Sermon by Duurt Sikkens
Good day to you all.
I would like you to turn with me to the book of Exodus, chapter nineteen.
Exodus, do you know what that word actually means? Escape. A way of escape.
But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today.
Let’s look at Exodus, chapter 19 verse 5.
“Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel”.
So, what can we learn from these verses?
Whenare you kingdom of priests? When you listen! And can we do that?
Andwhen you keep the covenant. Onlythen are you a ‘kingdom of priests’.
By the way, that’s a beautiful expression, don’t you think? ‘kingdom’.
And what does that kingdom exist of? Priests. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. About being a priest.
Peterrefers to this text in his epistle. And in the book of Revelation priesthood is mentioned four times. It is emphasised that it applies to the whole church. What is said here, in the passage we read, applies to the whole nation.
Most churches have given a completely wrong interpretation to these words. It refers here to a whole nation of priests; every single person has this function. So not just a special group, or an ‘order’ of priests. Nor a select group of elders with a special function as priest, or someone with a classification of priest, …..or whatever else you want to call it.
In the Septuagint it says something remarkable. It says the following: “You are a nation in my possession”. This has been translated in several different ways, for example one translation says a ‘particular treasure’ or a ‘particular people’, or ‘peculiar’ people, in both senses of the word! It is a nation that is set apart and distinguishes itself in some special way from all the other nations. And why is that nation ‘set apart’? “Well,’ God says “then this nation can be of blessing to others on earth. That is my plan”.
The Hebrew word for ‘priest’ is ‘cohen’. It is comes from the verb ‘to stand’’.
And so the word ‘priest’ can be translated simply as ‘he who stands before God’. And this applies to both men and women. A priest is simply ‘A person who stands before God’. So the question now is: ‘when these people stand before God, what do they do there? What do you do there? What doI do there?
The Greek word for ‘priest’ means ‘someone who carries out sacred acts’. Well, if I see how that is applied in some churches, what a palaver! All the so called sacred ceremonies, rituals and traditions, prefabricated prayers read out of books, and so on. Not to forget the special clothing, because, well, the priests have to stand out from the rest of the congregation, don’t they?
That is what it has become, and it is just as bad it was in Jesus’ day. He came up against groups of special priests too, and amongst them were his greatest antagonists.
To become a priest you had to be ordained. This practice was started back in Old Testament times with the ordination of priests, during which ceremony they received holy orders.
You know, there is an expression in Hebrew for “ordination” and that is: mile jad. ‘jad’ is hand. So it means ‘to fill the hand’. We have a saying in Dutch: it says ‘a child’s hand is easily filled’. You only have to give a child a little something and he is content. My hand, I am glad to say, is also easily filled.
So what happened at an ordination ceremony? In short, the most important part was that two sheep were sacrificed. That is an image of the sacrifice Jesus made. There are two aspects to this sacrifice, and therefore two sheep. The office of priest and what he does, what you do, is based on this sacrifice of Jesus. If you remove that aspect from the gospel, then you take away the core of your existence, the essence of the gospel. Therewill come a time when that will happen. Jesus warned us about it. He says: ‘If you see destruction in the heart of the temple, then you know something is wrong’. Daniel speaks of it too. He says ‘the perpetual sacrifice, the sacrifice which is valid forever, stops”. And if that stops, if the sacrifice that Jesus made by giving his life, is ignored and made meaningless, then people will have removed the very essence of the gospel.
So two sheep were slain. They took some blood and sprinkled that on everything. This was an expressive action. Then they took a dish with blood and touched those who were being ordained on their right ear lobe, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot. Wonderful, symbolic actions. Why the right? Well, a little play on words here. Not just right hand but right, being correct. But why the right? Well there is a lovely expression in Proverbs chapter 2: “A wise man’s heart inclines him toward the right, but a fool’s heart toward the left. (Probably better not to apply this to politics!!!!) There is a profound meaning in this. ‘The wise man’s heart inclines him towards the right’ means toward something that is right, upright and honest. The word ‘wise’ is connected to the word ‘way’, - show the way – show someone the right way.
