Welcome to The Daily Platform from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The school was founded in 1927 by the evangelist Dr. Bob Jones Sr. His intent was to make a school where Christ would be the center of everything, so he established daily chapel services. Today, that tradition continues with fervent biblical preaching from The University Chapel Platform.
Just over 500 years ago, in October 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, which is considered to be the beginning of the Reformation. For the next several days on The Daily Platform, we'll be studying some of these doctrines in a series called Truth Triumphs. Let's listen to today's message preached by Dr. Eric Newton, a seminary professor. The title of his message is The Priesthood of Every Believer. Let me invite you to turn your Bibles with me to Hebrews chapter 4, and we'll look at two passages today, starting with that one here in just a moment. We are continuing our Reformation series, Truth Triumphs, Why the Reformation Matters, and we've worked through the solas, so we have a couple more topics left. Our theme this morning is The Priesthood of All Believers. Now, you've probably heard of Scripture alone, and faith alone, and grace alone, and have a decent idea, hopefully a better idea, even now, of what those mean. The Priesthood of All Believers is a doctrine that most of us have heard of, but it's a little more unfamiliar. In fact, I've asked a few of you, what do you think this means? And I've gotten a few good answers. One person suggested that maybe we change the dress code so we'd all start wearing clothes like priests.
I told them that was a bad idea. What does this mean? Well, obviously this has a context. It's got a historical context in the Reformation.
It's an uncommon phrase for us. We think of ourselves in terms of congregations in the body of Christ. We think of our leaders in terms of shepherds, and teachers, and pastors, but priests, not so much. But we don't live in the 16th century. We have to remind ourselves that most of these reformers were themselves priests before coming to a more scriptural understanding.
Luther, Zwingli, Hugh Latimer, John Knox, Martin Butzer. Their religious world was filled with priests, and particularly priests' role in the mass. It lay at the heart of the religious world in the 16th century. In fact, Calvin wrote this.
The Roman Catholic Church calls priests those who are authorized to sacrifice Christ's body and blood on the altar to say prayers and to bless the gifts of God, and their hands are anointed to demonstrate that they have the power to concentrate. In fact, this idea of the mass and transubstantiation was one of the pivotal moments that goaded Luther to a more scripturally reformed understanding of faith, because he participated in this. After joining the monastery, we've heard about that a couple of times this semester, he was asked to officiate in his first mass.
This would have been 1507. It was a momentous occasion. It always is for a priest to actually hold up that host, to say these words, to have the power through these words to translate what are mere material elements into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And so he recited these words, we offer unto you the living, the true, the eternal God. And as he uttered them, he writes later that terror struck his soul.
Who am I, he says, that I should lift up my eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty. In fact, he barely made it through the rest of that service because he was terrified by the infinite holiness of God and the audacity of him to participate in that somehow through the mass. And so with this personal historical background in mind, this context, Luther introduced this doctrine in a series of tracts in 1520. Now we're not talking tracts like the bifold that you leave for your waitress, we're talking about long treatises here. And in one of them, called On the Freedom of a Christian, which was actually addressed to Pope Leo X himself, Luther writes this. Nor are we only kings and the freest of all men, but also priests forever. A dignity far higher than kingship because by that priesthood we are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, to teach one another mutually the things which are of God. For these are the duty of priests and they cannot possibly be permitted to any unbeliever. Christ has obtained for us this favor if we believe in him that just as we are his brethren and co-heirs and fellow kings with him, so we should also be also fellow priests with him. And venture with confidence through the spirit of faith to come into the presence of God and cry Abba, Father, and to pray for one another and to do all things which we see done and figure in the visible and corporeal office of priesthood. Now, before we get to the heart of what this all means, and it still may be a little confusing, let's talk about a couple of applications since the Reformation, and during the time of the Reformation itself actually, that have confused this doctrine. This is one of the challenges with this doctrine is it's often interpreted in an errant way. I just want to point out two of these.
The first one is anarchy. Some have overemphasized the leveling effect of this doctrine, that we're all priests, and actually have concluded that we don't need leaders. We don't need religious leaders.
