Closely related to the question we asked yesterday - what is the Temple? - is another question with another term that is important for us to define:
Who is the priest?
I'm not talking about what his name is; we're given plenty of those. I'm asking - what is his job? What does he do? What is his function, both in worship and in the community?
If you only have experience with the contemporary Christian church, you might be thinking this one is easy: he gives the sermon. If you've read the Old Testament a little bit, you might be thinking he offers the sacrifices. It was his job to skin the rams and cut the liver out and burn it all on the fire. You might even think perhaps he had a role similar to the prophets, where he was God's voice within the community.
In other words, he's the guy you go to hear from. He's the guy who is going to speak powerful, beautiful, truthful words to you whether those are the words you wanted or not. He's going to pray the prayers for you. He's going to make sure you have the full Temple experience that you're looking for. That's his job.
Or so we too often think.
The truth is that the priest was much more than just a preacher. (Sorry, preachers.) He wasn't even really a pastor. While it's true that the priest offered the sacrifices and spoke the truth, he also cleansed the people, atoned for their sin, stood in the gap, monitored their health, helped out when molds started growing in their houses. He took the people of God right to the mercy seat that sat above the covenant so that the people had a place with God.
That was God's design for the priest.
And I know what you're thinking right now - why does it even matter? We don't have Temple worship any more. We are so far beyond the days of the Temple. What we have now is the church, and we don't need a priest; we have a pastor. We don't have to have someone offer our sacrifices or speak truth; Jesus already did that. We don't need someone to cleanse us; we've been washed in the blood.
We are so quick to put Jesus into this priestly role and just accept all of the wonderful things, at least accept them intellectually, He's done for us and to declare ourselves a people beyond the Temple, beyond the place, beyond all those rules and regulations.
But what if they aren't rules and regulations? What if they're something more than that? And what if Jesus isn't the fullness of God's plan as it pertains to this?
Tough questions, and we'll finally answer them tomorrow. Or, at least, start to.