************ Sermon on Hebrews 5:1-10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 21, 2016
"The Better High Priest"
Jesus is better. That is one of the key themes of Hebrews. Jesus is better than the prophets. Jesus is better than God's mighty angels. Jesus is better than Moses and Joshua. Jesus is better than Israel. Jesus is better than Aaron and the other high priests of Israel. Jesus is better.
This evening, we continue looking at this theme of better. The author of Hebrews brings up three points about the high priest of Israel. And then, in reverse order, he brings up the same three points about Christ to show us and tell us Christ is better. To help you picture this, the points about the earthly high priest are arranged as A, B, C whereas the points about Jesus as a better high priest are arranged as C, B, A.
We will start in the middle with point C and work outward to point A.
I An Appointed High Priest (vs 4, 5-6)
A Our first point is that all high priests must receive a divine appointment. Our Scripture reading says:
(Heb 5:4) No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.
All high priests are called to their office by God. No true high priest is either self-appointed or appointed by men. They must be appointed by God. Meaning that the high priest was not to seek the office out of lust for power or position. Rather, the high priest had to be called by God and occupy the office with the humility that God requires of His servants. In Exodus 28:1 we can read about Aaron's appointment:
(Ex 28:1) "Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons ... so they may serve me as priests."
Ever since Aaron, the method of God's appointment was according to lineage. God declared that the high priest must be from the tribe of Levi, the family of Aaron. The office must pass from father to son, from generation to generation.
"No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was" (Heb 5:4). To the original audience of Hebrews, these words must have seemed ironic, even condemnatory. For they were well aware that many men did take the office of high priest for themselves during the period in which this letter was composed. Herod the Great and all of his Roman successors routinely promoted men to the office of high priest in response to bribes or in return for political favors. Few, if any, of these men possessed the spiritual and physical qualifications for the position.
B Christ Jesus, like Aaron, did not exalt Himself into the high priestly office. He, too, needed a divine appointment -- unlike the crooked and perverse men who occupied the office at that time. Our Scripture reading speaks about this appointment:
(Heb 5:5) So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father."
This last sentence is a quote from Psalm 2:7. The use of Psalm 2 here is unexpected because the psalm deals with God's appointment of a king, not a priest. However, keep in mind that the high priest was like a king: He presided over the house of God, just as the king presided over the land. He wore glorious robes and a crown, like a king. He was the spiritual ruler of Israel, just like the king was the temporal ruler.
Technically speaking, according to Old Testament law, Christ's appointment as high priest was invalid. He was not from the tribe of Levi or the family of Aaron; instead, He was from the tribe of Judah, the family of David. How, then, could Christ be a valid high priest?
This problem is solved for us in the next verse of our Scripture reading:
(Heb 5:6) And he says in another place, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." Christ is a valid high priest not according to lineage. Rather, He is a valid high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Who is Melchizedek? He is a rather strange Old Testament figure who lived at the time of Abraham. We first meet him in Genesis 14. Abraham was on his way home after rescuing Lot and his family. He was met by Melchizedek. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.
What do we know about Melchizedek? His name means "king of righteousness." We are told he is king of Salem, which means "king of peace." We are told he is a priest forever of God Most High; "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life ... he remains a priest forever" (Gen 14:18f; Heb 7:1-3).
Jesus is high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Meaning what? Meaning that like Melchizedek, He is king of righteousness. Meaning that like Melchizedek, He is king of peace. Meaning that like Melchizedek, He is a priest forever. Meaning that like Melchizedek -- and we are talking here of His divine nature -- He is without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life.
C Christ Jesus was appointed as high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Think of what this means:
(Heb 7:25) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.Our high priest lives forever. Therefore our high priest saves completely. Therefore our high priest always prays for us. Therefore, our high priest is better; He is better than Aaron and the other high priests of the Old Testament.
II A Sympathetic High Priest (vs 2-3, 7-8)
A Our second point is that all high priests must be sympathetic. Our Scripture reading says,
(Heb 5:2-3) He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. (3) This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
In the period between the Old and New Testaments, Alexander Jannaeus was king and high priest of Israel. As king, he was a tyrant with high taxes and harsh rule. As high priest, he demanded large sums of money before he would offer sacrifices for sins. He showed no sympathy or compassion for the suffering or the sins of the people.
