Worship: Temple, Priest, and Sacrifice, Part 2

From the simple and small plank sided buildings painted white to the grandest cathedrals I thrill at church buildings (more the older than the modern). Their architecture often depicts the beliefs and social status of their builders. These “houses of God” inspire reverence before God. The small country church in its simplicity reminds me of my humility before God. The cathedral reminds me of the awesomeness of God. This is when I long to be a much better artist with words, able to describe more poetically and visually these houses of worship and their influence on my heart. My mind is picturing so many churches which I have either visited or have only seen in pictures. One in particular comes to mind. Oh how I wish I could paint it with words fitting the picture I remember. It was, and perhaps still is, the meeting house of a Presbyterian congregation, on Belmont Blvd. in Nashville. It was in walking distance of the campus of Lipscomb University. As a student at Lipscomb this Presbyterian church building was a favorite place for myself and some friends to visit. We went there to pray, not on Sundays, but at night, any night. The doors were never locked. In the dimly lit sanctuary I sat in the balcony looking over a simply and beautifully decorated sanctuary. The silence, the architecture, the dim light, all enhanced a sense of God’s presence as I reflected on life and faith, and prayed. The tabernacle in the wilderness, Solomon’s temple, clap board churches, and cathedrals, have always been associated with worship of God.

It was likely the temple in Jerusalem Peter pictures as he encourages the readers of his first letter to faithfully live for Christ in the midst of difficult times. As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him–you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5). I thrill at Peter’s picture. Also I am humbled by it. I learn place and architecture is not what makes being with God’s people being in the house of God. When you are part of a gathering of God’s people you it is the people are the house of God, the temple of God. More than being in the temple you are part of it, one of the living stones with which Christ builds the temple of God. Gathered with God’s people, you and every Christian present are God’s holy priesthood serving God in his temple. Serving God at his temple, as priests of God you offer worship to God, spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ the high priest. I picture all the various types of churches and the temple in Jerusalem. Then I look around me when gathered with Christians and am thrilled and humbled for I am in the midst of God’s temple, a part of God’s house, of his holy priesthood, offering sacrifices to him. You see, the temple of God is God’s dwelling place by his Spirit, built by Christ (Ephesians 2). God is present. No building of brick, mortar, and steel, no architecture designed by man, can compare. When with God’s people, I am standing before God in the most holy place!

The image of God’s people as the temple of God is used, as here, of a congregation of God’s people or God’s people the world over. This image is also used of the individual Christian. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19). When I apply Peter’s words to the individual Christian, to myself, it is one of my favorite descriptions of a Christian. When you see a Christian walking down the street, he is the temple of God, the priest of God in the temple serving and worshiping God, offering spiritual sacrifices to God. Applying Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1-2, (discussed in my previous post), the picture becomes more thrilling and humbling. A Christian is the temple of God. She is the priest of God in the temple serving and worshiping God. And the sacrifice she is offering to God is the living sacrifice of her body. Peter’s application of his words to life present a similar picture of the spiritual sacrifices to be offered by God’s priests within his temple.

Peter’s first audience was experiencing trials of many kinds because of their faith in Christ (1 Peter 1:6; 2:19-25; 3:9, 13-14; 4:12). Peter is encouraging them to faithfulness in the midst of those trials. He is encouraging them to be faithful as God’s temple and priesthood in worshiping God and declaring the praises of God. The picture of temple, priest, and sacrifice, is the picture of Christians faithfully serving and worshiping God. As I understand Peter’s application, quoted below, those spiritual sacrifices offered by God’s holy priesthood in God’s spiritual house are the lives Christians live in this world.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:9-12)

What Paul (see previous post) and Peter help us understand is that worship does set the agenda for how we deal with all the situations and relationships of life. The issues of life are issues of worship. The issues of life are issues of offering our bodies as living sacrifices, as worship to God. The issues of life are issues of offering spiritual sacrifices as worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God, that declare God’s praises. Those sacrifices offered in worship are everyday choices and living, abstaining from sinful desires, and choosing and doing what is pleasing to God.

Remember Peter’s image as you live your home life, as you walk down the street, as you are on the job, when you gather with other Christians. Remember you are the temple of God, and in the temple you are the priest whose responsibility is to serve God in the temple with worship, offering spiritual sacrifices to God’s glory and praise.

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