So, what kind of High Priest do we really need? That’s really the question that the author of Hebrews is addressing in our text this morning. But, before we address that question, as Americans, I think that we first need to address the question of why we need a High Priest in the first place.
We are rugged individualists, Mavericks, misfits, and people that think outside of the box…and that is what made American great. We are a nation of innovators, inventors, creators, and pioneers, unlike which the world has ever seen in history. Living where we do, it is practically in our DNS. Pittsburgh was carved out of rock and wilderness by rugged men and women who were unafraid of the elements, the hardships of working the soil, or of the indians and who built an industry out of mining coal and forging steel.
They said of the early German pastors in this area, pastors like Pastor Winter, who founded our church, that they had a reputation of carrying a Bible in one hand and a sturdy knife in the other. One was for parishioners and the other was for brigands…which was for which depended on the situation.
Our church’s founding fathers built the first sanctuary from logs of trees felled likely by their own strong hands. And, though “putting one’s hand to the plow” is practiced differently today than it was done back then, the principle behind doing so remains. Sweat, blood, and faith built our community and our nation and the day we forget that fact is the day we cease to be exceptional.
The problem is, while this principle did wonders for nation-building, it has often led us astray when it comes to spiritual matters. People fall into the trap of thinking that spirituality is about “Me and God” and that the idea of church is more or less optional depending on one’s preferences.
People say things like, “I don’t go to church but I love God. I don’t need the church to be spiritual — I can worship God wherever I want — in the woods, on the ballfields, on the golf-course, or just from the comfort of my own home while I watch my favorite TV preacher. I control the frequency because I don’t need worship every week anyway…that gets redundant and old. I also seek out a style that suits me and my preferences because I really want to be ‘recharged’ in worship and if I don’t feel fed or satisfied, then I will look elsewhere.”
And folks, that mindset is both unBiblical and from the devil — it should smell like smoke and brimstone to you, but sadly, it doesn’t…because it is all about “me” and we like that. Yet, worship is not about me, it is all about Jesus.
So, understand that we are sinners and as sinners we cannot come to God on our own merits but we need someone to intercede on our behalf with God the Father, for Sin is Lawlessness and rebellion against God (1 John 3:4) and God holds wrath for his enemies (Nahum 1:2). That’s the problem…that’s our reality.
The good news, Paul writes in Romans 5:10: “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Jesus did something by going to the cross, and by doing so he became our mediator and intercessor. Thus, Paul asserts that “There is one God an done mediator between God and man — the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) No one else can offer such a work or a perfect life to become our mediator with a Holy God.
Yet, the Scriptures also insist that Christ’s atoning death and mediatorial work is not for selected but unconnected Christians through the ages, it is for the Body of Christ — which is selected and connected together, joined as a body is joined together (Ephesians 4:16) and made up as the church (Ephesians 5:25-27).
So, this intercession belongs to the church — the body of Christ — bound together by the Spirit, through faith and covenant, to the glory of Christ.
That means, the Spiritual Lone Ranger who has rejected the church has rejected the mediatorial work of Christ and the one who ignores the gathered worship of the body is like an amputated limb thrashing on the ground, dying — without a High Priest to intercede for him or her. Scarry? It should be.
So again, Rugged Individualism: good for nation building; bad for the spiritual life. We need an intercessor, the only one being Christ and Christ’s intercession is bound to His church. And we are to choose a church not based on our own preferences, but on the basis of its fidelity to Scripture. Before you ever attend a church or even visit one for a Sunday, when you happen to be away, the first question you should ask is, “What is their view of Scripture?” And if it does not hold to a high view on the scriptures, that it is the inerrant and infallible word of God, you should never attend…even for just one Sunday while you are away on vacation.
Chapter 5, then, begins to address the question as to the kind of mediator we need by making a contrast between the Levitical Priesthood and Jesus’ Priesthood.
Verse 1: “For every High Priest selected from men is appointed for (or on behalf of) men before God in order that he might bring both offerings and sacrifices for sin.”
God established the Levitical Priesthood and then from the line of Aaron, the High Priest would come.
As a piece of trivia, according to the records of the Jewish historian, Josephus, Caiaphas, the High Priest who would sentence Jesus to death, was the 68th High Priest. It was a broken line, but this was important enough to keep records of that we know the names and lineage of each of these men. Typically the election of a High Priest was done by the Sanhedrin, by vote, which is a reminder that the notion of selecting church officers by a vote has very old roots.
Notice the purpose of the High Priest is to bring offerings and sacrifices for sin on behalf of the people (that’s intercession) for God.
Verses 2-3 then, lay out the problem with having a human High Priest.
“He is able to be compassionate with the ignorant and the wayward since he is also clothed in weakness. Because of this, he is indebted just as much as the people, and brings an offering for sin for himself in the same way.”
