– Isaiah 61:1b-6a
-- Gladys Aylward, Missionary to China, during the Japanese Occupation
* * *
Our latest stop along the glorious Isaiah 61 prophetic journey is this somewhat bewildering statement, made, of course, to the same "Blessed Mournful" we've been studying -- those so utterly broken-hearted at the fallen state of their world, so outrageously sold out to Jesus, that they're ready to make a difference, whatever the cost:
"... But you shall be named the priests of the Lord."
"But, Lord ..." we might say, "with all due respect ... You're obviously confused! Jesus Himself revealed the 61st chapter of Isaiah to be a New Testament prophecy when He said, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' (Luke 4:21) And, You know ... NOT every New Testament believer is a priest. In fact, Protestants believe that NO ONE can be a priest anymore except Christ Himself -- our final, eternal High Priest. (Hebrews 10:11-14)"
To which, our loving Father would remind us that the apostle Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote:
"...You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a HOLY PRIESTHOOD..." (I Peter 2:5)
And he goes on to say:
"But you are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;" (I Peter 2:9)
And, to whom was Peter addressing these statements? To a New Testament audience of believers, specifically defined as: elect by GOD THE FATHER, sanctified by the HOLY SPIRIT, and washed in the blood of JESUS CHRIST! (See I Peter 1:1-2)
Well, I guess if the Holy Trinity is in agreement that I'm a priest -- a "royal" and "holy" one, no less! -- that not only settles the matter, but ... leapin' lizards! ... I'd better hop to it and find out what's expected of me in this role!
It's quite simple, really. So simple, in fact, that we may have just now missed it. Back to I Peter 2:9: "But you are ... a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD ... [SO] THAT you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
That's it, indeed. And yet, it's HUGE! To truly unpack the concept of being "His own special people ... proclaim[ing His] praises," would require opening the bottomless treasure chest of Isaiah 62 -- the glorious sequel to Isaiah 61 that continues the prophecy from the Messianic Age on into the Age to Come (i.e., upon Messiah's return). And, though that's outside the scope of this series, we can venture to crack open the lid of that chest and steal a peek:
"You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isaiah 62:6b-7)
So, what does a chosen, royal, holy, special, NEW TESTAMENT generation of priests look like? Same idea as the Old Testament priesthood, but ever-so-much-more-so!
Under the Old Covenant, priests were God's representatives to inspire and instruct the people, administer judgment in righteousness, and accept the blood sacrifices on God's behalf to atone for sin. In short, their purpose in life was to "channel" (as best they could, given their flawed human nature) the character of God -- Who is the Source of all inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and atonement.
So, what about a New Covenant priesthood? And WHAT does Gladys Aylward have to do with all this?
Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) was an ordinary English girl from a working-class family. She had to cut short her education at age 14 and go to work. At age 28, feeling God's call on her life to be a missionary to China, she attended Bible school for three months with China Inland Mission, but was told flat-out that she did not qualify for an assignment in China.
Not to be so easily dissuaded, Gladys took a job as a domestic helper (maid) in London and saved her shillings until she was able to purchase a railway ticket to the remote town of Yangcheng, China, where she had been told a lone elderly Englishwoman, Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, was serving as a missionary. The journey was fearfully difficult. At one point, Gladys was forced off the train by Russian soldiers, and she had to walk about thirty miles through the snow to the nearest village.
But when she finally arrived in Yangcheng, her difficulties began in earnest. In the midst of Gladys working long hours to rehabilitate a derelict old building into an inn for transient mule trains, and while struggling to learn the language and ways of a people who knew absolutely nothing of Judeo-Christian culture and niceties -- where even the children looked on her as a "foreign devil" and would hurl dirt clods at her in the streets ... In the midst of all this, her missionary partner, Jeannie Lawson, fell from the second floor of the building they were repairing ... and died!
Now Gladys Aylward was all alone in a land that was not hers, surrounded by people who, for the most part, still did not understand nor appreciate what she was doing there, and with the China Inland Mission's assessment still heavy on her mind: "You're not qualified." NOW was her opportunity to call it all a big mistake and make her way back home to England. And no one would have blamed her for doing so!
But Gladys understood one glorious concept that carried her through: that if God had called her to China -- as she was utterly sure He had -- then THIS, not England, was her home. And if God had called her to be a missionary, then that's precisely what she would be. Failure was impossible as long as God was behind her. In her own words:
"If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you. Remember, it is God who has called you and it is the same as when He called Moses or Samuel."
Fast-forward six years. Gladys Aylward, now a Chinese citizen and the only white woman in Yangcheng, is running the missionary outpost known as "The Inn of the Eight Happinesses," preaching the gospel to travelers. She has adopted numerous Chinese children, whom she cares for at the mission. And, in her spare time, she travels the surrounding countryside as a government emissary to educate women about the new regulations against foot-binding ... and, of course, to share the good news of Jesus Christ wherever she goes.
By this time, the people who, in years past, had called her a "foreign devil" now referred to Gladys by a new and affectionate title: "Ai-weh-deh" -- "The Virtuous One." See, she had earned the respect and love of everyone, from the children who once threw dirt clods at her, to the Mandarin official (what we would call a mayor) of Yangcheng, who considered her his "right-hand man." Gladys stood for righteousness and against oppression, often risking her life in the process, such as when she stepped into the local prison to intervene and defuse a violent prison riot in progress and to advocate for the prisoners' welfare with the Yangcheng leadership.
Gladys Aylward's capping achievement was in 1938, when the Japanese violence reached her beloved Yangcheng, and she found herself leading 100 children to safety through a perilous war zone. But in her own words, again:
"Life is pitiful, death so familiar, suffering and pain so common, yet I would not be anywhere else. Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on. These are my people, God has given them to me, and I will live or die for Him and His glory."
In conclusion, we see a passionately brave hero of the faith whose life was a monument of "praise in the earth" -- to inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and the glorious gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ.
But, WAIT! Isn't that the definition of a New Testament PRIEST? Indeed it is, Hallelujah! Where could we find a BETTER example than in Gladys Aylward?
And now, as Christ Himself would say, "Go and do thou likewise!"
* * *
To find out more about this remarkable lady, read her autobiography, Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman (1970). Or, for a synoptic view (if more than a bit Hollywoodized), watch the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).
Why not pray ...
I've never thought of myself as a "holy, royal priest." But, at Your word, so be it! Please, may I never rest -- nor give You rest -- until You've birthed Your own high-priestly heart within me. Please do IN me all you NEED to ... so You can do THROUGH me all you WANT to!
In Jesus' name. Amen"
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 4/24/2022.
Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved