The High Priest We Must have

December 24, 2017 Series: Hebrews Scripture: Hebrews 5:1-6 by Chris Strevel

His Perfect Qualifications (vv. 1-3)

He is one of us.

There is no other way for us to be right with God but through the mediation of a priest that he will accept. Our sins have separated us from him so that he will not hear our prayers or receive our persons. Any unmediated approach we make to him is an insult to his majesty and a complete waste of time. Let this serve for the foundational truth that illumines this passage. All men and times have acutely felt their need of a priest and mediator to stand between them and God. Yet, only to the family of Aaron did the Lord reveal acceptable worship and sacrifice. All others he judicially inflicted with superstition so that they devised systems that actually made the worshippers worse. That secular men scoff at this universally and rightly felt need of a priest only shows how out of step they are with the whole course of history, the incredible hubris that blinds them, and the abysmal ignorance that drowns their souls. So-called modern men do not know themselves any longer. They are too busy and surrounded with too much noise to descend into their own hearts for a little honest self-examination. They have thrown off the yoke of divine revelation and have ruined multitudes with the delusion that man’s mind and experience are sufficient to discover truth. They are not, as daily experience bears out. If we once compare ourselves to God’s holiness and majesty, all the trifles with which men seek to appease their consciences or deny their consciences altogether will soon evaporate. Naked before him, all the vanities and idols of the heart are exposed. We must, as this very verse teaches us, have a priest like us, taken from among men, who knows what God accepts and what man needs.  

He is ordained to represent us to God.

But where are we to find such a priest? The world’s religions have shown themselves ridiculously false. Their leaders are usually the best refutation of their claims. Even within supposedly Christian communions, such as Rome, its priests have so consistently denied the authority of the Bible and the trampled upon the exclusive priesthood of Jesus Christ that their entire system is nothing but an invention of the devil to deceive the unwary. A priest must be set apart or ordained to serve us in the things that pertain to God. This means that his life and ministry must be guided by God’s word alone, or else we can have absolutely no confidence in his intercession for us. A legitimate priest’s ministry goes both ways. He is taken from us, meaning that he has our interest and needs and weaknesses at heart. He is also dedicated to serving the things of God, especially his worship and offering sacrifices for our sins.

The mention of sin teaches us the evil of focusing our worship upon man and his feelings. Few think about the offense given to God by our transgressions. Instead, most think only about pleasing themselves. Did I like the music? Did what I hear make me feel better? Was I offended? As if all the feelings of all the men of all time are to be compared with God’s honor through man humbling himself under his word! “Lebanon is insufficient to burn” (Isa. 40:16) – all that man can offer to God is unworthy of his majesty. Rarely is the question asked, “What did God think about this?” Is he at peace with me? Are my sins removed? This is a compelling description in today’s non-sin climate. Sin is rampant, but men have never denied it more. The revolt against the Old Testament and especially God’s law has been very successfully waged by unbelieving theologians who have done the devil’s work for him! We hear a great deal about broken lives, but little about guilty lives – guilty before God’s majesty; guilty because we have broken his holy law, guilty such that our recovery requires a propitiation that God accepts. If we honored his word more, we should have to speak against sin more, which would in turn lead us to Jesus Christ and his priesthood. This is the very thing intended in this letter and passage. We must have a priest to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. God’s justice must be satisfied and his anger appeased. Are you, sinner, able to do this? Is any other mere man able to do this? Will you trust the man with the most outlandish claims or shiniest robes or supposedly unquestionable succession to make atonement for your very soul? Will you die trusting in human priests? There must be another. His name is Jesus Christ.

He is able to have compassion upon us.

  Our need for a priest is further compounded by our abysmal ignorance and waywardness. These are likely not two different groups of people but a comprehensive indictment upon our race – ignorant because we shut our ears against God’s truth and thus have become culpably ignorant of his will and of our good in him – wayward because like sheep we prefer our own way (Isa. 53:6). Jeremiah lampoons the blindness of God’s people when after describing those who fleeced them – the false prophets and abusive priests – concluded – “And my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). We follow our sins to the bitter end and refuse to give them up – even when they wear us out and make us frustrated (Isa. 57:10). But every priest to whom we look is not only surrounded with weakness as we are but also has been made so weak on account of sin as to render him incapable of making atonement for our sins. Everything his hand touches must partake of his contamination. His weakness should make him compassionate toward us – but is it not troubling that the very men who should be able to sympathize with others are often the very ones who serve with censorious hardness or, worse yet, give themselves license to commit the very atrocities that they condemn in others. It is horrible, horrible what sin has done to us, what it has done to those who should minister to us in God’s name. Had not God intervened in his grace, life on earth would have become unbearable except for the consideration of hell to come.