We don't need political leaders. In fact, this democratizing instinct, the supreme democracy, was the first significant historical application of the doctrine. The priests of the believers was one of the doctrines that the peasants used as justification for their revolt in 1524, where they were overthrowing political and religious leaders. And so the consequences of this application right there in Luther's lifetime were so staggering that Luther actually drew back a little bit from the doctrine, and after 1525 he doesn't talk about it nearly as much. Because he realized the people weren't ready for it.
They weren't ready for the true implications of it. Religious liberty in Christ? Yes. Anarchy?
No. The other confusion about this doctrine often is what I'm going to call privacy. A privatized version of Christianity. You know, a lot of us are Americans, and we're all sitting or standing in America right now. And we in America love our freedom.
Okay? We're all about freedom. And we can be grateful for the freedoms that we have. We can be grateful for freedom of religion that we've enjoyed since the inception of our country. But in the name of something called sole liberty, some have concluded that they have the right to interpret and apply the Bible completely on their own, without any interaction with other people.
Without any help from other Christians. It's viewed as an inalienable right to do Christianity on our own, you might say, in our vernacular. But when Luther speaks of things like private interpretation in relation to this doctrine, he doesn't mean solitude, really, and he doesn't mean privacy. He doesn't mean going it alone. He doesn't mean, I'm a priest, and I'm going to talk to God, and I'm going to shut everyone else out.
I got this. What he means is actually brother with brother, sister with sister, informal, personal kind of ministry to one another. I'm personally responsible to meditate on and apply God's words, yes, but I don't do so in a vacuum. Priesthood is not private. It's not self-focused. It doesn't mean spiritual autonomy.
Alright, so that's the context. Those are some of the confusions. We say, alright, but what is it? What is the priesthood of all believers? Well, the priesthood of all believers captures our joint blessings and privileges in Jesus Christ. You say, why do we even have to talk about this?
Can we just stick with the solace? Well, there's something about the priesthood of all believers that actually brings to bear and brings in front of us the amazing privileges as well as responsibilities that we all have in Christ. It's a very important doctrine. So what's the core of this doctrine?
Four points. Number one, our priesthood means that all of us have access to God through Christ alone. You've got to remember, you've got to transport yourself back into these medieval times. So devout medieval Roman Catholics had access to God, but it was a material access through these images, like in the stained glass windows of their cathedrals. Okay, those images are saints that point to God, that somehow carry them up to God. There is access, but it's a material access through images and sacraments, and it's a distant access because they had to get to God through the Latin language, and none of them knew that. In fact, the priests often didn't know it. They just recited what they had heard. Laity, in other words, were non-clergy, non-priests, non-monks, non-nones, couldn't drink the wine of the Eucharist, of communion, they only ate the bread once a year. The laity had to confess their sins to a fellow sinner, a human priest, a merely human priest. The laity could see the saints to whom they prayed, but they didn't have a personal relationship with God.
We've already talked about this in the series this semester. That was a foreign concept. And just think of a Gothic cathedral. Okay, look at that cathedral.
It does bear testimony to a transcendent God. He's big. He's majestic. He's up there. He's great.
He should be worshipped. They got that. But it's as if they couldn't figure out a way to climb that very steep wall to get to him.
They needed lots and lots of help and lots and lots of effort. How could a poor peasant, which most of us would have been, ever climb up walls to reach a God like that? Now I had you open to Hebrews 4.
We're finally going to turn to it. Would you look at verse 12 of Hebrews 4? The word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all things are naked and opened into the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Now they would not have known much about the word of God. They didn't have it. They couldn't read it.
They had to depend on the priests for whatever bits of the word they could get. But they would have instinctively understood verse 13, that there's no creature on earth who is not naked and open and whose soul is not laid bare before God, before this almighty God who scrutinizes what we do. And it's with him we have to do. It's with him we have to reckon.
They would have understood that. So what do you do about that? What do you do about that? What do you do when you come under conviction of sin? What do you do when you really stop for a moment in your very busy, crazy life and realize, I'm a sinner before God. I wouldn't want my roommates to know all that's going on in my soul, much less God. But he does.
