We are the “seed” of God’s image (part 3 of 4), the Priest

picture1The serious student of Scripture may be interested in what follows, but a lighter true story first might help remind us of how quickly we can fail and how much we need the Lord to make us truly clean for relationship.  After all, if we are to be God’s fruit, we must be clean.

Unlike my college, our seminary had no cafeteria.  But I liked to eat and soon learned the joy of cooking to gather others together, too.  I’d baked cookies, made chili and soup, and a few other basics for the guys in the dorm, and the aroma always brought us together around the table in the kitchen.  So I thought, “Let’s make a whole meal and invite some of our professors who live on campus!”  My fellow students liked the idea.  The profs had often had us in their homes for dinner, so we would return the kindness.

Spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread seemed easy enough.  But for 25-30?

All of us chipped in for the groceries, and we easily doled out who would prepare what. But our kitchen wasn’t designed to serve bigger meals.  We would have to cook the noodles and sauce in two different buildings.  And since I had initiated the whole thing, I was trying to supervise everything.

Time flew by so quickly.  Just before our guests were to arrive I thought I smelled something burning.  It was the noodles.  Apparently we had let some of them sit in the bottom of the pot without stirring them.

I frantically poured them into a colander, separated the burned ones, and rinsed the rest with hot water to try to wash away the burnt flavor.  Thankfully, the sauce turned out really well, and we had plenty of parmesan cheese and strong garlic bread to compensate for the poor pasta.

Everyone came together around the tables and seemed to enjoy the meal, but I could tell they appreciated the fellowship much more.  Ultimately, it was the Lord’s work in their spirits (not ours in the kitchen) that brought His people together.

I was powerfully struck by some reminders of grace that day:  a good sauce and washing can mask ruin, but only God can wash us to bring us together for real relationship with Him and His people.  And we serve best when we point to His grace that will one day bring us together around His table forever. (Isaiah 25:6-9, Matthew 22, Revelation 19, etc.)

 

In the devotional thought today, we explore the significance of God as our Priest.  He sees our ruin but does not merely mask it.  He perfectly washes us by His blood (Revelation 7:14), and He created us to live in His image as priests:  truly clean and bearing fruit for God by pointing them to Christ who brings others together by His work to forgive and change them.

If you’ve been following this series in “Fruitful Fridays”, you know that we are studying what it means to be the fruit of God’s image and to bear fruit for Him.  If you haven’t read the earlier post, “Life always starts with Seed”, I recommend that you start there.   It provides foundational material, but parts 1 – 4 don’t necessarily need to be read in order.

So far, we’ve seen that the Lord revealed Himself from the very beginning as holy for relationship, as Prophet, and now as Priest.  You may have heard it said, “the devil is in the details”.  But in Scripture Jesus is in the details, washing us by His blood to bring us together for real relationship with God and His people.  Let’s look.

Maybe the most commonly known foreshadowing of Jesus work as Priest in the creation account is Genesis 3:15.  God cursed the serpent and declared that his offspring would bruise the woman’s offspring (the original Hebrew word there is actually “seed”), but the latter would crush the serpent’s head.

There are two wonderful prophecies here.  First we need to remember that women don’t have “seed”.  But the statement was not an oversight.  It was the first prophecy of Christ’s birth by a virgin.  Notice, too, that Christ would be wounded, but the serpent would be crushed.  This points to how Jesus would die but rise again to defeat sin and death forever for His people.  He is our gracious, powerful Priest to defend us against our spiritual adversary and bring us together with God.  How?  He dies in our place as the pure sacrifice to satisfy God’s perfect righteousness.  “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Exodus 12:3-7, John 1:29, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:18-20, Revelation 5:6-8 and 22:1-3)

Secondly, notice that when Adam and Eve had rebelled against God and saw themselves as exposed (physically and spiritually), they had covered themselves by the work of their hands (Genesis 3:7).  But the Lord covered them Himself at the expense of another life (Genesis 3:21).  Again, this shows His work as their Priest covering their guilt by another’s death to bring them together with Him.  This also explains why God accepted Abel’s blood sacrifice but not the work of Cain’s hands (Genesis 4:1-5).  We need God’s perfect Priest and Sacrifice to make us truly clean for God.

Thirdly, the Lord’s command for Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:15 to “work” (לְעָבְדָ֖הּ, ‘cultivate’ or ’cause to bear fruit’) and “keep” (וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ, ‘carefully guard’) the Garden.  This alludes to priestly work.

How do we know this?

Those two Hebrew words occur only 14 times together in Scripture (Genesis 2:15, Numbers 3:7-8, 8:26, and 18:7, Deuteronomy 11:16, 12:30, and 13:4, Joshua 22:5, 2 Samuel 22:44, 1 Kings 9:6, Jeremiah 16:11, Hosea 12:12 and Malachi 3:14)  In all but Hosea 12:12, each of those usages explicitly describes priestly work of worship:  working to bear fruit for God because everything belongs to Him.  But don’t take my word for it.  Look up the passages.

But also note the larger message of Hosea.  It’s all about bearing fruit.  In fact, the prophet speaks to all of Israel but refers to them by one of its tribes: Ephraim, which means “fruitful”.  And the context of Hosea 12:12 is explicitly about God’s spiritual work on Israel’s behalf.  If you and I were fluent in Hebrew, we would understand the pairing of words in Genesis 2:15 immediately.