This is the kind of priest we must possess: one who is able to sympathize with us because he is “compassed with infirmity.” His heart is not closed to us, for we need one upon whose shoulders we can cry and who can give us heavenly consolation that is more than platitudes but solid encouragement and hope and power based upon the promises and word of God. This is marvelously applied to our Lord throughout this letter and implied here. Other priests and helpers will fail us, be too hard upon us, or not know how to encourage us, but we have a GREAT HIGH PRIEST (4:14)! He knows our infirmities because he was tempted in every way as we have been. Do you not find this to be one of the brightest glories of our Lord’s mediation? He entered so fully into our sin-sunken condition and endured so many trials that he is able to weep with us. Well he remembers being absolutely surrounded with temptations and weaknesses, which he voluntarily took upon himself in order to be made like us and endure the deepest woes that we brought upon ourselves because of sin. He is no longer crying, but he remembers the tears before Lazarus’ tomb and his bloody sweat in Gethsemane. Why, why would the eternal Son of God become such a high priest for us? Why would he be made so low as to “give his back to the smiters,” “have no place to lay his head,” be “stricken, smitten, and afflicted” for our sake? He willingly endured being surrounded with the pains of death and sorrows of hell in order to be a “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God” (Heb. 2:17). Let us flock to our Savior every moment. There is no temptation, no weakness we feel in ourselves, and no depths of sin into which we fall for which he lacks compassion joined with invincible power to help those who call upon his name.

His Personal Glory (vv. 4-6)

He was called by his Father.

But above all, the priest to whom we look for help with the holy God must have such a verified calling from God that his authority to minister stands unquestionable. I believe this is one reason that world history extended from Eden to Golgotha over four millennia. In every way, through type and symbol, broad promise and minute prophesy, the Lord was marking out his Son as the called and accepted priest who would make an end of sacrifice and obtain our eternal redemption. That our priest must have God’s calling and acceptance is clear from the family of Aaron. It is blasphemous presumption for anyone to take such an honor upon himself. Do not the false priests of the world’s ancient religions testify to this audacity? None of these nations enjoyed any light from heaven, any peace of conscience, any enduring strength. None ever offered one acceptable sacrifice, not even one – they sacrificed to demons. All their priests and theologians – and where, O Egypt, Greece, and Persia, are your mighty bards and philosophers? You spun your myths and built your towers to gaze upon the stars, but the answer to your questions and satisfaction of your longings escaped your vanity and was finally born in a manger.

He is the Father’s Son.

Like Aaron, so with Christ our Lord – he did not glorify himself to be made high priest. Aaron was chosen; Christ was chosen (Isa. 42:1; 1 Pet. 2:4). This is not said respecting his deity, as if he were not eternally the Son, God equal with the Father. Instead, this is said respecting his becoming our mediator and great high priest. He received this office from his Father, who with respect to redemption takes the first place within the Godhead as the Father who sent his Son. It is as Mediator that we must speak of the Son as “God’s elect, in whom is all my delight.” It is not that this line from Psalm 2 contains a prophecy of his priestly work; it is rather a powerful declaration that the One whom the Father called to be our priest is his Beloved Son. This is all our confidence that his priestly sacrifice and intercession are indeed acceptable with the Father. It should also fill us with wonder that the eternal Son of God would willingly take upon himself the full responsibility for our salvation, especially when it brought him very low. The important thing for us, however, is that the entire thread of prophecy and revelation reveal that the Son of God was truly called to be our GREAT HIGH PRIEST. We may therefore look to him with absolute confidence that his sacrifice does take away our sins and that his intercession secures the forgiveness of our sins and our welcome admission to the throne of grace. To have this confidence, we must have a priest whom God calls and sets apart, and this is Jesus Christ his beloved Son.

He is a different kind of priest.

His priesthood will be different than Aaron’s – far higher. More will be said about Melchizedek in chapter 7, but here Paul is led to declare what he will more fully explain later. Our Lord Jesus is a great high priest not only because of his perfect sacrifice and worthy intercession but also because he united in himself the office of priest and king. This was Melchidezek’s uniqueness. He was “King of Salem and priest of the Most High God” (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:1). Aaron had no royal authority; the kings of Israel were forbidden to offer sacrifices. But in Jesus Christ, we have a priest who ministers with royal authority. He holds the reins of power in his nail-pierced hands. The King who rules the world and smites the nations also intercedes for us with availing power before the throne of his Father – and he was appointed to that office, this intercession, to offer that perfect sacrifice. Do we think that he cannot now secure us in the face of the world’s opposition and persecution? Even death? These believers forgot this. They would renounce the King and Priest to save their skins? Where else could they go? The old types were now spent, like an old hulk which had brought its passengers to shore through stormy seas. Would they re-embark upon that sinking ship? The King-Priest will save and secure them. If the enemy strikes, the Lord Jesus will turn his blows into salvation for his church. The only thing to be feared is turning away from God’s appointed King and Priest, Jesus Christ. There is salvation in no other name than his.

