The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers does not mean only that we can pray directly to God, though it does mean that. And it does not mean only that we can read the Bible for ourselves, it does mean that. But it means primarily that we have a holy, happy duty to worship the living Triune God and to do it as priests.
Our worship is intercessory. Priests represent God before the world and they represent the world before God.
Israel was appointed by God to be a nation of priests, not just for their own benefit or their own private devotion, but God promised to Abraham that through his family all the families of the world would be blessed and receive life. They were to be the mediators to bring God’s blessing on the earth. So in Exodus 19, when Israel is delivered from Egypt and comes to Mt. Sinai, God tells them here is what you are – you are the people who obey my voice and keep my covenant, you are a special treasure to me, you are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The whole nation of Israel was a nation of worshipping priests, representing God to the world, and representing the world before God. They worshipped on behalf of the world. They interceded for the world. They preserved the world through worship. This is made evident in several places, but one of the chief examples is the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a feast that reminded Israel of her time in the wilderness, but also reminded them why they are set apart. Over the course of the week-long celebration they offered 70 bulls.
What’s the significance of 70? Back in Genesis 10 we get a list of all the nations and families of the earth and it adds up to 70, and wherever we see the number 70 in the Bible it is a rather obvious reminder of that roll-call of the nations. Israel was commanded to offer 70 bulls in the feast of tabernacles, on behalf of all the nations. They worshipped on behalf of the world. They represented the world before God.
Now the church as the new Israel is a priestly people also. Peter in 1Peter 2:9 repeats all the things that God said to Israel, and he applies it all to the church. You are a chosen nation, you are are royal priesthood, you are a holy nation – that you may proclam the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. The church is the new glorious royal priesthood of God, so when you worship, it is not just for yourself. When you worship, you worship on behalf of the world.
So when we come together to confess our sins, to hear God speak, to commune at his table, we do it not just for ourselves but for the people we represent. Just as Job offered up sacrifices on behalf of his sons. Just as the High Priest, when he went into the most holy place, carried the twelve stones on his breastplate which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Just as Israel sacrificed bulls for the entire world, so we as the New Israel enter the very sanctuary of God and make an offering for the whole world.
The church offers praise and thanksgiving for the unthoughtful thankless nations around us. We give to God the praise that ought to be coming from them. When we confess our sins, we confess the sins of the world. When we hear the word and believe the word, we are doing that for the world. Our prayers beg God’s mercy for the whole world. We confess our faith on behalf of an unbelieving world. We eat and drink on behalf of the world, and we are sent out for the world.
Public worship is an official act. This is not just an informal Bible study – sing a few songs, have some fellowship time. This is not just about you and your preferences and what makes you feel good. In fact your concerns are almost secondary. You have an official duty as a priest of God to come at a particular time and do things a particular way because you are an official ambassador for the world standing in the breech for the world.
In worship we are standing in the gap the way that Moses did for Israel. God said I’m going to destroy them, and the Psalmist in 106 says he would have destroyed them had not Moses his chosen one stood before him in the breach to turn away his wrath. We are like Abraham who prayed for Sodom. Like Paul who prayed for Israel.
So why wasn’t the world burned to a cinder last week? Why didn’t a meteor come and just wipe everything out? Why didn’t the earth shake and volcanoes erupt and tornadoes tear across the United States? Because we don’t deserve it? Why weren’t you destroyed last week when you sinned? When you told a lie? Or let lust run wild in your heart? Or lost your temper?
The only reason you were allowed to breathe, and the only reason that the world continues to spin is because God’s people stand in the gap. God’s people worship and pray for mercy for you and for the world. And we do it every week. The world doesn’t even know it, but it owes its life to the fact that there are people every week who come before God formally and stand before him and intercede – pray for his mercies.
The world is preserved through worship. The church is against the world in one sense. We are opposed to the way things run and the way people think and how they live. We condemn the world through our example and by the Word of God. But we are for the world in another way. You can’t be for the world unless you are against it.
You can’t help it unless you have left it’s rebellion and sin and come out of the world to help it. That’s the intercessory role of a priest and that’s what you are.