Title: You Really Do Need a (Good) Priest
Big Idea: Jesus is perfectly qualified to represent you before God.
Outline: 3 Qualifications for a High Priest
- They are selected by God.
- They sympathize with weak people.
- They offer sacrifice for sins.
In chapter 4:16 we are introduced to the fact that as Christians we have a high priest.
The immediate retaliation from those who objected to Jesus and Christianity was, “You don’t have a priest.” The writer would say, “Yes we do. His name is Jesus.”
To which the Jews would argue, “How can he be a priest? He is not from the right family. He is not qualified.”
It is this debate, this question, that Hebrews aims to bring to the forefront.
The big idea that I want you to take home today from this passage is the truth that only Jesus is perfectly qualified to represent you before God.
In order to do this I want to follow the author’s outline. Essentially what he does is walk through 3 points that are universally accepted as the qualifications for the office of high priest. Then he intersects with who Jesus is. So we start with the general Old Testament, Jewish understanding and then look at who Jesus is.
3 qualifications of priests from an Old Testament, Jewish perspective:
(1) They are selected by God. (v.1,4)
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Hebrews 5:1,4)
Right away we see an important aspect of the Old Testament priestly operation: these men are called by God. As one person noted, “the verb is passive, it is implied that the appointment of the high priest is made by God. The Aaronic order did not provide for democratic election, but only for authoritative theocratic assignments.”1 They neither volunteered nor were they elected for the office but rather are selected by God for the task.
When God instituted the Jewish system of sacrifice he identified who the priests would be (Numbers 18). In this passage and others the priests would be Aaron and his descendants.
Hebrews 5 here also gives us a bit more detail to form our understanding of the priests, those who are selected by God. Look at verse 1, They are to be selected from among men.
In other words, the person who is going to be a priest must be a person. He must have solidarity or be able to identify with man. An angel cannot be a priest; they cannot identify with man.
The priest must have solidarity with man so that he can represent man to God.
Throughout the Bible’s history there are occasions which people chose not to follow God’s design for the priesthood they appoint themselves or others and they do what they want to do. The basically go their own way concerning their approach to God. On each and every occasion God is not pleased. You can find an example in the book of Ezekiel. You may also remember King Uzziah in 2 Chron. 26:18 who was smitten with leprosy for acting like he was a priests. God judges the priests and the people for this spiritual freelancing.
This is a very important principle that we must all understand: we all must relate to God and we all do. We all stand before God. Because we are sinners God has made clear that we need a mediator, or a priest to represent us to God. Far too many people attempt to “opt out.” They insist that they do not need a representative. They are fine on their own. This is simply not the case. The whole Bible makes clear that you and I really need a priest; we need a representative. And as this passage will make clear: he must be able to do the job.
He must be selected by God.
(2) They sympathize with weak people. (v 2)
Now verse 2 goes on to teach us about how the priests are to relate to people. “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2)
The word translated “deal gently” has the idea of being balanced on the spectrum between anger and grief. It was the healthy mid point that allowed the person to not be so indifferent that they were unmoved by grief but not so overwhelmed by grief that they could not be firm on sin. What was to result was a spiritual rock, one who could compassionately identify with weak people to bring them help.
If the high priests were always angry with the people who went astray then they could not help them. If they were not able to confront sin in a loving way then they could not help them. They had to be able to help them.
What is the basis for their sympathetic tone? Look at verse 2: since he himself is beset with weakness. This is the key. The priest was also a sinner. On the Day of Atonement, prior to offering the sacrifice for the sins of the people the High Priest was required to go through a number of specific requirements for himself. He had to offer sacrifice for his own sins. Far from being spiritually aloof and separate from the people the priest was one of the people. He knew that he was weak.
Stretching this application out a bit: I have never understood pastors who are mean and impatient with people who sin. After all, pastors are sinners too. The priest would have bloodstains on his clothes for his own sin; his own sacrifice. Angry, impatient pastors probably forget that they are sinners. Let’s put it another way, pastors and church leaders who are impatiently frustrated with their people’s immaturity actually demonstrate their own immaturity.
(3)They offer sacrifice for sins. (v. 1,3)
The priest is selected by God from among men, he is to be sympathetic with the weak and he is to offer sacrifice for their sin.
Notice what type of people he offers the sacrifices for? The ignorant and wayward. There are two types of sins that the OT categorized: the sins of ignorance and the sins of presumption.
The sins of ignorance where sins where one was carried away in a moment of passion or unknowingly committed a sin and then they repented. They committed sin in their weakness.
““But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses,”–“And all the congregation of the people of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who sojourns among them, because the whole population was involved in the mistake.” (Numbers 15:22,26)
The other category is that of presumption. This is the cold, defiant, high-handed rebellion that knowingly sins against God. In the OT there is no sacrifice for this type of sin.
