Where is the God of glory? Where is the God who is surrounded by angels, who is brilliant in light? Where is the God whom to know is life itself? Can you by walking or riding in a car or an airplane come before God? Of course, you can’t. There is nowhere upon earth or in space that we can travel and enter into God’s presence. There is nowhere that the throne room of God may be accessed by you or me in an earthly manner.
Because God is separated and distant from us, there are some people who deny that He exists. “Show me,” they say, “and I will believe. Unless you can prove God’s existence I will not accept it.” Those are atheists. They do not believe in God.
Yet every day, even those who would claim to believe in God often live as though there is no God. They act as though God does not exist, as though God does not see, and as though God is not present. Even you and I are tempted to forget about God and ignore Him in our lives. “God is nowhere,” the atheist cries, and many of our words and actions agree with his statement.
Where is the God of glory? I cannot show Him to you because He has exiled us from His presence. I cannot demonstrate to you the magnificence of God’s presence because we are separated from God. There is a barrier between man and God—a barrier that has been in place since the fall of Adam in Paradise. This barrier is a direct result of man’s sin against God.
Here is where the priest enters. Already in Paradise the role of priest was active. Adam was a priest, although he did not do what we commonly think of priests doing—offering a sacrifice for sin—because there was no sin. Since a priest deals with the people’s approach to God, Adam’s fall into sin increased our need for a priest. We need a priest in order to reconcile us to God. Our sin is a barrier between ourselves and the sinless, holy God; it is the problem that you and I have. God will not allow sin or sinners in His presence. Something must happen to resolve the problem of sin in our lives. The priest is responsible to make that something happen: he must present the sacrifice for sins, so that man may again approach unto God.
The Bible sets this forth throughout its thousands of pages, but we also see it in cultures throughout the world, throughout history. There is a recognition, of sorts, of a barrier between us and God, a barrier that can be removed only by a sacrifice. The offering of sacrifices to appease a deity is found throughout the world, and it is based on the historical connection that every human has to Adam and Eve. We are separated from God. God’s Word clearly shows that the soul that sins shall die, and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.
Because of these facts, the Old Covenant had many priests and many sacrifices. These all looked upward and forward to our only true High Priest. They did not actually accomplish anything themselves with regard to the sin-barrier, but they clearly pointed to the One who would remove the sin-barrier. The barrier always existed, as exemplified by the thick curtain that hung in the Jewish temple between the Most Holy Place of God’s earthly presence and the Holy Place and beyond.
Jesus’ work of redemption is founded in the reality of priesthood. It is not only that of prophet and teacher, which is bloodless. Modern man often wants to focus only on a muted prophetic/teaching office of Jesus, but biblical religion requires the shedding of blood, the messy office of priest. This is because our sin is what separates us from God, and sin is messy. God declared that the soul that sins shall die. Because Jesus died for us, in our place, we can now come before God.
Come Because of His One Sacrifice
A sacrifice represented a substitute taking the penalty for the sin of the one who brought the sacrifice. It was not the government that supplied the sacrifice, nor did the priest or prophet supply it; it was the one who was coming to worship God, the one who was seeking to approach God. It was the sinner who brought the sacrifice, because the sacrifice represented a substitute taking the penalty for his sin. Often in the Old Covenant the one who was bringing the sacrifice would lay his hands on the sacrifice, making even clearer the transfer of guilt from him to the sacrifice.
The priest would then offer the sacrifice. The priest was trained in the right way to offer it. This is what Jesus did. Jesus offered a sacrifice. He offered it exactly as God desired it to be offered, exactly so that the substitute would take the penalty for the sin of the one who needed the sacrifice offered. What was the sacrifice Jesus offered? It was not a bull or a goat. Nowhere in the Gospel accounts do we have recorded that Jesus presented an animal sacrifice. He offered His own body as the sacrifice; this is what no other priests had ever done.
Throughout the Old Testament we read of priests who were corrupt, who would try to advance their own interests. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, for example, stole the choice of the meat from the offerings. They fornicated with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. They sought only their own interests and pleasures as they executed the office of priest, abusing the office. But when Jesus came, He did not seek to serve Himself. He was the Lord of Glory Himself who came as servant, offering Himself as a sacrifice. Among a race of priests that sought pleasure and promotion, Jesus came, offering Himself, willingly. Disregarding the unfaithful priests from the midst of the human race, Jesus came and offered Himself, rather than an animal, as a sacrifice. He sacrificed His own body; He shed His own blood. This is one reason why it is through faith in Jesus’ blood that we are forgiven our sins: because His own blood was the key sacrifice He offered to reconcile us to God.