And why the ear? Well, that’s easy. Youhear with your ear. You listen to what is said. So do you have ears to hear? Spiritual ears? And do you listen? Not just to what God says to you, but also to what the spirit says to the church? And can you also listen to other people? Some can, some can’t, they interrupt by telling their own story. The famous ‘me too button’. But can you listen, really listen, and hear what people are trying to tell you? That’s important.
And a right thumb. That applies to the things you do. Theholy things. We’ll come to that later. It is all about the things you do, theacts of the apostles. Not about their meditations, but about what they have done. It’s easy to talk. But actions speak louder than words.
And the bigtoe? That is the willingness to spread the gospel. You know the verse: How beautiful are the feet of those who spread the gospel? And what do you have on your feet? That’s what I like about what Jesus said. He says, you don’t need a purse, but you do need sandals. Are you familiar with that expression? You can find it in the gospel of mark chapter six. Why do you need sandals? Because if you wore sandals that meant that you were free. A slave had bare feet. That’s how you could tell whether someone was a slave or not. Let everyone see that you are not a slave any more, but free.
Then they were anointed with oil – we read about that in Psalm 133 – anointed with oil on their head. Why there, and not somewhere else. Because it is an image of the baptism with the holy spirit. It is all about what goes on in your mind, your way of thinking, that you become full of God’s way of thinking, and that doesn’t happen with just one anointing. To become filled with Gods way of thinking is a long, slow process. You take time to consider the way God thinks about things, and slowly you become full of God’s spirit.
That’s another of those well used expressions. It simply means to be filled with God’s way of thinking. To think as he does. Otherwise you could never quash the way of thinking of the devil, and the ideas that HE puts into your mind. It is a slow but wonderful process. We are asked to walk in the Spirit. It is not a race, it’s not a competition. It is a dialogue, two people talking during a leisurely walk.
That’s why you are baptised with God’s spirit. You receive the foundation of divine life within you.
I drew a cartoon yesterday showing a great big sturdy wall, and there were lots of words written on it: victory, happiness, strength, power. That sort of thing. You know, whatever words people use today to convey the general feeling of great, greater, greatest; we can do anything, we are the best. But these are just words, empty words. And what use are they? And next to these concrete blocks I drew a very small plant with two young leaves and under them I wrote “small word”.
That is the difference for me between Babylon and Jerusalem. Between all the blah blah represented by the empty words and the concrete wall, and thereal life that develops in a precious human, the new leaves on that little word.
The priests were entrusted with many things. All the precious things in the temple, the precious things which are hidden in God’s people. That’s how God sees us you know. “You are precious” he says. “You are my temple. And you can share that”. Think of the care you give each other, the prayers, forgiveness of sins, your walk in the spiritual world and so on. Then you are busy in the temple doing the right things. Holy acts. Lots of people do that, I know. Many unnoticed. That’s wonderful. Jesus calls them precious. He also calls them ‘the secrets of his kingdom”.
The Father thought these people were worthy of having His secrets, the mysteries of His Kingdom, entrusted to them, because they can keep his secrets. You keep these mysteries a secret. You only reveal them to people you completely trust.
As I said ‘Cohen’ means those who stand before God. And you can stand before God in two ways. Most choose to stand before God and worship. Endlessly worship. That’s one way I suppose, but I don’t think my wife would like it if I worshipped her all day long. The word in Greek for worship is ‘proskunio’ and that actually means ‘kiss’. And you just can’t do that all day long! I think she would say after five minutes, “Thank you dear, but there’s still the washing up to do, the dusting and the garden needs tidying up.“
But nowadays people spend hours on end singing the same chorus over and over again and I am afraid that eventually it will have the opposite effect. They fall into a sort of trance. But what God actually says is: “Turn yourself around priest”. Turn around? Yes. And you turn around and what do you see? The world in need. Look at it. Because,” God says “that’s why I called you.
And you will notice that when you turn to face the poor, when you stand face to face with God’s creation that is still groaning in pain, then you will notice that I am behind you”. YOU are standing before God, because God is behind you. And that’s what I like about the expression “those who stand before God”.
So priests stand between God and the world. Because God so loved the world – and I give my own version here– that He gives his first born sonSSS so that everyone who believes THEM may have everlasting life. Jesus is not the first and only son. We are also first born sons, called to give eternal life to his creation, to nurture it. And that is your calling as priest. So not far away somewhere else in the world, but all around you, just where you are.
