Who Are We? A Royal Priesthood - 1st Peter 2:9-10 (Sermon from 02/15)
Last week we began a season of remembering who we are—using 1st Peter 2:9-10 as a springboard to launch our remembering or understanding, Peter told those dispersed Christians in Asia Minor, who were facing persecution and ridicule, and he tells us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Last week we examined what it means to be a chosen race. We eliminated the idea that it had anything to do with the color of our skin, our ethnicity, the language we speak, or any other physical characteristic…being a chosen race simply means being those chosen by God and in Christ all of those other worldly boundaries are wiped away…as Paul would say, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of god through faith. As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”[i] We realized that being God’s chosen race means that: we are loved, we have value, and we have a purpose.
Today, we move from the consideration of being a chosen race, to the next part of our identity found in 1st Peter 2:9. As we ask “Who are we,” Peter says our response should be, “a royal priesthood.”
What does it mean to be found in the royal priesthood? Or to begin with, what does it mean to be amongst the priests? To truly understand what it means to be a priest in service to God, we must move from 1st Peter all the way back to the origins of this understanding, and the establishment of the role of priest, to the book of Exodus.
In Exodus, we see the line of the priesthood established Aaron and his descendants. They were given the priestly role for the people of Israel. What were they to do? The people were separated from God, they could not come into his presence—they understood their sin to put them in risk of instant death were they to come into God’s presence. The priests were to represent the people before God, making sacrifices on behalf of their sin…and they would in turn represent God to the people—mediating God’s forgiveness and blessings to those who had brought their sacrifices to atone for their sins and to offer God thanksgiving. In doing so, they would lead they people to turn their hearts and lives toward the worship, love, and service of God. In Exodus, Moses tells the people they are to be kingdom of priests—they are fulfilling the role that God promised Abraham, that Abraham’s descendants would be a nation through which the rest of the world would be blessed...[ii]
Peter, as he writes the Christians that are dispersed across Asia Minor, wants them to make the connection and know that role has been passed to them. They were called to serve as those who would come stand in the gap between God and those who found themselves estranged or separated from God. Thinking back to last week, we remember that these people lived in a place where they were ridiculed, persecuted, and possibly killed for their faith. Peter was calling them to stand as a royal priesthood in the midst of all of their struggles—in many ways they were called stand as representatives of God to a people who were hostile towards God and His people.
Their role is our role as well…we are called to be a royal priesthood. We are all called as part of this—this verse is not one that is directed to clergy, but to all believers. From the time of Martin Luther, to now, this has come to be known as “The Priesthood of All Believers.” This is centered in understanding that through Christ, we have all received the blessing of direct access to the throne of God and no longer need someone to stand as that representative in between God and His people.
So, you may be saying, “Preacher, what are you getting at? We understand that you are saying that we are to be a bunch of priests…but we have no idea what that means.” My brothers and sisters, that is a good question, it is probably the same question that many of God’s people had from the Exodus onward…Aaron and his descendants struggled with fulfilling their role as priests, and the people struggled with understanding what it was to live out being a “kingdom of priests.” However, my friends, we have an advantage…if we want to see what it means to live out our lives as a royal priesthood, we have simply to look at the One who was, is, and forevermore will be the High Priest of all high priests, Jesus Christ himself, who as the author of Hebrews tells us:
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.[iii]
To understand our role as a royal priesthood, we look to none other than Christ, for rather than finding ourselves in the line of Aaron and his descendants, we find ourselves in the line of the High Priest of high priests and the King of kings…we are truly members of a royal priesthood, and as such, we are called to live out the priestly role of Jesus in the world.
Priests throughout the Old Testaments were mediators of God’s forgiveness. After offering the sacrifice that the people would bring to the altar, the priests would come out of the “Holy of Holies,” where they had offered the sacrifices, and pronounce that God had forgiven them of their sins. Jesus, throughout His ministry, in a way that often found himself at odds with the religious leaders of His time, pronounced forgiveness on those who came before him in need:
“And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”[iv]
“Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”[v]
“Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, were are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”[vi]
Many in Jesus’ time wanted to “tote around signs” condemning those who were sinners, excluding them from community, and only worthy of God’s judgment and punishment. They ridiculed Jesus every chance they had, often berating Him for eating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners. However, we hear the words of the ultimate High Priest:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. God and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”[vii]
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[viii]
This role as mediators of forgiveness becomes our role as a royal priesthood. Too often we find ourselves pronouncing God’s judgment upon those we consider unclean, the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day: the drug dealers, the murderers, the adulterers, the homosexuals, and those who have personally wronged us. Too often we want them cast away or kept away from our community for fear their sin will contaminate us. We want them changed and made perfect before they dare darken the doors of a church, some of them we may even want to declare unforgivable because of what they have done. Yet they are the very ones, just as we once were, that Jesus calls us to mediate God’s forgiveness to—to invite them into relationship and share with them the very grace of God, letting them know that they are forgiven, and calling them to a life with Christ.
Deuteronomy tells us that the part of the role of the priests was to be mediators of God’s blessings: “Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord…”[ix] They would simply pronounce God’s love and blessings upon the people…in Jesus, our Perfect High Priest we see God’s blessings pour out time after time…in the healing of the infirm, the returning of sight to the blind, the feeding of the 5000, the resuscitation of the dead, and the freeing of the possessed.
My brothers and sisters, as a royal priesthood, we are called to be mediators of the blessings of God in the same way as our Kingly Priest—to feed those who are hungry, to befriend those who are lonely or who have been cast aside, to free those who are possessed by the demons of addiction, mental illness, or poverty, to free others from the bonds of slavery and exploitation, and to offer to all of these and any we encounter the assurance of God’s love and presence in their lives—not in word alone, but through the reality of our acceptance and presence in their lives.
Through this all, we have to acknowledge that it will be difficult. We will find ourselves opposed by many—by the world and those who are bound by the religion of proclaiming judgment more than grace. As we encounter resistance, we are called to remember the key role of the priest—that of offering sacrifice. Before the priests of the Old Testament could offer forgiveness or blessings, a sacrifice had to be made, whether it be sacrifices of animals or crops. Jesus put an end to the practice of offering animals and crops by offering Himself in their place, the complete sacrifice for the salvation of all.
And while we will not be called upon to sacrifice goats, sheep, doves, grain, or any other part of God’s creation, for Christ put an end to those once and for all—we may, in our role as priests in the line of Christ, be called to sacrifice in line with Christ—sacrificing ourselves in order to make God’s forgiveness and blessings upon those in the world who are in need of knowing the love of Christ—it may mean sacrificing a meal out at a restaurant in order to use those funds to feed several hungry persons in our community; it may mean sacrificing free time we could use to fish, play golf, or sit and watch a movie in order to respond to spend a day serving in our disaster response warehouse; it may mean sacrificing our relationship with some in order to take a stand against racism or any form of ethnic prejudice; it may mean sacrificing a secure income in order to respond to a call of God to mission or ministry.
My brothers and sisters, what a blessing it is to have been chosen by God—to be His chosen race, and to be called to serve as the mediators of His forgiveness and His blessings…we a blessing it is to be declared by God to a royal priesthood—servants of God in the line of Christ Himself.
Who are we? In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are a royal priesthood! Amen.