“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…
that you may proclaim the excellencies of him! “
This month we begin the new Church Year. We’ve travelled one more time on earth around the sun. And the Son of God has shone on us. We’ve placed before our eyes, Sunday by Sunday, and hopefully more and more during the week, during our every waking hour and even in our sleep, the vision of God, seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We’re catching only glimpses. The vision of God is too bright to take in, but we can allow ourselves as much as we want. God does not force Himself on us. But the vision is there for the taking: outwardly in the Word of God written, in the Sacraments made visible, and in our encounters with other people, who mirror something of the image and likeness of God; and inwardly, as we are inwardly illuminated by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, confirming in us the truth we see outwardly and restoring our hearts. As we begin the new year, I hope we have a clearer vision before our minds of Jesus Christ.
One Father in the early Church, Eusebius, from the early 4th century, summarized from Scripture three core ministries of Jesus like this: We have been told … that certain of the prophets themselves became, by the act of anointing, Christs in type, so that all these have reference to the true Christ, the divinely inspired and heavenly Word, who is the only high priest of all, and the only King of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets. (Ecclesiastical History, Ch. 3, 8)
This has been taken up through the ages to describe Jesus as our Prophet, Priest and King. The Prophets were anointed with the Holy Spirit (and sometimes with oil) to speak God’s Word (e.g. 1 Kings 19:16b); the priests of the Old Testament were anointed with oil to minister at God’s altar (e.g. Ex 29:7-10; Lev 8:12, 30); the kings were anointed with oil to rule God’s people (e.g. 1 Sam 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39). The word “Messiah” in Hebrew, or “Christ” in Greek, means “the anointed one”. So, in a way, all of these prophets, priests, and kings that came before Jesus Christ were anointed ones, types of Christ, pointing to the One who was to come. Let’s look at these.
1. Jesus is our Prophet
When we think of the great prophets of the Old Testament – we think of Moses and Elijah. Their ministry was one of bringing God’s Word to the people. Moses delivered the Law of God – the great commandments of love. Elijah, brought a Word to Israel recalling them to the true God in the midst of an idolatrous age, where most had become followers of Baal. Both of them suffered for it and through both of them God worked miracles to confirm their anointing as God’s prophets. Jesus is the ultimate Prophet of God. He brings us the Good News from His Father. Luke recalls His first words of his public ministry in a synagogue. Jesus was handed the book of Isaiah, and he searched for the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (made me Messiah) to preach good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:17-18) Jesus is God’s Prophet. He speaks the Word, He is the Word, and his ministry was accompanied by signs, by miracles, in affirmation of, and as demonstration of, his office. When people witnessed the signs that he did they said, rightly, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (e.g. John 6:14) meaning, the one Moses told the people would come. (Deuteronomy 18:18) In Christmas season, we will look at one of the most important passages of the whole of the Bible: John 1:1-14. Here John concludes that Jesus is the eternal Word, made flesh – the very embodiment of the Word of God. There is no other messenger needed, we don’t need other prophets to confuse us, we don’t need the Buddha to kill our desire. The fulness of God’s message to his people has come to us in the Gospel proclaimed by the Prophet of prophets Jesus Christ. As the only sinless man, and as the only Son of the Father, the One through whom all things are made, Jesus opens his mouth with the pure Words of Truth. Jesus is our Prophet, we need not look for another.
2. Jesus is our Priest
But the Word of Truth alone, does not save us. Along with the Ten Commandments given through Moses, God established a whole way under the Law of reconciling a humanity that could not attain to the high moral precepts of the Law of love. So, with the Word of Truth, the prophetic Word, must also be given a way of forgiveness or humanity will despair.
In the Old Covenant, this was the reason for the establishment of a cult with priests and sacrifices, along with the Commandments, so that God’s people would come to understand the great costliness of sin and that they might desire forgiveness and a clean heart. But it was a temporary way, a way pointing to the need for a better sacrifice that would change hearts forever. In the New Covenant, Jesus is God’s high priest, the one to whom all prior priests were but a figure of. (Hebrews 4-10) He intercedes for us with the Father. Jesus offers the sacrifice and he is the sacrifice for the sins of the world. At Christmas we remember that when the wise men came to the infant Jesus, they offered frankincense and myrrh. These referred to his office as a priest, as priests offered incense in the Temple, and the myrrh was to wrap his body for burial, signifying his future self-offering to reconcile the world. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world, he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Behold the sacrifice, and the priest who reconciles us. And we receive the benefits of this once for all sacrifice for us by faith, through Holy Baptism and at every service of Holy Communion. We need no other means to be reconciled with God. Paul says of Jesus, In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19, 20) Jesus is our Priest.
3. Jesus is our King
We are reconciled with God, through Christ our Prophet and Priest, but how will we live with others? Israel longed for the good king – David and Solomon, the greatest kings, both failed miserably, both morally and in leadership. The books of Samuel and of Kings are a sad history, reminding us not to put our trust ultimately in any earthly leader. And in our day, whether we are on the left or centre or right in politics, we long for leaders of countries who will finally speak what is just and what is true, and who will administer justice mingled perfectly with mercy, a ruler who will not abuse his or her power – neither neglecting responsibility to make tough decisions nor ruling tyrannically. We and the whole world in that longing, are longing for Jesus Christ.
In Advent we will hear of the King promised by God to reign over us: Unto us, a child is born, unto us, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
The New Testament proclaims that Jesus is that King. The third gift of the wise men to the infant Jesus was gold, a gift for a king. Jesus as both God and man is the only one who can fulfill the prophecy to rule forever. To listen to Him is to submit, to follow the Truth. Paul says, God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Col 1:13) Jesus it that perfect ruler for whom we long. We place ourselves under his feet in full submission because there is perfect rule. Practically, that means we submit to his laws of love, to his ways of judging and of showing mercy and forgiving, and to his ways of governing by the truth our own souls, our relations within our families and with our friends and enemies, within the Church and in society. This is what it is to pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven… it is to acknowledge Jesus as our King.
4. We become little Christs
And as we submit to Jesus’ benevolent rule, as we listen to His lively word, and as we trust in His perfect self-offering – we become like him, little Christs. Or as Peter says, a chosen people, a royal [kingly] priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may proclaim [be prophets of] the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. [1 Pet 2:9]
We become prophets like John the Baptist pointing to Jesus. We are reminded of this at Morning Prayer, when we say the Benedictus, that, you child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you shall go before the face of our Lord to prepare his ways, by giving knowledge of salvation to his people, through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring (Jesus Christ) from on high has visited us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)
We become priests when we intercede with the Father for other people in prayer and when we help to reconcile others to God and to each other. Paul says, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Cor 5:17-20)
We become royalty when we are made brothers and sisters of the King through baptism and faith. And we will exercise kingly rule in the world to come. John saw the elders sing a song about Jesus and those whom he has redeemed: you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
Jesus Christ is our prophet, priest, and king. And he says to us, As the Father sent me, so do I send you. (John 17:18; 20:21) To be prophets of the Highest, proclaiming his Word; to be ministers of reconciliation, his priests; and to live under and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. As we develop our mission in each of our churches in the coming year, let us recall that it stems from whom we have become in Christ.
In the love of Jesus, David