Jesus did not rush all round the world. He began at the most important point: ‘Jerusalem that is against Me‘. God so loved the world that He has called you. And soact on his call, and listen and move your feet. Youwalk in the name of the Father and the Son. You walk in the Spirit: that means you do things as they would. You are full of compassion, and you go around doing good.
And we have received the Spirit – do you know why? – to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Because as it is written, it is the Spirit that does that. But if this spirit is at work in you, then it is you who is convicting the world of sin. Who is showing them the difference. THIS is sin, and THAT is the righteousness that we preach, and the line that separates that, that is judgment. You do that. When you forgive someone, THAT is a holy act. You should do that sometime. Mind you, if you do it to the wrong person, then you get the door slammed in your face.
Let’s say you say to someone: just as Jesus was wont to. “Your sins are forgiven”. And that someone says: “what sins? I don’t sin. Then you can’t convict this person of their sins. So you keep quiet. But you can offer forgiveness of sins. And if they accept it then you can say: “Wonderful. Now death is conquered”. “What??” Yes. And then you can tell them. You are not going to die any more. You’ve got eternal life now. And you can explain how Satan has poisoned their mind and tell them about the gospel of Jesus.
Priests also knew all the things that were thought to be clean, or unclean. Well we don’t need that any more. Such as the lists of all the animals that were said to be unclean. There are still people who keep all the special rules concerning food you know. Well you can make them clean. “You are cleansed” Jesus says, “because I say so”. And as a priest you also have the authority to say this.
My wife and I have done this several times. Cleansing. To each other, but also to people who felt dirty and unclean. Spiritually that is. Proclaim themcleansed in the name of the Father. What a difference when someone has been cleansed. That is so wonderful.
But cleansed also has another meaning. It also means, unmixed. That is, pure and unadulterated. And this is where we have to be careful. Because what we believe can be mixed up with all sorts of strange doctrines. I am still trying to rid myself of old and strange ideas, but to do that I first have to have another, better idea to replace it. And then what I believe slowly becomes purer. Calvin sent some awful doctrines into the world. They made the people miserable. For example that you are a sinner until death, or the doctrine of predestination. Or as in some churches, the worship of the virgin Mary. Or the modern day spiritualism. So it is important that your faith is pure and that believers are cleansed in their ideas of God.
What else did the priests do? They taught the Torah: The Torah, sometimes translated as law, really means learning or instruction. And what can we learn from the Torah? How to live. The Torah teaches us how to live. It is an explanation of what the prophets said. The prophets referred back to it, and so did Moses.
When referring to the baptism of the spirit one of the evangelists said: “Then Jesus opened their mind so that they (his followers) understood the scriptures”.
So the prophets themselves did not understand what they said, but we can understand it through the Spirit of God that is in us, because the spirit teaches us. The spirit teaches us to read, to understand: In Psalm 119 we read: “Your word is a light onto our path. Opening your word shines light”.
And many people think that if they open the word of God, their Bible, then light will shine out. But opening the word of God means that you understand the meaning behind the words. Oh, is that what it means. Then the spirit has opened your mind to understand.
And light is always an image of love. Slowly you will begin to discover the hidden meaning behind that wonderful and precious word. What word was it? Light. That is the word, light. And that is the most wonderful image of love that you can imagine. We are bearers of that light, bearers of that love. Learn to love Jesus says. The most important commandment of all. Commandment is just another word for advice. And His advice is: Love one another. The Lord is never happier than when His people love one another. You can preach all you will and worship all you will, and sing all you will, but Jesus says: “You make my happiness complete if you love one another”. And that is all you have to do.
I was talking about what you can offer to people. That was forgiveness. Literally forgiveness means “throw away”. I forgive you. You don’t have to forget, because whatever it was, it has happened, but it doesn’t have any effect on you any more. Just like scars. When you cut yourself it hurts. Eventually the wound heals and becomes a scar. It is still there, but it doesn’t hurt any more.
So when I die, I will still know all the things that have happened to me in my earthly life. I don’t suddenly lose my memory. But it doesn’t hurt any more.
Did Jesus have scars? Why didn’t he heal His wounds in his hand and side?
