Following the Example of Our Great High Priest
I hope that you have been enjoying our verse-by-verse look at the book of Hebrews. So far in the book of Hebrews, we saw how Jesus is worthy of our worship in chapter one. In chapter two we saw the dangers of neglecting salvation, and we saw how Jesus is a Savior who understands our struggles. In chapter three, we studied the grim possibility of turning our backs on our salvation. And then last week, in chapter four, we studied three reasons why we should always hold fast to our faith. We talked about how we have a promised home in Heaven. We looked at how the Bible is the most amazing book ever written. And we saw how Jesus is a High Priest that is able to sympathize with us. I concluded last week by saying that knowing Jesus far outweighs any social price we might have to pay for being a Christian in the twenty-first century.
To see where we are headed next in this great book, I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter five, and we will be reading all fourteen verses of the chapter. Again, Hebrews chapter five.
“For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but He that said unto Him, ‘Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee.’ As He saith also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’ Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Let’s pray together.
The title of this morning’s sermon is, “Following the Example of Our Great High Priest.” You might remember a few weeks ago I said that there would probably be a time in the book of Hebrews that we would spend a good bit of time talking about how Jesus is our high priest. Well, that is what chapter five is all about! But the focus of Hebrews chapter five is two-fold. Not only is the author praising Christ for the character traits that He exhibited, but the author also asserts that we need to exhibit those same traits in our lives. So that is what we are going to do this morning. By my count, there are five character traits mentioned about Christ, and we are going to praise Christ that He has perfected all of those traits, and we are going to try to apply these traits to our own lives, and see if we can become more like our Savior. Sound good? All right then, let’s get started with our study of God’s word.
Trait #1: Compassion
The first trait of Jesus as our high priest is that He constantly exhibits compassion. To see what the writer of Hebrews says about compassion, look at verses one through three. “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.“ The writer of Hebrews kicks off chapter five by talking about the office of the high priest in the Old Testament. In verse one, he reminds the readers of what the high priest did. The high priest was the man that offered up gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. And it’s verse two that offers the first trait of the high priest. Notice what this verse says, “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.” The writer says that the high priest is supposed to have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way. Now, in this usage, what does it mean for someone to be ignorant? The word in this context literally means, “One without knowledge.” Ok, so who are the people that are “out of the way?” Is this saying that the high priest has compassion on those people who live out in the middle of nowhere? Have compassion on those people that live out of your way? Nope. The phrase in the Greek means, “people who have been deceived.” The idea here is of people who are struggling in their faith because they have fallen into the devil’s trap.
So, the high priest is supposed to have compassion on these two groups of people. Group number one is people without knowledge, and group number two are Christians who are trapped in sin. Does anyone want to guess who the people without knowledge are? Yes, they are lost people. You know, we use the word “lost” to describe non-Christians all the time, but we don’t often think about what we’re saying. We’re not saying that they’re stupid. We’re not saying that they are infidels. We’re not saying that they’re the scum of the earth. We are simply saying that they are lost, just like a hiker in the middle of the woods can get lost, and they need help finding the way.
Aren’t you so glad that Jesus exhibits perfect compassion on these two groups of people? Jesus doesn’t look at a lost person and say, “You dummy! What’s the matter with you!” No, He gently and compassionately shows them the way of salvation. And the same compassion is exhibited to Christians who are trapped in sin. Whenever we sin against God, which we all do; Jesus does not throw His hands up in the air and say, “We’re through!” No, He acts just like a good shepherd and He goes and plucks us up from the pit we’ve found ourselves, and He brings us back to the fold. Our Savior is a Savior that perfectly exhibits the character trait of compassion.
And you know, He has called us to exhibit compassion, as well. Sometimes, as Christians, it is all too easy to fall into a pattern of judging those people that we know are wrong. I’m going to use a specific example, because there is one particular sin that many Christians have grabbed their torches and pitchforks against. And that is the sin of homosexuality. You know, we’re pretty good about being compassionate to someone that is a liar. We’re pretty compassionate against someone that has talked bad about us behind our backs. And we’re even pretty compassionate towards a male and a female that are living together outside of marriage. And yet, when it comes to homosexuality, we’d rather throw a rock at them as to show them the compassion of Christ. And frankly, that’s just not right on our parts. We have become so disgusted with the sin, that we have forgotton that Jesus died for the sinner. As Christians, it is our duty to tell the truth in love. Does that mean that we wink at the sin? No! But what it does mean is that we are willing to help in the fight against the devil, and not in the fight against the devil’s slaves. Our Savior exhibited perfect compassion, and He has called us to exhibit perfect compassion. Let’s move on.
