Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
Almost everyone would like to be special, at least once in a while. It’s a normal part of life. It is one of the reasons that birthdays continue to be so important to so many people. For that day, everyone takes a moment to wish you a happy birthday. If you have a Facebook account, word travels across the web and sometimes dozens (or even a hundred or more) of people send you a birthday greeting.
But beyond the basic human desire to be affirmed and lifted up as special once in a while is a deeper form of being set apart. In scripture, we hear the story of God and the people of Israel, set apart for the work of shaping not only their own nation, but to influence the rest of the world as well.
The verse above identifies the people in the wilderness, wandering out of Egypt and into the desert, as a “priestly kingdom” and a “holy nation.” These titles aren’t just granted. They come as a part of a covenant between God and the people. Their obedience is a mark of their special calling. God’s response to this obedience means they are treasured. And the result is a special place among the nations.
Their holiness is granted by their keeping the covenant. The law that God will give them, the 10 Commandments, will set them up to be righteous and just. The result will be a priestly role – they will not only have responsibility for themselves but also be called on to intercede for others. This two-fold marking identifies God’s people.
This continues to be God’s way in Jesus. People of faith are declared holy, not by our own merits or obedience but by the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus. We receive this as a gift and it comes to us by faith. Trusting Jesus declares us to be righteous and holy before God. Then, joined to Jesus we are called on to continue Jesus’ priestly ministry. We are no longer simply to look out for ourselves. We are called to intercede with God on behalf of others as well, so they may receive what we have been given and join in with God’s work in Christ as well.
The Old Testament sets up a pattern of how God works with God’s people. That pattern continues in many ways through the New Testament as well. What is started in the desert over a thousand years before Jesus, finds fulfillment in Jesus at the cross, and draws us in to the work of God in the world today. The God of Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forever.”