The Priest - Audio Service 14.11.21
with Revd. David Burrow
or watch/listen on youtube here.
The book referenced in the recording including the story taken from it is credited to Peter Shilling in 'In a Believer's Ear' published by the Dome Mission, Brighton England and all copyright is with the author.
Subtitles available on the video, please click the 'cc' button.
Suggested Hymns & Songs:
‘Only by grace can we enter’
‘Alleluia! Sing to Jesus’
‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’
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Hello and welcome to this audio service by the Rossendale Methodist Circuit, what you'll hear shortly is a recording of a service that usually takes place at Longholme Methodist Church in Rawtenstall on Tuesday mornings at 10 am, this is a live recording so do expect some background noise, although we've tried to reduce this as much as we can. The hymns unfortunately have to be removed for copyright reasons, but we've suggested some links to versions of the hymns below this video. This weeks service is entitled 'The Priest' and you'll Revd. David Burrow begin the service now.
Our worship today is, because it's remembrance, well armistice day on Thursday, Remembrance day on Sunday, we're going to use this Holy Communion for times of Remembrance and as you can see on the sheet there it says that we begin with Psalm 23 so that's where I am going to begin with psalm 23.
'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul, he leads me in paths of righteousness for his names sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows, surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.' Amen.
First of all a prayer, a prayer of approach, creator and lover of souls, you uphold us in life and sustain us in death, our God who cares for us all, for us you have raised from death a mighty savior who like a rising dawn shines on those who dwell in the shadow of death, we thankyou for our loved ones who we see no longer and for all our forebears. Renew in us gratitude for those from whom we come, for it was you who gave them your being as the sun rises in the east so they arose out of your love. In the dimness of memory this alone we know. For as the sun goes to its rest in the west, so they rest in you. Let us confess our share in what is wrong and our failure to build peace based upon good relationship and just dealings. Christ victim of hostility, have mercy on us. Christ vanquisher of barriers, have mercy on us. Christ linking us across the shores of treachery and time, have mercy on us. This world is home to one vast human family, we sleep beneath one roof, the starry sky, we warm ourselves before one hearth, the blazing sun. Upon one floor of soil we stand and breathe one air and drink one water and walk the night beneath one luminescent moon, the children of one God we are brothers and sisters of one blood and members in one worldwide family of God, Amen.
So we're going to come to our Bible in a minute, and but first just by word of introduction, I'm sure you'll remember in days gone by how sometimes you'd run out of things, there's that challenge of running out of sugar just as you are having a cup of tea at night or maybe you were making some tea and you thought, well we need some eggs and we've run out of eggs. Or even you've run out of milk. Now that never happened on the farm of course but since we left the farm that does happen occasionally. And now of course we can, we can head off down into town and go to the supermarket, which is open 24 hours a day, something our grandparents never knew, you can have what you want when you want it, it's open access isn't it all the time. And I wonder if you've ever had an access all areas pass to a music concert or a sporting event, anybody? To a theme park, yeah, absolutely yeah, I forgot about theme parks, yeah. But if you've got one for you know, a sporting event, a music event, you get to go back stage and meet all the superstars and, I mean I would love an access all areas pass to the formula one grand prix at Silverstone, it'd be wonderful wouldn't it to go backstage there and meet all the drivers and mechanics and the owners of the teams and the designers I mean I could go on and on and on. We kind of love formula one in our house, and, well two of us do. But to access all areas, access all areas.
Now if we're going to say, as we are going to say this week, Jesus my Priest, last week was prophet this week is priest of course, then we need to think about how Jesus gives us access to God. As I said last week we said that Jesus was our prophet so what's the difference between a prophet and a priest? Well it's very simple, a prophet is the person by whom God comes to his people, God speaks through the prophet. So God comes to the people through the prophet, but a priest is a person by whom the people come to God, God's people come to God through the priest. And you know in some Christian traditions that's still the case isn't it, you know you go to the priest for prayers to be said for you know, other sort of religious rituals to be carried out. Whereas in Methodism of course we believed in the priesthood of all believers, we believe that we all have direct access to God and we don't need to go through a human priest anymore.
But if we want to find out how Jesus is our priest then we need to read the book of Hebrews, wonderful book. It's there in the New Testament, not often read I'm afraid, but it was likely written to Jews who had become believers in Jesus, they converted to Christianity and they were being persecuted for their faith and the author of Hebrews wants the readers to understand how it's possible for them to have access to God and the answer of course is through Jesus our great high priest. Now Hebrews is the only new testament letter that calls Jesus a priest. And the writer does a wonderful job of explaining how that's possible, but to look at all the various arguments if you like, all the various reasons why Jesus is our great high priest would take a whole series of sermons. It would take sermons on what it meant to have a sacrificial system in the old testament, and the way the temple is designed and all of these things so it would take a long time but, so we're just going to give it a go anyway for this morning.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash.
