Royal Priesthood

“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.””

John 20:19-23 NKJV

After Jesus resurrected and first appeared to His disciples, He said to them “Peace be with you.” Why is there no peace? Because there is a blockage between God and man, there is no peace. Hence, man is anxious, afraid and under a curse. But Jesus already shed His blood on the cross and demolished that wall of sin. Therefore, there is no blockage between man and God. That is when we have peace.

Why do we not have peace in our hearts as individuals? What happens when we haven’t got peace? We start to fear. We will be full of fear. We would be afraid of meeting others, afraid of working; we even doubt whether we can handle the work we did so confidently when we were filled with the Holy Spirit. When we were at peace, we could walk on water even, but when fear surges in, we start drowning.

Since Jesus finished His work, He says to us, “Now it’s time for you to have peace.” We have to have peace in order for God to fill the vessels with what He intended to fill. We can receive the Holy Spirit. Without being at peace, we cannot receive the Holy Spirit. Do you know when I receive the Holy Spirit? I earnestly prayed for 4 days during a 4-night 5-day camp but still did not receive the Holy Spirit. I asked for the Holy Spirit most earnestly but did not receive it while everyone else did. I kept praying, “I’m a sinner.” But at some point, the faith that God already paid the price of my sins and forgave me came right into my heart, and in that moment the Holy Spirit came into me.

So when we have crusades in China, and I tell the people to pray to receive the Holy Spirit, most of them will pray like this: “Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me of my sins.” Though I explained so much and then told them to pray to receive the Holy Spirit, they still do not understand. So I explain again, “Don’t pray to be forgiven of your sins. You are already forgiven. Now pray ‘Thank You for forgiving my sins.’ When I explain this to them and they start giving thanks for the forgiveness of their sins, immediately there is a change. We see people here and there receiving the Holy Spirit. They need to have peace first. When they know they are forgiven, they are filled with peace and that is when the Holy Spirit comes.

Thus, Jesus said to His disciples twice, “Peace be with you.” After that, they need to receive the Holy Spirit. It says He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Some people say that the disciples already received the Holy Spirit then, arguing that Jesus breathing on them was the Holy Spirit. Some mistakenly believe that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at that time but they did not. Until the Pentecost, until Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit was not given. Hence, He was telling them that they need to receive the Holy Spirit; He did not give them the Holy Spirit then.

He told them to receive the Holy Spirit and continued to say, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When we read that we might wonder ‘What, are we God? How can we forgive sins? Only God can.’ In fact, that was one of the reasons people went against Jesus for. They said to Him, “Who are you to forgive sins?” But after saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” He says, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them,” as if we are God. Does that mean I can walk down the street and if I do not like the look of a person I can say, “Your sins won’t be forgiven” and he goes to hell, while to others that are good to me, I can say, “Your sins are forgiven” so that they are saved? It is not that.

So if we do not understand, these words may sound absurd. But for those who heard Jesus say this at that time, something clicked in their mind. Everything came to their mind immediately. Who was it that had the power to forgive sins in the Old Testament times? It was the priest. Hence, what Jesus was saying was ‘you will be priests from now on. You must do the role of a priest. You all will be priests’. In other words, whoever receives the Holy Spirit are priests.

Let’s have a read of Leviticus 4. Leviticus 4. It is a verse regarding priests. Chapter 4 verse 20.
“And he shall do with the bull as he did with the bull as a sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.”

Here it says, “the priest shall make atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.” This is repeated in the following verses too. In the latter part of verse 26, “So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.” The latter part of verse 31 says, “So the priest shall make atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him.” Also verse 35, “So the priest shall make atonement for his sin that he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him.” Towards the end of Chapter 5 verse 6 it says, “So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.” Again in verse 13, “The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him.” Verse 16 says, “So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.” Going on to chapter 6 verse 7 it says, “So the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any one of these things that he may have done in which he trespasses.”‬‬ Thus, it continues to say.

Not only that, if a person had leprosy or a skin disease, he had to stay outside the city gates. When his condition cleared up after a few days, does that mean he is clean? He is not. Even though his condition appears to have cleared up, he is not clean yet. He isn’t holy. When does he become clean? When the priest pronounces him as clean, he is officially clean.

So even while Jesus was on the earth, He gave this command. He told the leper to show his body to the priest and offer the gift. Then the priest would pronounce him as clean. That is when he is clean even though he was already healed of his condition. Therefore, the right to call a person either clean or unclean was with the priest. The priest had the right to make atonement.

But in the present time, there is no need to make atonement every time we transgress. Why? Jesus has become the sacrificial offering once and for all. Thus, whatever sin it is, atonement is made through the blood of Jesus. Redemption was completed already 2000 years ago. However, people keep coming after sinning. There are many people who have sinned. But since their sins are already atoned for, there is only one thing left to do.

