When I say the word “Priest” what do you think of? What does it look like to be priestly?
Today is Reformation Day. It’s the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing 95 theses onto the door of the Wittenberg Church. This sparked off a revolution in Christianity as people returned to the true gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the bible. And at the heart of the Reformation was the issue of priesthood.
It was the issue of WHO brings me to God. That was the issue. WHO brings me to God? Do I have to bring myself to God? Does the church and its various churchey practices bring me to God? The Reformation was about saying “No! Jesus brings me to God. Not myself, not my own efforts, not my churchey practices, not any churchey clergymen – Jesus brings me to God.
And so really the issue of priesthood was crucial to the Reformation. Because in the OT that’s what priests did. A priest is a go-between. A priest brings God to me and brings me to God.
And if I’m assured of Jesus my Perfect Priest then I KNOW He has brought me to God. Through His death on the cross, Jesus has brought me from all my sins and darkness and alienation from God and He’s brought me right into the throne room of the Father. He’s brought me from being an enemy of God to being a child of God. That’s some impressive Priestly work – from an enemy to an adopted child. Jesus is our Perfect Priest.
But of course the medieval church had corrupted this truth. In all that they did they implied that Jesus is an imperfect Priest. They essentially taught that Jesus brings me part of the way to God, but I’ll need to make the rest of the journey by myself – with the help of Mary and other dead saints and by doing lots of churchey things, hopefully I’ll make it all the way to heaven. But for the medieval church, Jesus doesn’t get me all the way.
But you see what that’s saying? It’s saying Jesus is not a Perfect Priest. He takes me part of the way, He drops me off in purgatory (a place the medieval church invented) and then I’ve got to make my own way uphill to God’s holy presence.
Martin Luther and the Reformers said “No! They’d turn to verses like Hebrews 7 and say:
Because Jesus lives for ever, He has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a High Priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever.
Jesus is our Perfect Priest.
But if you miss that truth, not only will you become very anxious about your salvation, not only will you go mad trying to earn your own way to God. Something else will happen – you will need other priests to rise up and fill the gap. If Jesus can’t do the whole priestly job, I’m going to need other priests. And so the medieval church had special Christians who could bring you to God – a whole class of priests who were more holy than ordinary folk and who helped you get into God’s presence. The church was therefore divided between the priests and the rest and the priests would have to help you get to God.
Again Martin Luther and the Reformers said, “No! Jesus is the only Priest we need, therefore there aren’t special churchy priests to bring me to God. There is not a division in church between priests and the rest, instead the Reformers taught the biblical idea of the priesthood of all believers. You don’t need me to bring you to God. Jesus has done a good enough job of that. But the world needs US to proclaim Jesus to it. The priesthood is not a special class of Christians – EVERY Christian is a member of the priesthood, because together, we’re bringing God to the world and the world to God. As we point to Jesus the Perfect Priest, we - together - are a priesthood of all believers.
And these two Reformation truths – the Perfect Priesthood of Jesus, and the corporate priesthood of all believers – are on show in these chapters from Exodus.
Let’s first we'll see the Perfect Priesthood of Jesus bringing His people to the Father. Then we'll see the corporate priesthood of the people bringing Christ to the world
Turn back to Exodus 3:12
Such a key verse in Exodus:
12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."
God says, I’m going to save you so that you can meet God. Does that strike you as strange? God says, “I will be with you, helping you get out of Egypt. And I’ll do it so you can worship God!” Well who is this Person who is God and who brings the people to God? Well verse 14 calls Him the great I AM. And back in verse 2 it calls Him the Angel of the LORD.
We’ve thought before about that title. The Angel of the LORD means the Sent One of the LORD. Here is the One Sent from God. Who is God. He’s called the great I AM. And it’s His job to be WITH the people, to save them, to bring them out so they can worship God on the mountain. Who is THE Angel of the LORD?
Well great reformers like John Calvin were clear that the great I AM, the Angel of the LORD is Jesus, 2000 years before He came as a man. He is the star of Exodus. And as the star, He does what He does best – He’s WITH His people, He SAVES His people and He BRINGS THEM to God. In short He’s being the Perfect Priest.
And if you read through the chapters from Exodus 3 to Exodus 19 you’ll see Him referred to as God and the LORD and the Angel of the LORD, He’s the One travelling in the fiery, cloudy pillar. He’s the One who at the Red Sea stands between the Egyptian army and the escaping Israelites (Ex 14:19) – like Gandalf saying to the Egyptians “You shall not pass!”. In Exodus 16 He’s called the Glory of the LORD. Later He’ll be called the Presence of the LORD, One in Whom the Father’s name dwells.
He is God’s Divine Priest, leading the people to the Unseen LORD. And He brings them all the way back to Mount Sinai where He first met Moses. And that’s where we are in Exodus 19. In verse 4 He says to Moses:
4 `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.