We're going to start in Hebrews chapter 4 and verse 14 and then read through to the end of, verse ten chapter five. So the writer of Hebrews says, 'Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast our confession for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, for every high priest chosen from among them is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for our sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness, because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people and no one takes this honor for himself but only when called by God just as Aaron was.' (Aaron, Moses's brother of course) 'So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest but was appointed by him who said to him, "you are my son, today I have begotten you" as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence, although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.' Amen.
We'll come to Melchizedek later, he's a bit of a mystery, but we'll come to him in a few minutes. First of all I mean I wonder if you've ever been amazed at how God made it possible just for us to have access into his presence, when you contemplate that it's just amazing isn't it. That we can enter into the presence of God, almighty God who is holy, who is just, who is all powerful, who is all knowing, who scared the living daylights you know out of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai when Moses was there with the people, and there was fire and thunder and lightning and everything around Mount Sinai, to mark the presence of God and the people didn't dare approach the mountain, they didn't dare go anywhere near God's presence. And yet this same God allows us direct access, access open all areas, open all hours, you know it's just wonderful.
And so we have to ask the question, how is this possible?
Well, firstly we need to understand something of the systems as I said before of priests and sacrifice in the old testament, in Hebrews chapter 10 verse 11 we read these words 'Every priest stands daily at his service offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins' so in the temple you know, you've got your priest there, he never sat down. He was on his feet all day offering sacrifices, there were no pews, not even comfy chairs in the temple because they weren't allowed to sit down to show that their work was never complete. There was always another sacrifice to make. To make for their own sin and sacrifices to make for the sins of the people, but those ongoing sacrifices which were repeated day in and day out can never take away sin forever, you know, the priests provided some access to God, with their sacrifices, all those sacrifices which are written down in the Jewish law, you can read all about them if you want in the old testament. But the law itself was vitally important of course, if you broke the law that was a sin and that blocked your access to God, you had no access to God.
So, then knowing that you'd sinned you'd go and buy yourself a perfect lamb or ram or a bullock and take it to the priest of the temple to be sacrificed on your behalf so that you know, hopefully you would be forgiven, but once the sacrifice had been made, you know that was great, you had access to say your prayers and whatever, but as soon as you went and sinned again, down came the door it slammed shut, no access to God. Sin was a barrier all the time to God. And even the annual very complicated sacrifices that were offered for the sins of the high priest and for all the people on the day of atonement, couldn't keep sin at bay for long.
Now the day of atonement is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar, it's the one day where everything stops, as I say it's the most holy day, and sacrifices were offered, lots of sacrifices were offered on that day by the priest for his own sin early in the morning and then he'd take the blood of a bullock into the holy of holies, right into the heart of the temple and there he would offer that blood to God as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. But there was a problem, it didn't work. It didn't have the power to deal with people's hearts, what was really in them. It didn't have the power to deal with my conscience if you like, and it didn't take into account what God is really like.
So if that system that we read about in the old testament in so much detail didn't really work, what happened? How can we say that we have access, open access to God? Well Jesus, as our high priest offered himself as the one and only perfect sacrifice for sin, for Jesus the priest and the sacrifice are one and the same. As Peter Shilling puts it in his book, 'That is why we call Jesus a priest, because through offering himself as a sacrifice he was opening up access to God and opening up access to God is the work of a priest. So the priest and the sacrifice in Jesus' case are one in the same. Jesus our great high priest offers himself as the sacrifice for our sin.
And look at the last verse on that hymn that I've given you, which is 'Alleluia, sing to Jesus', they've changed the words in the hymn book which is why I've written it our for you, the last verse, 'Alleluia, king eternal, you the Lord of Lords we own, Alleluia, born of Mary, earth your footstool, heaven your throne' so human and God, 'you within the veil,' that's to go into the presence of God, 'you within the veil have entered, robed in flesh our great high priest.' So Jesus our great high priest is both human in the flesh and God as well. 'You on earth both priest and victim,' both priest and sacrifice, 'In the Eucharistic feast.' Eucharist? Holy Communion. And whenever we share in holy communion we remember that sacrifice of Jesus as he offers himself as our high priest.
