To become a sympathetic high priest - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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To become a sympathetic high priest


To Become a Sympathetic High Priest

Reading: Heb.4:14-5:10

One of the prominent themes in the Book of Hebrews is that Jesus is a priest and, more than just a priest, he is a great high priest. This evening we are going investigate something of what this means and then examine what the implications are for us.

You’ll remember the circumstances: a number of Jewish converts were contemplating turning from their Christian faith and returning to the old, familiar and visually impressive religion of their past. The author of the letter wrote to show them the folly of such a course of action. At best the religion of Judaism served as a mere type and shadow of the reality that had come in the person and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was superior in every way to what had preceded him.

Now one of the prevalent features of the religion of the old covenant was the priesthood. Priests held an important position in society and the ministry that they carried out was essential to the whole religious system structured as it was upon the offering of sacrifices.

Now to a Jew brought up and used to such a careful and formally organised religion the new way of Jesus Christ might come as something of a shock to the system. Perhaps the old way with all its ceremonies and outward formalities might appear to very appealing especially once the initial freshness of the new had become more familiar.

To counter this potential drift our writer sought to make clear the utter wonder and splendour of everything about the Lord Jesus. This evening we are focusing our thoughts upon what he had to say about Jesus as priest.

So what does the author of the letter to the Hebrews have to tell us about Jesus as priest? The answer is "quite a lot".

Jesus and the Priesthood
Our writer was obviously convinced that no-one would want to return to the old ceremonial system of regular and repeated animal sacrifices once having come to understand Jesus’ role and function as a priest.

We are by no means in the same position as those Christians to whom this letter was originally addressed – animal sacrifice has probably never been in a part of our spiritual experience and so we can’t be tempted to return to something we’ve never known. So what does all the talk about Jesus as a great high priest actually have to say to us today?

Well the fundamental role of a priest is:

Heb.5:1 "to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins."

In other words the priest is a mediator and as the apostle Paul writing to Timothy informs us there is ultimately only one mediator who is capable of completely carrying out this mission:

1Tim.2:5 "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,"

In the Book of Hebrews  Jesus is variously described as being:

  • a priest,

Heb.7:17 "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."

  • a high priest,

Heb.3:1 "consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession"

  • a great priest

Heb 10:21 "we have a great priest over the house of God"

  • a great high priest

Heb 4:14 "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession."

Now a priest was the appointed person who offered sacrifices. This was important work because it was only by means of such sacrifices that men and women could approach God.

A high priest was the most important of all the priests. The Jewish High Priest was the only person who was authorised to enter the Holy of Holies to offer the sacrifice required on the crucial Day of Atonement. His special work was thus to make propitiation for the sins of the people and our writer refers this specifically to Jesus:

Heb.2:17 "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

And a great priest would be a priest who was an eminent priest, one who carried out his serious and vital ministry in an excellent way. And a great high priest would be a priest who excelled in the great and weighty matters of his priestly ministry. He served well, carrying out an important and significant ministry in a remarkable and effective manner. When he ministered as a High Priest he ministered to absolute perfection – there is nothing lacking in our Lord Jesus or in what he has done for us!

If that were all we were taught about Jesus’ function as a priest it would already be impressive – he carried out a great and necessary ministry in an exceptionally effective manner – but we are going to be told much more.

Jesus’ Priesthood – an impressive CV
No-one became a priest because they volunteered for the job or because they liked the idea of a religious career. A man was appointed to his task and it was no different with our Lord Jesus. He was:

  • Appointed by God the Father

Heb 5:5 "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";"
Heb 5:10 "being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek."
Heb 7:21 "but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’""

Whereas under the old levitical priesthood the duration of a man’s ministry was limited and after serving for a number of years he would have to be replaced by another and this one too would subsequently be replaced and on and on it would go. But when it came to Jesus the situation was radically transformed for Jesus was not to exercise his priestly ministry not on a temporary basis: his ministry would be:

  • Permanent

Heb 5:6 "as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.""
Heb 6:20 "where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
Heb 7:16-17 "who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.""

Through the years some of the high priests who served were better and some were worse but none of them, no not one, was completely free of sin. They all had their flaws of character that led to failure in their own lives and relationship with God. We know that this was so because each high priest when serving had first to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could minister to the needs of the people.

But how different was the character and behaviour of our Saviour!

  • Our High Priest’s Character

Heb 7:26-27 "For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people,"
We are also told that the manner in which he exercised his ministry. He did so mercifully and faithfully.
Heb.2:17 "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

The service of even the best of these flawed old levitical priests was nothing like that of our Saviour as they were all limited to an earthly tabernacle and none enjoyed the status accorded to Jesus:

  • His Exalted Status

Heb 9:11 "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)"
Heb 8:1 "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,"

How such a priesthood was brought about
All of this is very impressive but none of it would have been possible if Jesus had had no sacrifice to offer:

Heb.8:3-4 "For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law."

Jesus had a sacrifice to offer - he offered himself and that he did just the once:

Heb.7:27 "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself."
Heb.9:27-28 "he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

So here we have a further reason why it was necessary for Jesus to die. Had he not laid down his life as a sacrifice he could never have been the great and successful high priest that he is. But there is more he experienced temptation, suffering and death so that he might become a sympathetic high priest for us:

Heb 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

His experience pushed him to the very limits – he was tempted far more, not less, than us – we give in so soon as the pressures has only begun to mount just a little bit. But he was exposed to the full pressure of temptation YET WITHOUT SIN. His sufferings were  real and extreme for he was not spared even the pains of death. He knows what human life is like for us – he is not critical of us but sympathetic!

We need never feel that he will reject us because of our failures he is always ready to sympathise with us in our weakness. And the writer to the Hebrews ties the work of our successful and sympathetic high priest with the very practical matter of prayer. How kind and how generous our Saviour is to his people, so:

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."


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