Trait #2: Humility
It seems like compassion and humility often go hand in hand, doesn’t it? Helping with the needs of another person often means sacrificing the needs of yourself. And you know what, Jesus exhibits humility, too. Look at what verses four through six say about humility. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but He that said unto Him, ‘Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee.’ As He saith also in another place, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’” Now remember, at this point, the writer is still specifically talking about earthly high priests, while at the same time pointing to Jesus as our heavenly High Priest. He says that high priests don’t get to just take this honor upon themselves, but they humbly accept the honor given from God. In the same way, Jesus did not ask for the praise and the glory of the office of high priest. Instead, He humbly accepted the praise and the glory that comes along with being the Son of God.
Remember the series we did answering the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Every week, we were able to say another statement about Christ, taken straight from the Gospel of Matthew. We saw how Jesus was the Promised Messiah, the Disciplemaker, the Minister of all Ministers, the Crucified Lord, and the Risen King. Jesus was and is all of those things, and yet He is still humble. And yet, this raises the question, “What does it mean to be a humble Christian?” Well, essentially, humility is not seeking the praise of others, and yet constantly praising those who deserve it. And there’s two ways that Christians often mess up with this concept of humility. The first way is that some are simply not humble. Many people thrive on the compliments of other people. They will put themselves in a position where they know that they will get patted on the back. That is not the way Jesus acted on earth, and it’s not the way we’re supposed to act.
But the second kind of mistake people make about humility is thinking that humility is where you always talk bad about yourself. I’m sure you’ve met people like this. If you tell them that they’ve done a good job, they might say something like, “I’m actually really bad at this. If I did good, then it was just a fluke.” And this is pretty common. Many Christians have been taught that being humble means that you don’t let anyone say anything good about you. But being humble is not about denying compliments, it’s about not seeking them. A perfect way to be a well-balanced Christian is to kindly accept a compliment someone gives you, and then turn the praise around towards God. That is the kind of humility that Jesus showed. Even though Jesus is God in the flesh, when someone came up to Jesus and addressed Him as Good Teacher, Jesus turned around and said that no one is good except for God. It’s not that Jesus denied the compliment, because He is good. He simply gave the praise to God. Jesus is a humble high priest, and He has called us to be humble, as well.
Notice that verse six says that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is one of the most mysterious and most amazing characters in all of the Old Testament. In a couple of weeks Melchizedek will be a prominent character in the message, so I’m not going to talk much about him today. But if you want a great Bible study to do some time, look up Melchizedek, and read what the Bible says about him. I think it would be a really interesting study for you. But like I said, we’ll talk about him in a couple of weeks. So again, as Christians, we are called to be humble.
Trait #3: Reverence
To see this trait of Jesus, look at what verse seven tells us. “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared.” In this verse, the writer of Hebrews is bringing us back to the painful scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is preparing to die for the sins of the world, and He asked God if there was any other way to save humanity besides Him dying. In those hours, Jesus was experiencing a kind of emotional grief that you and I will never experience. The Bible said that He was in such anguish that He sweat drops of blood. But I want you to notice the phrase at the end of the verse. “And was heard in that He feared.” If you have another version of the Bible, there’s a good chance that your version has the word “reverent” at the end of the verse.
So what is this concept of reverence? Well, as I’m sure many of you know, being reverent is all about showing the respect to God that He deserves. Obviously, non-Christians treat God with very little respect. They use His name in vain almost constantly. They take the name of the King of the Universe, and they use it as a by-word. And as bad as that is, that doesn’t bother me as bad as irreverence among Christians. Remember, non-Christians are lost. They don’t know any better. So the application for us this morning is that we in the church need to focus on being reverent to God. What does that mean? Well obviously, it means that we shouldn’t take His name in vain, but that’s not all it means. It also means that we should always enter God’s house with an attitude of respect. Many people over the years have applied this concept towards church dress, and I think that you would all agree that there are some things that simply should not be worn in church. But I think that this concept of reverence is really a matter of the heart, not a matter of outward appearance. In other words, the ultimate question isn’t, “Is this outfit appropriate for church?” The ultimate question is, “Is my life showing God the respect He deserves?” That’s the question that all of us have to ask ourselves. Even though Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, His entire life beamed reverence towards God. He always treated God with awe and respect. If Jesus had reverence for God, how much more should we, His servants? Let’s move on to trait number four.
Trait #4: Obedience
We see obedience in the life of Christ in verse eight of chapter five. Verse eight reads, “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” Remember in verse seven how Jesus was asking God if there were any other way besides His death? Well, as you know, there was no other way that man could be saved. Jesus is the only way. And so, when Jesus saw that there was no other way, He was obedient to God, and He suffered and died on the cross. The lesson for us here this morning is that we, too, must be obedient in all things. Trait number three was that we must be reverent to God, and if you think about it, obedience comes from reverence. If we truly respect God, then we will obey His commands.
