Fasts, Streams, and Priests

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 (NIV)
On Sunday I issued a challenge to us:
Pick a relationship or situation that is in great need of Christ’s character.  Then spend some time this week fasting and praying that Christ’s character might break into that relationship or that situation.  

I’m writing now to give this challenge more explanation.  I want to start by thinking about Jesus as High Priest.  Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection served to bridge a gap between humanity and God.  Each step he took moved us all in the direction of reconciliation.  Hebrew priests functioned much in the same way.  They served as intermediaries in the broken relationship between God and his people.  They offered sacrifices on behalf of the people, for reconciliation.  This happened over and over again, until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Jesus took the place of both the priest and the sacrifice, that in him all people might have a path to be reconciled to God, one another, and even the rest of creation.  He stands now eternally as the priest who lived and sacrificed for others.  We need only trust him to enter into this path of reconciliation.  

I think it is helpful to think about the brokenness of this relationship with a metaphor of two streams.  In one stream there is the intention of Christ, the creator—the way it would be if he were King. This stream is marked by the character he exhibited on earth, things like justice, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness, and equality.  In the other stream, is the reality of our broken, limply independent world. This stream is marked by decay, moved along by the self-centered divisiveness of the human will. Priests, tried to make a way for the two to flow together, that the intention/character of God would overcome the avarice of this age.  Christ’s priesthood was/is a canal between the two; a waterway we enter by faith.  This is Christ’s ministry, his steadfast and holistic work of reconciliation. 

Now, here in 1 Peter, Christians are also referred to as priests who offer sacrifices.  Now, I ask, you: is there any way to think about Jesus’ sacrifice as an offering for himself? No!  Without someone to sacrifice for, his work is irrelevant.  A priestly sacrifice is done on behalf of someone else.[1]  The very function of a priest is to be a representative. Even though Christ’s work of reconciliation is global and eternal it is not finished business.  We now are called to continue the work.[2]  We must work to also be tributaries between the streams; not out of our moral aptitude or our own righteousness, but as an extension of the very character of Jesus—shall we say, the Spirit.[3]
Fasting then, is a sacrifice, by which we stand in the margin and begin to dig a trench.  Christ works through the labor and struggle of our sacrifice to mend our own soul and to bring his healing and reconciling work into the relationship or situation we’ve chosen to represent.  We fast, not unto ourselves, but as humble priests, born into the priestly line of Christ through his grace and our faith. We cooperate with his will for this relationship or situation.[4]  

A few words of clarification: I’m not necessarily talking about evangelism.  I can think of all sorts of Christian relationships that have drifted into the stream of self-righteousness.  I know people of Christ who hate each other.  Also, unlike Christ, our priestly position has nothing to do with our worthiness.  In this process it may be incredibly important for us to express the ways in which we have been self-centered and contributed to decay. If there are other complexities that arise as you think about all this, please ask me.  I would cherish the opportunity to listen. 

So, as priests in the blood-line of Christ, let us fast on behalf of a relationship or situation. Let us sacrifice that there might be an opportunity for the character of Christ to flow through the brokenness and to bring reconciliation. On Sunday we will participate together in an activity that will emphasize this priestly process.[5]

[1] There are instances in Leviticus where the priest might offer sacrifices on his own behalf (see 4:3-12).  However, the vast majority of their work involved representing the people before God. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives Jesus a unique title, “The Man for Others.”  I think that’s a pretty useful perspective.
[2] This text in 1 Peter was probably intended for a community or several communities who were undergoing persecution.  So imagine, the calling here is probably an encouragement to believers to sacrifice on behalf of their persecutors.  The stakes would have been quite high.
[3] I am relying heavily on this text from 2 Cor. 5:17-6:1, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made himself to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
[4] When I write, “his will,” I’m not referring to choices like whether you should go to McDonalds or Burger King.  I’m talking about his constant, universal will.  God always wills love. 
[5] I had written this as a definition for fasting, but haven’t found an appropriate place to integrate it.  So here it is anyway: Fasting is begging for Christ’s justice, compassion, mercy, and kindness to be our sustenance; that we might live off of it; that its light might break into dark places.


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