A Royal Priesthood

What is your place in the church?

The sad reality is that many are spectators, watching others doing the work of ministry. They might feel as emotionally involved as those watching the footy, but not actively involved.

Others, consciously or not, behave as consumers. Even more detached than spectators, they come and go, feeling ‘topped up’ for another week in the world, but lack the emotional engagement of even the spectators.

Is this our calling? Consider what Peter calls Christians scattered throughout the regions in the Roman Empire: ‘You are … a royal priesthood’ (1 Pet 2:9).

This is a high calling; to be a priest of God, under the High Priesthood of our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ (Heb 2:17). What does it mean to be a priest?

In the Old Testament, priests cared for the temple. Playing music, singing songs, performing sacrifices, teaching and praying. Theirs was a busy life, full of worshipping God and serving his people.

Our role is different than theirs, of course. The church building is not a temple; there is nothing sacred there. It is merely a meeting place. The sacrifice for sin has already been made.

But there is a pattern for us to follow. Priests are actively engaged in ministry. They are not spectators or consumers. They are workers, joining together with the rest of the church to actively worship God and serve one another and the world.

What might your priestly service look like?

Could you be involved on Sunday? Welcoming others, helping at the sound desk, reading the bible, praying, preparing morning tea?

Outside the service, could you commit to praying daily for the ministry and people of the church?

We are all called to serve. If you are not yet serving, what one thing could you take on?

The church’s foundation

‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph 2:19-20).

Jesus said he would build his church (Matt 16:18). But what is he building his church upon? There have been many so-called churches that have not been built on the correct foundation and so have been found not to be true churches at all!

What is the foundation Christ is building upon? ‘The apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20). Who are these apostles and prophets?

While in one sense all Christians are apostles of Jesus, when it is used in its more formal, specific sense it refers to the 12 who were directly chosen by Jesus (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias), and also Paul (the exception to the rule, one ‘untimely born’ (1 Cor 15:8)).

In one sense all Christians can also be called prophets; ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev 19:10). Obviously there are prophets in the Old Testament. But in Ephesians, prophets always refer to a specific group of Christians, gifted to speak new revelation from God to guide the church.

Are there apostles and prophets (with those specific definitions) today? No. They were the foundation, bringing direct revelation from God to lead God’s people. Now the foundation has been laid, and is being built upon.

Jesus is building on their testimony, as recorded in the New Testament. This is why we are devoted to God’s word – a true church is not built by attraction or motivational speeches, but by God’s word. Specifically, God’s word about Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He builds his church as she calls people to repentance and faith in him.

The neglected event of Jesus’ ministry

If you were to write a list of the ten most important events in Jesus’ ministry, what would it include? Three are obvious: his birth, death and resurrection; which even our rapidly de-Christianising culture still celebrate (even as it is detached from the events). What would make up the other seven?

Maybe some of his miracles. Some of his teaching might feature. What about his baptism, temptation in the wilderness, his transfiguration?

There are so many different points in his ministry we could pick, and so many that would be left out! But there is one event whose significance is rarely appreciated: the ascension.

The risen Jesus, after spending 40 days teaching his apostles, physically ascended into the heavens, to sit at God’s right hand. Think of the magnitude of that! There is a man, right now, who for all eternity sits on the throne. He did not shed his humanity like a snake sheds its skin. The second person of the Trinity has forever humbled himself, taking on ‘the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7).

The ascended Jesus gave gifts to his people. He sent his Holy Spirit (John 16:7), who in turn gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12). He gave ‘the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4:11).

Wonderfully, because we are united to Christ, we’ve been raised with him, and we’re to ‘set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2).

The ascension changes everything. Never before has a man sat on God’s throne. And this perfect, exalted man has given us incomparable gifts, which we would never want to exchange. Of course we would want to set our minds on him. We worship, and wait for, the ascended Christ. He is our boast.

Our Certain God

Be consistent. That is the advice for parents. Kids love routine and certainty. When they break the rules, they should experience the consequences, and even those consequences should be consistent. From one day to another, kids should know that if they break that rule, they will face this consequence. Imagine the confusion and resentment when one day a behaviour is overlooked and ignored, but the next day the behaviour earned some yelling at and time in their room!

