Jesus: The Chosen High Priest
Jesus Christ is greater than every other high priest in history because He was 1) without sin, 2) the Son of God, 3) our priest forever, 4) obedient and, 5) offers salvation to all who obey. Because of this, we can have assurance of our salvation and understand that all things, even suffering, have a purpose in life! Our response to this wonderful news is that we obey and persevere.
As we continue in our study of Hebrews, we find ourselves in the 2nd major section of the book (one that we began last Sunday with Hebrews 4:14-16) as we see how Jesus Christ is the superior priest who brings about the better covenant because He Himself is the perfect sacrifice for sin. As we make our way through these upcoming chapters, we see many references to the Levitical system, the priesthood and the dangers of not being obedient to what you are called to do.
In our world, especially right now as there is confusion and chaos, many people operate under the mindset that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want and not suffer any consequences. We see things like injustice happen and it can be easy for us to get upset time after time because we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be. We know that murder is wrong because the Bible says so. We know that racism is wrong because the Bible tells us that we are all created equally in the image of God. We know that destroying homes and injuring others is also wrong. So what are we left to do in such a time as this? One, empathize with those who are the victims of injustice. We speak out for and help the poor and powerless as Jesus commands in Matthew 25:40. We seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God as Micah 6:8 says.
Why would we do this? Why would we speak out on something that might make us look crazy to others? Because we are commanded to obey our Savior who said to treat others the same way you want them to treat you. This is a learning process, but we see in Scripture that we are a part of a global family comprised of believers from every tribe, tongue and nation. As a result, we praise our great high priest for what He has done not just for us, but for people all around the world! We don’t just stop with praise and thanksgiving, though, we obey His Word and we share the good news that Jesus Saves with others. Peace and hope are not found in a human leader. They aren’t found in a large group of people. Eternal hope and lasting peace is found in Jesus Christ - our great high priest. Rather than looking to another person for help, church, let’s look to Jesus!
1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; 2 he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. 4 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”; 6 just as He says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, 10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The Qualifications of the High Priest (1-4)
The Qualifications of the High Priest (1-4)
The preacher of Hebrews opens up in chapter 5 by explaining what the responsibilities and qualifications of the Jewish high priest. As the preacher has done often times, he is aiming to show how Jesus Christ is greater. He initially started out by showing that Jesus is greater than the prophets of old because His message is superior. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than Moses and Joshua. Now, the preacher will show how Jesus is greater than the high priests of old. We see that there are 3 qualifications for these high priests in verses 1-4: Called by God, Sympathetic, Aware of his own needs. The high priest, in verse 4 was called by God - if you look into the origin of the Old Testament priesthood, who was the first high priest? Aaron. Exodus 28 shows us that God was the one who called Aaron to become the high priest. Even though this was a very important position to hold, it is one that requires humility because Aaron and every high priest that followed was not in the position simply because they were really smart or because they volunteered, rather it was because they were called by God. This was simply how it always worked with the office of the high priest - they were called by God. What was the function or purpose of the high priest? To perform sacrifices on behalf of the people.
You hear an echo of our church leadership today, do you not? As Christians we all receive a spiritual gift and that is given to us by God, you don’t get to choose your spiritual gift. Some people are called to pastor or teach and we are called to use those gifts not for self service or to look good in front of others but to further the Kingdom of God!
High priests were also called to be sympathetic. Verse 2 notes that they are to deal gently with the ignorant and misguided. Contrast this verse with Hebrews 4:15 from last week. 4:15 notes that Jesus Christ, our great high priest, can sympathize (or sympatheo in Greek) with us in our weakness because He was tempted. The high priest of old, though, deals gently (metriopatheo in Greek) with others because he is weak. Do you see the difference? The high priest himself is a sinner and is beset with weakness - Jesus, as Hebrews 2 and 4 notes, is not a sinner as He was without sin. Again, think of Aaron, the first high priest. What did he help the people of Israel do whenever Moses went to Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 commandments? The high priest literally helped create a golden idol of a cow! We laugh at this story, but friends do we see the sad reality of how we are all sinners? Even the best high priest in the history of Israel. Even the best pastor you can ever think of. We are all sinners and we are all beset with weaknesses. The good news of this is that the high priest was able to offer sacrifices for those who are ignorant and misguided. The Day of Atonement was the big day for the high priest as he would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkle a blood sacrifice for himself and the nation of Israel. Notice what verse 3 says - he offers these sacrifices on behalf of the nation/people and for himself!