“But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Numbers 15:30, ESV)
You say, “Well, what do we do about this?” Well, if one will turn and repent of their high-handed rebellion, if they will confess their sin to God then they can and will be forgiven. Any sin could become a sin of ignorance if a man truly repented and bowed his heart before God.
Notice what he offers on their behalf: “gifts and sacrifices.” This refers to both the offerings of animals for sin as well as the “gifts” or grain offering—which essentially was an offering of tribute. It was an overflow of thanksgiving to God. It was in the form of an unleavened cake with salt added to it. The salt was a symbol of covenant faithfulness. It was saying, “I love you and believe your promises. I will joyfully and loyally follow you.”
The sacrifices, of course, had to do with the offerings related to the sin of the people. Because God is holy and people are sinful there needed to be a sacrifice offered for the people. It was done in the forms of various animals, all according to God’s specific guidelines and in a manner consistent with God’s design. In Leviticus 1-5 we read of the burnt offering, sin offering, peace offering, and guilt offering. All of these relate to the sin of the people and the holiness of God.
This is, in a nutshell, what the OT priests were to be. These are there brief qualifications. The writer of Hebrews puts them into 4 quick verses to show us that the High Priest that we now have is in fact qualified. It is to this High Priest, Jesus that we now turn.
Now, let’s consider how Jesus is uniquely qualified, by these very means to be that priest.
(1)They are selected by God. (v. 5, 10)
Here in verse 5 we read that Christ, like Aaron was appointed by God for this work of being the High Priest.
“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.”” (Hebrews 5:5–6)
In the ESV we read that Christ did not “exalt himself” –perhaps it is better to translate this like the NASB “Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest.” What is the difference? If you remember the previous reference to this term “glory” it was in chapter 1 of Hebrews.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature… (Hebrews 1:3,)
The point is well made: Jesus did not appoint himself—even though he is infinitely glorious in his nature. He was appointed for the task. He was selected by God to do it. Furthermore, it emphasizes the humility of Christ. It was Jesus who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant. (Phil. 2). This priest, appointed by God is a loving servant who is glorious.
Here the writer of Hebrews picks two OT Scriptures, Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. Both Psalms are very Messianic or they prophecy as to the Christ. Let’s just highlight a few observations here about these two Psalms.
Jesus was appointed by direct speech: Psalm 110 is a declaration that the coming high priest will be appointed by God. Just as Aaron was appointed by divine declaration so too was Jesus.
The Great High Priest would also also a King: Again in Psalm 110 we read of this reference to Melchizedek. This is a mysterious figure who we will read about in great detail in chapter 7. For now the writer of Hebrews teases us a bit with this reference. He is a priest / king who appeared on the scene in Geneses 14. He brought bread and wine to Abraham who responded by paying a tithe to him. It’s important for our purposes to note that his name means “My King is righteousness” and we also learn that he was the Priest and King of the city of salem or Jerusalem. Here is the point: this mysterious figure is both a king and a priest. These two offices were not mixed together in the OT. Saul and Uzziah got in trouble when they tried. However, the plan of God is that Jesus, the Son, would in fact be both priest and king.
Jesus’ Priesthood is connected to his Sonship: The reference to the 2nd Psalm connects this truth to the fact that just as Jesus is the Son so too is he the priest. The God who declares his sonship declares his priesthood. “He who is the perfect Son of God from the beginning becomes the perfect high priest for his people.”
Jesus’ Priesthood is connected to his exaltation: The writer already quoted Psalm 2 back in chapter 1:5. What’s the point? The point is that this priest is none other than the exalted Son. This means that his priesthood and all of his work as priest are accepted and exalted. In other words: you don’t get a better priest than Jesus. You can be certain that just as Christ the King is exalted and enthroned in heaven so too Christ the priest is.
Jesus’ Priesthood is eternal: Notice verse 6: “you are a priest forever…” In the OT the priests were prevented from continuing because they died. However, Jesus, he has no such problem since he is God, he is the eternal priest. Why is this significant? You do not need another sacrifice. His work never expires. You are eternally secure and safe in him.
There is tremendous liberation and joy found in these verses. Listen: if you are trusting in Jesus Christ then you have a priest that is the final plan of God. He is the one whom God has appointed. You can be sure that he is God’s priest. He represents you perfectly before God.
(2)They sympathize with weak people. (v. 7-9)
As we observed earlier a priest must be appointed from among men so that he could sympathize with people in their weakness. These verses serve to underscore this.
However, there is a difference. Do you remember how Aaron and the other priests were able to identify with people? It is back in verse 2, it is because they are beset with weakness. They are sinners too. Jesus, on the other hand is not a sinner. He never sinned—not even once.
How then could he identify with weak, sinful, frail, wayward, ignorant sinners like you and me?
How could Jesus truly be able to relate to me? How can he truly be able to sympathize with you so that you can actually find mercy and help in the time of need?
