Jesus—right now—is not doing nothing. Yes, his work on the cross is finished. He’s risen, ascended, and seated at his Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). But in sitting down, he’s not simply resting and waiting or twiddling his thumbs. His role as prophet, priest, and king continues.
Last time we focused on Jesus’s ongoing role as prophet. Now we’ll consider his role as priest. As church planters, what does it mean for us on Monday afternoon or Thursday morning that Jesus’s priestly role is active?
The Forever Priest
The Scriptural role of the priest—one who represented God to the people and the people to God through sacrifices and intercession—was fulfilled in Jesus through his death on the cross (e.g., Heb. 2:17, 7:26–27, 9:11–14). The gospel accounts make Jesus’s climactic role as our priestly mediator clear. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we read that the temple curtain is torn down as Jesus offers his blood (Matt. 27:50–51; Mark 15:37–38; Luke 23:44–46). Free access to God is now available. Because Christ died for his people—forgiving sins, paying for guilt, and covering shame—we can know the holy God who made us for himself.
Then Jesus ascends to his Father’s side. And although his once-for-all sacrifice has already been offered forever, his priestly work for his people is ongoing (Heb. 4:14–16, 7:24). This work is not sacrificing himself time and again; that is finished (Heb. 9:24–26). Rather, he continues his priestly office as our mediator. He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25, 9:24) and sends the Spirit to us (John 16:7–11; Eph. 1:13–14). But also, as Jesus has physically ascended and is present before his Father, so we—in our union with Christ—are present before him (Eph. 2:5–7).
But what does this all have to do with the work of church planting?
A Kingdom of Priests
The church—your ordinary, local church—is described as a kingdom of priests (1 Pet. 2:5, following the language for Israel in Ex. 19). So, in our neighborhoods, we are to fulfill our ongoing priestly duty. God’s people are to mediate God’s presence to the world. Is there a more powerful motivation for church planting? Christ’s church is the primary means by which God communicates himself to the world today. But how do we live as this kingdom of priests? Here are three simple ways.
(1) We die to self.
Just as Jesus willingly gave up his body, we are to do the same (Rom. 12:1). We must die to ourselves in little and big things daily, taking up our crosses and following him—not just on the good days or in the ways we enjoy serving. We should always look to the needs of others before our own and be ‘you first’ rather than ‘me first’ Christ-followers. We lovingly steward our blessings and opportunities as a means to serve others rather than capitulating to the knee-jerk tendency to serve ourselves. Let’s follow our ascended Christ as we seek to pour ourselves out in love.
(2) We pray for others.
Just as Jesus intercedes for his people, we are to be those who intercede. God has given us the mysterious privilege of praying that his kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as in heaven (Matt. 6:10). How important is intercession to your church plant? How important is it to you? In the early, weak, and fragile days of a church’s life, prayer meetings are often full. But as the church grows more robust, we can begin to trust ourselves rather than God. So let’s follow our ascended Christ as we seek to intercede.
(3) We share the gospel.
Just as Jesus taught us how to know and draw near to God, we are to tell a distant and distracted world how to know the God who made us and for whom we were made. Because Jesus is—even now—in the presence of his Father and his people are joined to him by faith, we have a message of real reconciliation to ring out from our churches! Again, in the early days of a church plant, we’re enthusiastic proclaimers. But as time passes and processes get established, it’s all too easy for the message to become less vital. How important is sharing that message to you personally? How much do you pray for courage and clarity in communicating our great Savior? Let’s follow our ascended Christ as we seek to proclaim the good news.
It would be easy to end there, feeling burdened with a load more to do. Your ascended high priest just seemingly handed you a list of things to add to your already busy schedule. But no. Remember again that Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit that we might follow after him. Jesus doesn’t leave you on your own. He is the one who will equip you as you pour yourself out, intercede, and seek to teach others their need to draw near to the good God who made them.
Editor’s note: This three-part series of articles (you’re reading part two) follows the structure of Patrick Schreiner’s excellent book, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine (Lexham Press: 2020).