The message of the cross is that the self-giving love of Jesus rescued us from the power of sin. But what are we rescued for? To answer this question we can start by looking at the Exodus of the people of Israel:
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on that very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
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: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
God rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. This was no accident. God had a plan for Israel’s future, which was for them to be a kingdom of priests. Priests are go-betweens between God and people. They make it possible for people to be forgiven and connected to God. In the New Testament, Peter uses the same language to explain the identity of those who believe in Jesus:
1 Peter 2:9-12
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Now we are part of a new kingdom. We have received mercy from the king and have been called by him to bring praises to God. When people see the way we live, they will then be motivated to praise God too.
To be a priest in this sense we don’t have to be a man, we don’t have to wear special robes and we don’t have to perform animal sacrifices. As our deeds show that we are grateful for God’s mercy, so we become go-betweens between God and people. We can intercede to God for our friends and even for strangers. We can make it possible for people from every nation to be forgiven and connected to God. In this way, the message of the cross can be passed from us to the nations.