Parents need to be told to be consistent because people are not naturally consistent. One day something will not bother us, but the next day it will. Any number of reasons could be given for this: the amount and quality of sleep we get, whether we’ve already been irritated and the latest irritant – normally something we could overlook – is the last straw, how busy we are, whether we are being interrupted from something we want to do.

People are changeable. From one day to another we react to our circumstances differently. We treat people differently, or even if we treat them the same our attitude towards them will change.

Imagine if God were like that: unpredictable. Imagine being unsure whether today God will accept you, or whether he would want nothing to do with you. Imagine the terror, the fear, and even the attempts to manipulate God to get on his good side.

But we can rest assured. Our God is not like the ‘gods’ of Ancient Greece or Rome. He is not like us. In him ‘there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17). God will not shift from loving us to not loving us. He will not wink at sin and then bang the gavel. We can know our God. He does not change. We are safe.

Saved and changed

‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Rom 6:1-2).

What would you be willing to do if you knew there would be no consequences? If you knew you’d never get caught and no one would ever know?

That’s the question Paul rhetorically asks in this verse. It isn’t asked because no one would ever know, but because the hypothetical questioner thinks sin is no longer important. God no longer cares about our sin, so we can do what we like.

That sounds appealing! The logic goes: ‘Because Jesus has paid the price for all my sin, it doesn’t matter whether I keep sinning. I’m saved by grace, not by works. I don’t earn my heaven to heaven, so there is no reason to do good, or to stop doing evil.’

And yet, Paul still thinks what we do is important. He still expects the people of God to reject sin. Why?

Because if Jesus has saved us, he has also changed us. As the passage continues, it says that we have been united to Christ. Once we were once enslaved by our sin. We loved our sin. We enjoyed the pleasure, the self-satisfaction, the self-focus of sin. But no longer.

Now, the saved are united to Jesus. Our sinful self died on the cross with Christ, and we now live a new life. A life that loves righteousness, goodness and truth. A life which abhors the evil which sent our Saviour to the cross.

If we still love our sin, if we never think about our sin, if we belittle our sin, there is something wrong. Instead, let us ‘walk in newness of life’ (v4), striving for holiness.

Worth in our being, not our doing

‘[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately’ (Acts 18:26).

From the earliest days of the church, women have been honoured and valued. In a time when women were generally seen as lesser than men, the church saw this was not the case. Even before Jesus’ death and resurrection he had female followers; women were the first to discover the empty tomb, to see the risen Jesus, and be given the task to tell the disciples.

Here, Priscilla and her husband Aquilla jointly taught Apollos, assisting him to proclaim the truth of Jesus ‘more accurately.’ Incredibly, Priscilla is named first. It was unusual for a wife to be listed before her husband. This probably means Priscilla was the main speaker, teaching Apollos more about the Christian faith.

Women are never merely ornamental in the Scriptures. Though they do not feature in the Scriptures as often as men, they had an important role to play. Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Esther – these women were significant in Israel’s history. Even lesser known figures like Abigail played their part. In the New Testament we see women feature often in Paul’s greetings and farewells, shown to be valued, loved and honoured.

It must be said, however, that someone’s value to God and his people – whether they are women or men – is not dependent on their ‘usefulness.’ Those women we never hear about, the wife and mother of people whose families never feature in the story, are just as valuable as women like Sarah. It has never been what we do for God that makes us valuable. Regardless of what we do or not, we are valuable to him because he loves us. And that is enough.

Are you under a curse?

‘For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them”’ (Gal 3:10).

Not many people in the church today are tempted to think, ‘I need to keep the Old Testament law of circumcision to be saved.’ ‘I need to trust in Jesus and make sure I’m following the Old Testament food laws for God to accept me.’ So it looks like, on the surface, we know that we don’t need to keep the law to be saved.

My fear, though, is that in practice many of us still try to follow the law to be saved. We don’t call it ‘law,’ but that’s what it is. It’s the law of being a good person. Instead of looking to the Old Testament for the criteria required for us to be accepted by God, we determine for ourselves what is required.