It is to tell them that their sins have already been atoned for. That is the role of the priest. To say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Hence, in the present age, the duty of those who received the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus. The one who testifies to Jesus acknowledges that He is sinless. But He, the righteous One died on the cross like a sinner. He was punished to death. Thus, people call Him a sinner. Yet we know that He is righteous because God raised Him to life. So then why did the righteous One die? It was for me. It was for my sins He died. That is what we confess.
Whoever acknowledges Jesus as the righteous One confesses himself to be a sinner. And whoever says he is not a sinner in turn makes Jesus a sinner.

Anyone who repents already acknowledges the merits of Jesus. Whoever does not repent still treats Jesus as a sinner. Thus, there is a very close connection between repentance and believing in Jesus. Since Jesus has already done the work, what we need to do is spread the news. Your sins are forgiven. In other words, Jesus is righteous. That is what we preach.

Therefore, when we evangelize, we do not preach, “If you believe in Jesus, God will redeem you from your sins.” We proclaim this: “Your sins were atoned for already 2000 years ago. All you have to do now is believe. Your sins are forgiven. Accept this truth. Then your sins will be forgiven.” To make atonement and to forgive are different. Forgiveness is what one has to receive now.

This is the task we have been entrusted to do. Therefore, whoever received the Holy Spirit becomes a priest. He has the responsibility to proclaim the news that Jesus is righteous and that the sins of every man have been atoned for. God did not spontaneously do this right now; He planned this over a long time. What did Peter say? He said in 1 Peter 2:9 that those who believe in Jesus are a royal priesthood. “You are a royal priesthood.”

Also in the Old Testament times, as faith was a collective faith not individual, the people were told that if they obey God’s word, God would abide with them. Then what would they become? A kingdom of priests. It says in Exodus 19:6, “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

This promise that we will become priests had always been but it was first promised to Abraham. “I will be with you. You will be blessed and become a source of blessing that shares this blessing. You will become a priest.” This is what it means.

In this way, there is this recurring notion with our God from the beginning which is that He does not want to bless us and us only, but wants us to share it so that many people are blessed. He is very different to us humans. If we have anything good, we want to have it all to ourselves. If we were to share, maybe to our families only. Because it is something rare or scarce and we do not want to lose it to others. If it is a nice place we know about, we want it to be a secret place that only we can access and enjoy. But our God wants to share everything that is good. Hence, it says that He called us by His glory and virtue. He does not only have glory but virtue also. And what He said to us is that we need to have faith and to that faith must be added virtue. Through faith we attain glory but we must not keep that exclusively to ourselves; we ought to share the glory. We must have virtue. And in order to share it, we need to have knowledge. Thus, it says onwards that to virtue, knowledge must be added.

All these things God promised to Abraham and were finally fulfilled to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Those who have received the Holy Spirit must now become the source of blessing and preach this gospel so that many others can be blessed through them. This is the role of the priest. It is the promise made to Abraham. Whoever claims to have been blessed but does not have the desire to share the blessing to others does not actually understand God’s heart.

In respect to that, our ministry in the Translation Centre is significant and on point. ‘Why are you trying to translate this and share this word to others? Why?’ One might ask me. I came to know God through this word and I received glory. I gained this happiness. I do not want to have this happiness all to myself but want other people of many nations to know it too. Like China right now.

Before I believed in Jesus, I really cried out. I actually cried out loud before I met Jesus. A full-grown man was weeping because he wanted to know the truth. I felt like there was no truth in this world. I cried once in high school and tried to live for the truth since then, but ultimately I was just treated as the Korean Teachers & Educational Workers’ Union, and a communist. We were really fighting for the truth but we just got labelled as communists. I even signed a petition to members of the National Assembly hoping they would hear us, but they were no different. I thought the president would understand but when I heard the announcement made by the president, I realized they started to suppress the Korean Teachers & Educational Workers’ Union. I burst into tears when I heard President Rho Taewoo’s announcement. That is when I knew there was no truth in this world.

And I began to stray. I felt like it was useless to seek the truth in a world with no truth. I decided to follow hedonism. I was going to live for my pleasure for that is the truth, I thought. And I pursued pleasure, thinking I would be happy. But I was not happy at all. I was actually heading towards death. I was going in the direction of suicide. So I was in sheer torment and cried out. During that time, Helen Nam decided to leave me saying she believed in Jesus and did not like someone like me. When she said she was flying to Australia to study, I cried so hard at home. I came to her with a knife and she was scared I might kill myself, while I just wept. From then I had no hope. I was living without any hope despondently. Probably so many people are living like that.

