Sermon November 2, 2014

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

November 2, 2014
Laity Sunday

“Everyone a Priest”

I Peter 2:4-10

We’ve just finished a sermon series on the Five Solas. Those were five essential beliefs of Christianity which have come down to us from the Protestant Reformation. They were written in Latin and the word sola means only or alone. They were like mottos or catchphrases that the Protestant Reformation identified as foundational statements of a true understanding of the Christian faith. The five solas were Sola Scriptura – scripture alone; Solus Christus – Christ alone; Sola Gratia – grace alone; Sola Fide – faith alone; and Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory. I think it was important to study these five theological statements because we want to know what we believe. Our faith today is built on those foundations.

Now, I hope you will allow me to continue our excursion into reformation history. It just so happens that this last Friday, Halloween, was also Reformation Day. The next day, November 1st, was All Saints’ Day, when we remember and celebrate the men and women who have gone before us in the faith. And so Halloween was originally Hallowed Eve, the day before All Saints’ Day. And long before there was anything called Halloween, October 31st was Reformation Day.

There are a number of great names associated with the Reformation, but none looms larger than Martin Luther. Though he was a professor of biblical studies, his soul was tormented, desperately seeking an assurance of his salvation. Luther discovered that assurance in scripture, while studying the books of Romans and Galatians. He was convinced that salvation is by grace alone, completely apart from any good works on our part. We are justified, made righteous, by the work of Christ alone.

A natural conclusion from the Five Solas is another central Reformation belief called – the priesthood of all believers. This is the conviction that we do not need to go through a priest to reach God. We all have equal access to God’s forgiveness and grace and love. All of this led to Luther nailing his 95 Theses, his 95 theological beliefs, to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. And as they say – the rest is history.

Today in our congregation, this is Laity Sunday. For us this has always been an occasion for the people in the pew to say something about what the church means to them. It seems entirely fitting on this Sunday closest to Reformation Day to say something about the important Reformation belief in the priesthood of all believers.
Our scripture text from I Peter speaks very directly to the issue of our identity as Christians. It’s as if it is speaking pointedly to the question – Who am I? It starts with a very direct answer – “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”

Peter uses Old Testament language, descriptions of Israel, and applies them to the Christian church. Peter says – you are a chosen race. That is right out of the book of Isaiah where God calls Israel: “My chosen people, the people whom I have formed for myself.” In the previous paragraph Peter described Christ as one rejected by men but chosen and precious to God. Now, a few sentences later, this is his first description of the church.

This connection would not be missed by Peter’s readers. He writes to people who were suffering persecution and hardship for their faith. Christianity was an outlawed religion. As these persecuted and powerless Christians wondered what would become of them, they were given new hope when they heard themselves referred to as chosen by God.

I Peter gives us two insights into the priesthood of all believers. The first is in verse 5, which says that we are “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

In the Old Testament there were two primary roles for priests: to offer sacrifices and to lead in praise. In this capacity priests were acting as intermediaries for the people with God. However with the coming of Christ all of that changed. We no longer need to go to a priest in order to reach God. We are at all times in the presence of God. We can speak directly to God. And Jesus Christ is the only mediator we need.

The book of Hebrews describes Christ as the perfect priest who “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” which was himself. Today, sacrifice takes on a different meaning. As a holy priesthood, with each of us as a priest, we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Rather than bringing offerings intended to make us right with God or to save us from sins, we are responding to God’s gracious salvation through Jesus Christ.

What should our sacrifices be? The Psalmist encourages us: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord.” Paul advises us: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” All that we say and do is our offering to God. What we offer is ourselves.

The second point is in verse 9 where Peter says: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Nowhere else in scripture do we find a clearer statement of what the church is all about. This reminds us of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – “You are the light of the world … Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So the work of a priest today, you and me, is to declare God’s great worth, to testify to God’s goodness, out of our own experience of salvation. In Peter’s analogy we are together the spiritual house of God. But as the people of God we are not to be huddled behind the church walls, but sent out beyond them to live out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Peter has said that we are a royal priesthood; each of us is a priest of God. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, which means – bridgebuilder. A priest is one who builds a bridge for others to come to God. That’s our job. If we are priests, then we are priests for someone. Indeed, our words and our actions, our very lives, are to be a bridge by which others may draw close to God. Peter says, if you are chosen people, you are chosen in order that you may reveal God to the world. We have been called out of the world in order that God might send us into the world in Christ’s name. That’s what it means to be part of Christ’s church.

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