It is because Jesus felt the full weight of all of the weakness and frailty and pain of sin without actually committing sin.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Hebrews 5:7, ESV)
This passage refers most directly to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, was laying prostrate on the cold Palestinian ground. There in darkness, alone, he was experiencing the weightiness of sin.
As our substitute, our sin bearer he was sympathizing with us in our weakness. He was clothed in our weakness. He was staring down the barrel of divine wrath for sin. There are temptations all around to cave in. Satan himself bringing the intense temptations upon him as he is bruising Christ on the heel. He is feeling everything and more that we will every feel and know.
Jesus, meanwhile, he is crying out to God in prayer; and not just crying but weeping loudly. The word for crying is a strong word that indicates that the tears are being wrung out of him. It is the intense, painful, heart-wrenching grief that accompanies a mother’s loss of her child. Luke reminds us that this agony was so intense that Jesus actually began sweating drops of blood out of his head. And here we have our great High Priest, identifying with us in our weakness; fully feeling, knowing, and bearing our weakness.
In our temptation we succumb, we give in. But Jesus endured in temptation to the very end. You might use the illustration of the human body where you suffer pain to a point and then you actually go into shock because the pain is to great. It turns off the pain. Jesus suffered past the point of what we could endure. There was nothing in him that would yield to the sin. He bore it to the end! He felt it fully.
Do you see what the godly perspective of sin is? It is weighty and repulsive. Our sin moves the savior to tears and loud crying—may God forbid that we find ourselves unmoved by our sin and God’s grace.
This saving from death that we read about in verse 7 surely does not mean to avoid death—for that is why Jesus came. It seems to make sense here that he is talking about the realm or power of death. It is not being saved from death but out of death. This is referring to the powerful resurrection of Christ!
The verse goes on to say that Jesus was heard because of his reverence. This word is also used in Hebrews 11:7 to describe the submission of Noah to God’s will when he built the ark. The reverence here has everything to do with submission to the will of God.
It is here that he is praying, crying out to his Father that Jesus is heard because of his submission to God’s will.
“Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:38–39, ESV)
Here is the humility, submission, and reverence to the Father. He embraces the will of God.
Right here you need to see your Savior succeeding in every area that you fail. Listen, he is obedient to the point of death. He is flooding the ground with blood, sweat, and tears, he is piercing the night with cries of agony…why? For you. In every place that you fail Jesus Christ succeeds.
When Adam was in a garden he was tempted and he failed. When you and I are tempted we fail. However, Christ, our priest, he succeeds in the worst conditions perfectly for us.
God hears Jesus because Jesus obeys God.
Based upon the work we have already done verses 8-9 should make sense to us:
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:8–9)
What does it mean that Jesus “learned obedience?” It means that through suffering he came to fully appreciate and understand what fully conforming to God’s will involved. He knew all of this by his knowledge but he had to know it by experience in order to be a faithful and merciful high priest for you.
This is what the “made perfect” means. It means that this was the desired end or purpose of everything. He, Jesus, would be fit to be your high priest, your representative. He was initiated into this priesthood bymeans of suffering! He could not be your priest simply by being the Son of God—he had to suffer in order to serve as your sympathetic high priest.
Let us remember that God’s design for his glory and our good is often different than our own. If Christ’s calling included suffering how could we think that our lives would be without it? God makes us Christlike through the fire of suffering. Let us embrace it.
Though, like Daniel in the furnace, we are not alone……whenever our evils press upon us and overwhelm us, we may call to mind the Son of God who laboured under the same; and since he has gone before us there is no reason for us to faint. We are at the same time reminded that deliverance from evils can be found from no other but from God alone, and what better guidance can we have as to prayer than the example of Christ?
(3) They offer sacrifice for sins. (7-10)
Verse 9 goes on to say, “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:9–10)
The fact is that Christ is the only source of salvation. You’ll notice the phrase “eternal.”
The expression eternal salvation appears in the Old Testament: ‘Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation’ (Isa. 45:17). Here Christian salvation is eternal, like the ‘eternal redemption’ (9:12), the ‘eternal inheritance’ (9:15), and the ‘eternal covenant’ (13:20), since it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, which was accomplished once for all and is permanently valid.
It is only the sacrifice of Christ made on behalf of his people that secures our standing before God. It is only the eternal Son of God that can bring an eternal sacrifice that will take away your eternal debt and provide eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).
To be the source of salvation is to be the author of salvation (Heb. 2:10). This salvation is for all who obey him. Does this mean that you are saved by your obedience to God’s Law? No. Actually in the Greek NT there is a close correlation hearing and obeying. In the NT we read of the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:4). First John talks about the need for us to obey God’s commandments. “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23). Further, the Bible talks about judgment that will come on those who do not obey the gospel (same word), “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
We are talking about the need to respond to the truth of Christ in faith. God commands all men everywhere to repent and trust the Savior.