We've been seeing that the book of Hebrews is simply giving an in-depth look at the person and work of Jesus. As some have been apt to say, “The book of Hebrews is the most Christocentric book of the Bible.”
The author's aim in this has simply been to call his audience to take a closer look at Jesus and see how great he really is.
For instance, this past week I attended a preaching workshop in Columbus. We spent 2 and a half days digging around in various texts of Scripture, talking about their structure and how the Lord would want us to preach these texts. It was a good time.
During the break time there were some of us who went over to the gym and played a little 3 on 3basketball. It provided a good mental break. But there was one guy who I guarded. He was—how shall I say—not exactly thin. He had the build that kind of said that he used to be an athlete, but the glory days have since passed. Do you know what I mean? He wasn’t fat or completely out of shape. He’d simply looked like a guy who wouldn’t be much of a threat on the basketball court anymore.
Boy was I wrong. Since I had sized him up like I just explained, I didn’t think I had to take guarding him too seriously. And the first time he got the ball, he proved me wrong. They passed it to him and he sunk a three point shot, as easy as if it were a layup. I thought to myself, “Well, I better give this guy a little more respect.”
So the next time he got the ball, I played him a little tighter. But he did it again. He swished another three pointer; this time right over me. By this time we are losing and I think, “Alright; Game on!” But no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the guy. It was almost as if he had heard the conversation that went on in my head and wanted to say to me, “Who is the washed up player now, old man?”
The point of it all was that my first impression was not what it should have been. He didn’t look like someone I needed to respect. What I needed (and what I got) was a closer look at how great he really was.
That’s what we have here in the book of Hebrews. We are getting a closer look at Jesus and we are coming to see just how great he really is. After all, there are a lot of people who don’t size up Jesus the way they should. And it may be due to the fact that the first glance at him isn’t all that revealing. He’s a Jew who died. Sure he is celebrated by many as the Savior of the world, but there’s not much to him. He was born in a manger, he didn’t have any beauty that we should behold him, his whole life was spent running around in a bunch of obscure towns in the back woods of the Middle East. Maybe he did some miracles & all, but there’s a good chance we see him in a rather dim light.
Well, here in the book of Hebrews, we are being given a real showcase of how great he really is. And again, in our passage, he’s coming out to play a little one on one with the high priest. So far we’ve seen that there really is no contest in this match up. Jesus has already been proven to be superior. Last week we saw the first three point shot swish. Our passage this morning provides us with another.
What we have here in this passage is a direct comparison and contrast of the two. In the first 4 verses the office of the high priest is essentially laid out. Then in verses 5-10 it presents us with some facts about the high priestly role of Christ. And there are three things that you are to take home regarding Christ’s high priestly role. The first is the right Christ has to the high priestly office.
I. His right to the high priestly role
The passage emphasizes that a high priest must be specifically designated by God for his job. This is not something that one simply applies for or takes up on his own initiative. The right comes directly from God.
Look at the very first verse. It starts out by saying that every high priest “is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” You see here that you can’t simply be elected by running a good campaign. No. You have to be appointed to the position, just like a federal judge.
Verse 4 makes it even more explicit. It says, “No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
You may remember how, back in the Old Testament, God specifically designated Aaron as the first high priest. God told Moses to take Aaron and ordain him to this office.
So the person who became the High Priest had to be chosen specifically by God for the job. And the text goes on to point out that Jesus was just that guy. Look at verses 5-6.
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."
He basically repeats it again in verse 10. It says there that he was “designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” We’ll come back to this whole idea of the Melchizedekian priesthood in chapter 7. That is an interesting area to probe. But the point here is that Jesus is a guy who wasn’t simply voted in by the populous. Neither did he usurp the role. He gained the right by the direct decision of God himself.
Now, why is this a thing? Well, it was important for the fact that in the time that this was written, the guy who was the high priest wasn’t there legitimately. The office of the high priest had been highjacked by political gerrymandering. The Romans had come in and taken over. And in the midst of that there was a family that basically paid off the Romans in order to gain control of the high priestly position. It was a little Chicago style politicking.
After all, the high priest had a cushy job. There was a lot of notoriety in it. You had a lot of influence in the life of Israel, not to say that there was a good deal of money in it.
But the author here makes a great point. In a winsome way, he basically says, “How’s that whole high priest thing working for you?” Go ahead. Go on back to your Judaism and your old high priest. You know downright well that it’s a bunch of corrupt bunk. Talk all you want. You know he’s not a legitimate priest.
It would be kinda like having a president who is reluctant to divulge his birth certificate. It throws doubt on the whole organization.
So chalk one up for Christ. For these zealous Jews, the answer should be obvious. Jesus is the one who is rightly entitled to the office.
But it’s not just the right he has to the role of high priest; it’s his rightness for the position. If you are going to talk about who is the best high priest, you got to think about who best fits the job. And the author here seeks to make sure that Jesus is just the right man for the position.
II. His rightness for the high priestly role
Look at the first verse again. It says that “every high priest [is] chosen from among men.” This is emphasizing the fact that the high priest is one who is a man. And this may not seem like a big deal to us, but it is important that the high priest be one of us. That ensures that there is proper representation.
Think about it this way, who do you want going to Washington DC to represent you? You would prefer someone from Ohio, right? At the very least, you want someone who has lived in this region and therefore knows your values and has an idea what is important to you. You’d probably be a little grumpy if someone from the state of New York went to DC representing you. You’d know that he’d probably not care too much about you and your interests.
