July / August 1995 The President’s Column – YE ARE A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD 1:As such we Christians enjoy undeserved blessings, and, 2:As such we Christians show our thankfulness by our works
From the July / August 1995 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
The President’s Column
In Christ Jesus, our only Savior, my dear fellow-believers!
Those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and strive with the aid of the Holy Spirit to reveal that faith in their lips and deeds are not regarded very highly by the unbelieving world! When the apostles were brought before the council of the Jews, we recall how they were severely whipped and commanded not to preach any more about Jesus (Acts 5). And so great was the hatred of the Jews against Stephen, that they refused to hear any more of his testimony; instead, they took him outside the walls of Jerusalem and stoned him to death (Acts 7). The Apostle Paul also experienced the bitter hatred of the unbelieving Jews time and time again (see Acts 21:31). In fact, all down through the history of the Church the true believing children of God through faith in Christ have been the object of the world’s bitter hatred, ridicule, and scorn. This had been foretold by our dear Savior who reminded His disciples, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). We must remind ourselves that the message which we publicly proclaim in our congregations and privately confess in our daily lives is foolishness unto the unbelieving world (1 Cor. 1:18ff.). Even the very presence of a sincere Christian often disturbs the conscience of the unbeliever since he is thereby reminded of his sin and the coming judgment. Although the world has little left over for the true Christians, the Lord God has bestowed unspeakably great blessings upon the Christians whom He loves very dearly. For it is only to the Christians that the Lord says –
YE ARE A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD
1=As such we Christians enjoy undeserved blessings, and,
2=As such we Christians show our thankfulness by our works
The Apostle Peter reminds the Christians of their high honor and their royal dignity. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” When we look at the context we observe that the Apostle refers to the Christians “as lively stones,” which “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (v.5). Thus he pictures the Christians as “living stones” of a “spiritual house”: that is, the temple of God or the Holy Christian Church. The fact that the believer is a believer in Christ as his Savior from sin makes him a “living stone” in that spiritual building. Now the believer does not stand alone, but is a member of the Holy Christian Church, together with all the believers in Christ, as the Apostle Paul states in his Epistle to the Galatians, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). And also in his Epistle to the Ephesians, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19).
Look at the terms which the Apostle Peter uses to impress upon us the glorious blessings which He has bestowed upon us! “A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” Let no one think that the Apostle is speaking of the Jews as a political entity as though all of the Jews were still the chosen people of God! O how often we hear and read such language within Protestantism today. The opinion is held by many so-called “evangelicals” that since the Jews are still God’s chosen people God has given them back their land and according to these Biblical manipulators of some Old Testament passages torn out of context, it is their inalienable right to take possession of the entire land of Israel which the Lord had given to their father, Abraham. But what saith the Scriptures? “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom. 9: 6-8). The Jews, as a political entity, are no longer God’s chosen people! His chosen people are those whom He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world and who in the course of time were brought to faith by God the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and were thus made members of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, this glorious Temple of which Christ Himself is the Corner Stone. Therefore all these terms employed by the Apostle here in our text describe the Christians, the believing remnant of the Jews and the believing Gentiles, as a unit belonging together. And what unifies them is their faith in Christ, the Corner Stone. Here there “is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
All those who are living stones in this temple are spiritual priests. In the Old Testament the priesthood was limited to the house of Aaron – now the priesthood consists of all those who are dressed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus. Whether an individual has been a Christian the greater part of his life or is newly converted – such an one is a royal priest in the sight of God. Being royal priests we Christians now have direct access to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament only the priests were entrusted with the duty of mediation for others. Under penalty of death, everyone but the priest was forbidden to function in the Holy Place. We need only think of the example of King Uzziah whose heart was lifted up with pride. In spite of the vigorous protests of Azariah the priest and the other priests who told him, “It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the Lord God,” he stubbornly persisted and “while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar.” Thus he suffered the consequences of his disobedience by being “a leper unto the day of his death” (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
All this has been done away with. The vail of separation in the temple has been torn asunder (Luke 23:45) and we Christians no longer require an earthly mediator! “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Not so, the Roman hierarchy insists, we must approach God through a specific human priesthood, namely, that priesthood which it has established to reconcile men to God through teachings spun out of its own head. But God says otherwise! The Apostle writes that in Christ Jesus our Lord “we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (Eph. 3:12). “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5), “by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).