Because of this, the high priest is aware of his own need of forgiveness and atonement. He is a sinner - even though he tries to keep all of the 613 commandments in the torah, he still messes up. Because of this he has to offer sacrifices for himself because he is not perfect. Friends, we are all apart of the problem. We are all sinners and we all fall short daily! The law reminds us of our inadequacies every single day and we see this playing out in our world right now. We are the problem - we are not the solution. Just as the priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sin, we are sinners as well and we require a savior.
There is God on this side and there is man on this side. What separates us? Sin. What this blood offering would do is it would cover the sins of the people for a year and God would turn His righteous anger against sin away from His people for that year. If the high priest was unaware of his sinfulness or not sympathetic or not called by God and entered into the Holy of Holies, what would happen to him? He would die! There is a legend that the high priest might have worn a rope in case there was unconfessed sin and he died that his body might be recovered from the Holy of Holies. This isn’t found in Scripture, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless that tells you the severity of being in the presence of God as a sinner without a mediator.
The Old Covenant shows an imperfect person offering a sacrifice that will merely postpone the coming judgment of God. Do you see that this old way was never supposed to be the final way? It is pointing to something greater: it is pointing to Jesus Christ. Look at what the preacher says regarding the Son of God in chapter 9
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Jesus is the great high priest who does not have to sacrifice on behalf of His own sins like the high priests of old. He does not have to sacrifice the blood of bulls and goats either because His blood obtains our eternal redemption because He Himself is the perfect sacrifice for our sin. He doesn’t merely postpone the judgment of God, He satisfies it in full on the cross - Jesus and the New Covenant do what the high priest and the Old Covenant could never do! Jesus is greater than the High Priest.
The Humility of the Great High Priest (5-6)
The Humility of the Great High Priest (5-6)
Because Jesus serves as a high priest, He has much in common with the high priests of old - He is called by God and He accepted His role. However, unlike the high priests of old, Jesus Christ was sinless so He never had to be aware of His sin like the high priests did. Jesus, as the preacher quotes from Psalm 110, is of the priestly order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110 is considered a Royal Psalm and a Messianic Psalm. We see in verse 4
4 The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”
This is what the preacher of Hebrews quotes in Hebrews 5:6.
Think of the humility that Jesus possessed. He who knew no sin became sin. Why? So that sinners like you and I could be reconciled to God and be adopted into the Kingdom/Family of God! That requires a whole lot of humility. The Levitical priests had to be humble as well and they had to be called by God, just as Aaron was. The Bible shares with us that we, as Christians, are called by God as well. What does this prohibit, church? It eliminates boasting as we all must be humble. We are called by God and saved by grace through faith in Christ. While Aaron and the other priests were obedient priests, Jesus, as verse 5 notes, is the obedient begotten Son of God as he quotes from Psalm 2:7. We know this from John 3:16
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
So Jesus is superior to the high priests because He is not only called by God but He is God’s begotten Son. He is also superior in verse 6 because He is a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek. What does this mean? Does this mean that Jesus is currently offering a blood sacrifice for sin? No. Jesus paid it all and it only took 1 sacrifice. This means that Jesus’ sacrifice and offer of salvation is still active today. There is no termination date associated with Jesus’ priesthood unlike the priests of old. The other priests would die and a new priest would take their place. With Jesus, though, He defeated death and was resurrected, therefore His priesthood knows no end.
Who is this Melchizedek figure and where else does he appear in Scripture? Genesis 14:17-24 is the only other place besides Psalm 110 that he appears. In Genesis 14 we see Abraham appear and meet Melchizedek. Melchizedek’s name means “King of Righteousness” and he is the king of Salem - Jerusalem. Genesis 14 shows us that Melchizedek blesses Abraham and then Abraham gives him a tenth, tithe, of everything!
Melchizedek is the King of Salem here in Genesis 14 but Psalm 110 notes that the Messiah will be of the priestly pattern of Melchizedek. This person is both a king and a priest - who do we know who is the same? Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come from the priestly tribe - Levi, not was He the military leader of Israel like the Jews were praying the messiah would be. However, Jesus offers His people salvation by Himself being the perfect sacrifice and we know that Jesus Christ will return one day as the conquering King.
The Superiority of the Great High Priest (7-10)
The Superiority of the Great High Priest (7-10)
Not only did our great high priest humble Himself, but He also suffered. The final 4 verses are difficult for translators to make sense of and in the Greek text these verses are one, giant, run-on sentence! What do we find at the beginning of this sentence? Our Savior offering up prayers with crying and tears. This isn’t what you’d expect from the Lord of the Universe, is it? Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that Jesus was without sin, but He still experienced human heartache and grief. He depended upon God through thick and thin. Church we must do the same today!
Think of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. We’re familiar with the context: Jesus is about to be betrayed and He prays so fervently and with such emotion that he sweats blood!
