Jerusalem was built on four hills.
Two of these hills are of special importance. They were Mount Zion where David had set his throne, and Mount Moriah where the temple had been built. Mount Zion was the royal hill. Mount Moriah is the holy hill mentioned in Psalm 15:1.
If now you were seeking a prophet in Israel, it would not necessarily follow that you would go to Jerusalem to look for him. He might be found there, but he could also be expected to be in any region of the land, going about giving instruction and comfort to God’s people. Were you seeking the king, it is indeed to Jerusalem where you would go. The wise men from the east, who had seen His star, did exactly go to Jerusalem rather than to Bethlehem to see this “child who was “born king of the Jews.” There was that royal hill where the kings of the Jews had dwelt through the ages before God brought them into the captivity of Babylon. Except when the king was out leading his army into battle against the enemy, you would find him on his throne.
And the priest?
Were you seeking him, you would likewise go to the city of Jerusalem, for on that holy hill where the temple stood God dwelt with His people. It was for that very reason the holy hill. The priest you would expect to find before God’s face. ‘You would find him in God’s house. Whereas the “workbench,” if’ indeed we may call it such, of the king was his throne, the “workbench” of the priest would be God’s altar. From far and wide the people of God flocked to that temple and to the priest with their sacrifices and offerings. In fact their whole religious life in that day centered around that temple and that priesthood. And although that temple is gone, and we need not go to Jerusalem to the Aaronitic priest anymore, as to its idea, the priest of God of today also will be found—and indeed must be found—in God’s temple. You will find him before God’s face.
Such today is the case with our only high priest, Christ Jesus the Righteous One. There is a very interesting statement concerning Him in Lord’s Day XII of the Heidelberg Catechism. The question is there asked, “Why is He Christ, that is anointed?” And the answer that is given is, “Because He is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also to be our eternal King, who governs us by His word and Spirit, and Who defends and preserves us in (the enjoyment of) that salvation, He has purchased for us.”
We spoke last time of that work of the New Testament priest according to which he offers his body as a livingsacrifice to God and is dedicated, with all that which he has and wherewith he comes in contact, unto God. But we wish to point out at this time that other work mentioned here of the priest which should also be found in the lives of us as God’s royal priesthood. The Old Testament priest in the temple in Jerusalem was before God’s face. Christ as our only High Priest continually makes intercession for us with the Father. And that means, of course, before His face in heavenly glory. The New Testament priest also therefore will come and stand before God’s face and labor in the consciousness of the fact that he is before God’s face.
God is in heaven. Physically we cannot reach up into the heavens. And yet of this infinite, highly exalted God Paul says that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” He is not far from every one of us. Acts 17:27, 25. But it is not a physical contact with Him that we enjoy. That was not the case of the Aaronitic priest either. Although the New Testament priest does not function with the types and shadows, he is, as Paul writes, still on this earth where, “we see through a glass darkly,” and we do not yet see face to face as Christ our only High Priest already does in heavenly glory.
But we do come and stand before His very face in prayer. And prayer is an important part of that work of the royal priesthood of God. In fact it is through prayer that we do offer up the whole of God’s creation to Him. It is through that sweet communion of God, which we enjoy in prayer, that all His rational creation comes with conscious, willing praise before His face through the heart and mind of this royal priesthood. The work of the Old Testament priest was not the executing of some cold, formal ritual. It was not a silent pantomime. On the contrary this priest had a voice and entered with his soul into his work, if he were a true priest of God.
That priest who came with the sacrifice and offering, which he had received from the Israelite, went to God in prayer with that gift. The priest who) came with the blood of the lamb that symbolized the cross of Christ went to God on the basis of that blood and pleaded for the forgiveness of the sins of His people. And then he would return to the congregation waiting outside and would dismiss them with God’s blessing. Because by the blood of the lamb their sins were blotted out, this priest who interceded for the people could come back and pronounce God’s peace upon His Church. He could pronounce the Aaronitic or priestly blessing: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” Numbers 6:26.