What glorious blessings we Christians enjoy! Here there is forgiveness of sin. The past is all forgiven and forgotten. The Christian can declare, “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back” (Is. 38:17). Here there is peace of mind and heart. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Here there is the promise of comfort in the time of tribulation and distress. For thus saith the Lord, “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Is. 43:1,2). Here there is the promise of an everlasting life in the joys of heaven with Jesus our dear Savior who assures us, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” (John 11: 25,26). Are these not glorious blessings!
And what have we done to earn and merit such blessings? Note the answer of the Apostle Peter in our text! …”Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” How this should humble us! These glorious blessings were not earned or merited by us. No, indeed, our rightful lot was nothing but punishment – temporal and everlasting punishment. For we have to confess with the Psalmist, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). By nature we were in spiritual darkness – spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. We were inclined only toward evil, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). Had it not been for the love of our dear heavenly Father who gave His only begotten Son who fulfilled the Law perfectly in our stead, suffered and died as our Substitute, then we would be forever lost. For “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Not only do we have this comforting message before us in the Gospel, but God the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith in our hearts so that we trust and rely, rejoice and take comfort, in Jesus our dear Savior. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3: 5-7). Therefore we must declare with the Apostle John, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” (Rev. 1: 5,6).
As we meditate and ponder upon these marvelous and undeserved blessings as royal priests in the sight of God, this should not leave our hearts cold, lifeless and indifferent. On the contrary, as such royal priests we Christians must now show our thankfulness by our works! Is this not what the Apostle writes in crystal-clear language? “That ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” The Lord has not delivered us from sin, death and hell, to an inactive state; on the contrary, if there are no fruits of faith, there is no genuine faith, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). True faith is a living and vibrant thing which can not remain bottled up within the heart but willingly expresses itself in works. Look at the example of Peter and John who declared, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Likewise the Apostle Paul exclaims, “for the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:14).
Nor have we been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light to continue in sin! When we observe the speech and behavior of many who call themselves Christians it would appear that they have allowed themselves to be controlled by this lie from the father of all lies (John 8:44). We are reminded of the words which the Lord spoke to the children of Israel in the Old Testament through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My Name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:9,10). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Why? “Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” … “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:15-22).
There must be the sincere desire and intention on the part of the Christian, if he is sincere in his faith, to please Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Look at the example of the Apostle Paul who declared, “for what I would, that do I not” … “for the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:15,19). While our new man, which the Holy Ghost has brought into being at the time of our conversion, “cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9), there is still our sinful flesh which hinders our sincere desire and intention to serve God as we should. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). But, let there be no mistake, he who uses this as an excuse to live in the works of the flesh is certainly no Christian! For this same Apostle writes, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).While we Christians are to strive to please Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light we are, at the same time, aware that our striving after such holiness of living never reaches perfection in this life, but only in the life to come. We must confess with the Apostle, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:19,20). Consequently, we daily approach the Throne of Grace with the Fifth Petition on our lips, “Forgive us our trespasses.” For “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). When our hearts condemn us because of our sins (1 John 3:21), how thankful we can be that God comforts our hearts with His sweet Gospel, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)
The Apostle urges us to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” This, my dear fellow-believers, governs every aspect of our lives. Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). It should not be forgotten that the showing forth of the praises of God is done not only by words but also by deeds. For by our good works we Christians draw attention to the merciful and loving God “who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). In the home husband and wife should give expression of their faith, the wife submitting herself unto her own husband, as it is fit in the Lord, and the husband loving his wife even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it (Col. 3:18,19; Eph. 5:25). What negative testimony is given when husband and wife constantly quarrel; when the husband is a tyrant who verbally abuses his wife and shows her no consideration and kindness but treats her as a slave instead of as a co-heir of eternal life; when the wife continually nags her husband and belittles him so that the husband expresses his feelings in the words of the wise man, “It is better to dwell in the corner of the house top, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house” (Prov. 25:24). Parents and children should show forth the praises of the Lord, the children honoring and obeying their parents as God’s representatives, and the parents teaching and urging their children to walk in the way of God’s Commandments. What negative testimony is given when we observe children impudently disrespectful of their parents and the parents tolerating such impudence without correction.
From the home to the work-place, social and recreational activities, we should at all times remember our high and noble calling and daily ask our dear heavenly Father for Jesus’ sake to grant us His Holy Spirit that we may strive in an ever greater measure to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” Amen.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor M. L. Natterer, President