This week I chatted with a man from Oklahoma. Three years ago on a whim, he took disaster relief training. Not long ago, the Lord urged him to join a team and come to Alberta. He is spending most of his time in Fort McMurray sifting ashes.
This task involves putting on a hazmat suit and going to each burned home with sieves and shovels. He said the heat from the fire was so intense that there is only ashes left of most burned homes. However, they are finding things untouched, like jewelry and small items precious to the owners. He also said that many of the people who lost everything are expressing hopelessness. Those who sift the ashes are a small encouragement to very discouraged families.
Chambers talks today about our right to be called priests of God who do the priestly work of prayer . . .
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
I’m thinking less of the right to do it — which is given to me by the atoning work of Jesus Christ — and more about the job description. How does one perform as a priest in modern times?
Chambers is right in putting intercessory prayer at the top of that list. Jesus is our great high priest and He “lives forever to make intercession for us.” We are to be like Jesus and intercede for others.
But there is more. One duty of OT priests was to discern what was leprosy and what was not. Leprosy seems to be a symbol for sin, so today’s ‘priests’ must be able to discern the spiritual state of others (without judging them) so they know how to pray. Another point is that those priests wore an ephod and burned incense, two more indications of discernment and prayer.
Priests led worship, offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, encouraged them to confess their sins, and acted as mediators between the people and God. They themselves were to live in spiritual wholeness and holiness of heart. The rules for family life showed consecration to God. Their clothing symbolized spiritual integrity and righteousness, and their vigorous life and service. They kept the lights burning, taught the law to the people, and told them how to distinguish between holy and unholy, clean and unclean. They were responsible to seek and know the will of God.
While all of this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and His sacrifice now bears all sin, this priesthood continues in the church. The verse from 1 Peter says “you are . . . a royal priesthood” with “you” being plural. This is not merely a role God gives to individuals, but all Christians are called to fulfill it. We do this, not because of privilege or special skills, but because of the atoning mercy of Jesus. We do it because we belong to God . . .
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)
The humble man from Oklahoma traveled more than 3300 km to do a dangerous and difficult act of mercy for people he does not even know. He expressed deep concern for their hopelessness. I’d say he is doing the work of a priest. He and others like him need the prayer support of me and others like me who are not physically able to get into the mess in such a self-sacrificing labor.
And his humility is important. In the Old Testament, priests must realize they are mere servants of the living God and do their tasks with humility. If not, they fell under judgment. King Uzziah was proud and presumed he could do what priests do. His judgment became perverted as he usurped this role and was reproved by the temple guardians for violating God’s law. He was struck down with leprosy, put out of the temple, separated from society, and died a leper.
No one earns the right to enter the holy place and offer sacred incense. We do it because Jesus did it for us — and now His humble, sacrificial heart beats in our breasts.