The same is true when it comes to our form of church government. Why is it that we have elder rule in our church? Why don’t we have bishops and cardinals? Well, the ultimate answer is because the bishopric is not biblical, I know. But why did the Lord institute the Presbyterian form of government? It was so that you could have one of your own representing you. Presbyterianism is a republican form of government and it is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected. You get to have one of your own members lead you, rather than some joe from Timbuktu who has been appointed by some random bishop in another state.
That’s how it is for the high priest. The high priest had to be a man; he couldn’t be an angel or something else. If he was, he couldn’t represent you and sympathize with you the way he should.
Look at verse 2. It says that the high priest, “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” He’s a man, so he knows what it is like to be you. And he can most adequately do the job in representing you before God.
Now look at verse 7. Look at how he starts that off. He says, “In the days of his flesh.” He’s reminding you that Jesus was incarnate. He was a man. He came to identify with you so that he could most properly represent you.
But it goes on to say that during the days of his flesh, “He offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death.”
Now, a lot of the commentators say that this refers to the Garden of Gethsemane. They point out that it was during his trial there in the garden that he had the intensity of prayer that most describes “loud cries and tears.”
I beg to differ though. I believe that these prayers were offered all through his earthly ministry. We don’t have record of it. There is no specific passage of Scripture to which I can point. But we do see him going off to be alone to pray quite frequently. And what was he doing during those times of prayer? He was acting as your high priest. He was interceding on your behalf. And you can be sure that he was offering up prayers and supplications that had urgency and intensity to them because he sympathized with you. Since he came into this world and took on flesh, he knew your needs in and intimate way. And I would suggest that this made him all the more zealous to act on your behalf and petition the Father with vigor and passion.
I don’t think that there can be any question that Jesus was just the right man for the job. He did not just have a right to the position. But his being incarnate authenticated his rightness for the position.
But there is one more thing that distinguishes Jesus high priestly role. And that is his righteousness.
III. His righteousness in the high priestly role
In verse 2 we noted how the high priest was able to deal gently with people because he himself was beset with weakness. You’ll notice that it goes on in verse 3 to say that it was for this reason that he was obligated to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
So, what I think you walk away with is this: The sympathy of Aaron and the other high priests was a sympathy of sin and shame. It was their fallen-ness that was the basis for their identification with the people. That of course, puts a large ding on the office of the high priest: He himself is a sinner who represents sinners. It is like having a lawyer who is a thief representing thieves. There is something inherently wrong about that.
This is where Christ stands in contrast. Look at verse 7 again. There at the end it says that his prayers were heard because of “his reverence.” Then in verse 8 it says that he “learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
Herein is the contrast: Jesus does not identify by his sin and shame, like other high priests. He identifies by means of his suffering. It was the pain that he experienced that really allows him to connect; and it is His obedience sets him apart as uniquely fitted for the job.
Now, let me quickly comment on verse 8. That is a verse that is a little hard to understand. It says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” It is difficult for us to grasp this because we can’t understand what it means for him to “learn obedience.” After all, wasn’t he perfect? If he was sinless, how could he have to learn obedience?
This is where you have to keep in mind that there are two kinds of knowledge. There is a theoretical knowledge and an expereincial knowledge. There is a knowledge that comes by books and there is a deeper knowledge that comes by experience.
For instance, when Adam and Eve were told that they should not eat of the fruit of the tree, they knew that eating of it was wrong, didn’t they? They knew that if they ate it they would be disobeying. God told them and he imparted that knowledge. But that knowledge was basically theoretical, wasn’t it? Once they bit into that fruit, they gained a whole new idea of what it meant to disobey God, didn’t they? They now knew it from experience.
Or, how about this: When you were younger, you might have taken drivers ed classes to learn how to operate a car. You probably listened to the lectures and maybe even read a book about it. So you knew how to drive a car right? Well, yes and no. You still hadn’t gotten behind the wheel of a car. It was a lot different to actually sit in the seat and have to push the pedels at the right time with the right feet. You really didn’t learn how to drive until you did that. Once you gained that experience, then you were qualified to get your license.
That’s the kind of thing going on here. Jesus knew what it was to obey. Being the perfect Son of God, he instinctively knew it. But in his incarnation he gained a whole different perspective on obedience. He learned how hard it is to obey. He learned what it was like to be tempted. He learned how tantalizing sin can. He came to realize in a distinct way how appealing it is to take a shortcut or fudge the truth.
And like we said last week, that really makes him able to identify with you. Having gone through all that makes him feel the same pain you feel.
But in all this he learned obedience in a grand new way. Up until his incarnation, he never knew obedience like that before.
And that is what makes him perfect. And that is what makes him able to be the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
And this is the final three point shot that seals the deal. It is what really distinguishes him as the only one who is really qualified to be your high priest. He is the only one in all history that has the righteousness. And his spotless life allows him to be both the priest and the sacrifice. It was because of his reverence that he was “saved from death.” That is to say, his obedience allowed him to be raised from the dead and seal for us a victory over the grave.
We joke by saying, “Who is in Grants tomb?” But there is no joke when it comes to the tomb of Christ. Every other high priest lies rotting in the grave. They are all a bunch of corrupt fools.
But there is one who has been raised up out of the grave. And it is this Priest that grants us eternal life.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.