What do we do? Now there's a connection here. There are seams in this very chapter into the next section. But I think it's so instructive how the very next verse begins. Look at the beginning of verse 14. Seeing then that we have a great high priest. Therefore, since we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not in high priest, which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore, those of us whose hearts are laid bare before a holy God, let us therefore come boldly into the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. What do you do when you realize that you are guilty before God? What do you do when you realize that you cannot do this in your own strength? You don't turn and run. You don't go to the outskirts of his presence.
You don't rely on somebody else. You actually walk into this throne of grace through Jesus Christ and find help in your time of need. We have direct access into the presence of God the Father through Christ alone. In his name we pray, on his merit we depend, by his faithfulness we appeal. We are priests because we are in Christ.
Which leads to a second emphasis. Our priesthood not only means that we all have access to God through Christ alone, it means that we all have the same needs and privileges. All of us. In our jargon we would say we are all in the same boat. The Roman Catholic Church taught that clergy carried out a special spiritual vocation. Whereas other members of the church, these laity, they merely participated in temporal pursuits. They were completely dependent for their spiritual lives on these other fellow sinful human beings.
The priestly clergy cradled their spiritual lives in their own sinful hands. But Luther realized that we are all equal as we kneel at the foot of the cross. He said, all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As Paul says, we are all one body, though each member does its own work to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith and are all Christians alike. He is drawing up passages like at the beginning of Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 that says we are of one body. We are members of one body. We are baptized into one body.
Now this doesn't mean that we don't need leaders. The New Testament clearly teaches that pastor, teacher, shepherd, elders should lead their congregations, equip the saints for the work of the ministry so that we can grow into our likeness, the likeness of our head, Jesus Christ. It's a noble calling, Paul tells Timothy. We are to obey and to submit ourselves to our rulers, says the writer of Hebrews. But we all need the same grace regardless of our vocation, regardless of our point in the pathway in this pilgrim journey. All of us need the same grace and we can all live spiritually profitable lives whatever calling God has given us which leads us to a third emphasis. Our priesthood, the priesthood of all believers means that we can all come to God through Jesus Christ alone.
It means that we all have the same needs but also the same privileges and more specifically it means that we all minister to one another. Priests minister. Priests are not priests for their own advantage. The Old Testament has some very condemning things to say about priests who went their own way. Who offered sacrifices according to their own design.
Who used the people for their own selfish ends. Priesthood is about ministry. In other words as one theologian puts it, it's not that the church has a priesthood, it's that the church is a priesthood. We are made priests for accountability and for intercession. Notice again these words from Luther. By that priesthood we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another mutually the things which are of God. It's not an individualist kind of outlook, it's a congregational kind of outlook. Being a priest is not looking out for my own concerns, it means going before God and interceding for others.
Just last night one of my pastors mentioned to me Ephesians 6 19 where Paul, one of the most spiritually minded people in the history of the church, I think we could safely conclude. Paul told the Ephesians, many of whom were very young believers, pray also for me. You can minister to me by praying to God on my behalf.
Priesthood is not merely a status, it's a commission. It's a commission to minister to those people around us. Do you pray for one another?
I've had people tell me this week, I'm praying for you. That's significant not just because it's encouraging, like okay somebody's thinking about me and not just about themselves, but because they're going to the Father through Jesus Christ on my behalf and he's the one who has grace and mercy for my time of need. I had a student write me a couple of days ago as I was praying for the sermon and say, I'm praying for you as you preach Wednesday, as you preach this week. That is a significant ministry. That's why we are priests. It's not so that we have this privatized relationship with God that shuts everyone else out and says I can do it on my own.
It's so that we can bring the needs of one another before the Lord and actually see him do what we cannot do for ourselves or even for one another on a merely horizontal level. And this leads us to a fourth consideration and actually to the verse that spurred Luther's thinking. This was the verse more than any other that led to his formulating this teaching, The Priesthood of All Believers. And it's 1 Peter 2.9. Would you turn with me to 1 Peter 2.
1 Peter 2.9. Familiar words to many of us, but ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Peter is obviously employing language from the Old Testament here to summarize our fourth consideration, the fourth aspect of this doctrine, which is that our priesthood means that we all, all of us, offer spiritual sacrifices for God's glory. All of us are called, we're commissioned as priests to offer spiritual sacrifices for God's glory. The Lord had called out the entire nation of Israel from among the world to be priests. And they, in the Old Testament, had failed in that calling.
