JESUS: PROPHET, PRIEST AND KING – Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Daniel 7: (9 – 10), 13 – 14
Revelation 1: 4b – 8
John 18: 33 – 37
Thank you all, and Anthony, you in particular, for graciously inviting me to share a few thoughts with you this morning. It is always a joy to be at St Joseph’s.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, but we know that the ministry of Jesus was one of prophet, priest and king.
- In Acts 3 we read Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico in the Jerusalem temple where he quotes the Book of Deuteronomy and says of Jesus, For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. (Acts 3: 22)
- The writer to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 110 and describes Jesus progressing through the Holy Place of the temple (formerly the preserve of priests alone) into the very Holy of Holies, giving us access to the very presence of God. He says, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6: 20)
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 at Mt Sinai 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, also 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 the German martyr 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 to God. We should all, as we follow in Christ’s footsteps, have a prophetic desire to share the nature of God with others and a priestly desire to see others benefit from the love of God.
These things are second nature to discipleship – following in Jesus’ footsteps. It is one of the basics of discipleship that in doing so we become like him.
- But it is less obvious how we should imitate Jesus as King.
I don’t need to quote bible verses today to convince us that Jesus is King. Jesus is depicted as Lord, a word that both covered the common name of God as revealed to Moses in the incident of the burning bush, and a word that was commonly used to describe the Roman Emperor in New Testament times. When the New Testament places great emphasis on Jesus as Lord, it tells us unequivocally that he is King.
He is King in his function and nature as the Second Person of the Trinity. He can only save us because he is King.
I was once asked by someone whether I was one of those Christians who grovelled around in the mud or one of those who reckoned they were God’s personal enforcer.
This is the problem we often have. We see things in dichotomies, in terms of two opposing poles. You either have to be this or be that.
If that was our only choice we would be constantly asking, “Which style of Jesus’ being do we imitate?” In other words, do we imitate the Jesus of Philippians 2 who, as Paul says, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
The Jesus who said in Luke 22 I am among you as one who serves.
Or do we imitate the Jesus who returns with his angels to judge the world, the one of whom we read this morning, 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1: 7) and if so, how do we imitate Him?
Do we go with Jesus’ words that Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mark 9: 35), or do we take a more triumphalist view, as some Christians have, and justify the stance using the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus, that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2: 6)?
Are we servants or conquerors? Is there a difference between the discipleship that follows a Jesus of Nazareth, Saviour of humankind and a discipleship that follows the returning King, judge of all the earth?
In following Jesus as a prophet we both listen to him and exercise our desire for others to learn of his nature.
In following Jesus as a priest we both depend upon his ministry as the purveyor of God’s blessing and show his love to others.
But how do we follow Jesus as king?
When Pontius Pilate tried to buttonhole Jesus about his Kingship he simply replied,
36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
Here’s the thing; in following Jesus as king, we do not seek to lord it over anyone, we simply seek to honour him in all that we do. That’s what you do with a king: honour him.
The response of the elders in the vision John had and recorded in the Book of Revelation is to cast their crowns to the ground and worship.
We can’t work God out in detail. If we could it would not be God; it would be something else. There is mystery in God. God is beyond our best understanding.
If there is any ruling to do, we rule over our own negative passions and we understand that we stand victorious against the forces of evil because of what Jesus achieved on the cross.
Unfortunately so much of the way the church has been set up, and so much of our liturgy encourages us to be the passive recipients of Jesus’ ministry as prophet, priest and king. But if we are to grow in discipleship – if we are to be more than pew-warmers – we need (each in his or her own way) to learn to explore what it means to be motivated by prophetic, priestly and kingly ministry.
Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. He is bringing heaven to earth, and when we honour our King Jesus by understanding that he is the truth, we find ourselves, like the apostles of old, following in his footsteps – and that is discipleship – that is treating him like the king that he is.