IN NOMINE JESU
A priest, strictly speaking, is a man set aside by God to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people, as the writer to the Hebrews notes in our text: "For every high priest taken among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins" (v. 1). Because he is truly man, he is able to empathize and sympathize with the flock God has entrusted to his care, for the priest is also a sinner. It stands to reason, then, that the priest offers up prayers and sacrifices for the people, including himself. For this reason I, though a called and ordained servant of the Word, also confess my sins at the same time you confess yours. Later on in the Divine Service, I lead the congregation in the Prayer of the Church, when we pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs. While you pray, I pray, and while I pray, you pray. Yet in the congregation one is set aside to do the things of God; He has given the Church the Office of the Holy Ministry. He has given us pastors to bestow the gifts that God offers in His Word and Sacraments for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. "So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22). He works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8), in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake" (AC V, McCain ed.), as the Augsburg Confession states.
The Augustana also states, "Of Ecclesiastical Order, they teach, that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments, unless he be regularly called" (AC XIV, Jacobs ed.). God desires that certain things be done for the sake of good order, and He has set aside certain men to do these things of good order and in good order, in His time. For several millennia He has ordained men to serve as priests, teachers, and pastors, to lead His people in the Divine Service at all times and in all places, for this is truly meet, right, and salutary. In the Old Testament Church, in the liturgy of the Temple, the priest was set aside by God, on the basis of the priest's bloodline, as a member of the tribe of Levi, to offer up prayers and sacrifices for the sins of the people, themselves included. While the priest is holy, having been set aside by God for His service, he is still imperfect, for "he himself is also subject to weakness" (v. 2b).
The priest—the pastor—is subject to weakness, for he, like the laity, is a poor, miserable sinner. We all, pastor and laity alike, were conceived and born in sin. We have wandered from the commandments of God, to paraphrase the Psalmist. We have not sought Him with our whole heart. We have not declared all the judgments of His mouth. We have not rejoiced in the way of His testimonies. We do not meditate on His precepts, nor do we contemplate His ways. We do not delight ourselves in His statutes, and we forget His Word. We despise preaching and His Word. We do not gladly hear and learn it. The reasons we have may vary, whether it is what we think of the message or the messenger, or our inflated sense of self-importance. No matter how we justify ourselves in shunning God's Word, the root cause is the same. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, it is imperative that we confess our sins to God our Father, for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.
Christ is our great High Priest, for He has offered up the perfect sacrifice for sin. He offered up Himself for us. Only a perfect priest may offer the perfect sacrifice. Christ, our great High Priest, offered Himself as the Sacrifice for the sins of mankind, the Sacrifice made once for all time. Christ is not unsympathetic to our weaknesses, for He was tempted in every way that we are; yet He remains without sin. For this reason He who knew no sin became sin for us. Christ became our sin. He became your sin. He became my sin. He took our sins away by His sacrificing Himself upon the altar of the cross at the temple of Golgotha outside the Holy City of Jerusalem. You see, God the Father set aside His Son to do His will here on earth. This was not an office that Jesus usurped for Himself, as the writer to the Hebrews notes: "So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.' As He also says in another place: 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'" (vv. 5-6), citing Psalms 2 and 110. Jesus, our great High Priest, is greater than the great priest Aaron and endures forever, as opposed to the priestly order of the Levites, who died. He has come as a greater Melchizedek, who was king of Jerusalem and a priest. Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King, came down from heaven to serve us. On the cross our Lord offered up prayers on our behalf—"Father, forgive them." And we rejoice this evening and always, for our Lord also said from the cross, "It is finished!" His work of paying for our sins has been completed without exception. We rejoice that He has risen and ascended into heaven, where He forever pleads for us before our heavenly Father. To this day our great High Priest still intercedes for us, offering up prayers and supplications. And now, Christ has sent us His Holy Spirit that we would all be priests, that we would offer up prayers for the saints here on earth, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for all people in need. As St. Peter writes, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). And now our Lord has called us to be priests, to pray for one another and to announce the good news that God has forgiven us for Jesus' sake. As St. Paul said to the young pastor Timothy, he also says to us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:1-6). In due time—in four days—we will hear again of our Lord's giving Himself as a ransom for us, as we follow Him into Jerusalem for His Passion. Hosanna in the highest!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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