Bonus March 2016 Text.
In Numbers 17 we have a very late story about power – not God’s power but the power and authority claimed by Israel’s priests. At times in Israel’s past, people questioned the authority and even the need for priests. So Bible scholars tell us that in this text we have one story that priests used to try support their authority and to demand Israel’s obedience to the priests.
We’ve spoken before about problems with the idea of priesthood and why we don’t have priests in our church today. That’s because the task of a priest is to stand between God and the people and to control the people’s relationship to God. The priest stands above the people and uses his authority to decide who can approach God and when. But because we all have a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ, and because Jesus is our mediator, we don’t need human priests. That’s why we have pastors, but not priests.
It’s true that pastors still have special responsibilities in the church, especially to teach, to guide, to care, and to serve. But their job is never to raise themselves above others, or to block their path to God. In the same way, nor are church members or elders ever to raise themselves up over pastors. In Christ these types of hierarchies disappear. Together in Christ we are all equal brothers and sisters. And because of Christ we see how misguided the ideas of the Old Testament priests were.
It’s no surprise that the pharisees and priests didn’t think Jesus was holy. They had grown up in a religion where holiness led to exclusion and rejection. For the priests, because God was holy he needed to be protected from ordinary sinful people. But God the Son never hides away from us sinners. He allows sinners to come close to him, eat with him, and even touch him! In God the Son we see the truth: God isn’t afraid of sin, and he certainly doesn’t need priests to protect him from people!
This is the good news that the priests couldn’t understand. It’s not deadly for us to approach God, like we read in Numbers 17. On the contrary, God invites each of us to come into his open arms today.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis