Priesthood of All Believers

June 25, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Our Baptism

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Priesthood of All Believers

1 Peter 2:4-10

          When we recognize Jesus as High Priest, he becomes our model for what the priesthood of all believers should be. All along, it was God’s intent to have a nation, a kingdom if you will, of priests. We have only to look back to Exodus 19:5-6 to read about God’s original intent for his chosen people. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (NASB).

          God wants a kingdom of priests, not priests in the kingdom. He wants everyone who knows him to submit to him and keep his laws. However, the Israelites failed miserably at being a holy nation, a people set apart from the rest of the pagan world. But now, with the life, death, and resurrection of a truly High Priest, chosen by God, we too can become a kingdom of priests when we take on the New Covenant and become a new person in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As believers in Jesus Christ, we now have equal standing and value before God. We are all one in Jesus Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Today, it is my prayer that you come to understand that the priesthood of all believers not only encompasses you as a believer, but our church in this community, and the “big C” Church in the world. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Did you know that you are a priest? At your baptism you became a member of the family of Christ. After you are sprinkled, poured, or immersed, the congregation responds to the pastor welcoming you as a new sister or brother in Christ with this: “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood” (Hymnal, Baptismal Covenant I). You, personally, get to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

Jesus purchased you for that very purpose! In the Bible, John writes in Revelation 1:6: To [Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. You and I were purchased through the blood of Jesus Christ to be a kingdom of priests in service to God.

But what does Jesus require of us now that he has purchased his believers? After all, Jesus paid the ultimate price that you and I, believers in him, might be free from the punishment of spiritual death for our sins and might have the assurance that we can live eternally with him in heaven. So Peter says this in verses 4-5 of our scripture today: As you come to [Jesus], the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We, as a kingdom of priests, are to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Paul in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 12, encouraged us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices in God’s kingdom here on earth. Therefore, I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

So as a kingdom of priests, transformed by the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we each have something to offer God that will be good, pleasing and in his perfect will. But what? Once again, let’s return to our baptismal vows. Before you are baptized, there are several questions that you have to prayerfully consider and answer once you have professed faith in Jesus Christ. It is in those first two questions that the agenda for each of our ministries is set.

The first question is this: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” Sometimes we answer quickly and lightly, but that one question is enormous. You see, in our spiritual pilgrimage there are certain things we must leave behind, and other things we must reject as we journey on to be more like Jesus Christ, or as John Wesley would say, “as we go on to perfection.”

In his book Food for Pilgrims, Dwight Vogel writes that “we are called to reject three manifestations of the power of evil: ‘Sin’ as focused on our own lives; the ‘evil powers of this world’ observed all around us. And then, there are the ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ – those mysterious and unseen, yet none-the-less real powers with which we must contend” (Vogel, p. 99).

But in our spiritual journey, more is needed than rejection and repentance. If you and I are opposed to what is wrong in this world, then the second question asks us what we are going to do about it. The second question is this: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” As the priesthood of all believers, we are not only required to reject sin in our own lives, but also to fight against the evil, injustice and oppression that plagues our fellow human beings, believers or not. Our baptism calls us as Christ’s royal priesthood to work for a better world in which the kingdom can come on earth as it is in heaven. Your spiritual journey and mine are fraught with danger in this world, but as kingdom priests, God gives us his power to battle evil around us as we move forward to the hope of eternity with him.

The priesthood of all believers not only encompasses you and me as believers, but secondly also, our church as the body of Christ in this community. When you made the decision to believe in Jesus Christ, you were admitted into a spiritual building program. Each of us, as a new stone in Christ, adds to God’s spiritual building – Christ’s church. Within the Christian community, the church occupies a very unique position in which there are no special priests because the whole worshiping community functions as a priestly body.

Without a doubt, God is the builder of our church, this priestly body, but his Son, Jesus forms both the foundation, the cornerstone that establishes its design and structure, and the capstone, the crowning or finishing touches to a perfect worshiping community. And as a perfect worshiping community, our spiritual sacrifice involves our bodies in praise and worship, our money in stewardship, and our time in service and witness.

In writing to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-4), Paul asked the worshiping community that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. [1] And further, as a kingdom of priests in the body of Christ, it is our responsibility as a church to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper on behalf of the whole church as the community who serves God and extends his kingdom beyond these walls.

