“A Royal Priesthood”
14 May 2000 Sermon
Text: I Peter 2:1-10
Last week we spent some time unpacking the term “Kingdom of God” as we explored our purpose of “declaring the praises of God who has called us from darkness into His glorious light.” We explored the meaning of the word “king” and “kingdom” and noted that the kingdom of God is the absolute reign of God which comes into being as the “invisible power of God.” We learned that the kingdom is coming with power and that eventually it will overshadow all other powers and principalities as we bow the knee to God in perfect obedience, worship and praise.
Now we need to explore verse nine, where we read a fourfold designation of who we are in Christ Jesus:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people
for God’s own possession (that is a peculiar people) that you might proclaim
the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous
The Jews and now the church were by the plan and intention of God to be all these things. Peter in writing this wanted Jews who received the gospel of Jesus Christ to know, alongside their fellow Gentile believers, that none of these ancient privileges were lost in their becoming Christian. Secondly, Peter wants the church to know that the Old Testament scriptures were written for the church. The language, the terms of speech are drawn from Exodus 19:5-6, Deut. 4:20 and Isa. 43:20-1. The word rendered “race” above is elsewhere rendered “generation,” or “people”/(laos). The born-again Christian is God’s child; together we are God’s children, or people; but we are a spiritual “race” of mankind. This “race” replaces the worldly, genetic based races of mankind. And we are one race in this new way. We are now defined by our spirit, principle and practice which could not be if we were not chosen in Christ, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we are a royal priesthood. Now, reiterating a point made last week, because we have no royalty, it is difficult for us to enter into the fullness of meaning here. For a Jew of the first century, royalty was an inaccessible thing. If you weren’t born of the Davidic line, you would never be royalty. It was an inherited status. Furthermore, we live in a time when most folks are unchurched and of those who are churched, many do not refer to their ministers as priests. So many today are literally “priestless.” Even some Christians are priestless in that because as Protestants we practice the direct access of all believers to God—and we assume that it was always this way. Not so. Again, for our first century Jew, the priesthood was inaccessible because it was also inherited; if you weren’t born into the right genealogy (Levitical, or Aaronic), you would never be a priest. To be a priest was to have the privilege of direct access to God and it was to have a mediating role between the people of God and God Himself. A Jew with the right credentials would have a career which involved access to special courts, training in specific duties, a life lived according to a ritual calendar and privileges not accorded to those outside the priesthood.
Therefore to hear that in Christ we are a royal priesthood is to hear that two powerfully exclusive places of societal honor and worth have been opened up to all believers! While this is great news to those who have been excluded, it is scary news to those whose privilege has just been revoked. A Roman convert would no doubt connect his thinking about royalty to the emperor and his court. His thinking on the priesthood would be colored by temple worship vastly different from that of Jerusalem. A priest in the Gentile world was someone seen as imbued with special powers, with esoteric knowledge. We have something of this today in the New Age movement where we find gurus, channels and occult mediums playing their “access” to the supernatural and pushing their spiritual disciplines and peculiar doctrines.
So royal priesthood joins together a dual role of ruler and mediator and actually creates a new social status, a social identity of someone both “important and valuable.” We are empowered by God to exercise dominion and to perform mediation on behalf of lost sinners. Among the socially disadvantaged, who are still with us, the poor and the despised, this news was truly excellent. In a great gospel inversion those who were outsiders are supernaturally transformed into insiders. This is part of what it means to proclaim that the church is inclusive. It is not about extending recognition to a particular minority, much less is it a matter of civil rights. It is about extending to all who will believe the great good news that they have a place in history, that they are significant persons and that life turns out to have purpose and direction after all. Therefore our call to be God’s people in Christ Jesus wipes out physical lineage/heritage as a social advantage. To draw an analogy, this move of God is like playing Monopoly and gaining Board Walk, Park Place and collecting $200 dollars as you pass Go—all in one turn! Jesus Christ is offering His followers the highest places in Judaism: king and priest but unless we know this historical/religious background we can hardly resonate with the excitement due such an offer.
Translating ruler and priest into our own context, we would hear Christ proclaiming that anyone could be a CEO, the president of a large corporation, institution, or head of a governmental agency. We would hear that anyone could become a significant religious figure: a Billy Graham, a Mother Theresa, or a James Dobson. That is, we would hear that we could be a person of unique and enduring power, we could undergo a huge change in social status. How much more should we rejoice that we are in Christ made eternally famous and influential. What we would not hear is the fact that original emphasis is collective: we are a royal priesthood and a chosen generation. If we only attend to the scriptures through 21st century ears, our individualism will over-ride the original intent of these verses. We are priest and king as a church family, not merely as individuals. We are royal in our relationship to Jesus Christ and we are holy in that we are separated from sin and from sinners. We no longer do habitually what the enemies of God do; and that is what makes our sacrifices of praise acceptable to God. It is out of our consecration to God and our devotion to God that certain manners and customs arise which give us our identity above and beyond cultural distinctives. We are four things:
1. People of His acquisition.
2. People of His choice.
3. People of His care.
4. People of His delight.
No part of our four-designation (chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, or God’s possession) is to be found in our natural, original state. Then we were in darkness and horrid lostness, but now we are in the light and blessed found-ness. As Peter writes, we were formerly not a people, and we were formerly without mercy until He came and called us to Himself. The people of God are the most valuable people in the world; all the rest are not a people and they are altogether of little lasting value. We call this “God esteem” as opposed to self-esteem. Knowing who we are, let’s begin to act like it. Amen.