Jesus lifted up his eyes, and saw a large crowd coming towards him…
…And he said, “Have the people sit down.”
Today we are at the end of the Church Year. We’ve travelled one more time on earth around the sun. And the Son of God has shone on us. We’ve had placed before our eyes, Sunday by Sunday, and hopefully more and more during the week, during our every waking hour and sometimes 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, in the Sacraments, in our encounters with other people, who mirror something of the image and likeness; and inwardly, as we are inwardly illuminated by the Spirit of Christ shining in our hearts, confirming in us the truth we see outwardly. As we arrive at the final week of the year, I hope we have a greater picture before us of who Jesus is.
One Father in the early Church, Eusebius, from the early 4th century, summarized 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.EUSEBIUS, ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY, CH. 3, 8, NPNF 2, VOL 1, P. 86
Eusebius was the first to identify from Scripture the Threefold Office of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. The Prophets were anointed with the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word; the priests of the Old Testament were anointed with oil to minister at God’s altar [e.g. Aaron and his sons – Leviticus 8:12,30]; the kings were anointed with oil to rule God’s people [remember David anointed by Samuel]. 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, who were anointed ones were types of Christ, pointing to the One who was to come.
And our readings this morning for this final Sunday contain references to these aspects of who Jesus is. 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 Word for all time – the great commandments of love. Elijah, brought a Word to the people recalling them to the true God of Israel in the midst of an idolatrous age [most of Israel had turned to the worship 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 that Jesus first words in the synagogue were from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me [i.e. has made me Messiah] to preach good news to the poor.”
John goes further [John 1] to conclude Jesus is the eternal Word, made flesh – he is the embodiment of the Word of God. Jesus is God’s Prophet. He speaks the Word, He is the Word, and his ministry is accompanied by signs, by miracles, in affirmation of, and as demonstration of, his office as Prophet.
In this morning’s Gospel, after the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, [rightly,] “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” The Prophet whom Moses prophesied who would follow him. [Deut 18:18]
And after the past year of listening to His words, we are to come to the same conclusion. There is no other messenger needed, we don’t need another prophet 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. To know the truth does not enable us to follow it, and in fact, only shows our inability to love as God commands. We see this in the Old Covenant. Along with the Ten Commandments given through Moses, God established a whole means of reconciliation under the Law to reconcile a humanity that could not attain to the high moral precepts of the Law. So also, with the Word of Truth, the prophetic Word, must also be given a way of forgiveness, as Tim Strating so beautifully spoke of in his sermon last Sunday.
In the Old Covenant, this was the reason for the establishment of a cult with priests and sacrifices 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 to point to the need for a better sacrifice.
In the New Covenant, Jesus is God’s high priest, the one to whom all prior priests were but a figure of. He intercedes for us with the Father. Jesus offers the sacrifice and he is the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
John the Baptist introduces Jesus to the world. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Behold the sacrifice and the priest.
And in this morning’s Gospel we have again the multiplication of loaves and fishes and the feeding of the thousands. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he makes clear that these feeding miracles of thousands are pointing to the Eucharist that will feed the whole world.
“I am the bread which came down from heaven…in any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”JOHN 6:41, 51
We need no other means to be reconciled with God. Jesus is our high priest and offers, once for all, His life for the world. As Paul says this morning, For 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 1:20]
Jesus is our Prophet by revealing the his mysteries of love and He is our Priest reconciling us to the Father both by forgiveness through his self-offering (that we may be justified) and through the transforming in time of our souls and bodies to attain that high call of love (so that we may be sanctified).
3. Jesus is our King
Israel longed for the good king – David, the greatest king, a man after God’s own heart, also failed miserably (both in his moral life and in a failure of leadership that led to civil war during his lifetime). Solomon, the wisest ruler ever, failed miserably at the end of his life (resulting in the splitting of the kingdom upon his death). And the books of Samuel and of Kings are a history read year by year to remind us not to put our trust ultimately in any earthly leader. In the midst of the greatest corruption of earthly rule in Judah in the 6th century, God sent the Prophet Jeremiah to rekindle in the hearts of God’s people a desire for the perfect ruler. From today’s first reading:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”JEREMIAH 23:5
And in our day, whatever our political leanings – right or left or centre – 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 long for it, and we are not wrong to long for it. We are so amazed when it happens briefly on earth, because it is so infrequent, and so disappointed when the one we elect then shows him or herself to be like other leaders. We, and the whole world in that longing, are longing for Jesus Christ.
The New Testament proclaims that Jesus is that King. Paul says, God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son… [Colossians 1:13] When Jesus stood before Pilate, he said, My kingdom is not of this world… Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” [John 18:36-37]
Jesus it that perfect ruler whom we long for. 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 to his ways of governing by the truth our own souls, and our relations within our families and with our friends and our enemies. 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.
So the whole this year and coming year and the year following will be a proclamation and unfolding of how Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King… we need no other.
Tolkien, in his great work, The Lord of the Rings, portrayed this threefold ministry of Christ in three characters: Gandalf, the wise and miracle working prophet; Frodo the priest, who bears on behalf of Middle Earth the heavy burden of the ring of power and is ready to sacrifice his life; and Aragorn, the rightful king, returning to usher in a new era of peace and flourishing. And each us, as we follow Jesus Christ, begin to manifest something of this threefold ministry in ourselves.
As we place our trust in Jesus’ rule, as we submit to his lively word, 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]
In this morning’s Gospel – the bread and fish that Jesus gives points to His life which He gives for the life of the world. By Him each one of us has been and is being saved. But there is much left over – twelve baskets left over. We are filled with Christ, saved by him, but there is more – and our call in the coming year is to discern how we might share the superabundance of God’s grace that is spilling out beyond us – how do we share this with the world.
In June this year, All Saints’ Amersfoort has been launched out on its own – a mission of our church begun 5 years ago has been accomplished (though we continue to pray and support them and hold them in our hearts). And the church here on Sunday – has recovered at the 10:30am service from about 60 on a Sunday three years ago to about maximum capacity, around 100 – what is God calling us to next? When a church building is full, it ceases to grow. What is the solution – other service times? a building expansion? another building? These are questions we asked ourselves 5 years ago and made decisions which God has blessed. I ask your prayers in earnest for our church that we renew our vision for mission now and in the coming years. Council will meet this week – and we will no doubt be seeking the input of the congregation in coming months about that renewed vision for mission in Utrecht and Zwolle. We welcome your ideas.
Jesus Christ is our Prophet, Priest, and King. And he says to us, As the Father sent me, so do I send you. 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. Let us prepare ourselves for this now by uniting our lives, our souls and bodies, with Jesus Christ through repentance and faith in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood given for us.