When you are a child, everything looks big. The house I grew up in on Shadburn Avenue in Buford felt like a mansion. The hallway in the center of the house seemed to stretch for miles. The back yard was as big as a Montana prairie. But when you return as an adult to visit those childhood haunts, everything has been downsized. That capacious corridor is a tight, three-step hallway in a tiny house on a postage stamp lot. The more candles I add to my birthday cake, the more those places that loomed so large seem to shrink.
The Bible, though, is different. The older I get, the more space it seems to occupy. When I was a child, the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis provided the lyrics to a catchy tune that helped me remember which thing God created on which day. Can you name that tune? (“Day one, day one, God made light when there was none.”)
Now, Genesis chapter one is the story of God, pregnant with hope, carefully preparing the nursery for his children. It is the Bible’s first sermon preaching the good news of a Creator who longs for a relationship with his creation. It tells me that this planet is good and that one of humanity’s missions is to care for it, discover it, decipher its mysteries and find ways to use them for God’s glory.
When I was a child, the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 was little more than a cool story about a tall building. Now, it’s a warning about what happens when you try to find security and significance in anything other than God. And a reminder that human potential, though virtually limitless (“. . . nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” Genesis 11:6), is exceptionally dangerous. Our enthusiasm to discover what we can do needs to be tempered by first asking, should it be done.
I don’t think I even noticed Exodus 19:5 – 6 when I was young. It was overshadowed by the special effects of God descending on Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Big Ten (commandments); thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, earthquakes and a mountain veiled in smoke. Taking a moment to ponder such an obscure verse is like asking a six-year-old girl to admire how beautifully Aunt Edna wrapped her birthday present when all the kid wants to do is tear into the box.
But I’m older. And the Bible is bigger now than it was. So I look again.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5 – 6, ESV)
The words covenant, peoples and nation link back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. The concepts of a kingdom of priests and holy nation anticipate the Apostle Peter’s explanation of Christian identity in 1 Peter 2:9. 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. (ESV)
These passages were written hundreds of years apart, in different languages by different authors living in different cultures. One verse sits very near the beginning of the Bible and the other very near the end, yet both describe the same thing; God calls a group of people to be his priests to the world.
So now I wonder – what does it mean to be a priest to the world?
In ancient Israel, the priests were mediators between God and the people. They taught the people God’s word so that they would know who he was, what he had done and how he wanted them to live. When the people inevitably failed to learn and live up to God’s standards, the priests offered sacrifices to expiate their sins. They fulfilled many other duties, of course, but these were their primary missions. Represent God to the people. Plead mercy for the people before God.
This has been the purpose of God’s people from the beginning – or at least since that fateful moment in the Garden. God’s people – Israel first, then the Church – were to be priests to the world. We are to show and tell who God is and what he has done. Israel’s part in that mission was to bring Jesus into the world so that all nations might be blessed. The mission of the Church is no different. We, too, are to bring Jesus.
When you go to work or school, take a walk through the neighborhood or push a shopping cart through Walmart, you are on duty as a priest. The people you meet, regardless of their politics, morality, deportment or demeanor, need your ministry. They need to know who God is and what he has done. They need for Jesus to personally come into their world.
And they need for you, their priest, to pray for them. We are not there yet in our Bible reading schedule, but Numbers 6:22 – 27 offers as fine a prayer as you’ll find anywhere in scripture. It’s the prayer God told the first priests to pray over the people. How different might the world be if all God’s priests breathed this prayer over his creation every day, everywhere?
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (ESV)