(watch here: https://youtu.be/q6p0T8IuS9k)
14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
This week’s passage reminds me of the one about a little boy who was not accustomed to seeing a priest in his “work uniform.” He went up to the priest and asked, “Why do you dress so funny?” The priest replied, “This is the uniform that I wear when I work.” The child, still staring at him, asked, “Do you have a boo boo?” The priest was somewhat puzzled, but quickly figured out that the child was looking at his white clerical collar. The priest pulled out the white plastic insert and showed it to the child telling him that it was also part of his uniform. On the back side of the collar there was some writing: “Wash with warm soapy water.” The priest showed this to the little boy and then asked him “Do you know what these words say? The little boy, obviously much too young to read, stated, “I sure do.” The priest a little taken aback then replies, “OK then, tell me what they say.” The little boy then replies, “Kills fleas and ticks for up to six months.”
A little priestly humor doesn’t hurt starting us to reflect on our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Three weeks into our series on the book of Hebrews and we’re exploring yet another reason why Jesus is superior to Jewish customs and traditions. Last week we looked at how the grace of Jesus is better than the laws of the Jewish faith. The laws may produce order and harmony but the grace of Jesus produces something far better: joy. Without joy, life in this world would be pretty unbearable. It’s joy that sparks imagination and compassion for our neighbors. It’s joy that offers a deep sense of contentment and peace. The many laws of the Jewish faith can’t create joy, only Jesus can. This week our reading has us look at another aspect of the Jewish faith in which Jesus is better at: priestly duties. Jesus is the greatest of all high priests and for a number of reasons. But to understand how and why he’s the greatest of all high priests, we have to understand the responsibilities of the high priest both then and now. The high priest had a few more expectations and responsibilities than your typical priest. He needed to oversee the order of all the other priests. If priests needed discipline, then he was the guy for the job. Likewise, if priests needed promotions then the high priest would offer those as well. The high priest was believed to be closest to God so his revelations and teachings had the highest authority. They served as primary liaisons between God and everyone else including other priests. And like other priests, their duties involved not only speaking to God on behalf of everyone else but also offering sacrifices as a means of appeasing God. People were afraid of God and felt too intimidated to speak with God let alone offer adequate sacrifices. So the priests brought the sacrifices to God and actually spoke with God. And priests weren’t chosen and sent by the people but by God himself. The priests were the only ones allowed to study and transcribe Scripture. Every year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), high priests were the only ones given permission to enter into the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Jewish temple where the Ten Commandments were kept. They led worship services like all other priests.
Along came Jesus who completely upended the whole structure of the Jewish church. He didn’t lead worship services. He simply taught and healed in the name of the Father. He didn’t need to enter the Holy of Holies, he “fulfilled the law,” meaning his life established the same order as the law. His life picked up where Scripture ended off in revealing the love of God. He studied Scripture but not the way other priests studied it. Jesus studied it as a ticket into the priestly class where he could redefine and reimagine their understanding of God. Like all priests, Jesus didn’t choose who he was or what was expected of him. But no other priest received such a distinguished title…”you are my Son, today I have begotten you.” And no other priest can claim eternal job security the way Jesus can…”you are a priest forever.” All priests eventually die but not Jesus Christ. Finally, Jesus offered a sacrifice no other priest could offer—a perfectly pure and sinless body. Nothing could appease God like the sacrifice of the beloved Son.
Jesus’ sacrifice is what ultimately distinguishes him from all other priests. Sure, there have been plenty of priests who have offered their bodies up as sacrifices to Christ but none of them were without sin. There was only one truly blameless lamb of God. His death was perfect and absolute atonement for the sin of the world. No other death could achieve what his death achieved. It was the greatest act of one person serving as a liaison between us and God. And that’s what a priest’s job really is, to serve as a liaison between God and his beloved people. Offering sacrifices, studying, praying, leading worship, teaching, these are all ways that priests connect God with his people and vice versa. Jesus IS the great high priest because it is through him we have instant access to God. As we hear in Ephesians, “he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:17-18) A priest’s primary responsibility is to provide access to God, nothing more and nothing less, and Jesus does that the best because he actually is God! If we know him, we know God.
So Jesus is the great high priest, greater than the traditionally great Jewish high priest, Melchizedek, so what? What does that mean to us? Jesus didn’t make such a sacrifice, he didn’t claim the status as great high priest, without a purpose. We look to Scripture to find the purpose. Titus reads, “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (2:14) He did it to inspire us to serve our neighbor even more. He did it to illustrate how we stay connected with God—by serving our neighbor. He did it to teach us the link between love and sacrifice. Recall the words of 1 John, “we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (3:16) Jesus, our great high priest, forever keeps us connected through love and sacrifice. Let us learn from him and seek to serve our neighbor with sacrificial love. Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.