“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.
To our western understanding, the role of the priest in the Old Testament is a bizarre one. It was a role of religious leadership, appointed by God, but not in a way we would recognize today. It was a world of incense, slaughter, holy places, blood, temples – so foreign and even grotesque to our sanitized and polite religious understanding.
If you read through the Pentateuch you see priests as vital to the spiritual well being of God’s people because of their dedication, single-mindedness, and life-long devotion to serving God on behalf of the people. They did far more than burn incense and make sacrifices. While those acts were significant, even necessary, they represented something greater: worship. That was the primary role of the priests—to lead the people in the worship and celebration of God.
The priests were the keepers and teachers of the law. We might think of “the law” as cumbersome, legalistic, and dry. It wasn’t. It was a gift from God for His people, to show them how to follow Him, and priests were the teachers of it, the protectors of it, the reminders of it. The priests led the people in loving the Lord with all their hearts, souls, and strength. They helped the people remember Him when they lay down and when they got up.
Priests were worship leaders. They made joyous music before the Lord and led the people in it. They sang praises and lifted their voices. They sang songs about God’s great faithfulness—songs to help the people remember and trust. They called the people to do the same, and they led them in it.
Through all their service, the priests exemplified the very thing followers of God were called to: sacrifice. They didn’t just sacrifice animals on behalf of the people. Their very lives were sacrifices, wholly devoted to God. Every sacrifice made before God had to be acceptable, pure, unblemished. That is how priests sought to live their lives.
A priest was one of the people. Yes, he was appointed by God, but he was no different or better than anyone else. He was a normal person fully devoted to serving God, and in that service he led others to do the same in their daily lives. He served in the temple while his countrymen worked at their trades, but he set the tone and direction for life by teaching, praising, and sacrificing. And all of this was part of his call to lead his people in worship.
Written By Barnabas Piper