This was an amazing act of unconditional love, both love and mercy, as God gave himself up to die. In Jesus in order to open wide the gates of heaven, and do that once and for all. In those verses that I read from Hebrews, the writer there is introducing the central theme of the whole lesson which is, the high priesthood of Jesus and as our high priest, Jesus who is fully human he says, is able to sympathise with our weaknesses. Jesus was tempted as we know, tempted in every way just as we are. But he never succumbed to temptation, he was without sin and therefore he was, just like the lamb that I mentioned earlier being offered as a perfect sacrifice, it had to be an unblemished lamb, Jesus is our unblemished offering, sin offering to God, so it's a perfect sacrifice offered for some very imperfect people, as it were.
Now to be a priest you had to be selected from among the people as Jesus was. A priest had to be a person of compassion, dealing gently with those, as we said, who were ignorant or going astray, and you can only do that if you identify with people's weaknesses as Jesus could because as I said he was tempted like you and me so therefore he can identify with us as we go through those difficult times. And finally a priest has to be called and appointed by God just as it says in those words in Hebrews that Jesus was.
So Jesus fits the role of a priest perfectly but there was still a problem. Jesus wasn't from the tribe of Levi, Aaron, Moses' brother was appointed priest by God and Aaron was from the tribe of Levi, twelve tribes of Israel, yep, Aaron was from the tribe of Levi. And all the priests after that came from the tribe of Levi down through the centuries, but Jesus was born to the tribe of? Judea. Yep, Judea, tribe of Judea. And so he wasn't in that line of of priesthood of Aaron, he wasn't part of Aaron's priestly line. Which is where Melchizedek comes in. When Abraham was out having a battle, so you're going back a long time now, he won this big battle, it's a long story but let's just, he won, he was victorious. He had lots and lots of goodies from winning this battle, lots of booty as it were. And off he went up to Salem, which is Jerusalem, yeah, and there he was met by Melchizedek, who was a priest of God. And Abraham offered Melchizedek one tenth of all the things that he captured from his victory in battle. Melchizedek was a priest of God and Melchizedek means, well in Jerusalem, he was king of Salem, king of peace, Salem means peace, Jerusalem, city of peace, Melchizedek was priest of Salem, king of priests. King of...yes he was king of Salem, king of peace. Ok? Jesus was the? Prince of peace of course. So Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to that of Aaron, because he comes before him. Aaron's priesthood was later. Melchizedek was there as priest of God, God's priest in Salem. And because Abraham recognised this that he was God's priest, therefore he offered worship to God by offering a tithe of ten percent to Melchizedek.
So Jesus, says the writer to Hebrews, is in the line of the priesthood of Melchizedek. So Jesus's self sacrifice, because Melchizedek is eternal, he's only mentioned in Hebrews and then back there in Genesis, because Melchizedek's priesthood is eternal so Jesus' priesthood is eternal. So Jesus' self sacrifice on the cross, his voluntary self sacrifice effects both those who lived before Jesus and those who live after him. So when people say, what about the people who were born and lived before Jesus? How does Jesus' death work for them? Well this is how. Because Jesus' death, his sacrifice is eternal, so the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can offer forgiveness who were before him and those that will come after him.
It's a mystery how it works, but the scriptures say that's possible. And God says that's possible. Which is rather wonderful really. So that when we read you know, Abrahams fate was considered to him as righteousness, that he was in a right relationship with God, then although Abraham didn't know it Jesus' death on the cross all those years later was impacting upon Abrahams life at that point. True for Noah as well and others too. When Jesus offered himself he made it possible for all those who believe in Jesus, who receive the holy spirit to one day be made perfect, to be made whole.
Now we're not perfect yet, unless anybody knows something I don't. But Jesus' self sacrifice has the power to transform our lives, because it deals with our conscience, our inner nature. When we accept by faith the gift of God's forgiveness, made possible by Jesus' death, we are filled with the holy spirit and so we have the power to resist temptation. Because God's love for us is so wonderful, we want to love him back in return don't we? We love because he first loved us. As it says in 1 John 4. And so one day we will be made perfect and we will be able to stand in God's presence.
All made possible because of Jesus' death on the cross. Which brings us back to where we started. Access to God. In Hebrews 10 verse 19 it says, 'Therefore since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God let us draw near.' What a great affirmation of faith that is, and the reference there to the curtain, you know, at the moment that Jesus gave up his spirit on the cross, at the moment he died, the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem was torn in two from top to bottom. That curtain was sometimes called 'the veil' it was made of finely twined linen, it was beautiful it was embroidered in rich scarlet, purple and blue, had pictures of cherubim on it and it was a really thick curtain and it hung there in front of the holy of holies. And no one, no one was allowed to go behind that curtain into the presence of God apart from the holy priest, on the day of atonement which we mentioned earlier on one day of the year. People believed it was behind that curtain that God dwelled. Only the high priest could go in there, on the day of atonement to make the sacrifices for his sin and for the sins of the people. He had to take with him the blood of the sacrifice. But as Jesus died and offered his blood as a sacrifice that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, open access to God. A powerful symbol of how there was no longer a barrier between God and humanity, access all areas. Jesus is our pass to the presence of God.