But that didn't stop the history of redemption. And so God calls out the church by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to scripture alone, to live for his glory alone, to go out everywhere through our vocations, and to be a mediator of God's grace, to proclaim his glories, to give him honor, and to point people to the only hope that there is. That's not the calling of a few people with a certain major in a certain school at BJU.
That's all of us. We are all priests so that we can offer spiritual sacrifices for God's glory. What is a priest?
A priest was a person set apart to worship God and represent sinful people by offering prayers and sacrifices. Hebrews 8, 3 says, every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices. And so we offer these sacrifices.
Dr. Pettit preached on this a little bit yesterday. He mentioned verse 5. If you look up at verse 5, you also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house and holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Again, we're coming through Jesus Christ. So what are these sacrifices? Well, we looked at a few of these yesterday.
Let me put a few of them in front of you. So by financial giving, we offer a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. Dr. Pettit challenged us about tithes and offerings last week.
Paul says to the Philippians that there was no other congregation like you that ministered, not just to me, but ministered for the gospel's sake. You participated in the gospel in part by giving money, sacrificially. That's a spiritual sacrifice. As Dr. Pettit said yesterday, Hebrews 13, 15, by thanksgiving through Jesus Christ, we offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually. That's your priestly work.
You get to take a break next week to be a priest. To offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The next verse in Hebrews 13 says by doing good and sharing, we offer sacrifices with which God is well pleased. By doing good, by ministering to the people around us, by sharing what we have, if we do it with a heart toward the Lord, if we do it in the name of Jesus Christ, we actually are doing it as His priests because it's not that the church has a priesthood, it's that the church is a priesthood and we minister to one another in these ways.
To God's glory. In response to the mercies of God, think of Romans 12, 1, you know this verse. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies, on account of the mercies of God, in view of the mercies of God that Paul has charted for 11 chapters, I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice wholly acceptable unto God. This is your reasonable, this is your priestly, this is the only thing that makes sense kind of service to God.
And as a royal priesthood we show forth, we proclaim through our worship and through our evangelism, the excellencies, the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. You see, all of these spiritual sacrifices are responses to the Gospel. Okay, in the Old Testament, they were anticipating the Gospel, that's what the sacrifices were all about.
And that was good, but it was temporal. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are sacrifices that perpetuate the Gospel, they think, the atonement, and that's completely wrong. What are these spiritual sacrifices? They're responses to the Gospel. They don't merit righteousness, they don't put us in a specialized category, but as a kingdom of priests we have been consecrated to respond to the Gospel with lives that tell God's fame and bring Him glory. And by doing this we act as emissaries to a lost and dying world, we bring them to God. So we, all of us who know Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are a priesthood. So let us come boldly to our Father's throne of grace, through Christ, to intercede for one another. And then let us go boldly from that throne of grace to worship God and evangelize a world that desperately needs to see His glory.
That's our calling, that's our privilege. All of us are priests. Let's pray. Lord God, we thank You that You have called us out of darkness into Your marvelous light. And though we are weak, and though we are busy, and though we feel incapable, we ask that You would enable us to meditate on Your truth and be transformed so that we might truly live as a holy priesthood. We pray this in Jesus' name.
Amen. You've been listening to a sermon preached by seminary professor Dr. Eric Newton, which is part of the series about the Reformation called Truth Triumphs. These daily programs are made possible by the many friends of Bob Jones University and this radio ministry. If you appreciate these programs and benefit from the faithful preaching and teaching of God's Word, would you consider sending us a special financial gift today?
You can easily do that through the website thedailyplatform.com and then click on the Give button on the home page. I'm Steve Pettit, president of Bob Jones University. Thank you for listening to The Daily Platform. Please visit our beautiful campus in Greenville, South Carolina, to see how God is working in the lives of our students both spiritually and academically. For more information about Bob Jones University's more than 100 accredited academic programs, visit bju.edu or call 800-252-6363. Thanks for listening and join us again tomorrow as we study God's Word together on The Daily Platform.
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