Here’s the problem with a human priest…they are all as bad off as we are before God. So, not only must the priest take our sin offering into the Temple, but he has to sacrifice an animal for his own sins as well! Thus, he cannot offer us anything by his own merit, which is why (the author will explain later on) the sacrifices had to be offered over and over again repeatedly.
He is just as indebted to God as any other man, woman, or child born into this sinful world and that means, if we trust in his work, we are lost. And while we today do not sacrifice animals, how often people fall into the same trap of thinking that pastors are some sort of spiritual superhero that is better than members of the church. That is just not so, we are all sinners. Our callings — vocations — might be different, but we all stand equally condemned before God due to sin.
Verse 4: “And no one takes unto himself this honor except for the one called by God, as was Aaron.”
This begins the transition between the Levitical Priesthood and Christ’s, but it is important to understand what is being said…
The human High Priesthood was inadequate in and of itself, but it was still appointed by God to foreshadow a High-Priesthood that was to come — one that would be perfectly adequate and sufficient, which also means that this coming priesthood cannot naturally flow from out of the failed one; it must have its origins elsewhere.
That leads us to verses 5 and 6, which are quotes taken from Psalm 2:7 and 110:4 respectively.
“And thus Christ did not honor himself, but became High Priest by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ and also in another spot said, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
1) Though Jesus was worthy of the mantle of the High Priest, he allowed it to be bestowed on him by God just as God had bestowed it on Aaron.
2) Notice the language of Sonship and begetting. Sonship is why he was worthy. But the language of “begotten”, while theologically significant, is language with which we must be careful. You see, we often think of begetting in terms of giving birth to someone. Yet, in this context, it refers to being of the same “stuff” as the Father.
There are two questions that tend to come up around this language:
1. How can Jesus be begotten if he is God and thus eternal and uncreated?
2. How can Jesus be exclusively the Son of God if all believers are sons and daughters?
Question 33 of the Heidelberg Catechism does a nice job of addressing this question when it asks: “Why is He called God’s only Begotten Son, since we are all children of God.”
The Answer: “Because Christ alone is the eternal Son of God in essence, but we are the children of God by adoption through grace and for His glory.”
Thus, as Son of the Father, sharing the same essence as the Father, here is a High Priest appointed by the Father who has no sin and has no need of a sin offering for himself…he is truly worthy.
3) Finally, we have the new priesthood, a priesthood after the line of Melchizedek. We are going to leave Melchizedek alone for now because the author will later on deal with him at length, but for our purposes here it should suffice to say that the new High Priest comes from Melchizedek’s line, not Aaron’s failed line.
Verse 7: again, speaking of Jesus…
“Who in the days of the flesh, both in prayer and supplication given to the one able to save him from death, and with loud cries and tears. Yet, his offering was heard because of his reverent awe.”
This, of course, is a picture of Jesus’ prayer life — one that we see most fully in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, notice what the author states: it is not because of the loudness of Jesus’ cries to God nor because of the passionate tears he wept. It was because of the reverential awe that Jesus had that his prayers were heard.
Let me say that I think we fall into one of two traps when it comes to prayer.
Either 1) being wooden, rote, or just going through the motions — repeating a memorized prayer like the Lord’s prayer and nothing more or just going through a list of prayer requests, one after the other.
or 2) being too casual — talking to God like you would a buddy, not taking seriously whose presence you are in.
To the first, God speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah…
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wondrous things in this people, with wonder upon wonder, and the wisdom of the wise men shall perish and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” Words of judgment found in Isaiah 29:13-14.
And to the second group, hear the admonishment of James 4:9-10.
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.”
and of God himself in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”
So, what does your prayer life look like?
Is it route? Then repent of it!
Is it casual? Then repent of it!
In both cases, learn the Fear of the Lord — approach prayer with reverence and awe that is due the God to whom you pray. Let the fear of the Lord be more to you than just a commandment taught by men and ignored or only taken up when it is convenient to do so. Let it be the motivation for everything you think, say, or do.
Verses 8&9: “Although he was a Son, he was disciplined in obedience by what he experienced and being made perfect, he became, for all those obedient to him, the source of eternal salvation.”
But wait a minute, what is this about “being made perfect,” isn’t Jesus already perfect? Indeed, he is, but the office he held — the role he would fulfill of High Priest — that office had to be made perfect. And so, he was, as we are, made perfect through the discipleship in obedience.
But the salvation offered is not offered to all without exception, but to all the Father gives to Christ and that respond in turn by faith and with obedience.
As a pastor, one question I get a lot is that of assurance…and I often answer, “Look to your own obedience and ask yourself if your obedience honors Christ and reflects a genuine obedience and thus a love for Jesus.”