Therefore there was also in the temple a golden altar, the altar of incense upon which a sweet smelling incense was burned up before the face of God. Indeed, such a sweet smelling savor was needed among all the stench in that temple of blood and of flesh that was being burned on the altar of burnt offering. That part of the temple was not the most pleasing place from an aesthetic point of view. It was not far from a slaughter house, and added to this was the odor of that burning flesh. But accompanying that death 3f the lamb or bullock was the sweet smelling savor of that incense upon the golden altar. And it symbolized the prayers of the saints. Because of that blood and that sacrifice of the life of the animal to God, the prayers of His people could ascend up to His throne.
We must not forget that. We must remember that we have no right even to pray to God. And though we do not come with a lamb as we approach God in prayer, we do come with The Lamb when we pray “for Jesus’ sake, Amen.” Recall also the fact that the saints in the Old Testament times, before the tabernacle was built in the wilderness and the priesthood of Aaron was established, always came to God in prayer in connection with an altar and a sacrifice. Yea, even after that priesthood stood there, men such as Samuel (who, by the way, was of the priestly tribe, the tribe of Levi—see I Chronicles 6:1, 16, 27, 28) built an altar when they made their prayers to God for the congregation. Thus when Samuel tarried, Saul, according to I Samuel 13:11, 12, assumed his place and brought the sacrifice to make his “supplication unto the Lord.”
Now, of course the New Testament priest does not come with such an offering and sacrifice. But he does, as we suggested a moment ago, come with The Lamb. He approaches God in prayer in the name of The Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. And as priest he certainly .does come to stand before God with his “altar” of prayer.
He therefore as head of the home has his family altar. He goes before his family and children in prayer. He has dedicated them to God. He has at their baptism promised before God to give them over to His prophets for instruction in the truth of God’s Word. Yea, even before they were born, he prayed for them and dedicated them to God’s glory. No, not in the world. The world eats, drinks and is merry with the understanding that tomorrow they die. They receive their children either grudgingly or with a carnal delight and pride. But they see them for themselves. There is no dedication of them unto God; and there certainly is no bringing of them daily in prayer before God’s face. They are priests who are not working in God’s temple. Even as there are false prophets, there are corrupt priests: men who are dedicated to sin, live for it and bring up their children in it.
There is, to be sure, much room for improvement in the lives of God’s royal priesthood also in this respect. Certainly the head of the home should lead his family in prayer. He should not simply bow his head and tell them to do so in a silent prayer. No, no, he is priest, and he stands in the same relationship to his family that the priests in Moses’ day stood in respect to the people of Israel. And young men when they marry in the Lord—for that too is the only thing that God’s royal priesthood may do, for also in marriage, they must be dedicated unto God; and they may not be unequally yoked with one whom they cannot dedicate unto God. But young men in the Church, when they marry, ought also to resolve before God to begin at once to lead in audible, spoken prayer as the head of their family. Then as that family grows and children are given to them, they not only fulfill their priestly office, as they ought, but likewise, they do not find themselves in the awkward position that they are frightened by their own voices.
This is not one of the easiest functions of the priest. Praying to God is not a simple matter without difficulty. Praying to men and making fine “speeches” in man’s hearing is not difficult. But to pray to God so that we do indeed have sweet communion with Him is an art that must be learned. And even unto the day of our death, we ought to be learning to perform this priestly office more beautifully and perfectly.
What is more, the one who truly dedicates himself to God, who offers his body as a living sacrifice and believes that The Lamb was slain for his sins, that man will want to stand before God in prayer. His prayer is the chief part of his thankfulness to God. He will not have to be told to do so. He will feel himself impelled, not only in his moments of anxiety and fear, but in all his earthly life. He will seek God’s face in prayer for the sheer joy of being in His presence and having covenant communion with Him. In His feat, we will want to draw near. The psalmist says, “. . . it is good for me to draw near to God . . .” To that God’s royal priesthood says, “Amen.”