Servants of the Sanctuary, Part 2

The world doesn’t need the Bible Answerman as much as it needs the good Samaritan.

Yes, people have questions they want answered, usually along the lines of “where are some real live Christians around here?” — even more than they want to be taught about the “state of the dead.” They crave a living touch from God and wonder why churches seem more fascinated with their own petty rules than Christ’s golden rule.

Once in my law enforcement chaplaincy, I saw the body of Christ come alive in the hour of death through a church of good Samaritans. Dispatch paged me to a house where a man unexpectedly died. Welcomed into the living room, I glanced about to see if this was a religious household. (We were trained to do this so as never to impose the mention of God upon an irreligious family.) I saw several Bibles around, so they weren’t atheists. A church bulletin told me they were active Christians. ­

Such was the testimony of the written word. Then came the living word.

The doorbell chimed as I was praying with the widow. People flocked inside, members of her church. They knew where to hang their coats, having been there many times for Bible study and fellowship. Soon the place was swarming with brothers and sisters in Christ, hugging the widow and weeping with her.

For once, in the hour of death I found myself with nothing to do. Their pastor arrived, and he didn’t have anything to do either. So we sat together on the coach and witnessed a living love letter. Something the apostle Paul said came to mind: “You show that you are a letter from Christ” (2 Cor. 3:3). Organized religion at its best — organized for ministry.

A Church Full of Priests

When those church members showed up to minster, they served under the “captain of their salvation” (Heb. 2:10), our high priest in heaven’s sanctuary. Just before leaving this world, Jesus prayed to His Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). This word “sent” is the same from which we get “apostle.” The church community is the apostle of Jesus, dispatched into the world to represent Him — in the same way He had come to show us His Father.

Jesus is our high priest, a term that implies lesser priests here on Earth. Protestants have known this as theological theory for 500 years. Martin Luther discovered you don’t have to kneel in the Catholic confessional to get your sins forgiven through a human priest. The whole church is Christ’s priesthood, Luther thundered in sound waves that rocked Rome.

But somehow the church, then and since, has been silent on the full meaning of this truth. Sure, we’ve talked about being a priesthood, but only halfway. We’ve mostly seen it as a defensive, passive doctrine — basically a way to escape the blasphemy of kneeling before a fellow sinner to get God’s free gift in Christ.

But there’s another blasphemy committed when we make the priesthood an unemployed noun. It’s more like an active verb. Priests don’t just sit in Sabbatarian pews. They do something. Priesthood involves Christ’s living, loving body — all of us together.

Millions of Christians suffer their own misunderstanding of this core doctrine. They pray to see the old Jewish temple rebuilt in Jerusalem, complete with a restored priesthood. God’s vision for final events is different. His priesthood is not headquartered in old Jerusalem’s temple but in New Jerusalem’s celestial sanctuary, with representatives serving as a living temple all over this planet: “You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God” (1 Peter 2:5, NLT).

So the heavenly sanctuary is our celestial human resource center and Christ’s great employment agency for His people — all of us. Our vacation from damnation and death is a vocation of vivified ministry.

We Are Foreign Ambassadors

To summarize: Priests are not just passive Protestants. We are ambassadors for God, embodying His grace-based truth in a world lost in lies about Him. Priests are connectors. Just as Jesus connected us with the Father, so we now connect people to Him.

Here is the long-awaited answer to the question of Earth’s first murderer: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).  This does not make us his mini-messiah. We can’t take responsibility for what other people do to hurt him or what he does to hurt himself. But we can help hurting souls experience the healing love of God, through the body of Christ, as end-time servants of His sanctuary.