Theme: A Priesthood and Nation
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the Lord’s abiding presence with his people, even in the midst of great trials and hardships.
Scripture: Psalm 114:1-8
Although it is true that no other nation has ever been constituted a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, there is a people that has, and that people is the church, the people of God. The reason for it is the same, namely the presence of God in our midst. Do you remember how Peter referred to it in his first letter? Thinking of Exodus 19:6, and possibly Psalm 114:2, Peter wrote of the church, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
How is that possible? How do we, the church, become God’s sanctuary and dominion? We become a royal priesthood because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of every Christian. We become a dominion because of Jesus’ rule over us as King.
1. A royal priesthood. Jesus Christ is the great priest, our high priest. He became that by the sacrifice of himself on our behalf, becoming both the sacrifice and the priest who offers the sacrifice, and he continues as our great high priest in heaven by interceding for us before the throne of God the Father.
We have an example in Jesus’ intercession for Peter. Peter had boasted that although the other disciples might forsake Jesus he, Peter, would stand by him. But Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31, 32). That is what happened. Later that same evening Peter was frightened by Jesus’ arrest and denied him three times when challenged in the courtyard of the high priest. But his faith did not fail. When what he had done became clear to him, Peter was mortified and wept bitterly. He was humbled. It was a much stronger Peter who bowed before the Lord in Galilee and was recommissioned by him to his service (John 21:15-19).
It is in this area of intercession that you and I, the members of the church, are priests. We cannot offer our lives on behalf of other people for their salvation, as Jesus did. Only he is the Savior. But we can pray for others and be heard, as Jesus was. And we can also offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, which is what Paul urges in Romans 12:1, 2. In this way, it is not only Israel that was God’s sanctuary. We are too.
2. A holy nation. We are also a nation of those in whom Jesus Christ rules. The book of Revelation says,
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Rev. 5:10).
How shall we reign? By serving others, for that is how Jesus rules in our midst. He does not lord it over us as a tyrant. Rather, he works for our good. Our rule is found not in privilege but in responsibility.
If it is the essence of poetry to capture a great deal of substance in a small space and in memorable language, then the second stanza of Psalm 114 (like the other stanzas) is wonderfully poetic. In four lines it captures the whole of the desert experience, after the people had been called out of Egypt by God.
The first line refers to the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of the journey, when the people were still being pursued by the Egyptians. As Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, a strong east wind began to blow which drove the sea back, turning the sea bottom into dry land. The people crossed over in the morning, after which the wind ceased, the sea returned and the pursuing armies of the king of Egypt were drowned. The second line of the stanza refers to the driving back of the waters of the Jordan River so the people could pass into Canaan at the end of their desert years. The last two lines (v. 4) refer to the trembling of the earth when God came down on Mount Sinai to give the people his law. The text says, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” (Exod. 19:18, 19). The book of Hebrews reports, “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear”” (Heb. 12:21).
In what sense do we have a holy nation today?
Give an example of Jesus’ priesthood.
How are we called to rule?
What is the theme of the second stanza of this psalm? What period of time does the stanza capture?
Reflection: Do you reign as Jesus did, by serving others? How can you demonstrate such service to people around you?
Prayer: Thank God today that we can come before him in prayer for others as Jesus did for us.
For Further Study: Knowing that we are God’s people provides comfort when we are called to go through circumstances that are painful and which we do not understand. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Amazing Ways of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)