Jesus' sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.
Peter Shilling has a lovely story in his book about access to, a picture if you like of having access to someone. It took place when he was in Nashville in Tennessee and he had a telephone call from George Hamilton the fourth no less, a country and western singer for those of you who don't know George Hamilton the fourth, apparently they met in Blackpool. Peter Shilling was ministering there and George was obviously singing. And he said, he invited him to his concert he said, "I'd like you" George Hamilton said to Peter he said, "I'd like to take you to the grand ole opry," which is the center of world country music of course. "Great' I said, 'when?" and he answered, "Well I'm singing there tonight I'll meet you at the door." 'So when I got there, there were lots of security men around, big fellows and I thought to myself I'll never get in here, however I said to the smallest one in my best English accent, "Good evening, I have come to meet George Hamilton the fourth," he looked at me as if I was a little odd I don't think he believed me, "Oh yes I said, we arranged to meet over there." So the security man said "You go over there then," and you could almost hear him thinking, 'you'll never get in' at the next door there were more security men even bigger than the ones before and standing by them was George Hamilton the fourth, he said "Hi, come with me." Well we passed all kinds of barriers, doors, gates, partitions, we passed what seemed like hundreds of security men but now they all waved at me and said, "Hi," no one stopped me now I was with the singing star, we walked on until we suddenly stopped in the center of a huge area there was a singing group singing away, there were hundreds of lights all shining down on us. "Where are we?" I asked and George said, "We're on the stage. Look out there, there are 4500 people looking at you." I looked out and there they were, he had taken me right onto the center of the stage, right into the heart of the complex and the fact was that I could never have gone there but for him. It's the same with God, he gave us his son, he offered himself to die in order to convince us of his love he became a sacrifice and so our great high priest, a priest whos task it is to make possible our forgiveness and so to take us into the very presence of God himself.
So when we sing 'Jesus, my priest' it is Jesus who takes us by the hand because he loves us and we love him and it's Jesus who leads us into heaven itself with all the beauty of life that he makes possible.'
No wonder the writer of the Hebrews says, 'Let's draw near' Let us draw near. So we respond to that invitation and with Christians throughout the world proclaim that Jesus is my priest.
Let us pray. We pray for end to the injustices which become breeding grounds of war, we pray for the restoration of fellowship and the building of integrity between nations. Lead us from fear to trust. Lead us from despair to hope. Lead us from hate to love. Lead us from war to peace.
Still stands your ancient sacrifice, a humble and a contrite heart, Lord God of hosts be with us yet. Lest we forget. Lest we forget. On those who were snatched from earth by violent death holy Jesus grant rest eternal. On those whose sleep is stolen by the ravages of memory, holy Jesus grant rest eternal.
So we offer our prayers for those who are sick, and for those who are bereaved. And we remember again those whom we know and love who are ill today. We think of Alison, and Brenda, in the stillness we bring to God others too who we know. We pray for healing and for wholeness. We have a special request today to pray for Roberta and her family. Lord we thankyou for Roberta and all she does at the youth club here and pray that you would give her the strength that she needs to care for her family, we ask your blessing upon her and all those whom she loves. Father we continue to pray for Nooshin's Mum as she recovers from her operation.
And Lord we pray too for all who grieve, we remember those people in Afghanistan for whom life is just an ongoing nightmare. Those who've lost loved ones there, those who have nothing to look forward to apart from famine and more pain and suffering without the help of the international community. So we pray for those who can offer help, who have the resources, who have the capacity, the people. To save those people. And so Lord we pray, we pray for peace, we pray for food, we pray for healthcare, we pray for education and we pray that the war in Afghanistan will not stand in the way of a future that is full of peace and filled with your presence.
Father as we think about Armistice day and Remembrance Sunday services coming up, we continue to pray for all those lost in wars, down through the centuries, but also those who continue to fight today and once again we pray for those who could be peacemakers and pray that they might not give up the fight to bring peace to those who are suffering. So Father we offer our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ who taught us to say, our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
A reading from Johns gospel chapter 6 and verse 35, 'Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst, but I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe, all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out for I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day, for this is the will of my father. That everyone who looks on the son and believes in him should have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. Amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious you, let Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace, Amen.
Let us go in the spirit of Christ to honor the dead, to serve the living and to build a common good, Amen.
Thankyou for listening and we hope you enjoyed the service, you can find us online on www.rossendalemethodistcircuit.co.uk and also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Please do let us know what you thought of this service in the comments below and you can always contact us by email at email@example.com.