You know how we shame those people who murder and commit sexual abuse? But I can so understand them. Especially murderers. Recently in the US, a man killed 20 people and then killed himself too. I can understand why he did that. If a person like me was left the way I was, I could have done much worse things than that. And it is not like there is a sense of guilt either. There is no guilt whatsoever. Why? I have no purpose in life, I do not have God, I have no path. I am just a being thrown into this world and somehow I lived. People can reproach and shame such actions but they are not God, they are not the Creator so who makes them the judge of what is right and wrong? So in that sense, at times I could do good deeds but at other times, I could kill people. Then come back and do good works. So it was like I was saying, “Don’t judge me by the standard or right and wrong.” A terrible human being was produced.

So I was a person capable of doing such things but inside, I was suffering terribly. I was weeping because I wanted to know the truth. Now when a person like that receives this gospel, his life could be changed forever, his world-view change, the whole world will change for him; he would become a new man. My parents who were not Christians were encouraging me to believe fervently, after seeing how much I had changed. Even at school, everyone was shocked at how much Kitaek Lee changed. They were utterly shocked at the change that took place in me and they exclaimed, “There must really be a God!” I was truly happy. I did not have suicidal thoughts anymore; I was happy and filled with the joy that I can be used by God. Why should I have this joy for myself?

Now that I see, countless people in China are lost and Christians are committing suicide. With Pastor ** who graduated theological school and went to church, he was preparing to take his own life when he read our books and lived. He encountered our book just before he committed suicide. He realized there was still hope and got connected to us, which is how he now became a pastor. If he did not contact us then, he could be dead already. There are so many people crying out like this, and if I just tell them of this life I received, they also live. Even just by reading a book.

Countless people all over the world are eagerly waiting for this, but we are making every excuse that we are busy and putting it off so that it is taking 1 year to translate a book. And even though the book has been translated, we are not actively handing the books out. Even though we have this word with us, we keep it locked up saying it is ours. So how angry would God be with us? He told us to be priests but we are not fulfilling our duties. What happened to the Israelites in the end? They were struck and scattered all around the world so that they could perform their duties as priests. The Jerusalem Church was supposed to do the priestly duties but instead, they were so consumed with themselves, staying only in Jerusalem, always eating and worshipping together and having a good time. So God brought persecution upon them so that they were all scattered. Jesus’ twelve disciples remained in Jerusalem dealing with only Jews. So God raised up the Apostle Paul who was not even of the twelve and used him as a great apostle for this task.

Likewise, if we received a great blessing like this, what are we to do? We have to share it. We need to share it most eagerly. One of the first and foremost things Seoul Sungrak Church has to do is the work being done here. Is there anything more urgent than this work? Seminaries can develop theological knowledge but they need to have books to do that. In order to do mission work, something has to be prepared so that one gives it out in the mission fields. Without anything ready, what can they give when they head out on mission work? That is why they go there and unnecessarily change the size of the cup used for holy communion when theirs is perfectly fine to make it look better. Another thing is that though people there are doing just fine singing hymns while clapping hands and it is full of grace, these missionaries unnecessarily buy and supply music devices that play the piano accompaniment so that in the end those people cannot sing without the device. Those people used to be baptized in their underwear without feeling embarrassed but since these missionaries introduced baptism gowns, they say they cannot baptize because they have not got gowns for it. They say they cannot do choir because they have not got choir outfits. Missionaries have only given them cultural improvements, not real changes in those people.

We can give only what we have and is not what we have the word of life? So we should give it out to all. It is the most urgent matter. This should be of the highest priority. No matter how urgent something else might be, this should be prioritized. That is what I have been trying to do and it is because I have made it the highest priority, that I came this far. It is always the first and foremost priority. Even though I have kids, my wife pretty much raised the kids all by herself. She always went to worship with our two kids. Nowadays mums and dads struggle to worship with just one child. But my wife did it all by herself with our kids. When people like the Patriot Ahn Jung-Geun were going out to throw bombs, could they have done that while clinging to their children and family? Similarly, those who work for the kingdom of God also put God’s work as the first and foremost priority before their family. Since our work is far more important than that of the Patriot Ahn Jung-Geun, how disappointing would it be if we are always held back by family and similar matters?

We might think we are doing well but we still have a long way to go. The work that we are doing is actually the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham 4000 years ago, a promise that was made known to man 4000 years ago.

Thus, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we already received the Holy Spirit. “Now if you forgive anyone his sins, they will be forgiven.” We need to spread this news of the forgiveness of sins. It is not that we have to be filled with inspiration to do it, but if we can just translate the books well, the books will go around doing their job. Of course, the rest must be done by man, but before man can even go, these books can go ahead and do what they can, so that more and more people can come in touch with this. Let us pray for God to use us.

God our Father, we thank you for making us priests. We thank you for pouring the Holy Spirit. Please work so that we can truly bless all nations. Through everything we do and through our efforts, may it not be for just one particular group, but as promised for all nations, may all people receive blessings through me. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on December 18, 2012
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team