Let us turn our gaze away from the selfish, gluttonous priests of Israel to ourselves. We might wring our hands when there is selfishness and greed and lust in the high offices of government, but we are not guiltless. Your town may seem like a very moral place filled with salt-of-the-earth people, but the same disease is in our hearts by nature that is in the heart of every corrupt politician. It was not simply because the Jewish priests were wicked that Jesus came as our high priest. It was not merely because we had corrupt leaders that Jesus came to be a faithful leader. It was because we needed Him to offer a sacrifice. We needed a sacrifice to be offered for us. It was for us that Jesus died, that He offered this sacrifice. We were guilty, not Jesus. We deserve death because of our sins. Jesus offered the sacrifice for us, and because of this, we are free. He set us free. We read in Hebrews 9:12 that Jesus obtained eternal redemption. Redemption means to buy back; it means we were bought back. We were purchased from the destruction that was the penalty for our sin, set free from that bondage. This, too, never happened before in the history of mankind. It did not happen with the sacrifices the heathen offered; it did not happen with the sacrifices that the Jewish priests offered. Never had true and complete freedom resulted from a sacrifice.
There are some who like to compare the sacrifice of a soldier to the sacrifice of Jesus. Some time ago I heard a song on a Christian radio station that did just this: the singer was remembering a soldier in a film she had seen who climbed up a hill, fought, and died in a fight for freedom. But there is a world of difference between a human soldier, fighting and dying in a human war, and the death of the Son of God. The death of our soldiers is a great sacrifice, a wonderful work for which we as citizens are very thankful, but it has no comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus. Those who die in our wars are humans, sinful by nature, under God’s wrath by nature, bound in the darkness of sin by nature. The sacrifice of our only High Priest Jesus was that of Himself, the sinless, righteous, holy, perfect, glorious Son of God.
If a man who had murdered ten children stood before a judge, and the judge were to order that a bug be stepped on in place of that criminal being punished, we would be outraged, and rightfully so. Should a murderous man escape death because a bug was killed in his place? What does that say about the value of the precious children whom that man murdered? But consider the opposite; what if a man willingly offered to die in the place of a worm that someone planned to use for fishing bait. There, we are outraged at the opposite valuation—that a man would offer to die to save a worm. Of what value is a worm? Of what value is a worm compared to a man? Yet, consider what Jesus did. He is the Son of God; He is God the Son, and He willingly suffered and died in the place of wretched sinners like you and me. He sacrificed Himself to set us free.
Because of this, the sufferings of Jesus have infinite value and are more than sufficient to satisfy God’s justice so that those for whom He died are set free. Christ set us free by the one sacrifice of His body. Because of the value of the person who offered Himself, because of the glory of our only High Priest, we are set free. This is God’s promise to all those who trust in Jesus and believe in Him. Through His sacrifice, you have forgiveness of all your sins.
Come Because of His Continuing Intercession
Hebrews speaks of Jesus having entered into the Most Holy Place, the true Most Holy Place of God’s presence in heaven. It is there that Jesus intercedes for us. Jesus “pleads our cause,” as the catechism says, which does not mean that we have a case that simply needs to be presented by someone who has connections or by someone who is more eloquent that we are, but that Jesus pleads for our advantage based upon His own merits, not our own (for we have none).
The infinite value of Christ’s one sacrifice supplies the basis for His continuing work. Jesus offered the infinitely valued sacrifice of Himself, and now He intercedes on the basis of that sacrifice. He presents before God what He has done. It is not as though God the Father must be “won over” to be on our side. It was the Father’s love for us that prompted Him to send Jesus to die for us. It is that God’s justice must be satisfied, and it is His own sacrifice that satisfies God’s justice that Jesus pleads.
No more sacrifice is needed. However, this sacrifice must be applied to us. Eternal life does not reside within us; true and perfect righteousness is not something we can supply, even after we have been Christians our whole lives. We are continually, constantly in need of God’s grace in Christ. Jesus pleads His merits on our behalf, so that God’s grace continues to us throughout our lives.