That’s how the great I AM has saved them. He’s carried them on eagle’s wings – that speaks of speed, but also motherly care (Deut 32:11) – out of slavery and back to the mountain where it all began. And just as He promised in chapter 3, this Priestly LORD has brought His people out of darkness so that now they can worship God on the mountain.
Now if that’s true – if there’s a Priestly LORD bringing people to the Unseen LORD – then we ought to expect to see two Persons called LORD in this passage. And that’s exactly what we do see.
Perhaps you noticed it as the chapter was read. Have a look at verse 10. We are on the mountain with Moses and here the LORD is speaking. He says…
10 … "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, `Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.
Now if God was only one Person, like Allah, these verses would be bizarre. Because the LORD on the mountain says, ‘Watch out for the LORD on the mountain because when the LORD on the mountain comes you can’t even touch the mountain’ said the LORD on the mountain. Do you see how odd that would be if the LORD was only one Person? But we know that these are the words of the Perfect Priest, the Great I AM, the Redeeming LORD who brings the people to the Most High God. The LORD is bringing them to the LORD.
You see the same thing happening again in verse 21:
The LORD said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them."
…said the LORD!
Do you see how the LORD is acting as Priest for the LORD? The Son is bringing people to the Father.
But you might think – He doesn’t do a great job here, because the people don’t actually come up the mountain. They’re invited, but they don’t come. It seems like the LORD Jesus still has some work to do to bring people to God. Well in Deuteronomy 18 we read this:
15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die." 17 The LORD said to me: "What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
In Exodus, the people were brought to the foot of the mountain. And then there were mediators, priests and prophets who brought God to them. They knew God through Jesus, but they also had tabernacles and priests and OT prophets and kings, something we don’t have today. But that tabernacle, those priests and prophets and kings were teaching them about what Jesus would do when He came in the flesh. He has come in the flesh – the LORD Almighty has come as one of our brothers – He has bridged the gap entirely in Himself. And in Jesus we have come ALL THE WAY up the mountain.
But do you see that God has ALWAYS been approached through His Perfect Priest, the LORD Jesus Christ. ALWAYS. It’s not a new thing. It’s not as though people for thousands of years were happily approaching the Most High God without Jesus and then in the NT suddenly Jesus comes in-between – like a third-wheel. No, He has always been the go-between, the One Who stands in the Gap. The Priestly LORD Jesus is ALWAYS the One who brings us to the Father.
Do you need a priest to get you to God? On Reformation Day I wonder how you’d answer that question? Do you need a priest to be accepted by God? Absolutely you do. You have always needed a Priest. Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, Adam have always needed the One and Only Priest of God Most High. The Unseen Father has ONLY, ALWAYS and EVER been approached through His Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. The Priesthood of Jesus is entirely necessary.
But I hope you can see that Jesus is not some demi-god who came late onto the scene. He IS the great I AM, He is the eternal Glory of God, the very Presence of the LORD. The Jesus you trust is the One who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. The One who stood on Sinai – completely at home in the blazing glory of the Father. And He’s our Brother who stood completely alone in the blazing atonement of the cross.
If He is your Priest you can rest secure. The Priesthood of Jesus is entirely necessary, but it’s entirely sufficient. If you’ve trusted Jesus, you haven’t just enlisted the help of a 2000 year old prophet. You have the God of the Burning Bush as your Priest. You have very good representation.
I remember trying to help a friend from Afghanistan who was in court. He was about to be denied refugee status and deported. He spoke little English he had little documentation. His case looked all but lost. But then a leading London Barrister stepped forward and took his case for free. This Barrister was incredible, he knew all the right language, he knew his way around that court room and he tore the Home Office lawyer to shreds.
Now my friend, the refugee, how did he look to the court? Well before the Barrister stepped in, he looked weak, guilty and defeated. But when this Barrister represented him, my friend looked in the eyes of the court as good as his representation. And because the Barrister won, he won.
Now what about you? How do you look in the eyes of God Most High? By yourself, weak, pathetic and guilty. But if you’ve trusted Jesus, He is your representation. You have the God who split the Red Sea as your Perfect Priest. You don’t need to do penance, you don’t need to buy an indulgence, you don’t need the prayers of Mary or the saints, you don’t need a clergyman, you don’t need to become a clergyman, you don’t need any churchy practice, any religious duty, any moral performance. You have a Perfect Priest and He is able to save COMPLETELY all who come to God through Him. Rest easy friends, it’s Reformation Day.
But there’s a second truth I want to explore from this passage. Jesus is the only priest we need. But the second we trust Him, we join the priesthood ourselves.
Look at chapter 19v5
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."
