Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 1 Chronicles 16:4-9, Romans 12:1-12
“Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifice, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…” (Hebrews 10:11-12 ESV).
In the Old Testament, priests tended to the tabernacle, where the presence of God was said to dwell. Their work was bloody and holy, as they brought imperfect sacrifices for imperfect people before a Holy God, asking Him to forgive them. There was no chair for the priests in the temple because their work was never done.
Today, there is a more perfect tabernacle—the throne room of God. In it, there is a chair for our High Priest. And in that chair sits Jesus, who has brought us peace with God by becoming the perfect sacrifice the Lord accepted. Jesus makes intercession for us based upon the offering of His own flesh and blood.
This week we will look at what a priest does: calls people to worship, cares for their spiritual lives, and makes intercession for them. And we will see how Christ came as the perfect Priest and remains our perfect Priest today, calling us to share in the work of caring for the hearts of others.
A priest calls people to worship. One of the main roles of a biblical priest was to anchor God’s people in the habit of regular worship, returning them again and again to the practices of gathering together to celebrate together the holiness and mercy of God.
When I was seven, my favorite thing to do was play school or store with Mary Marson. Mary lived a couple doors down from us, on the other side of the street. She was a few years older than me, but gracious enough to let a little kid hang out in her garage now and then after school, pretending we were teachers or students or store clerks.
The part I liked most about our “work” was the writing—not shaping words into sentences, but the actual, physical act of putting pen to paper. I loved filling out forms and drawing up bills, or making fill-in-the-blank homework sheets for our imaginary students. My dad ran golf courses for a living, and sometimes I’d strike gold in the way of nabbing an old ordering pad from the grill or a half-used bank ledger from behind the desk. To this day, I love filling out a good form.
You’d never have guessed that the seven-year-old who loved all things administrative would grow up to be one of the least organizationally inclined humans to ever grace a staff meeting. Oh, I can fill in the blanks like a champ. But please do not ask me to do math, organize a classroom, create an inventory system, or—heaven forbid—make a spreadsheet. Little Amanda was cute with her pigtails sticking out of her bandana, but she was not a reliable predictor of the future.
Grownup Amanda has a computer desktop akin to a junkyard and a rather unhealthy reliance on iCal for everything from remembering her husband’s birthday, to picking up her kids from school. Calendar alerts are a grace, my friends.
The hearts of Old Testament Israel looked like my sad, scattered desktop. Truth be told, we all have hearts so easily distracted and forgetful, not even iCal can help us. We need constant reminders of who God is and who we are.
And not just that—we need new hearts altogether.
The Old Testament priests could not give God’s people new hearts, but they could orient their broken hearts toward God and the things of God. They called God’s people to worship, regularly anchoring them in the habit of recognizing and celebrating God’s holiness and mercy. They gathered God’s people together and told them what was true: God is God and we are not.
A priest’s job was to echo the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:
“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
- Deuteronomy 6:4-5
They drew God’s people into worship, and the people, in turn, were to draw each other into worship, generation after generation.
“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
- Deuteronomy 6:6-7
The priests of the Old Testament taught what the Apostle Paul would later declare: Worship does not stop when the worship gathering ends. Our very lives are to be acts of worship (see Romans 12:1-2).
You and I come by our scattered-heartedness honestly. Since the moment Eve ate the fruit and Adam followed suit, we’ve depended on these holy reminders to call our hearts back to our Maker. Fellowship with God is what we were created for, but it no longer comes naturally. With that first sin, we became like compasses with no true north, our needles spinning round, not knowing where to stop.
Priests helped restore direction to the hearts of God’s people. They pointed the people to God, held up His Word, and called them back to worship. Priests reminded God’s people who they were: they were not God, but they were God’s. They belonged to Him.
By the grace of Jesus, we do too.