That must have been a traumatic experience. Do you understand why Thomas wanted to see the scars. To prove that Jesus wasn’t some sort of magician, but a human being who had suffered, and, - all be it with scars, - had survived his experiences. He kept His identity.
Forgiveness cleanses you. And after the cleansing comes reconciliation. Reconciliation with God. You can count on that. “We are together again. There is no barrier between us any more”. That is what reconciliation means. You can give each other the kiss of peace because the covenant, the relationship is restored. You don’t kiss someone if you don’t love them. If you do, then you betray each other. That’s why Jesus says to Judas: “Do you betray me with a kiss?” Do you understand Jesus’ amazement? So never give each other a Judas kiss.
This reconciliation with God………….God is so happy that you are back with Him again. But there is another step. Reconciliation with yourself. You could preach a whole sermon about that, but “am I reconciled with myself?” I ask myself. Am I content to be who I am? Or do I need praise from other people? Do I need to brag and say: Look at me. With my witty comments and original ideas. Well, any original thoughts that I have, I got from someone else. I learned it all from my Father in Heaven. It’s true. When someone says to me: “Oh, that’s a lovely thought”. Well then it’s a thought I received from my Father. It’s that simple. Everything you have learned, you have learned from someone else. One plus one is two. You don’t just know that. Someone taught you. Everything you know, you heard or learned from someone. So don’t ever try to be anyone but yourself, because that is who you are, your real self. Even if you are very hurt. Reconcile yourself with yourself. It took me a long time to be able to say: “I am Duurt Sikkens, he’s a great guy and I like him. I like what I see.” Young people these days don’t find this so difficult, but people of my age come from a different generation, a different way of thinking.
In the book of Revelation priests are also called “elders”. And many churches have taken this word and turned it into an official task. A pity, because actually the whole church consists of elders. The church being the church of Jesus Christ. They do not act on behalf of the church, they ARE the church. The whole church consists of priests and elders.
And when do you become an elder? The Dutch word for ‘old’ comes from the verb that means ‘to nurture’. So an elder is someone who nurtures, edifies. It applies to both men and women. Brothers and sisters. So an elder is not an office held in the church, it is something you do. First you are nurtured and educated, and then you can nurture and educate others. First of all in the church, that’s where you learn all this. And then outside of the church. You nurture and educate God’s people, God’s creation and care for them. And what do you give them? Living water and bread from heaven. They are essential for life.
Unfortunately some people do not want water. They want something stronger. Something extra added to the gospel message, something spectacular, only then is it attractive to them. Well, I tell you, if you are really, really thirsty, then all you want is water. Clear refreshing water. It tastes so good then. And bread is enough isn’t it? Do you have to put all sorts of extras on it. Does a service have to be made attractive? There used to be beat masses. Do you remember them. Then people went to the Roman Catholic church for a beat mass. They didn’t go for the sermon but for the music. Jesus didn’t need all that. If you need that then that just shows that you don’t believe in the power of water and bread.
Being an elder has nothing to do with age. Some old people can make really stupid comments. Theycan you know. I am 70, but I am still a boy. At least that’s how I feel.
So it is not, the older the wiser, but the wiser you are, the better you can be an elder. Be wise first, and grow in wisdom, then you will become an elder who can nurture and teach and edify and care for others.
And there you are, standing between God and the world, as a priest. You DO things in the name of Jesus. Because if you only focus on what’s happening within your church, then you become introvert. You lose sight of the ultimate goal and become a sect. You have no interest in the rest of the world. “And I sent you” Jesus said, “into the world. Just as the Father sent me, I sent you. Go into the world. There’s plenty of food. Go and give it to them.”
Most people are focussed far too much on worship. Keep an eye out for those people who are worthy of hearing the gospel.They are the people you can nurture. They are the lost sheep of Israel, the christians who have lost their way. I mean by that, that God has lost these people, or they have been stolen from him through temptation or force. ‘Go and look for them” He says. Then compassion will begin to work.
And you know, you don’t have to pray for the whole world. Does it help? Jesus simply says: “I don’t pray for the world”. So what does He pray for? He says: “I pray for you, that you will not come into temptation, by diverging to the left, if you see what I mean, and that you keep your faith. That you will keep on believing in the power of the Word, andI am that Word. That’s what I pray for you. That you will keep standing. I don’t pray for the world. That won’t help.
