2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:
4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.
5 Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine,
6 you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak.
8 The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
Here’s the story: Moses is back on the slopes of the mountain where He encountered God before and heard God speak and reveal Himself in a personal way1. As Moses was starting to grasp, everything about God is about relationship. And now God is calling to him again – and with that sense of relationship, with that sense of God being love, giving him what amounts to a heavenly commission:
“…If you… keep my covenant, then… you will be my treasured possession… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…”2
The whole nation would be part of this, called up by God, known to be good, loving and totally consistent, to serve Him as distinctly as joining up to serve Queen and country in uniform today.
How different this was from the nations around, trying to appease the whims of their deities (which represented demonic strongholds over the region) while trying to please a capricious and often cruel human king.
The people of God were to have exclusive rights and privileges as a ‘kingdom of priests’ looking to Yahweh their God and their king, being set apart from other people to belong to Him as a holy nation.
This language of privileged priesthood, or relationship with God, was echoed by Peter, writing a generation after the Resurrection. Now it was not an ethnic distinction. It was the call of those trusting and believing in Jesus, every one of them, to be part of this priesthood.
It wasn’t about old-style priests performing rituals and offering sacrifices – Jesus had made Himself the full and final sacrifice for all people and for all time. However, the world around didn’t know that. So it needed priests in the deeper sense of go-between mediators, to represent God to those who did not know Him, and to help them to find Him.
The spiritual nation of Moses’ time, and what we call the Old Covenant, has now become for us under the New Covenant in Jesus, not a nation but a spiritual house or family. Every believer belonging to Jesus is an essential partner who shares His continuing ministry. And each one is fitted in as part of its structure – Peter uses the picture of “living stones”3.
Is there anything in our world which is like this? Our ideas of partnership are nowhere near as good, but the present-day practice which captures some of this sense of investment, commitment and partnership is a form of business familiar to us — the franchise partnership.
You might not know that your favoured fast food outlet, or the hotel you like, or the technician who uses clever technology to remove dents and scratches from your car, or that modern style of optician or the different kind of veterinary practice, is following a successful model based on franchise partnership. Those operating them have invested heavily – it’s a major commitment – to be able to practise this exact business, agreeing to follow the strict rules of the franchise, laid down by the franchisor. In return they are supported by a unique and competitive product range, and being part of a well-known, advertised brand. Customers like this because they know what they are getting – there’s an assurance of quality.
Like inviting Jesus into your heart and giving Him your life, it is costly, a big commitment and an act of submission which turns our natural independence on its head. Like having Jesus in your life, it is also an enabling and hugely beneficial partnership.
To relate the kingdom of God which Jesus spoke about, to a brand or a franchise, is making it far too cheap and worldly – but don’t dismiss this, we can learn from the comparison. Jesus came to establish His kingdom, His Way, on earth and He spoke about it constantly. We talk a lot about the church – something Jesus mentioned it just three times. The kingdom of God is the focus of His teaching again and again, with more than 100 instances. The kingdom of God was His message, the essence of the Good News.
The rule of God, the fair and just and good order of the way God does things, was starting and everyone was invited into it. Not just to enter in, not just to come into salvation and freedom and new life, amazing gift though that is. Jesus was signing up workers for the harvest4 to be active partners in His harvest, bearing the warrant of His authority and commission.
The first disciples had some coaching for this partnership by being involved with Jesus, watching Him as He ministered throughout Galilee. Now the coaching took a different form as they were sent out to do what they had seen Him do, this time with Him watching them5.
1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness…
5 …These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…
7 As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
8 Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Paul reminds us, as he wrote to believers in Rome, that this partnership is not without its difficulties — but the challenges prove how the partnership works, helping us to grow in trust and showing God to be greater.
Romans 5:1-5 NIV
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Your new Specsavers or Burger King business is not launched as a naked competitor into a competitive marketplace – it comes with the backing of solid business experience and all the know-how gained in other start-ups which show how it works. A franchise brings success for both stakeholders in the partnership by replicating the proven franchise model. When we grasp the kingdom of God and seek to live it the way the Holy Spirit shows us, and with His help, we see growth and God is glorified.
Living for Jesus is challenging enough and partnering with Him in His kingdom mission feels like an impossibility. “Hang on, ” we say, “Jesus did those things as Jesus!” But He said at the end that His disciples, knowing a spiritual power and boldness beyond themselves by the Holy Spirt, would find themselves doing even greater things6.
And us? This takes a reminder from where we started, acknowledging that everything about God, is about relationship. “God is love”7 and in this relationship, we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts by the Holy Spirit living in us8. Looking at Jesus was like looking at love with arms and legs, and it was this love which drew people, healed people and transformed them into such effective witnesses.
- Exodus 3:14-15
- Exodus 19:5-6
- 1 Peter 2:5 and 9-10
- Matthew 9:37
- Matthew 10:1
- John 14:12
- 1 John 4:8, 16
- Romans 5:5