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Insight #260 – Priests in NT

Who is qualified to approach the God of the universe? Who knows how to gain access to the Almighty? Many think that we need priests to intercede for us. Various world religions, past and present, have persons specially set aside as priests. Indeed, this is more than a human idea. The Jews before Christ, per God’s instructions via Moses, had priests.

A major theme of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is our High Priest. But Jesus is in heaven. We cannot physically see Him, hear Him, touch Him. Would it not be fitting that we have priests on earth – men who could give us access to the invisible Father and Son?

We Do

We do? Not exactly. More correctly: “We are!” The Apostle John, writing in the book of Revelation, speaks of Jesus “who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). In his first letter, the Apostle Peter confirms this when he says, “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (2:5). Peter repeats this in verse 9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.”

Thus, two of the Lord’s apostles declare that all Christians are priests, not just a select few. If that is what the Apostles Peter and John said, guided by the Holy Spirit, then it must be true. Any practice today of a limited priesthood was introduced by imposing the OT Levitical priesthood on the church or by assimilating pagan practices.

All Christians are priests. Jesus is the High Priest, and we all have access to God through Jesus. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). Scripture also says: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). “Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). Through Jesus, we all can be bold to approach the God of the universe!

Priests Offer Sacrifices

It is wonderful and amazing that all Christians have direct access to God through our High Priest, Jesus Christ. But there is more to being a common priest (in contrast to being the High Priest). If you are acquainted with the OT laws, you know that a major function of the priests was to offer sacrifices. As it says in Heb. 10:11: “Every priest indeed stands day by day serving and often offering the same sacrifices.”

Since all Christians are priests, offering sacrifices must be involved. It is not enough to say, “We don’t have a select priesthood in our church. We all can go directly to God through Jesus.” No, that is not enough. We need to investigate the sacrifices that we, as priests, must offer to God.

Hebrews 13:15 says: “Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name.” That’s beautiful: “the fruit of lips.” In the OT they offered up the fruit of the earth, the fruit of their flocks. God wants the fruit of our lips, “a sacrifice of praise.”

The idea of praise may bring to our minds our worship services when we assemble and sing praises to God. That assuredly is part of it. But what about our daily conversation? The verse says “continually.” Is praise of God a regular part of our speech? Which is more often a part of our speech: complaints or praise? What fruit hangs on your lips, on my lips?

It is quite common these days to think of “sacrifice” as giving up something, especially if it is something we will miss. That certainly develops out of the OT concept. They were to offer the best to God, the first fruits, not the leftovers, not that which was no good anyway. Like it is said, “Give until it hurts.” Does that express your giving, my giving?

Two texts speak to us: the first exhorting us in general, the second telling of a specific example. “But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). “I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, a sweet-smelling fragrance, an acceptable and well-pleasing sacrifice to God” (Phil. 4:18). That’s beautiful: “a sweet-smelling fragrance.” We are priests. We must give sacrifices, give sacrificially.

Earlier in this Insight, Peter was quoted, but only part of the verse. It’s time to quote the entire verse: “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). “Spiritual sacrifices.” Physical sacrifices are not enough.

God is looking for our spiritual response to Him. He wants our hearts. Indeed, such a concept is present in the OT: “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).

Perhaps the most difficult sacrifice text to wrap our minds around is in Romans 12:1: “Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service.” The OT sacrifices involved killing an animal. Jesus’ sacrifice was death on the cross. Few of us are called upon to give our bodies to be tortured or stoned or burned. A living sacrifice. It says, “our bodies,” but it also says it is a “spiritual service.” It involves our entire being, everywhere, all the time, a living sacrifice.

Never take lightly that we are all priests. Do not allow the idea to be simply an argument against religions that have a limited priesthood. To be a priest is a sacred calling. It means giving nothing less than our all in service to God.