Why We Must Have Jesus Christ for our High Priest

No Other Mediator Accepted by God

The pressing question in every claim of truth and religion is, “Hath God said?” Can we know that by following this or that man, we are accepted by God? We are so blind that we cannot even judge of the claims of the many Christ’s and false prophets who have come into the world. The truth is known to us only in coming humbly to the Lord Jesus Christ. “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). None ever spoke like him because he is the only WORD from heaven. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (John 1:18). He is the only Mediator, the only Prophet who reveals God’s word, the only Priest who makes atonement for sins, and the only King who rules over us and is able to defend us from all our enemies and finally bring us to heaven. It is Christ or hell. All other priests, gurus, claims to be sent from heaven – all bogus; all scams; all resulting in bloody wars and burdened consciences and ruined civilizations. All those who hate this Mediator, reject Jesus Christ, love death and walk in darkness. As he said to the Jews who rejected him, so he says to many today – “And you will not come to me, that you might have life” (John 5:40).

No Other Sacrifice to Atone for our Sins

And why does Jesus Christ alone give life? Listen carefully. Follow the philosophers on their highest flights of fancy. Study with the moralists their careful plans. All are a farce because none tell us the way that our sins may be forgiven, or the power of sin broken, or the grieved conscience restored to peace with God. None. More attempted obedience will not do it – what am I to do about my sins? Ignore them? Does God ignore them? Conscience within says he does not. Will systems of philosophy and morality gain God’s favor for me? The mystic tells us to forget all these things, that they are but the conundrums of my delusions. The blind guides are talkative dust – very alluring, very dangerous. Perhaps today’s revolutionaries and gender benders and social justice warriors are the answer. But wait – they do not deal with sin but simply justify it, indulge their perverse appetites, and then call it virtue. They have given up on goodness, morality, and God. There are no answers beyond personal pleasure and personal realities – all imposed upon others lest I be offended and have my safety bubble popped by the safety pin of God’s reality.

Here is the reality. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” You know this to be true. So do I. Oceans of blood have been spilt on altars for millennia – all echoing this truth. I am guilt, guilty, guilty. I am filthy, contagious, and condemned. What shall I do? I must run to Jesus Christ alone. He alone, obscure, lowly, speaking as never a man did, came dealing with sin directly. Repent, he said. I will drink this cup, he said. Do you remember Isaiah 53? I am the great high priest who came down from heaven not to set up a fairy tale kingdom of utopian morality or rule by power politics or teach everyone esoteric philosophy. I came to deal with sin by becoming sin for you, being crushed and receiving in my holy bosom the sword of divine justice (Zech. 13:7). I did this because I love my Father and I love my sheep (John 10:15; 13:1; 15:9-11). Come to me, if you want the living waters of God’s free forgiveness and a perfect righteousness that will endure the holy gaze of the just Judge. He is my Father. I know him and his requirements, for they are also mine. This is the reason you can trust my sacrifice. I know the full tally of divine justice against sin and sinners; I have paid it in full. Every stripe – see my back and my side. I drained the cup of judgment. I received in myself the strokes of justice and have satisfied the Judge. Look unto me, all you ends of the earth, and be saved.

No Other Helper in our Weakness

We can now trust him in his life. He did not remain dead but arose to newness of life. These believers were thinking of turning away from him in order to save their skins. Where else could they go? There is no other divinely appointed and called Mediator. The Father will accept no one else but his Son. And now, that risen Son of God is our helper at God’s right hand. I wonder if they seriously called upon him in the day of their calamity (Ps. 50:15; John 16:23). I wonder if we ask – wondering in faith at his glory, trusting in simplicity his faithfulness, ardently praying in his name as he commanded us. One thing is certain – it is Christ or absolutely no help at all – other than the bottom of a bottle, or a life addicted to your sex drives, or what your money will buy, or what support you friends can provide.

You and I know that death is coming. An accounting is coming. We turn to Christ now, today, or we perish later, but stand before our Judge we shall. Our single hope in that hour will be that the King of the nations is our perfect and acceptable Priest, the Lamb of God, still bearing the stigmata of his sufferings for us. Look to him now, O sinner. There is no other name under heaven that will do you any good. There is no other mediator, no other priest, no other sacrifice. Look to him and be saved, comforted, and strengthened against temptation, against the world, and against the devil. He is the King. His sacrifice will cleanse you and obtain your full pardon. His reign will preserve you in the fiery furnace. Look to him. There is no other. He is sufficient. He is altogether lovely and powerful to save and secure those who come to him.