As a worshiping community and as the priesthood of all believers, Dwight Vogel writes, “we are nourished and sustained by the gift of Jesus Christ. But that gift comes in order to prepare us to give ourselves for others as Christ gave himself for us. The love of Christ has made us a new community of persons, called to live in joyful, loving service. The glory of God which fills our lives is to be reflected back in all we do and say and are” (Vogel, p. 101).

Therefore, I think we could say that the priesthood is an activity and function that is best served when, as a community, we each use our spiritual gifts in connection with our other brothers and sisters in Christ. In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren states that “God gives us different passions so that everything he wants done in the world will get done. You should not expect everyone else to be passionate about your passion. Instead, we must listen to and value each other’s message because nobody can say it all” (Warren, p. 293). So the question is, “What is your passion as one of God’s priests and how are you using it within our worshiping community to serve the kingdom of God?”

So far we’ve discovered that the priesthood of all believers encompasses our individual spiritual lives, secondly, it encompasses our local church as the body of Christ in this community, but thirdly, it also encompasses what I like to call the “big C” Church in the world.

All Christians belong to God and God places a great value on us. Notice how Peter lays out in ascending order in verse 9 some of the incredible spiritual riches that believers have in Christ, much of it harkening back to Exodus 19: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” Notice how Peter keeps making the circle larger and richer as he writes: chosen people, royal priesthood, holy nation. You and I and the billions of other people in the world are prized possessions of God!

We are chosen to come to God. He allows us to be part of his Church, one of his living stones. He reminds us that we are royal priests and that as believers we serve royalty. “We are part of God’s ‘forever kingdom’” (Holman New Testament Commentary, 1 Peter, Vol. II). We are a holy nation. God has set us apart as the Church for his use and each of us has a very valuable contribution to make to his Church and to his kingdom work.

Jesus died on a cross that each one of us might be bought back from sin and death to once again be God’s most precious possessions. After all, he created us in his image. The Church takes on new value in the world when its members once again become one with God.

There is this wonderful scene in Revelation 5 where no one is found worthy enough to take the scroll of divine decrees from God and read it except one. Listen to this beautiful passage from The Message Bible and hear John speak: 6–10So I looked, and there, surrounded by Throne, Animals, and Elders, was a Lamb, slaughtered but standing tall. [It was the crucified Christ.] Seven horns he had [he was powerful], and seven eyes [he was full of knowledge], the Seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. He [meaning Jesus] came to the One Seated on the Throne and took the scroll from his right hand. The moment he took the scroll, the Four Animals and Twenty-four Elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb. Each had a harp and each had a bowl, a gold bowl filled with incense, the prayers of God’s holy people. And they sang a new song:

          Worthy! Take the scroll, open its seals. Slain! Paying in blood, you bought men and women, Bought them back from all over the earth, Bought them back for God. Then you made them a Kingdom, Priests for our God, Priest-kings to rule over the earth.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus bought our Church and his people with his own blood, not because we deserved it or have somehow earned it, but because of God’s mercy on us. Once you were not a people, writes Peter, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

And now that the Church has been bought with a price, what are its members to do? Verse 9: Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. As the “big C” Church in the world, we are to declare the praises of God and his Son, Jesus Christ. As the “big C” Church we are not bound to one region, to one nation, to one race, to one color, to one gender, or to one person, but we encompass all nations and peoples to bring the light of Jesus Christ to a very dark and sinful world.

You are a priest! You are a priest! You are a priest! Each of you is a member of the family of Christ through your baptism. Each of you has a special ministry in the kingdom of God. Personally, you are to be holy, to be set apart as declared in your baptism. Your spiritual journey in the priesthood involves community worship, prayer, Bible study, and the hearing of God’s word.

As a local church we are to nourish and sustain others just as Jesus nourishes us at Holy Communion. We are to witness to the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are to step out of these walls as we minister to others in our community.

And as the “big C” Church in the world, we are called to bring the light of Christ to a dark world ruled by the powers of darkness and the sins of men and women. The Church is called and given the power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression however they present themselves.

You are a priest! You are a priest! I am a priest in the kingdom of God! I think Peter best sums up the priesthood of all believers in verse 12: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Amen.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Ti 2:1–4.

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