But we have Maria, some say. She intercedes for us. Well, I’m afraid that’s not true. And you don’t need to say to Jesus: “Will you ask the Father for me…..if that and that will happen”. Jesus himself says: “you don’t need to do that. The Father loves you. You ask Him yourself, if you want to ask something”.
What about the holy spirit? Does the holy spirit intercede for me? What is that supposed to mean? That is another strange expression. The holy spirit is in you, and God gives you power, then see what happens. The word convicts. Start believing in the power of the word that you speak. In Hebrews chapter 1 verse 3 it says that “He upholds the universe through the power of His word.” Start believing in what you yourself say in the name of the Father and the Son. That’s what Jesus prayed for, that we would hold on to what we have, to what we have in our hands. Our mission as priest.
Do you know which apostle used the word “world’ the most? I counted. John. In his gospel. I counted the word sixty times. Which is why he called himself an ‘elder’ in one of his epistles. He thinks: “The world has to be nurtured and edified.” Jesus came into the world to…to what?
I was placed as a light in the world to….to what? Tosave. Jesus says: “I came to save my people, to care and to help”. And that is what we have to do too. Although I must say that some people are none too pleased if they are convicted of their sins. They will hate you Jesus says. They will hate you like they hated me. Somewhere else he says: “Beware of the people. Or “I send you as sheep among the wolves.” And the wolves may devour you. That’s what happened to Jesus. And to a number of the apostles. And don’t forget the persecution. He says: “You are vulnerable, but do you dare take the risk?
When I watch the birds in the garden, I see them pick up some food in their beaks, but all the time they are watching for danger. Is there no danger? Then they peck at some more food. They are always on the alert. Understandable. You can learn a lot from the birds you know.
So, be priests. That is our work. Spread the gospel. Don’t drag people along to your church. But give them something. Give them the gospel. Then they can decide for themselves if they want to join a church.
You can bring the gospel in the strangest of situations. Jesus delivered a man from a crazy spirit and the man said, “Can I come with you”? ”No” Jesus said. “Stay here”. I hear you thinking, that’s not a very caring attitude. Not what you expect from a pastoral worker. But Jesus says: “Stay here, because the fact that you are walking around here alive and well is a living testimony for all the people who know you only as a crazy person. An now you arenormal. I want them to see that”.
Well if that isn’t a good testimony, then I don’t know what is. Jesus believed that everything would be alright with the man. Letting go is more difficult that holding on. You know that don’t you? So don’t force them along to your church, but give them something in their hand. And if you spread the gospel in this way, then you are helping the world to change their way of thinking. That takes place in the heavenly realms, in the spiritual world. Our gospel goes from up above to down below and brings the people from down below up high. It is a wonderful gospel. With your anointed way of thinking, with your anointed ears, eyes, hands and feet you learn to see, listen, act and walk. Then you are on the right path. Then you are acting as a priest. Then, I sometimes think, then God’s compassion has found stature in you.
I imagine God saying: ‘How can I show the people that I am good? ”Well, He does that through His children. That is the meaning of the word child. Someone who comes from Him and knows how He thinks. Then you can shout out that we are kings, but this word king comes from a word that means child. If someone asks: “God, who are you? ”Then He says, If you want to know, look at my children. Look at My children, ask them”.
Would you dare to answer the question : “Where is God?” by saying “Here”. If you do then you are on the right track. Then God’s compassion will have found stature in you. Compassion has become flesh. It is tangible. Not just an ideal but reality. In your personality, and that’s how God becomes visible.
Are you a compassionate person? For yourself as well? When Jesus says: “Follow Me” then that means that He wants you to grow to understand how He thinks, and when He asks you: “Will you follow me? That means he wants you to follow His example in words and deeds. You have danced and sung enough. Go and do something. Go and wash away the sins of another person, tidy up the spiritual gardens. Make room for the new shoots trying to push their way up through the earth. Follow me in what I do, then you are a priest who spreads God’s ideals and His gospel over the world. Then you are a do-er of the word and not just a listener. His request is: “Please follow me”.
Shall we pray:
Father teach us to fulfil our calling. Teach us, through your spirit, to become priests in this world.