A high priest must show sympathy for the sins of the people. Knowing his own sin and weakness he is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray. He must not be indifferent and harsh as Alexander. But he must not be overly sympathetic either. I think here of Aaron. In his great sympathy for the people Aaron actually encouraged their sin by making a golden calf. A high priest must strike the right balance between sympathy, sorrow, pain, and anger for sin.
B Christ Jesus, as our only high priest, also sympathizes with us. We read:
(Heb 5:7-8) During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (8) Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
We are to think here of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in anguish there as He struggled to do the will of God. He cried to God to take the cup of death from Him. It was not physical death that Jesus feared; rather, it was spiritual death or separation from God that he feared. We can go further and say this is also true for the cross when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" We are also to think of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. He was hungry, weak, and tired after forty days of fasting. It would have been so easy for Him to go the way of Satan instead of the way of God.
Because of His own experience, Christ knows. And, Christ understands. He knows and understands our struggles and trials. He knows and understands and sympathizes with us. He understands what a difficult struggle it is to always do the will of God. Says an earlier verse in Hebrews:
(Heb 4:15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin.
More than one person, going through hard times, says "No one understands. No one knows what it is like." My sister-in-law said this quite often as she struggled with her disabled daughter. A grieving couple say this as they stand by the grave of their child. A divorcee says this as she struggles to cope without a spouse. But Jesus understands. Jesus understands when we stumble. We have a high priest in heaven who does sympathize, who does understand, who does know. Therefore, according to Hebrews,
(Heb 4:16) Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Ours is a sympathetic high priest. He knows our weaknesses. He understands our struggles.
C Hebrews adds something that many find strange and even offensive: Christ, we are told, "learned obedience from what he suffered." Hebrews 2:10 says something similar:
(Heb 2:10) In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.This leaves us with a big question to answer: If Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, sinless and holy, how could He learn obedience to God through suffering? How could He be made perfect through suffering? The answer of some heretics throughout church history is to say Jesus was a mere man, a sinner like you and me. Hebrews has made clear in multiple ways that this is absolutely false. After all, He is the exact representation of God's being (Heb 1:3). And, He has been tempted as we are yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
So, what does it mean that He learned obedience? What does it mean that He was made perfect? What it means is this: Jesus knew obedience and perfection in theory, in His heart; but by coming to earth as a man He also knew obedience and perfection in practice. He learned what it is like to obey God when the crowds hate you and try to kill you. He learned what is like to obey God when the religious leaders of the people try to entrap you. He learned what it is like to obey God when God sends you to the cross. When the Bible speaks of Christ learning obedience it is talking about experiencing obedience.
Like us, then, Christ had to learn obedience. So, He is more than able to sympathize with us. He knows the difference between theory and practice, between doctrine and life. Therefore, our high priest is better; He is better than Aaron and the other high priests of the Old Testament.
III A Representative High Priest (vs 1, 9-10)
A Our third point is that all high priests must represent the people before God. Our Scripture reading says,
(Heb 5:1) Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. A high priest represents the people before God.
As representative of the people, the high priest must be taken from "among men." Can you imagine our country having an ambassador who is not an American?! How can such a person represent the United States? In the same way, we can not be represented before God by a dog or cat or by anything or anyone that is not fully human.
Look at Aaron. He represented the people of Israel before God. He was able to do this because he was both a man and an Israelite.
The highpoint of Aaron's work was done on the Day of Atonement. This was the only day of the year the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple. It was a holy thing to represent the people there before God.
Before entering the tabernacle, Aaron was to bathe and put on special garments (Lev 16:4), then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family (Lev 16:6,11). The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Then, on behalf of the people, Aaron was to sacrifice a goat "because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been" (Lev 16:16), and its blood was also sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Then, on behalf of the people, Aaron placed his hands on the head of another goat, confessed over it the rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites, and sent the goat out into the wilderness (Lev 16:21).
B Hebrews applies this entire ritual to Jesus. Jesus is the great high priest Who represents us before God. Unlike Aaron and his sons, though, He did not have to first make sacrifice for His own sins -- because He was without sin (Heb 4:15). And, the sacrifice He offered was not a bull or a goat but rather Himself. And, He took His own blood before God in order to satisfy God's wrath against sin. He took our place before God. He suffered God's wrath and God's judgment in our place. He became the source of eternal salvation.
Jesus Christ is our high priest. He is our better high priest. He is our perfect high priest: His is a divine appointment, He sympathizes with our struggles, and He represents us before the Father. Jesus is better!
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