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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Holy and Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2.5b,9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 5, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (Hopson)
Song of Praise: "Raise Up the Crown/All Hail the Power" (CORONATION, Tomlin)
Song of Community: "This is Your House" (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Praise: "Come Praise and Glorify" (Chester, Kauflin)

Offering of Music (Choir): "In Remembrance" (Rick Bean)
Hymn of Sending: "Church of God, Elect and Glorious" (NETTLETON; Seddon)
Postlude: "Postlude on 'Nettleton'" (Albert Travis)

Holy and Royal Priesthood
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10 (vv. 5b,9)

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Who is Jesus? He is the cornerstone of God’s plan – God’s design – for human history. He is the one chosen and set by God on the foundation of God’s Word, spoken through Apostles and Prophets, and perfectly measured and level according to God’s justice and righteousness. All who believe understand him to be this cornerstone, but those who do not find him rather to be something and someone to stumble over, one who offends.

On this rock, the Son of the Living God, God has and is building His Church. And those who are God’s Church are not just part of a plan or schematic somewhere, but are LIKE Jesus. You are “living stones” being built into a “spiritual house” of God’s purpose and design. We talked last week about what it means to be the living Church – following Jesus and sent out into the world in His name. We talked about the difference between only huddling together behind church walls and being prepared and sent out beyond those walls to the world God loves.

In doing so, we have moved from talking about who Jesus is to talking about who you are if you trust and follow Jesus. This is what is meant by your “Christian identity.” And “living stones” and “spiritual house” are just the beginning of what it means to belong to Jesus. Today we will look at another identity named in this passage in 1 Peter: holy and royal priesthood. 

Priesthood of All Believers

In scripture, there were two primary roles for priests: to offer sacrifices and to lead in praise. And the particular function of priests was to serve as intermediaries for the people. It wasn’t that the people couldn’t praise God or even make a sacrifice. But the priests were the ones authorized to offer the sacrifices that the Lord required. This is all detailed in Leviticus (or in a lunch with Kathy Larson!). It was an interesting arrangement, for as it developed and even carried into the church, in many ways the priests worshiped for God’s people. Even in the contemporary church, we continue to struggle, I think, with thinking the professional ministers will somehow do the Lord’s work for us.

But the great rediscovery of the Protestant Reformation is just what is described in Hebrews and applied here in this passage. That rediscovery is that Jesus was the last and greatest high priest and the sacrifice he offered was made once and for all. In doing so, he united all believers with himself such that we join him as he presents us before the Father and as he offers perfect worship on our behalf. That’s all the theme of the book of Hebrews.

What Peter describes in this chapter is what the Protestant Reformers would later call the “priesthood of all believers.” That is to say that we no longer have a human mediator, but our mediator is Jesus himself. And because of that, we are each priests. Each of us offers ourselves through Christ as a sacrifice. Each of us offers worship through Christ to God.

And that’s just what Peter has been working on in these verses. Jesus is the cornerstone and we are being built on him, according to God’s plan, and we are like him – living stones like he is a living stone; a spiritual house with him as cornerstone. And now, in verse 5, we hear more about what is going on with this spiritual house of living stones. This house – the Church – is for a “holy priesthood” – that’s you and me, led by Jesus himself.

Just as each of his followers are living stones like him, so each of his followers functions as a priest after his example and through being united with him before the Father. So let’s look at these verses and what it is that priests do. 

Priests Offer Sacrifices (v. 5b)

First, priests offer sacrifices. The priests of old offered five different kinds of sacrifices, required by God, on behalf of the people of God. Since Jesus has offered the final sacrifice (of himself) once and for all, now sacrifice takes on a different meaning. Now, as a holy priesthood attached to Jesus and after the example of Jesus, we are to “offer up SPIRITUAL sacrifices.” So what are spiritual sacrifices?

The worship actions remain much as they were in the Old Testament. We are still to love, obey, yield, praise, serve, and worship God with our words, thoughts, and actions. But rather than being offerings intended to make us right with God or save us, we are responding to God’s gracious salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s kind of like the prayer I always pray before I preach: “Let my human words line up with your Holy Word.” In the same way, a spiritual sacrifice is us saying and living the prayer, “Let my human worship line up with your Holy Spirit.”

Inevitably, you may think, these offerings back to God may fall short. But look at the end of verse 5. Our spiritual sacrifices are “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Jesus has not only made the once and for all saving sacrifice, but he presents us and our grateful response-offerings acceptably before God the Father.

This is what it means to be part of God’s Church, built on Christ and sharing in his identity. We are a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices because of him and with his help. 

Priests that Proclaim God’s Excellence (v. 9b)

Peter goes on to explicitly add praise as another way we are to function as priests of the Lord. Listen, the name of priest is one of several in verse 9: “You are a chosen race, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession….” And then Peter goes on to say what it is that we are to do as followers of Jesus. We are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In other words, we are to declare God’s great worth, to testify to God’s goodness, out of our own experience of salvation.

Remember the baseline image: we are living stones being built into a spiritual house on the cornerstone of Jesus. We are the Church, not huddled behind church walls, but sent beyond them as a living Church, priests charged with living and speaking our faith to the glory of God. That’s God’s plan; that’s God’s design. That is how God goes about blessing and redeeming the world – through His Church, which was founded on Jesus and the Good News about Him.

All of that amounts to a significantly different picture of Church and Christianity than many of us have known. Church is not so much about being gathered in as in being sent out. Church is not so much about what we build but about what God is building. Church is not where we save ourselves, but is what it means to be saved and led by Jesus. 

A Holy and Royal Priesthood

The verse we used as our call to worship today captures all of this role and identity of priests very concisely. Listen very carefully to it again: “Through Jesus, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

It kind of reads like the Great Commandment, doesn’t it. Love God; love others. If you trust in Jesus Christ, then you are part of what God is building in the world. And as those saved by Jesus and being molded into the character of Jesus, you are priests whose work is to serve, obey, yield, praise, and point people to the living God. It’s not just my job, or Joanie’s, or your spouse or parent’s job – it is the work of all believers, in grateful response to God’s love for us.

What pleases God? …praise from thankful lips… doing good…. sharing. In Christ, you are a holy priesthood. Amen.

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