It is a human-based religion that says, ‘all we need is to hear about the gospel, for then it is up to the individual to believe it and by his believing it to be saved.’ It is a God-based, biblical religion that says, ‘we need to hear about the historical gospel, but then God Himself must create faith within our hearts so that we believe in this gospel and through faith receive the blessings of the Christ of the gospel. We need God to change us. We need God to act for us and within us. We need God to keep us in the grace into which He has brought us. It is not primarily my acting; it is primarily God’s acting.’
Christ’s intercession is His pleading our cause with the Father so that the gospel is proclaimed to God’s chosen ones, so that the Holy Spirit is now sent to God’s elect, so that God works within us that which Christ has purchased for us by His death on the cross. We would not have the in-working of what Christ worked-out if Christ were not still actively living, actively pleading for us with the Father.
The same Son of God who offered Himself on Calvary’s cross for you is now the one who prays for you. Do you worry about the economy or the harvest? Do you worry about what someone will think or say about you? Do you worry about the evils in our world affecting you or your children? Do you worry that your troubles and temptations and trials will overwhelm you? All of these things would be beyond us, but we are not alone. We are not left to ourselves. Jesus is interceding for us. Find solace in Christ’s intercession. He is pleading before the Father for you, that your faith will not fail, that your sins will always be forgiven, that you will always be God’s child, and that God will never deal with you in wrath. What do we need to fear, therefore, upon this earth? Nothing. What do we need to fear from the world, our flesh, or the devil? Nothing. God is for us; who can be against us? Christ is pleading your cause with God Almighty; what have you to fear? Fear not. Worry not.
Come Presenting Ourselves for Service
We have been set free by Christ’s sacrifice so that we should serve the living God. We present ourselves for service to God. Christ has offered Himself; Christ continues to plead for us; we are freed to love God and neighbor. That is our service.
There is no need to shed our blood in this sacrifice in order to pay for our sins. Christ’s blood has been shed to pay for our sins; we no longer need any shedding of blood. All the blood-shedding ceremonies are done away with—the sacrifices of animals as well as circumcision. However, sacrifices are still made. Peter said we offer “spiritual sacrifices.”
Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross. We are freed to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We are freed to live as Adam was supposed to live before the fall. God created us to serve Him; Adam’s fall into sin ruined that and introduced the need for a sacrifice to bring reconciliation; Christ’s work of redemption supplied the needed sacrifice, and He has reconciled us to God. Now you and I live according to what we were created to do, because we were redeemed unto it: live for God!
You have been cleansed from acts that lead to death; you have been cleansed so that you may serve the living God. This is what no animal sacrifice could ever do; this is what no sacrifice of sinful man could ever do; but this is exactly what the sacrifice of the Son of God has done. You have been cleansed; you have been forgiven; you can now serve the living God! You live, therefore, not in order to become cleansed, to become a priest, but you live as a priest, as one who has been cleansed.
You share in Christ’s anointing as priest. Your sharing is not to shed your blood for sins but to offer your life—alive, moment by moment—to the Lord in service. John Calvin had as his motto, “My heart I offer to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.” That is the core of your calling as a priest: to present yourself to God as a living sacrifice of thanks.
What is it that hinders you from serving God? Are you ashamed about your past, ashamed because of the sins you committed as a teenager, as a young adult, the sins you committed five years ago or even yesterday? Seek forgiveness in the shed blood of Christ and know that you have been cleansed of those sins, cleansed so that you can now present yourself to Him as a living sacrifice of thanks. Receive the cleansing of your conscience that comes from Christ alone. God truly forgives all the sins of those who trust in Christ. Having been cleansed, live for Him!
The apostle Peter exhorts us as priests, as aliens, and strangers in the world, to keep away from sinful desires, to live such good lives that others may see our good deeds and glorify God. You are a priest, offering a spiritual sacrifice. Keep away from sinful desires! You have been separated unto priestly service for God. You are a priest, offering a spiritual sacrifice. Are you living so that others see your good deeds and glorify God? Know that Christ has offered Himself to cleanse you from your sins. Know that you share in Christ’s anointing so that you are commissioned to live a thankful life. Know that Christ is pleading for you so that you are empowered to live a thankful life.
Rev. Talman Wagenmaker is the pastor of Grace United Reformed Church, Waupun, Wisconsin.