Let me ask you a question, on reformation day. Am I a priest? Yes absolutely I am. But if you’re a Christian so are you. I entered the priesthood the day I trusted Christ, and you entered the priesthood the day you trusted Christ. Verse 6 says, the whole people of God is a priesthood. It’s the priesthood of all believers. There’s no divisions among the people of God, everyone is equally priestly in the church.
So I am not your priest. Christ is your priest. But… we together are Eastbourne’s priesthood. Do you ever think of our church like that? We do not exist for ourselves, we exist for the world. That’s what being a priesthood is all about – it’s about existing FOR OTHERS and drawing them in. Do you see that? Imagine an OT priest who is ordained and yet they refuse to go out and meet the people at the entrance of the tabernacle. There’s thousands of people out there who need the sacrifices to be made, who need to hear the words of Moses, but they just hang around with other priests. Such a person is not actually a priest. That’s a denial of who they are. You cannot be a priest without bringing God to others and others to God.
And we cannot be a church without bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ. Which means we don’t exist for ourselves, but for the world around us.
Verse 5 says the whole earth belongs to the LORD. Jesus loves the whole world doesn’t He? But the way He loves the world is to have a special people within the world – His treasured possession. And that’s what we are. We are His special stuff. It’s wonderful to think that we are the treasured possession of Jesus Christ.
That’s wonderful. But it’s not as though Jesus loves us but not the world. He loves us FOR the world. He loves us as a way of loving the world because He’s going to reach the world through His treasured possession, His kingdom of priests.
How will we do that? Well a large part of it has to do with that third phrase in v6 – a holy nation. There’s three little phrases in verses 5 and 6 that are so crucial. Look down and see, we are a treasured possession – that gives us our status. We are a kingdom of priests – that gives us our mission. We are a holy nation – that gives us our method.
I don’t know what you think of when you think of holiness. Usually we think of someone who spends their time sucking lemons and is really difficult to get close to. But that can’t be the kind of holiness the LORD has in mind because this is something that will attract the world.
Literally holy means to be set apart. To be special. To be devoted. You might have holy dinner plates – the kind you got as a wedding present, they are devoted to special use. Some people talk about “appointment television” – that is a tv programme so good you write it in your diary because you never want to miss it. You’ve made that ‘holy’ time, it’s sacred, set apart, devoted to special use.
Well the LORD says, Be a holy people. Special, consecrated, devoted. Devoted to what? Well turn forwards to 1 Peter 3:15 – a famous verse in talking about our priestly calling.
As we seek to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people, here’s Peter’s advice:
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
So here we’re being encouraged to be priestly – to speak of Jesus. But notice the first part of the verse: in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. It’s the same word as holy. You could translate this as, in your hearts consider the LORD Christ as holy.
This is the true meaning of holiness. Holiness is not being prissy and uptight and aloof and moralistic. Holiness is being obsessed with Jesus. Holiness is loving Christ the LORD. He’s made me His treasure – and as I see that He becomes my treasure.
In July, Emma and I visited the Louvre in Paris and we decided we’d better see the Mona Lisa. So we headed off for the Mona Lisa and passed hundreds of painting that, in any other gallery would have been given pride of place, but in the Louvre they’re just corridor filler. No-one barely stops to notice them. Pride of place in the gallery is given to that one Da Vinci painting, and everything else has to play second fiddle.
Peter says holiness is simply doing that in your heart with Jesus. In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Other things have to be relegated, Jesus must have the supremacy. He has treasured me above all things. And when I see that I will treasure Him above all things. That is holiness. And that’s the heart of priestliness – the heart of evangelism.
Because we speak of what’s in our hearts don’t we? When I talk about being priestly, I’m talking about being evangelistic you know. But as soon as I say ‘evangelism’ I know people are going to tell me they’re no good with words. Well I wonder what would happen if I got you onto your favourite subject. When something’s close to our heart, you can’t shut us up. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Let’s finish by looking at 1 Peter 2:9-12
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare [this word has the idea of spreading news about something, reporting, getting it out there, proclaiming] the praises [or the excellencies] of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
This holy nation, gripped by Jesus will take flak from the world, but on the last day former pagans will say ‘I used to despise those Christians, but they brought me to Jesus.’
On planet earth between now and the new creation, we are just like those Israelites on the way to the promised land. We are saved, loved, treasured and so we are holy, devoted to our LORD, treasuring Him, and so we proclaim His excellencies to the nations.
What does a priest look like? Jesus. Before the throne of God above, I have a strong, a perfect plea, a Great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. I don’t need to move an inch to the left, an inch to the right, an inch forwards, an inch backwards – because I have a perfect representative in heaven I am IN the love of God.
But then if He is our Priest, we have become priests in Him. So what does a priest look like? Look in a mirror, look around you. Here is Eastbourne’s priesthood. We are treasured by the LORD but we don’t keep it to ourselves. As devoted believers we bring the Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus.