great number of priests into 24 courses. These two dozen groups of men would serve in the upcoming Temple in rotating shifts. To the best of my knowledge arrangement was never changed. The were twenty-four courses of priests. And as Revelation 5 tells us, the twenty-four elders praise the Lamb because he “hast made us unto our God kings and PRIESTS: and we shall reign on the earth.” And that reminds us of Peter’s words – “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood… that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
As I was first thinking about this subject, I conceived of an outline containing three parts. My first point would have been the preliminaries to the office – cleansing, clothing and consecrating. The second point, would have been the one we are considering – the blessings. And the third might have been the duties of the priesthood. But as I thought about that last point, it occurred to me that the duties are as much blessings as the blessings. The work of the priest was not laborious, arduous or irksome; it was rarely dangerous or obnoxious. It was joyous and thrilling, especially when properly considered – when it wasn’t robotic or habitual.
Blessed are the duties of priests.
Peter mentions a couple of them. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
By the days of Christ and His Apostles, the offerings of the Jewish priests, generally speaking, were as useless as the offerings of the Catholic and Protestant priests of today. Most Jews didn’t raise their own sheep for sacrifice, they brought money and bought an animal at the Temple, so there was very little personal relationship. For the most part, they didn’t worship in faith, rather they only followed the letter of the law as legalists. John the Baptist was the son of a priest, but he refused the priestly office, becoming a prophet of God. Jesus was born the grandson of a king, but why didn’t the Lord arrange a priestly ordination. There were very few Simeons and Zecharias at the time of Jesus’ birth, working in the Temple. Nearly all the blood sacrifices were little better than that of Cain so many centuries earlier.
But “ye also, as lively stones, are built up … an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” The offerings of today’s Christian priests are spiritual and therefore acceptable to God by Jesus Christ No, we are not still offering blood sacrifices – they would be redundant after the sacrifice of Christ. If we offered the blood of sheep and doves after what we have seen and been taught by God, those sacrifices would have been as accepted by God as the those offered by the priests of Jezebel at Mt Carmel. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” – Hebrews 10:4. With that in God’s word, it would not only be unacceptable, it would be sin for us to make such offerings.
No, our offerings are spiritual and therefore acceptable to God. A hymn of praise to God for His gracious salvation, can be a spiritual thank offering. But how often is our heart properly engaged in our worship, considering the words and the Lord in the light of the words to the hymn? Our tiny financial offerings can be acceptable to God when offered by faith to Lord. A word of witness fitly spoken, and a few minutes of prayer can be like incense on the golden altar. But often prayer considered a chore to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Only when our service is through our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is it acceptable to God.
Under Moses and Aaron, the people brought their lambs and goats to the priests for sacrifice. They laid their hands on the head of the sacrificial animal imputing their sins to the sacrifice. Then the priests, properly prepared through consecration, washings and their own personal sacrifices, slew the animal the applied the blood in the proper fashion. They acted as mediators, between the sinners and the Lord. They bore the burden of the sinner before the throne of grace. Isn’t that a part of our responsibility as Christian priests? “Bear ye one another’s burdens fulfilling one of your duties as priests.” Sprinkle that burden on the golden altar with the incense of your praise. Go out into the highway and hedges and help to carry the burden of your neighbors into the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Each saint of God is a spiritual priest – a representative of the Lord – a mediator of sorts.
We also have the thrill of being at the forefront of the Lord’s battles. There were priests near the front of Israel’s march around the city of Jericho. Some were blowing the trumpets of God’s victory, and others were actually carrying the Ark of the Covenant.
But I especially like their work just a few days prior to that. When it was time for Israel to cross the Jordan River, the priests were the advance guard. “And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” We, as the Lord’s priests, have the privilege and joy of carrying the Name of our Saviour into the turbulent waters of an ungodly world. Yes, like Peter we might look around at the waves, and fearfully question our footing. But we have the joyful command of God, and no matter how slippery the rocks or how boisterous the waves, our Saviour is not going to fall into the water – because He will not let us fall. We have the privilege of preparing the way and leading others into spiritual victory in Christ’s name.
Whatever service the Levitical priest might have performed for the glory of God, we can do ten-times more. We cannot be dismissed because we have had a broken bone or even Leprosy in the past. We will not be refused because we are female or only 18 years old or beyond 60. Peter declared that we all – all of God’s saints – are priests – “royal priests.” I am going to assume that takes us from the Levitical priesthood and places us in the priesthood of Christ – the priesthood of Melchizedek.
What a joy there is in serving the Lord Jesus Christ.