Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chosen to Serve

"Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside" (Luke 1:8–10).

Zechariah was of the priestly division of Abijah. By the time of King David, there were so many descendants of Aaron that it was impossible for all of them to serve as priests at the same time. David, therefore, divided the priesthood into 24 groups, and among these was the division of Abijah. At the time of the Babylonian exile, this system fell apart, but it was reconstituted after the exile.

The greatest honor any priest could ever hope to have was to serve in the Temple itself. While every Israelite citizen had access to the Temple courtyard to offer sacrifices, only the priests could go inside the Temple into the Holy Place to take care of the lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense.

There were, however, thousands of priests by this time. The average priest would carry out spiritual duties in the towns and villages, and only occasionally would he come to Jerusalem to do any work in the Temple area. In order to be fair, lots were cast to see when and whom God would choose to have duty on a particular day. Because there were so many priests, it was established that a man would only minister inside the Temple once in his lifetime.

After years of service and patient waiting, Zechariah finally received his opportunity when he was an old man. In the evening it was Zechariah’s task to offer incense on the altar of incense, which represented prayer. The people thronged the areas around the Temple, joining in prayer while he burned incense inside. They would wait for him to come out, to see if God had given any sign to him for them.

The people of the Old Testament could only worship God at a distance. Even the priests, who theoretically had the right to draw nearer into the temple, only got to go in once in a lifetime. Under the new covenant, we can come into God’s presence, the Most Holy Place of all, anytime through prayer. Jesus has opened the way for us. Are you too often absent before the throne? Reassess your use of this holy privilege to come before His throne of grace.