44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
When was the last time you prayed with this level of intensity? Sadly, for many of us the answer is never. For some maybe we have. What we must see in the prayer life of Jesus is that we must utterly depend upon God to meet and satisfy our needs. In the Garden some have speculated that Jesus was praying for another way out so that He could escape the cross - yet Jesus predicted the fact that He would die on the cross and John 12 says that this is the purpose as to why He came to earth in the first place! So why did Jesus pray so fervently to God? Was it to escape death? No. It was to be saved out of the grave. He prayed to the One able to save Him from death. The Father heard the Son’s cries and the Son was totally submissive to the will of the Father, even though it was going to cost Him His life.
As the hymn puts it, “Thank you for the cross, Lord. Thank you for the price You paid.” What is our response to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? We sympathize with others, just as Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness but we also live a changed life! We don’t live a rebellious life as Christians and fall away, as the preacher says in Hebrews 6
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
We follow Jesus’ example.
Verse 8 notes that Jesus “learned obedience from suffering.” Does this mean that Jesus needed to learn something because He was wrong or disobedient at one point in His life? Of course not! Jesus never sinned. Jesus never disobeyed. This emphasizes His dealings with humanity. Jesus learned how to obey the Father as He submitted to Him during times of suffering. He identifies with us and part of being a human involves suffering and part of obeying God means that you suffer along the way.
Friends, being a Christian is hard sometimes isn’t it? It’s hard to be in the world but not of the world. It’s hard to obey whenever other people do other things. In all of this, though, we learn obedience through the hard times of life. Just because you suffer doesn’t give you an excuse to disobey and be a jerk. As Christians we continue to follow Jesus’ lead and submit. Why on earth would we do this? Because God has a plan - to make us more like Jesus Christ. To refine us.
Verse 9 notes that Jesus Christ was perfected through suffering. Wasn’t Jesus already perfect, though? Of course! Hebrews 2:10 tells us this
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
Jesus did not need to become better or “perfect” because He was bad before. Rather, He was made perfect as He obeyed during suffering and even death. Because of this, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. Jesus is the author and perfecter of salvation!
The Bible is clear that there is 1 name under heaven given among men that we must be saved - Jesus. It’s not enough to just say Jesus or know a couple things about Him, the Bible says you must follow Him. This is tough, but it’s worth it!
After all of this exposition and study of the text we arrive at our application. We must repent, we must hold fast, we must obey Jesus. What is our response supposed to be regarding Jesus Christ being our great high priest? We must obey. Are you obeying Jesus Christ today? The question is not are you perfect. Rather it is are you obeying and trusting in Him? This has been one of the main points the preacher of Hebrews has made during the last few chapters. In Hebrews 3 we are reminded to hold fast our hope (3:6), guard against unbelief (3:12) in chapter 4 we are told to hold fast our confession (4:14) and draw near with confidence to God (4:16). We must believe in what the Bible says about Jesus first, we must then repent and follow after Him. You can’t follow if you don’t believe. If you believe then you must and will obey and follow. Verse 9 of Hebrews 5 makes it clear that not everyone is saved. Only those who trust and obey are the recipients of this wonderful salvation!
The context of this book is to Jewish Christians tempted to revert back to Judaism. The preacher of Hebrews keeps on telling them in this sermon, don’t even think about doing that! If you are a Christian, you will persevere and not abandon your faith. Guess what? That same message is true today! If you’re a Christian, you hold fast your confession every single day regardless of the cost. As you do this, as we will look at next week in Hebrews 5:11-14, we mature and grow in our faith.
Where is our assurance in all of this? It’s in Jesus Christ, our great High Priest who was perfect and chosen by God. It is in the perfect priesthood with the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice.
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
You can have confidence today that Jesus saves and serves as the king / priest forever and offers salvation to all who obey Him.
Have you trusted in Jesus Christ today?
As we looked at last week, Jesus knows what you’re going through today. He can relate with you in your weakness because He too was tempted and He suffered greatly. He remained obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore, we trust in Him at all times and we obey Him, even when it’s tough because He is our great high priest!
There is assurance in Jesus Christ. While people fail us and while the world remains in a state of chaos, there is assurance, peace and hope in Jesus and in Him alone. As the preacher of Hebrews said in chapters 2 and 3, pay attention and consider Jesus Christ today - don’t put it off any longer!
He is greater than the prophets. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than Moses. He is greater than Joshua. He is greater than Aaron or any other high priest. He is greater than any president or leader in history. His name is Jesus, blessed Jesus.
Repent of your sins. Trust in Him. Obey His commands and rest in His work of atonement that has secured our salvation for all time!