“You are a … royal priesthood.” – 1 Pet 2:9
If Kevin is an apostle, let’s go ahead and make him a priest too. I’m not sure Kevin would embrace that title. But Kevin doesn’t read my blog.
The word priest is like a tasty baked potato – it’s loaded. That being said, the word priest is a biblical word. And it’s a word with incredible theological significance. And once again, it’s a word – like the word apostle – with more than one meaning. And so, on the one hand, Kevin is obviously not a priest, i.e., in the Apostolic and liturgical tradition of Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians, etc. In January, I’ll be ordained a priest in that sense. But that’s not how I’m using the word priest for today’s purpose. I’m using it like the first Christians used it - in a more inclusive sense - for all believers are part of the “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9). In other words, there is a way in which Kevin – and any believer for that matter – is a priest.
And so what is a priest? I’ll focus on two characteristics of the priestly office. First, a priest is one who offers a sacrifice to God on behalf of someone else. Second, a priest has a special role of interceding for God’s people.
First, a priest offers sacrifice. For example, OT priests offered sacrifices of atonement (Lev 4:26). Pagans also had their own priests. Acts references “the priest of Zeus” who “wanted to offer sacrifice” (Acts 14:13). Sacrifice, therefore, is at the heart of the priestly vocation. And here’s the catch. Sacrifice is also at the heart of the Christian’s vocation. Like Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Paul is using, and reimagining, priestly language. Paul’s priestly command is spoken to all: “take everything you are – your desires and hopes and dreams and fears and sin and insecurity – and offer it to God as a living sacrifice.” This is what Jesus calls taking up our cross (Matt 16:24), and what Paul calls bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). We throw ourselves on God’s altar (and we stay there - the problem with being a living sacrifice is that we're always crawling off the altar). We push all our chips in the center. We go “all in.”
Second, a priest intercedes for God’s people. 1 Samuel asks rhetorically, “if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession” (1 Sam 2:25)? Though the next verse doesn’t give us an answer, the logical response would be – a priest. Because that’s what priests do. Moses, for example, fulfilled a priestly role whenever he “interceded on behalf of Aaron” (Deut 9:20). Intercession, therefore, is at the heart of the priestly vocation – and therefore at the heart of our vocation as well. As Christians, we should pray for one another, actively speak to God on behalf of those whom we love, and even those whom we don’t love. Paul was an excellent priest. Paul prayed that the Corinthians would “become perfect” (2 Cor 13:9), that the Ephesians would “not lose heart” (Eph 3:13), and that Philemon would “become effective” in “sharing [his] faith” (Phm 1:6). And Paul expected other people to pray for him. To the Thessalonians Paul asks a favor: “pray for us” (2 Thess 3:1). Priests pray for other people.
FOR TODAY: Consider what the term “priesthood of all believers” means to you. In other words, what does it mean for you specifically to be doing priestly work – to be a “living sacrifice” that intercedes for God’s people? The priestly vocation may sound a little overwhelming at first. But it’s not. Its part of Jesus’ light burden (Matt 11:30). After all, we work as priests with the knowledge that Jesus is our Great High Priest (Heb 4:14) – for Jesus not only “offered himself without blemish to God,” (Heb 9:14) but Jesus also “lives to make intercession” for the saints (Heb 7:25). Sacrifice. Pray. Be a priest.