Charitable giving, voting patterns, church attendance, bible reading, time in prayer, community involvement, a general sense of how nice we are – all these things and more are used by us to try and ensure we are acceptable to God.

We know we need Jesus. But we think there’s more to it. ‘To be saved, I need to believe in Jesus and…’ Whatever you use to complete that sentence is the law you are trying to be saved by. When you believe Jesus is not the only thing saving you, you are believing that you can save yourself (with some help from Jesus).

If you believe this, you are under a curse. Christians do good works because we are saved, not to earn our salvation. Don’t put any reliance on yourself. Trust in Jesus alone.

Is it true?

‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ’ (1 Timothy 2:5).

We live in a society that has moved beyond the idea that, in the realm of spirituality/religion and morality, there are absolutes. Everything is subjective: “If that’s what you believe, I’m happy for you – just like I’m happy for that other person who believes the complete opposite to you.” There is an aversion to telling someone their belief is wrong – as long as it works for them, that’s all that matters.

There are interviews where some people take this to the extreme. Students at a university are given a scenario: “I believe that if, just before I die, I say Oprah’s name three times, I will spend eternity with Oprah in a mansion, enjoying the greatest products she’s showcased on her show. Do you believe I’m right?”

Guess what these students say? Usually, something along the lines of, “it sounds strange to me, but if that’s what works for you, that’s fine.” This is post-modernism at its finest. They don’t actually believe it’s true, but they’re unwilling to say it’s false.

But the Bible won’t allow that kind of avoidance of reality. Repeatedly it claims that Jesus is the one we must come to if we want to be at peace with God. The Bible refuses to allow people to avoid the issue – either this claim is true, or it is false. Either there is one God, or there isn’t. Either Jesus is the only mediator between God and us, or he isn’t. There is no middle ground.

This is not an arrogant claim. It’s a truth claim. Like all other truth claims, it divides the world between those who believe it, and those who don’t. Who are you?

Comfort and hope

Suffering hits like a bag of bricks. One moment life is normal, the next your whole world is falling apart. Last week two planes crashed into each other mid-air in Alaska, with at least 5 killed, including one Australian. Now families are left in anguish, having lost loved ones.

Death and sickness are, of course, only some of the suffering we can experience through our lives. And, so often, our feelings tell us that no one cares. There’s no purpose or hope.

Our feelings, however, couldn’t be more wrong. There is someone who cares and offers hope through our experiences.

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’ (2 Cor 1:3-4).

God does not stand aloof at our sufferings. He cares. He comforts. He provides – moments to grieve, necessities of food and drink, people to put their arms around us, his Word of hope, a listening ear. He is the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. He never abandons his children in their suffering.

And in all this, he prepares us to comfort others. Each moment of suffering shapes us to be more like Christ, who is gentle with the sufferer (‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench’Isaiah 42:3).

We call all put our arm around a sufferer and encourage them to hold on to Jesus. But how much more precious are the arms which have been where we are and held on to Christ themselves? Your suffering is not without purpose.

Destroying Christianity

How could you destroy Christianity? Many have tried through force. From the earliest years of the church, people have been trying to tear it down. The religious leaders in Jerusalem did their best (Acts 5:40), as did Saul (Acts 9:1-2). Ancient Rome tried. Today, Christian leaders and lay people are regularly discriminated against, beaten, murdered, and more. Yet the church continues.

Others have tried to destroy it from within by bringing in practices that go against the Bible, or bringing in teaching to undermine the core message. In the earliest days there was a move to divide Christians by race (Gal 2:11-14). There was also a move to not recognise that Jesus not only God, but also a man (1 John 4:1-3). Today, there are many practices and beliefs within what are called churches which are not biblical and lead people down the garden path. Yet the church continues.

There is only one sure-fire way to destroy Christianity: show that Jesus didn’t rise. Paul is adamant that if you do that, then Christians have nothing to hold on to.

‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain .. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:14, 17, 19).

Only Christianity, of all the religions, has an historical event upon which it hangs its hat. You can’t disprove that someone had a vision in a cave (Islam) or a realisation under a tree (Buddhism). But Christianity is founded on an empty tomb. This means his death worked as a sacrifice. Have you found forgiveness in the risen Lord?