KEY TEXT: Exodus 19:3-6 The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
KEY THOT: Moses led Israel out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea before arriving at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground was for Israel a type of baptism: "I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Baptism for Israel means primarily a separation from Egypt (a type of the world) and also the drowning of the Egyptians (victory over Satanic powers). Through this baptismal act, Israel was not only separated from the world and Satan, but also identified with Moses. And all these happened before Israel was given the Law at Sinai. The Law did not turn them into a kingdom of priests and holy nation--they became a priestly nation because God called them out of Egypt and they responded by crossing the Red Sea. Their change of status from a nation of slaves under Pharoah to become a kingdom of priests under Moses was entirely an act of grace. They didn't do anything to deserve it--it was entirely God's work: "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (v.4).
To be a kingdom of priests is entirely an act of divine grace enacted through the act of baptism. But to become a kingdom of priests requires Israel to keep the covenant and its attendant laws: "if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples... you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (v.5-6). The covenant at Sinai and its Law was given to Israel to help them grow into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. At that point in time, they were just a motley collection of 2-3 million slaves who had never subjected themselves to any law except the law of the whips from their slave-masters. Now that they had become free people, they had to learn how to become a holy nation governed by God's Law to be given later. The Law was never given to make them God's people; the Law was given to help become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Whether the old covenant at Sinai proclaimed by Moses or the new covenant at Golgotha proclaimed by Christ, every covenant has its attendant laws to turn us slaves of Satan to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus in His Great Commission to the disciples emphasize the importance of making disciples by "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (NIV: obey) all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20).
Like the waters of the Red Sea that separated Israel from Egypt and drowned Pharaoh and his army, so the water of baptism of the new covenant similarly separates us from the world and Satan's powers by drowning the old self of sin. The old self gives Satan legal rights over us, but in the water of baptism, these legal rights are cancelled. But as good as this is, it is only half of the Great Commission. The second half of the Great Commission is given to turn believers into disciples who can live and work like royal priesthood--kings and priests of God. By obeying Christ's commands, we become kings equipped for WARFARE and priests equipped for WORSHIP.
Jesus' commands contained in the four Gospels must never be understood as Law but as Gospel--they are an integral part of the Gospel to help us become God's people as a kingdom of priests. Without Jesus' commands, we become a people without any spiritual and moral compass, living aimless lives.
Father, help us not just be a royal priesthood but to BECOME a royal priesthood through our obedience to Christ's law as contained in the Gospels. Amen.