Jesus IS a High Priest, but what does He DO?
In our last post we looked at the fact that Jesus in Hebrews 8:2 is identified as the sole minister (leitourgos) of heaven. Our High Priest! This is one major aspect of his Identity. Therefore, it was our conclusion that the only One worthy to receive the big “T” title of Worship Leader is Jesus Himself. It’s who he is. No one else can claim this ontologically (in being).
However, there’s something also intriguing about the word used here for Jesus’s role. The word liturgy is grounded in the same root words as that of leitourgos. So what, right? Well, this is hugely significant because in our last post we looked at who Jesus IS as High Priest. Liturgy on the other hand, a word commonly derived from the Greek, means “the work of the people.” It describes what one Does. It will be shown here to refer to what Jesus DOES as High Priest. If we are to understand Jesus’ ministry and how to respond to it, we need to know how Jesus intends to form and shape us through is kingdom priestly work.
In looking at this, we will redefine liturgy, and yes, I will attempt to undo a traditional definition of the word and suggest a better meaning and way forward in how we think regarding worship.
Liturgy, huh? That’s for the Grandparents.
To most, liturgy is a bad word. It stinks of tradition, form, and is what charismatics like to label as “not-spirit-filled.” Not so fast! Liturgy is in God’s word and we need to pay attention. Remember, words are like containers that are filled with meaning. We need to understand this word not reject it out of our own baggage.
James K.A. Smith says this to help us, “Liturgy is the shorthand term for those ritual’s that are loaded with Story about how and whose we are, inscribing in us a habits by marshaling our aesthetic nature.” That’s a mouthful! What he says in his book Imagining the Kingdom is that everyone has a liturgy—a form. We all have a way of defining the world and we all desire to live into some kind of story—the stadium, the supermarket, the church, the college etc. Everything in all of life follows a pattern (a liturgy) in how it gathers and speaks to us, how it solicits a response from us and desires to commission us into its mission and purpose. Everything has a story. Our innate desire for patterns of formation and meaning is woven into the creation. If we’re not careful we can be overtaken by the liturgical formation of lesser things. They will only root within us in the form of lesser loves.
God forms us. Jesus forms us. His formation of us goes far beyond an order of service or what’s in your bulletin on Sunday morning. He follows a “shape” and ministry in the kingdom. His ministry in the kingdom as a Worship Leader is shaping our response here on earth. In our worship services we observe this in that all church’s have a time devoted to a greeting (call to worship from God), a time for the Word (God speaks), a time to respond (we surrender to God), and time to be sent out (God sends). We all do it a bit different in the specifics, but this general rhythm is how God deals with his people. It’s a habitual form that shapes us for the kingdom.
Smith says that there is no such thing as “no form.” Everything forms us!!! Therefore, we need to distinguish between good and poor forms. We are all being formed, and “the formation of the imagination is a liturgical effect.” Our habits, rhythms, and daily schedules form us as much as a Sunday service—perhaps more so. Smith says that liturgically we shape our lives around what we believe to be the “good life.” Jesus’ vision of the “good life” is the kingdom. So that causes me to ask, “What is our Worship Leader doing in his kingdom, and what does it have to do with us?” The following is the liturgy of Jesus:
He intercedes for us: Those on stage in our churches may exhort us into a “call to worship” or a “call to pray,” but Jesus is the one doing the calling. Our prayers only reach so far, while his intercessory ministry also reaches into the future to include all believers who would, directly or indirectly, come to the Lord because of our ministry. This is a CRUCIAL fact. This makes Jesus the primary general and leader of his church. All of our work is only established through the work of his prayers. The church is not to be Senior-Pastor or “stage-led.” The church is a charismatic (grace-gifted) body of the Most high, and we are called to minister under the power of his prayers.
He pleads his “finished work” over us: Jesus’ ministry is to plead his case over ours. We should stand before the bench of the Judge of the Cosmos condemned and guilty of treachery in his kingdom. But this kind King-Priest (remember Melchizedek) takes the cameras off of us and puts it on himself. He bears the ridicule, defamation, and attacks so we don’t have to. Worship then is ultimately about the attention placed upon the work of Christ, rather than the “work of the people”—us! (Are you catching my subtle shift?)
He reconciles us back to the Father: It is not the endless altar calls that make us right with God. It’s not our excellence, performance, stature, gifting, or any other work of our hands. What makes us “right” with God is the ministry of Jesus. His work. He works it in and through his people to accomplish his will and good purpose. Keep with me!
He is the God-man at the right hand of God: God’s right hand is the hand of power in the Scriptures. That means any power we can gain–directive power, authoritarian power, persuasive power, influential power, or coercive power cannot outwit Christ. Understanding this humbles any leadership attempt we make. Our wisdom produces in us Christ-likeness, and a servant-hearted posture. We know we’re not the power-holders, we merely receive a power and energy from Christ’s work in the kingdom that helps us to carry on.
He advocates for us while Satan accuses us: This is a legal name given to the Holy Spirit. An Advocate in a court situation is someone who vouches for the guilty when all are against them. The Holy Spirit comforts us when all others wounds us, he councils us when all others fail us, and he convicts us when all others flatter us. The gospel draws attention to the “worth-ship” of the Triune God and his work in our worship. He stays when everyone else with a “title” leaves.
He Mediates for and amongst us: Our songs don’t bring the presence of God. Did you hear that? A man/woman leading the service does not create a “good worship atmosphere.” The book of Revelation tells us that it is Christ who walks amongst the lampstands (his church). He brings the presence, he is the presence, he calls us to worship, and if we do not experience him in worship, it is NEVER the fault of a human leader, it is rather our fault. We’ve come face to face with the Worship Leader of the Kingdom, and yet we have failed to hear His voice. Only Christ can mediate the presence of a Holy God into the realm of fallen mankind.
So what does this have to do with us? Really?
If God is the High Minister of heaven, and is performing a liturgy—a work—in heaven for us, then the liturgy—our forms—should not be entitled the “work of the people,” but liturgy is truly the work of God “in, on, and through the people.” God is working on us in our worship. Our hearts chase lesser loves when we have the beautifier of the creation willingly serving us in prayer, defense, supply, and social standing. He’s rehabilitating our lack-luster desires.
In our next 3 posts we will flesh out the ramifications of God’s worship leading and how the truth of it impacts the 1) Cosmos, the 2) Church, and our 3) Culture.