Mr. Schipper is a deacon in Southwest Protestant Reformed Church.

“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.” 

Psalm 41:1

Our first article concerning the office of deacon noted that deacons stand in the office of Christ in the church. In particular, deacons represent Christ as He is our merciful High Priest. It is instructive to ask why the office of mercy is connected to the high priestly aspect of Christ’s office. The first thought we usually have in connection with the high priest concerns the sacrifices. We think especially of his privilege to enter the Most Holy Place on the great day of atonement to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. How, then, is the work of the high priest to be reflected in the office of deacon? The correspondence between the Old Testament office of king and the New Testament office of elder is clear: they both govern. The same holds true for the offices of prophet and minister: they both, speak the Word. But, how does the Old Testament office of high priest correspond to the New Testament office of deacon? How is a deacon like the high priest?

In order to see the relationship between the high priest and the deacon, we do well to look closely at the institution of the office of high priest as recorded inExodus 28 and Exodus 29. Many articles could be written concerning the significance of the various elements connected with the worship in the old covenant. For our purpose we should note the references to the garments of the high priest, especially the shoulder pieces and the breastplate. The garments of the high priest were unique. They were “for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2). Calvin notes “that in these garments the supreme purity and worylrous glory of Christ were represented.” (Calvin’s commentary on this section of Exodus is very worthwhile.)

In the ephod were two shoulder pieces that contained onyx stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel. The high priest would thus “bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial” (Ex. 28:12). By having the names of the tribes on his shoulders, the high priest was conscious of the fact that he did not enter into the temple ministry as an individual, but that he represented the entire nation before the living God. By having these names on his shoulders, he was conscious of the fact that he brought the burdens of the nation before Jehovah. These burdens included all the needs of the nation, physical and spiritual. This symbolism also spoke to the nation. The symbolism pointed above all to the Messiah. It would be the Messiah who would bear their burdens.

This Old Testament type teaches us that we can (and are called to) cast all of our burdens upon the Lord—He will sustain us (Ps. 55:22). We see that all of our strength is in Christ. He carries us. We have no strength in ourselves. Deacons must be mindful of this aspect of their office. As representatives of Christ they must stand ready to relieve the burdens of God’s people. The great burden that Christ bore for us was the guilt of our sins. Therefore, our spiritual life has its source in Christ. However, we should be mindful that Christ also sustains our physical life. Most often Christ gives us the ability and opportunity to work and thereby provide for our earthly needs, as well as support the causes of His kingdom. In some cases, Christ determines the circumstances to be such that there is not enough income to meet earthly needs. Christ sees to it that some are poor. In these cases Christ intends that their needs be supplied through the diaconate. In both. cases Christ supplies the need, but in His wisdom He uses different means. When a member of the church is in financial need, the figure of high priest bearing the nation of Israel on his shoulders should be a blessed incentive to come to the diaconate for relief. Christ will bear the burden through the deacons.

The high priest also wore a breastplate. The breastplate was set with twelve precious stones, a different stone engraved with the name of each tribe in Israel. The breastplate was secured by golden chains and worn over the linen garment of the high priest. When the high priest ministered, he bore “the names of the children of Israel upon his heart” (Ex. 28:29). Calvin notes that he bore them upon his heart “not only that he might present them to God, but that he might be mindful of them, and anxious for their welfare.” Calvin notes also, “what was to be fulfilled in Christ, was typified by the external sign under the Law; viz., that though we sojourn in the world, yet are we united with Christ by faith, as if we were one with Him; and, besides, that He takes care for our welfare, as if He bore us enclosed in His heart; and, finally, that when our heavenly Father regards us in Him, He esteems us above all the wealth and splendor of the world.”

It must live in the soul of a deacon that he is called to have the welfare of God’s people enclosed in his heart. He must be mindful that God’s people are precious in His sight, and He calls the deacon to see to it that they are not left in distress. While the primary distress the deacon deals with is financial need, the profound spiritual dimension of his office was demonstrated by the Old Testament high priest. It is not the deacon as an individual that cares for the poor. It is Christ that is concerned for their welfare. The deacon comes as His representative. He must be asking himself, “What would Christ have me to do?”

How does the deacon convey the truth t