The priestly function is as old as the Bible, and we tend to think of a priest in sacramental terms (Mass), or as Father Joe or Tim… But it actually has nothing to do the Catholic church. The Biblical definition of priest is far more universal than any denominational function, and the application of that function may just strike closer to home than you think…
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)
The Priest does What, Exactly?
Most cultures in ancient times had priests who represented gods or conducted religious rituals. Joseph married the daughter of Potiphera, who was a priest of On; Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was a priest of Midian. For as long as men have lived in communities, there have been priests. A prophet by Biblical definition one who speaks God’s word to men; a priest has the inverse function, in that he intercedes for men back to God. Priests can administer holy rites and conduct sacrifices, providing mediation and healing between men and God.
The first mention of a priest in the Bible was in Genesis 14. Lot and his family were carried off after a defeat of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah by an alliance led by Kedorlaomer. Abram took 318 warriors and went and rescued Lot from these marauding kings. Upon his return, it says “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20, NIV)
After perhaps the first story of redemption in the Bible (since Abram went into enemy territory and rescued his own, bringing them back from hostile captivity), we meet the first priest. He represents the God Most High, he blesses Abram, serves bread and wine, and gives God all the credit. Sound familiar? The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus “forever a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6), and most scholars feel that Melchizedek is a Theophany, or a pre-incarnation appearance by Christ. Jesus himself certainly pointed us back to this passage when he served bread and wine at the last supper, and he was certainly the King of Peace (Salem). Based on what I saw on our trip to Israel, it’s obvious from this picture I took there that Melchizedek is still recognized around Jerusalem:
Meeting the Qualifications
It’s interesting stuff worthy of further study, but for now I’ll just point out a couple of things: 1) Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet remained sinless. As a sinless man, he was uniquely qualified to administer sacred rites (such as a sacrifice).
2) Jesus is called our high priest, and He is actually the ONLY person ever qualified to serve in that office on his own merit. As a man without sin, truly consecrated, he could certainly represent God to all of us, and show us what serving God truly looks like.
3) As a priest without spot or blemish, he not only administered sacrifice but also became the sacrifice on our behalf. So what does all this have to do with you? Think about what Peter wrote to all believers: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
If you are a follower of Jesus, Peter says, YOU are a priest, and you are “God’s special possession.” So as a priest, start serving. As someone called out of darkness, keep shining.
The Role You Didn’t Know You Had
Abram saved his people, and the Lord gave him a sign:
He met the priest Melchizedek, who served him bread and wine.
Of all the jobs we tend to think we’re qualified for the least,
Perhaps the one we most avoid is acting as a priest.
We know that Jesus as a priest was truly qualified,
And that his right to fill that role was surely bona fide;
But Peter says that we are priests. God gave us every right
To sing His praise since we were called from darkness into light.
So if you doubt your status, probably just like I doubt mine,
Do this: Accept God’s calling to the light, and let yours shine.
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