Kingdom of Priests
Text: Ex 19:1-8, 1 Pt 2:9
Theme: God' people is a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
Doctrine: kingship of God
Image: Moses and Sinai
Need: reminder of responsibility as God's people
Message: God commands you to be holy.
God's People, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation
Ex 19:1-8, 1 Pt. 2:9
Sin infected God's kingdom.
We all know the story of the origin of God's kingdom. The Bible starts with it. The creation story in genesis is the story of the Great King building his kingdom. He created a kingdom to show his glory. He created a kingdom where all creatures lived the way God created them to, all creatures living in unbroken fellowship with the Great King. But Adam and Eve did not maintain that unbroken fellowship. They chose to do what the King had commanded them not to. The decided that they wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil; they wanted to be kings, not subjects. This drove a wedge into the harmony of creation, creating distance between the King and his subjects. This affected everything in creation. It broke the relationship between God and mankind, Adam and Eve were now afraid of God and they were banished from the garden, thrown out of God's presence. From there things just got worse. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy. Lamech, Cain's great-great-great-grandson claimed he was 11 times worse than Cain. He said, “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” (Ex 4:24) Everything went down hill so fast that after only ten generations God decided to destroy everything, and he started over with Noah and his family. But after the flood, things did not get much better. In Genesis 8:21 God says that every inclination of the heart of every human is evil from childhood. God commanded the people to spread themselves over the earth, but instead they try to congregate around a single city, with a tower that reached to the heavens. They tried to build a name for themselves, so God confused their speech and scattered them across the earth instead.
God began the work of bringing the creation back to him.
After another ten generations God again acts in his kingdom, this time not to destroy, but to begin his work of bringing his creation back to him. He chose one man, Abraham, who is seventy-five years old and married to his half-sister, Sarah, who is barren. God promises Abraham that he will make him into a great nation, and that all the nations would be blessed through him. After many years God gave that barren couple a child, Isaac, to Isaac he gave Jacob, and to Jacob he gave twelve sons, who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob and his sons settled in Egypt for a time, and they became oppressed there. They were forced to work as slaves, and the King of Egypt, Pharaoh, tried to claim them as his subjects. But God had already laid claim to these people, and he brought them out of Egypt. He fought with Pharaoh, and he won. The Great King continued his work in blessing the nations through Abraham's descendants. God miraculously conquered the Egyptian king and his army, and brought his people out into the desert, to Mt Sinai.
God promises to make the Israelites his treasured possession.
This is where we pick up the story. Please open your Bibles to Exodus 19. We will begin reading at v1 and continue until v8.
The Israelites have travelled forty-five days since their escape from Egypt. By now, no doubt, they are getting rather road weary. They left Egypt in a rush, were almost overtaken by the Egyptians at the sea. They did not know what was coming next. Camped below Sinai, Moses now knew for certain who had sent him. When God called him, from a burning bush on this very mountain, he said, “this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12)
Moses, emboldened by his earlier visit with God on this mountain, goes up to worship him. The Israelites are glad to have a rest from their travels. They pitch their tents and wait the return of Moses. The people could not believe the things that happened the past few months. Walking around the camp you can hear people talking excitedly, reciting the things that happened. One group is particularly passionate. “Can you believe it? We are free! We no longer have to serve that insufferable Pharaoh. I don't know about you, but I was not so sure about Moses when he came back from Midian. I could not believe he had the audacity to set himself up as our leader. Remember, at first he just made things worse. The Egyptians forced us to make bricks without straw! I was almost ready to get rid of Moses, so he could not continue to make things worse. But God did all those signs through him. There is no doubt he has a strong connection with the Lord. I still can't believe we are free from Pharaoh. I wonder what this Yahweh is going to be like.” The Israelites were set free from the king of Egypt to serve the Great King. The Great King had reclaimed some of his subjects.
Restructuring of the Kingdom
The Israelites knew they had been saved. Even though it might be hard to believe, here they were, outside of Egypt, camped before a mountain, waiting for a word from the Great King. When Moses reaches the top of the mountain, the Lord gives him a message for the people. He presents Moses with a covenant between him and the people of Israel, a treaty between the king and his subjects. In this covenant God gives the reason for his authority over the people of Israel. He is the one who fought against the king of Egypt. He was the one who brought the people out of their oppression. He took them out from under the rule of Pharaoh so that they could serve their true King. So they could serve the one who had chosen them through their father Abraham. So they could continue God's work at bringing his creation back to him.
On the basis of this authority, he gives them the promise that if they obey what he commands, they will be his treasured possession. Although all the earth is God's, even though the whole creation is still God's kingdom, the people of Israel will be his chosen instruments. The Great King is restructuring his kingdom and giving the Israelites a privileged position. God has chosen them, not because of their merit. As Moses states in Deut. 7 “It was not because you were more in number than any other people, that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.” (Deut 7:7,8) They were chosen to be a kingdom of priests. To be the intermediaries between the Lord and his creation. They will present God to the nations, and the nations to God. They will purify the creation so that God could once again live among the nations. They will be a holy nation. They will be a people set apart; not to make them better than the nations, but to make them serve the nations.