One time, when I was valeting in the middle of the night, the hotel security guard and I started talking about obeying God’s will. I told him that one day Lydia and I wanted to be missionaries in another country. And he said, “Josh, that’s so good for you, but I don’t know how to obey God’s will in my life, because I don’t know what His will for my life is.” Can anybody relate to that? Sometimes, we don’t know what direction God is leading us in our lives, so we don’t know how to obey. But thankfully, God has made His will for your life plain, even if it’s not always specific. In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells all believers to go and preach the gospel to all creatures. So for us, we don’t have to pray asking God if He wants us to share our faith with other people. He has already told us to! You don’t have to get on your knees and ask God, “Lord, I’ve heard some people at church talk about how much they love reading the Bible, and I’m just wondering if you want me to read the Bible, too.” You don’t have to ask, because He’s already told you the answer! So while we may not always know exactly what God wants us to do in our lives, we do know that He wants us to be obedient to the commands He’s given us. We cannot truly follow Jesus if we are not willing to obey the commands He gives us. You know, many Christian groups today are trying to separate obedience to God away from love for God, but it is simply not possible. If we truly love God, then we will obey His commands. Period. So trait number four, Jesus was obedient, and we have been called to obedience.
Trait #5: Maturity
To see this final trait of Christ, we need to look at verses twelve through fourteen. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” In these verses, the writer of Hebrews is getting onto the readers because many of them are immature in the faith. Look at some of the things he says. First, he says that some of them should be mature enough to be teachers by now, but they are still having to constantly be taught the basics of the word of God. He says that they still need milk like babies, whenever they should be eating steak by now. Finally, the writer says that one mark of a mature believer is that they are able to accurately discern between good and evil.
So what is the message here for us? Well, the writer of Hebrews is telling us to act our spiritual age! He’s saying that it’s not okay to get saved and then stop growing. Obviously, we all start out somewhere in our walks with Christ. Some of us grew up in homes where our parents read the Bible to us, and by the time we accepted Christ, we already knew quite a bit of the Bible’s message. Some of us knew next to nothing about God, except that we wanted Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. The message of these three verses is that wherever you started, grow! Imagine if you saw a thirty-five year old man walking down the street drinking from a bottle, wearing a diaper, and crying for his mommy. You would think there was something seriously wrong with the man! And in the same way, there is something wrong with a Christian who has been saved for many years and yet exhibits the spiritual maturity of a new Christian.
And we’re not just talking about biblical knowledge. We’re also talking about actions and attitudes. You know, it’s understandable for a new Christian to not understand the importance of being in God’s house. What doesn’t make sense, though, is when someone who has been saved for most of their life doesn’t see the importance of regular church attendance. It’s normal for a new Christian to expect service from the church without giving service to the church. Because they are spiritual babies, and physical babies are the same way. They need many things from you, but they’re not going to pull their weight with the chores! What’s not normal is for someone who has been a Christian for years to ask, “What can I get out of it?” without asking “How can I help?” Our Savior has called us all to a life of maturity. I praise God that many of you exhibit this quality so well. But for all of us, the principle is that we need to continue to grow closer and closer to Christ. It is not okay to be content with where we are now.
And as we wrap this all up to a close, we’ve seen this morning five traits that our Lord and Savior lives perfectly. Jesus is sympathetic. No matter what we do, or where we stray to, Jesus loves us and wants us to come back. Jesus is humble. Even though He is the king of everything, He always seeks to give the praise to God. Jesus is reverent. Respect for God was always on the lips of Christ. Jesus is obedient. As God the Son, Jesus always is obedient to God the Father, even when it meant dying on the cross. Finally, Jesus is mature. While Jesus was never spiritually “immature,” He perfectly represents maturity. Jesus is all of these things, and because of that, He is our perfect High Priest.
And Jesus desires for us to be all of these things, as well. So for us to truly follow in His footsteps, we must always be sympathetic to those that are lost and to Christians that have lost their way. We must be humble, always giving God the credit for what He has done in our lives. We must be reverent, always attempting to treat God with the respect He deserves. We must be obedient, even when we do not know all of God’s plans for us, we must follow the plans He gives us in the Bible. And finally, we must be mature. We must grow in faith, and never settle for where we are, but always strive to grow closer to our great High Priest.
But spiritual growth must start with salvation, and if you are here this morning, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then I pray that you will trust in Him this very morning. The Bible says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved; and this morning, I challenge you to acknowledge that you need Jesus Christ to save you, and that you want Him to transform you from the inside out. And guess what, He will! It is a lifelong process, but it is the best decision you will ever make!
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