Priests Unto the Lord
The Lord warned Moses, high in the mountain, that things were not going well in the valley below. Before he reached the foot of Mt. Sinai, the sound of “worship” reached his ears. He held in his hands the tablets of stone that would call for worship with detailed instructions on how it should be done and what it would mean. Soon the tablets would crash to the ground and break. Who was leading the worship at the foot of the mountain? How was it being done? The answers to these questions would break Moses’ heart and anger Almighty God. Up there in the mountain Moses interceded for the people so recently ascended from Egyptian slavery. In the valley Aaron, the brother of Moses, fashioned in gold a calf and the people were “worshiping” with all of their might. The wrath of God burned through Moses and a worship purge left thousands dead and focused the nation on true worship–worship by the Book.
The orgy of “worship” also wrought a change, a delay really, in the plan of God for mankind. Read the Lord’s words at the giving of the Law and sense his plan for the world. “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6 NIV). Yet, after the worship of the golden calf, the Lord selected the sons of Aaron and tribe of Levi to be a priestly tribe.
“So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests.” (Ex 29:44-30:1 NIV)
“…appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony.” (Num 1:50NIV)
The terrible disobedience of people and the spineless “leadership” of Aaron postponed the plan of God all the way from the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai to the giving of his Son at Mt. Calvary. God’s plan was for Israel to be a Kingdom of Priests bringing salvation to the whole world. False worship temporarily put this plan aside, but what God intended at Mt. Sinai he has accomplished at Mt. Calvary. The Apostle Peter makes it clear.
“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5-6 NIV).
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)
John’s revelation shines a universal light on this Calvary-cleansed kingdom / priesthood.
“…with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9-10 NIV
Without a doubt the church has been raised up out of the Egypt of sin to be this Holy Nation, the Kingdom of priests, the Holy, Royal Priesthood. We have a vital ministry to perform to the Lord Himself–True Worship. And we have a ministry to the world–telling them the Jesus Story. Under the old covenant the priests had responsibilities in three broad areas: (1) worship and worship leading, (2) learning and teaching the Word of God, and (3) assisting in the processes of redemption. These are also the areas of ministry for the new covenant priests.
Priests unto the Lord Worship God with Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
Individually we are each a holy, royal priest unto the Lord. This truth frames and fuels our private worship, as we will develop in later columns. When we gather to worship, we form the holy, royal priesthood. Without this theology of public worship, the focus of each event quickly moves to us: the songs we like, the ceremonies we prefer, the preaching that blesses us, the prayers that reinforce our comfort zones. We are quite willing to go to war over these preferences deluding ourselves into thinking we are defending God’s preferences. Actually, we are taking a seat-of-the-pants approach to worship, never questioning our self-centered motivations. It is ironic that people of the Book, with an announced philosophy of taking the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice, would approach public worship from an if-it-feels-good-do-it point of view.
How transforming it would be if our worship leaders and rank and file worshipers would see themselves as priests unto the Lord, a Kingdom of Priests. Jesus would be the focus of every service. The Holy Spirit would have a free hand to move among us. The Lord Jesus would rule over us granting miracles and deliverances, signs and wonders, saving the lost, restoring the weak, healing the sick and calling people to lives of service. Ultimately our public worship would impact the world, fulfilling the Jesus Agenda of Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” ( Luke 4:18-19 NKJV)
The poor are ignored; the broken hearted continue in hopeless mourning; the captives remain safely out of sight in their prisons; the blind stumble on in their darkness; the oppressed never lose their bruising shackles and the opportunities afforded by the Day of Grace are kept secret. The Holy, Royal Priesthood worships God–do we?
Priests unto the Lord Know and Teach the Word of God
Make no mistake, priests under both the old and new covenants, had the assignment of learning and teaching the Word of God. Self-centered worship is characterized by a dearth of Scripture and by a debilitating lack of Scriptural and theological thought behind the planning and execution of the services. Most of the time leaders are just feeling their way from song to song, from service to service and from season to season.
Priests unto the Lord Assist in the Advancement of the Kingdom of God
Called to a life of intimacy with God Himself and charged with the assignment of communicating and living out the Word of God, the Holy Royal Priesthood is a force for good in the world. Just as under the old covenant priests assisted the people in the offering of their sacrifices finding reconciliation with God, new covenant priests give public witness to the claims of Christ as the final and ultimate sacrifice for all the sins of the world. As priests unto the Lord, we tell the Jesus Story to the world. We do this as we worship, as we preach, as we witness, and, most importantly as we live.
Dr. Steve Phifer received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has taught at Valley Forge University and Southeastern Assemblies of God University. For many years he was the Worship Pastor at Word of Life Church in Alexandria, VA.
More of Dr. Phifer’s materials can be found at stevephifer.com.