There is an analogy between the Israelites role in the world and the structure of the temple which was built in Jerusalem. In the outer court, the court which encircled the entire complex, all could come to worship Yahweh. This is the place where all the nations were to gather to pay homage to the Great King. As you pass through this court you come to an entrance with notices prominently displayed which read, “Only Jews can enter here. All others face death to enter.” This is the court of the women of Israel. It was here that Jewish women and children came to worship God. As you approach the gate to the Court of the Men of Israel, you have to climb the 15 steps of assent. Upon entering this gate you came face to face with the massive altar gilded in gold. As you turn right you can see the priests slaughtering the animals for the sacrifice. When the priests had slaughtered the animals, and presented the sacrifice, they used the bronze laver at the other end of the court to cleanse themselves again. It was here that the people of Israel were to intercede for themselves, and for the nations. Right in the middle of the whole complex was the Holy of Holies. It was here that the ark of the Lord was placed. It was this room that the glory of the Lord filled when the temple was constructed. It was this room in which Isaiah had his vision of God's glory. It was here that God dwelt among the Israelites, and it was here that God dwelt among the nations.
God was going to use the Israelites as a tool to administer his rule in the world. By following God's commands, and living as God had instructed them to, then they would attract all the nations to God. They would be the people through whom the nations would see God. They would be the people who would allow God to once again dwell in his creation. They would be a light to the nations, radiating the brilliance of God's presence into a world which has turned to darkness. This is the amazing message God commands Moses to say to the people.
Israelites Respond Positively to the Covenant
Dutifully, Moses goes back down the mountain to give the message to the people. Can you picture the scene. Moses, already an old man, excited at the prospect of relaying this message to the people, hurrying down the mountain as fast as his feet could carry him. He is panting and gasping for breath when he reaches the camp. He immediately gathers the elders of the people. Once he has caught his breath he tells them everything which God had said to him. They, in turn, go out into the camp. They gather the people around them and tell them what God had said. One by one the elders return with the response from the people. Every single person has responded positively. All the people respond together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” (Ex 19:8) They do not argue or debate the issue. They do not take a vote to see what they should do. There are no dissenters to register their “No” vote. They all recognise the authority of God. They realise that they were liberated from Egypt not to form an egalitarian society where everyone did as they saw fit, nor even to form a democracy. They realised that they were not given free reign, nor did they want it. They wanted to ally themselves with God. They wanted to follow him as their King. So, Moses goes back up the mountain to bring the Israelites answer to God. This ratifies the covenant. The people of Israel have now bound themselves to their King. They have agreed to the rule of the Great King, they have agreed to carry out his plan in creation. This mission is what makes them distinct. The people, by themselves are no different from any other nation. As Moses says to God in Exodus 33, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. ... What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex 33:15,16) What distinguishes them is that God is with them. And God chooses to be with them for the sake of the world. They were his treasured possession.
We are God's treasured possession.
We too, as Christ's church, are God's treasured possession in the world. In 1 Pt 2, Peter describes the church in the same terms as God describes Israel. Peter says “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 Pt 2:9) We are chosen by God to be his instruments in the world. We have been set free from the prince of darkness to serve the Great King. God may not give us the same kind of proof as the Israelites. God may not go before us in a pillar of fire by night, or cloud by day. But if we think about it we can probably point to a time when we have experienced God. One thing I miss about Alberta is the mountains. Often my wife Sherilyn and I would take a drive in the Rockies Sunday afternoon. When you are surrounded by those massive, rugged peaks it is hard to deny the presence of God. When you hike to the top of one and can see the range of mountains stretching off into the distance, mile after mile of mile high peaks it is almost impossible to say, “There is no God.” You may have had a similar experience watching the sun sink into Lake Michigan, or sitting beside a quiet stream. Whatever it is, most of us have had some point in our lives that God has touched us, that God has brought us into his presence, that we know we have been saved. Peter tells us that we have the same promise the Israelites had. The church is God's treasured possession. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
The Israelites Failed in their task.
But we know that the Israelites failed in their task. As a nation, the people were not successful in bringing the world to God. They failed to keep his covenant, thus never becoming the treasured possession God planned them to be. They did not obey his voice. At the end of 2 Kings we read of the defeat of the people of God by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The people of Israel were to be a holy nation, yet they prostituted themselves after idols. They were to be a people set apart, and yet they continually mixed with the nations and followed their customs. The Israelites failed.
One Israelite succeeds.
But, there was one Israelite who was totally committed to God's will in his life. It is because of him that now we are truly God's treasured possession. He did everything according to the will of his father in heaven. He knew what he had been sent to earth to do. He knew he had come down from heaven to save us all from our sins by dying on the cross. He put his trust in his father's plan. Because he did so, because he followed God's instructions, because he allowed himself to be arrested, accused, whipped, beaten, tortured, taunted, stripped, nailed to a cross, and hung there to die, because he did all this he succeeded in reconciling us to God. Because Christ followed God's will for his life, we now have the hope of eternal life. Because he allowed himself to be lifted up on a tree we can look on him and live. Because Jesus followed the will of the Great King, he has made us God's treasured possession. The Church is comprised of people from every language, every tribe, every nation. We have been reconciled to God and given the message of reconciliation to spread to the world. The church is a peak into the eschaton. It is a precursor of the wholeness which is to come. The divisions that were created between people after the fall, have begun to break down. The nations, scattered from the tower of Babel, are now gathered at the cross. The inclinations of people's hearts are changed through the power of the Spirit. God is working through his people, his church, his treasured possession, to bring the creation back to him.
Let us Pray
O God, King above all Kings, you are the almighty creator. You are the hope of the nations. You are the King over all the earth. It is to you we bow the knee. It is to you we have been reconciled through Christ. We thank you that you did not leave your creation in its destructive path. We thank you that you intervened in history and chose one nation as your instrument. We thank you that you came down to do what they could not. We thank you that you have made us your instruments to the world. Help us continue your work of bringing the creation back to you. Amen.