The Effect of Christ’s Priestly Ministry
1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20
Hebrews 10: 11 – 14, 19 – 25
Mark 13: 1 – 8
As I mentioned on 21st October, my Old Testament lecturer, one Prof Victor Bredenkamp, used to illustrate the difference between a prophet and a priest like this:
- The prophet stands with his back to God and his face to the people because he proclaims the word or the will of God to the people.
- The priest, on the other hand, stands with his back to the people and his face to God because he represents the people to God.
- The prophet, facing the people, deals with the demands placed upon God’s people because of the demands of the Covenant God had cut with the people. Prophets look for obedience in others.
Prophets tend to be ‘in your face.’ I once had a man with a prophetic ministry inform me that God had shown him I had the gift of sticking in the knife and twisting it. I was never sure whether he was projecting his own ministry onto me or whether that really was what God wanted of me.
He was a character. Being an Arab, he once dressed himself in traditional dress and circled that huge black rock in the mosque at Mecca praying in tongues for the fall of Islam. Prophets are characterised by bravery.
- The priest, facing God, prays to God on behalf of the people.
He deals with the demands placed upon God because of the terms of the Covenant God had cut with the people. People with a priestly motivation can be very pastoral, but they can also be very stubborn.
They are pastoral in showing God’s love to people but stubborn in their desire that God should act. Sometimes they are impatient with people who want something of God but who appear to be making it difficult for God to respond because of their behaviour.
This is why, like Bonhoeffer, they are strong on the need for discipleship – growing in Christ. In pursuing this course they need patience. Priests look for the formation of character.
Priests are characterised by persistence.
It’s not uncommon for most Christians to have something of both prophetic and priestly motivations in that which drives their service.
You can see Eli’s priestly nature coming out when Hannah arrives at the Tabernacle in Shiloh to pray for a baby. He thinks she’s drunk so he scolds her but when she tells him she’s not drunk but crying to God for a child, he immediately prays for her and sends her on her way with, ‘Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.’
Jesus had a priestly ministry. Our Hebrews reading says 11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’,
The wonderful thing about Jesus is that he is both the priest offering the sacrifice on our behalf and the sacrifice itself. He is the lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world.
Hebrews 10: 16 (which we left out in our reading of Hebrews this morning) asserts,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
The priestly concern is a change of character and it is a necessity because of covenant. In other words, a covenant is a deal. “I do this, and you do that.” The deal is this: God takes away our sins and this translates into character formation on our part – discipleship.
It translates into our internalising the laws of God, in our growing like God. It results in these laws becoming a part of us so that we are no longer adhering to an externalised set of laws (legalism) but are living out our new characters, and this happens through the process we call discipleship – following Christ and in so doing becoming like him.
The priestly ministry of Christ has the effect of taking us into the very presence of God, and in so doing, changing us. 19 Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
I’m going to be coming back to this diagram on Advent Sunday, but have a look at this diagram of the Taberacle, the Tent of Meeting that the Israelites carried with them and set up wherever they stopped in the wilderness, the design that determined the structure of the Temple finally built by Solomon.
The Courtyard was the domain of the men of Israel alone. This was their right as God’s people. Only priests were allowed into the tent itself, known as the Holy Place (or sanctuary). And beyond the curtain (or veil) was the Holy of Holies that only the High Priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement – with a rope around his leg in case he was struck down and they could retrieve his corpse.
The effect of the priestly ministry of Jesus is described in the words we read a moment ago: 19 Therefore, (and as I once mentioned, when we see the word ‘therefore’ we need to take note of what it’s there for) Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, The sanctuary referred to here is the Holy Place, so we too, because we have confidence in following him into this sacred space become priests through him. Already, in following him, we are becoming like him for he is a priest.
20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), But we keep going; through the Holy Place and through the curtain into the very Holy of Holies. It is the same curtain that tore in two when Jesus was crucified – a powerful symbol of his removing every vestige of the barrier between us and God that we might enter into the very presence of God, have fellowship with God and become like God in so doing.
And it is a new and living way. This is not the Old Covenant obedience to law. This is the New Covenant relationship of grace and friendship with God where , because we are entering into the interiority of God, we are internalising the character of God.
But the Scripture goes on:
21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, We can do that now. There is nothing between us and God.
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. In Jesus we are cleansed, forgiven and completely reconciled to God.
Jesus takes us into the Holy Place and beyond it into the Holy of Holies – into the very presence of God – and he does so by being both the priest and the sacrifice, by giving up his very life for us.
Well that’s all very interesting but how does this really impact me?
Well the writer leaves us with some directives and they are the directives of discipleship. They are some of the things that characterise following Jesus:
Remember, anything in the Christian life is achieved by faith. This is the usefulness of powerful imagery. It makes explicit what is an implicit activity. It helps describe to us what God is achieving in us as we co-operate with God. It is a journey of faith as we walk with Jesus from the outer court and eventually into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of a gracious (not a fearful) God.
- The first directive of discipleship
23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
Speak the Good News faithfully. Gossiping the Gospel is the primary focus of the disciple. Don’t waver – don’t water it down. God is faithful to us, be faithful to God.
- The second directive of discipleship:
24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
Be active in God’s work. Don’t get to the point of sitting down like Eli the High Priest of Israel. In fact he was still sitting there when he fell off his chair at news of the death of his wayward sons in battle. He only moved when he died.
Encourage one another to do good deeds in a spirit of love because these good deeds are no longer done out of a sense of obligation, but out of a love we have for God.
- The third directive of discipleship:
25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
While the first and second discipleship directives are outward facing – sharing the gospel and loving, the third is inward-facing. Meet together as the gathering of God’s people where you are built up in your faith, armed for the primary task which is directive one: share the Gospel.
And so the effect of Christ’s priestly ministry is to open up the way of salvation and to draw us into an increasing process of becoming like him.
The writer indicates that there are three things we need to do if we are to follow Jesus through the Holy Place and into the Holy of Holies; three things that develop the character of Christ in us as we grow into Christ’s likeness:
- Share the good news that Jesus has died for our sins and risen again to conquer sin and death
- Exhibit the love of God in practical ways
- Regularly get together as Christians to be built up in your faith
In conclusion then, the effects of Christ’s priestly ministry is to take us with him into the very presence of God and in so doing we too become priests and become like God. This powerful imagery is about following and becoming like Jesus. That’s what discipleship is. And the main functions of discipleship are:
- Sharing the Good News
- Sharing the love of God
- Meeting together in the name of God
The important thing is that we are not alone in this. We go with Christ for we are about Christ’s work.