Lastly, the Lord reveals Himself as Priest in Genesis 1:1-5 in which God comes to the undeserving world by the grace of His eternal covenant.  And how can we know this for certain?

Again, a clear understanding of the creation account (like all other Scripture) is often clarified and confirmed by the consistent flow of themes throughout God’s Word and clear teaching by Christ and His Prophets and Apostles (Acts 2:42, Ephesians 2:19-21, 2 Peter 3:2, etc.).  One of those consistent, confirmed themes is the occurence of supernatural Light as a sign of God’s presence because of His covenant.

What is a covenant, and what difference does it make?  It’s how God guaranteed His love for people and illustrated His will for them to love sacrificially.  The most vivid pictures are in Jeremiah 34:18-20 and Genesis 15.

In the Jeremiah passage, we see the intent of a covenant and the consequence of breaking it.  Two men (usually one in a position of power and their subordinate) would make a binding agreement.  Then they would pass through two lines of animal-halves to symbolize, “If either of us breaks this agreement, that person will become as these animals.”  But ever more importantly, the Genesis passage shows us Who bore the consequence when God’s people break His covenant.  Notice who passed between the animal pieces:  only God in the form of a supernatural Light, one of His visble signs of His covenant.  In fact, every time we see a supernatural Light in Scripture it is God’s covenantal presence to His undeserving people.

In Exodus 3:2-6, the Lord comes to Moses in the supernatural Light of an unconsumed burning bush – even though Moses had just committed murder.  In Exodus 14:19-20 and 16:7-10, the Lord comes to Israel as a supernatural Light in the pillar of fire – even though they had doubted, complained, and wanted to go back to Egypt.  In Isaiah 6:1-8, the Lord appears to Isaiah with the (implied) supernatural Light of burning coals in His temple – even though Isaiah was “a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips”.  In Isaiah 9:2, the Lord prophesies that He will reveal Himself to the Gentiles as Light – even though they were still walking in darkness.  In Ezekiel 1:25-28 & 43:2, the Lord appears in the supernatural Light as a glowing figure on His throne – even though Israel was in exile for rebelling against Him.  In Matthew 17:2, Jesus is transformed and shines with a supernatural Light before Peter and three other disciples even though Peter still didn’t get Jesus’ message:  to go into the world with the Gospel.  In John 1:5-7 (as we’ve already seen) the Apostle John clarifies beyond any doubt that the Light in Genesis 1 showed that Christ comes to this world to save a people for Himself – even though we did not understand or receive Him initially.  In Acts 9:3-18, the resurrected Lord Jesus appears to (then) Saul in a blinding supernatural Light, saves him, and changes him so radically that He gives him a new name, “Paul” – even though he had been persecuting God’s people.  In Hebrews 1:1-3, Jesus is called the radiance of God – even though the audience of the writer is a group considering turning back to the rules of Judaism for self-righteousness.  And in Revelation 21:23, we are told that the new Earth does not even need the physical sun for light.  Why?  The Light of God’s people will be the Lamb: the symbol of His covenant in which He died in their place to make them clean and bring them together with God.

That’s a lot of fruitful information to digest.  But what does it mean for us?

First, Christians can be supremely confident in God’s love because of Jesus’ work as Priest for His eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20). He has not merely masked our ruin.  He has washed us by His perfect blood, so we cannot add or subtract from what He paid to reconcile us to God.  As Priest He continues to pray on our behalf to bring us close to God.  And, just as we see God commanding priests in the Old Testament to teach His word (Leviticus 10:8-11, 2 Kings 17:27, 2 Chronicles 15:3, Nehemiah 8:9, Micah 3:11, Malachi 2:1-9, etc.), by Jesus’ Spirit, He teaches us to love and live His Word.

Second, because He calls us to live in His image as priests (Exodus 19:6, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, 1 Peter 2:4-9, Revelation 1:6 and 5:10), we, too, must teach God’s Word to others.  We must point them to Christ as the sacrificial Lamb of God who brings us together with God.  And we must pray for them, knowing He hears, guides, and answers the prayers of His people for His glory.

Thirdly, we must be merciful and gracious to others as our Priest was merciful and gracious to us (Matthew 5:7, Colossians 4:6, and each of Paul’s letters that open with “Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus”).  We cannot believe and teach the Gospel of forgiveness of our sins if we do not forgive others’ sins against us.  This also reminds us that, like the Lamb who is our Lord, following Him will involve persecution, others taking advantage of us, being falsely accused, possibly even killed for our loyalty to Christ (Matthew 10:24-25, John 16:2, etc.)

And lastly, just as we see the pre-incarnate Christ in the supernatural Light of His covenant from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we are to be priests:  lights of Jesus’ covenant. In Matthew 5:14-16, the Lord called us to be the salt of the earth and light of the world because these are two physical images of His covenant.  We’ve seen that the supernatural Light in Scripture is a sign of God’s covenantal presence.  Leviticus 2:13 teaches us that the offerings of God’s covenant were also always to have salt.  Salt is a preservative, symbolizing that God will preserve His people.  Salt is a healing agent, reminding us of our Healer.  And, of course, salt brings flavor to life, encouraging us,  “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8).

There are many who still walk in darkness.  God calls His people to walk and talk as living light for them, pointing them to the Light of the world:  Jesus the perfect Priest who washes us perfectly and brings us together with God.

 

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