For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [5:1]For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sin. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (NKJV)
The writer had briefly mentioned the High Priestly office of our Lord in 2:17, where he wrote that the Lord Jesus had to be born into this world in order to fulfill that office. Perhaps that ought to serve as a reminder this “holiday season,” in which even the name “Christmas” is becoming offensive to some, and forbidden, that Christmas isn’t about gifts and decorations and parties. A line in a movie we recently watched said that “Christmas is the celebration of all that’s good in this world.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Christmas is a reminder that there is nothing good, spiritually speaking, in this world and God Himself had to intervene in order to do something about it.
And He did it in a way that seems counter-productive to human wisdom.
There’s a lot of preaching to the effect that God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to us. That we have to do our part before He can do His part. Christmas puts the lie to all that. While it is indeed true that Mary had to carry the developing baby Jesus in her womb and give birth to Him, and that Joseph had to take care of her and her Child, if God had not moved first, there would have been no life, no development, no birth and nothing for them to do. Any child they could have had “doing their part” could never have been a savior. Indeed, such children would need and did need to be saved themselves, cf. John 7:5. And they did have several children after the birth of Jesus, cf. Matthew 1:25, which indicates that they did enjoy a normal marital relationship afterwards, and Matthew 13:55, 56, which lists His brothers by name and indicates that there were at least three sisters. Likewise, we are responsible to repent, to believe, to live godly lives according to the Word of God, but without the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we do not, can not, and will not, do any of those things. That’s the clear teaching of our Lord in John 3: that without the work of the Spirit we can neither perceive spiritual truth nor participate in spiritual life.
The writer’s purpose in writing the book was to encourage his readers to persevere in the faith and to be wary of leaving it, even a little bit – even to “drift”. But the sad truth is that we do “drift.” That’s why God doesn’t leave us on our own. We have One who can intervene for us, One who can help us in our daily walk with God. We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, 4:14.
In ch. 5, the writer tells us a little more about the High Priest.
1. Office of the High Priest in general, v, 1-3.
a. Godward, v. 1: to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
The Jew to whom Hebrews was written had long experience with the Mosaic system. There was no way he could come directly into the presence of God, but had to go through a mediator, through the priests and sacrifices. He had learned, or at least should have learned, that, apart from those sacrifices he was forever shut out from the presence of God because of sin.
I remember talking with a lady who was upset with all the references to “blood” in Christianity. There are many like her. But God didn’t institute the sacrificial system because He was just interested in blood. No, no. The sacrifices were meant to show that forgiveness of sin could only come through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute. Every time an Israelite brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle, he put his hand on the head of the animal. This was a confession that he deserved to die, but that he could live only because a substitute had died in his place.
b. Manward, v. 2: to have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray. The priesthood was no place for pride, for “looking down” on those whom the priests were supposed to serve. They needed sacrifices just like the “ordinary” Israelite, as the writer points out in the next verse. But even they were restricted in their “access” to God, that is, in being able to go into the holy of holies, where God resided symbolically in the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat. Only one man had that privilege, and that only one time a year – and not without sacrifice. It was a death penalty sin for anyone else ever to enter that place, or even for the High Priest, if he entered it on any other day. In fact, it’s said that they would tie a rope around the High Priest when he went in on the Day of Atonement, in case something happened and he died while in there. Nobody else could enter, so the rope was there in order for them to be able to pull him out. I don’t know that this ever happened, but it shows the solemnity with which they viewed all this.
I know we don’t live under those rules, but I do wish that some of that solemnity would enter into our own “worship” of God. It would take care of some of the current froth and frivolity in it.
c. Inward, v. 3: he himself is subject to weakness.
This last is key to understanding the contrast later drawn by the author between Christ and Aaron. There were to be no “personalities” in the priesthood. Even though the priests had a high calling, a special calling, in and of themselves they were no different from the “laity,” a distinction, by the way – “clergy” and “laity” – unknown in Scripture.
In our next post, Lord willing, we’ll look at what the writer says about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.