Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Jesus, Our High Priest

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

 We are at a real disadvantage when we come to this passage.  This text is about the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, and how he is uniquely qualified to be the perfect high priest.  And the disadvantage we have is that we live in a culture where the whole concept of priesthood is mostly foreign to us.

 Most likely, when we hear the word priest, we are inclined to think of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who refer to their pastors as priests.  And probably, for the most part, we think of them being pastors.  There is a reason in Roman Catholic theology that they are called priests, not pastors, but that’s not something we’re going to have time for today.

 So we are at a disadvantage, by and large not knowing what a priest is.  But if we understand the concept, and if we can see how Jesus is the great high priest, then we can find in Hebrews a powerful image of Jesus Christ and his work of salvation and our identity as Christians because of it.  So let’s begin with the question:  What is a priest?

 A priest is someone who occupies the middle ground between God and humanity.  In a sense, he or she is expected to have a foot in two different worlds, to be a person and yet also to have a connection to the divine.  A priest must straddle these two worlds so that he can bring them together and unite human beings with God.

 Right away, we can see the advantage Jesus Christ has since we know that he is both God and man united together in one person.  Since he is perfectly divine and perfectly human, he can serve as a perfect high priest in a way that no one else could.  He represents each one perfectly.  

 This whole concept of a priest standing between humanity and God is by and large a foreign concept to us because we have lived in a world that, for the last 2000 years, has been shaped by Christian theology.  We are used to the idea that each one of us as Christians can come boldly before the throne of God because we have been atoned, restored to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  We no longer have the sense of fear of divine holiness that people had in earlier times.  But all of this is only made possible because of Jesus, the perfect high priest.  If it weren’t for him, the idea of coming to God would be as foreign to us today as the concept of a priest is.

 The second distinguishing characteristic of a priest is that a priest must be sympathetic to the plight of humanity.  A priest must know and understand our weakness in a personal way.  He must understand our tendency to sin so that he can be gentle with us.

 In verse 2, the writer to the Hebrews says that Christ is able to “deal gently” with people in spite of their “ignorance and waywardness.”  “To deal gently” translates a Greek word, METRIOPATHEIN, that is not an easy word to translate.  Literally, it means something like “to feel in a middle way.”  That’s what a priest must do.  He must feel for us in a “middle way.”  If he only saw our sins in a human way, he would say, “Well, that’s okay.  We all make mistakes.  Don’t worry about it.”  On the other hand, if he only saw our sins in a divine way, he would say, “How could you?  Don’t you know the holiness of God!”  To be a priest, he must see our sins in a “middle way,” in between complete sympathy and complete condemnation, in between apathy and anger. 

 Once again, Jesus is uniquely qualified to do this because he is God and man united together in one person.  He knows our weakness as human beings.  He was tempted just as we are.  In fact, if anything, he was tempted to an even greater extent than we could ever know.  We can’t understand how Christ was tempted because we’ve never known what it means to resist temptation completely.  We give in too often.  We often have no way of knowing what that temptation is like in an hour or a day or a week because we’ve already given in.  Christ knew the full power of temptation, and yet he never gave in.  

 This is the reason that we can have boldness before God:  Christ who knew the full power of temptation, yet never gave in.  If he does not condemn us for our sins, then who will?  Has someone ever said to you after you have gone through a great trial, “I’ve been there?”  They’ve gone through something similar, so they know what you’re talking about.  Well, we have a savior who has “been there.”  When we go through trials or suffering or temptation, we have a Savior who can say, “I’ve been there” and walk us through them.

 The third distinguishing characteristic of a priest is that they must be chosen by God.  It is not an office a person can aspire to.   They must be chosen for it.  

 Among the Hebrew people, it was the descendants of Aaron who were chosen to stand before God as priests.  But the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was a “different kind of priest.”  He was a priest like Melchizadek.  

 Now if you like a good biblical mystery, then Melchizadek is the guy for you.  He only shows up for a few verses in Genesis, and yet his importance in the biblical story is obviously great.  He was a worshipper of God and the priest-king of Salem.  Salem is the Hebrew word for “peace,” and the city of Salem was the city that stood where Jerusalem is today.  King David captured the city, made it his capital, and renamed it Jerusalem, which means “The City of Peace.”  

 In Genesis 14, Abraham secured a great victory over an army of foreign marauders, and in so doing, rescued his nephew Lot and his family who had been captured and were being taken away as slaves.  After the victory, this priest-king Melchizadek shows up and blesses Abraham.  Abraham in turn gives him a tithe of the spoils of victory as an offering to God.  And that’s all we know about Melchizadek.

 Who was he?  Just some random priest of God?  Some Jews believed he was the archangel Michael in disguise.  Some Christians believe that he was a “pre-Incarnate appearance” of Christ himself.  Who knows?  But we know that he was a priest-king.

 Now according to the Old Testament Law, a priest-king was impossible among the Hebrew people.  According to the Law, priests could only come from the Tribe of Levi, and kings could only come from the Tribe of Judah.  There were some kings, like Uzziah, who tried to take over priestly functions, since that’s what the pagans around them did, but they were condemned for it.  

 But we believe that Jesus is our priest-king.  He is our priest, our Savior, the one who reconciles us to God.  And he is our King, our Lord.  And this is possible because he is not a priest in the order of Aaron, but a priest like Melchizadek.  He is the one chosen by God to rule over us and also to intercede before God for us.  He is Savior and Lord.

 And finally, the fourth distinguishing characteristic of a priest is that they must offer sacrifices to God in order to effect our reconciliation to God.  And of course, this is the primary job of a priest, to offer sacrifices.  The thing that makes Jesus uniquely qualified to be the perfect high priest is that unlike all other priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices for his own sins.  All others had to offer sacrifices first for their own sins

and then for the sins of the people.  Christ makes one perfect sacrifice of himself, and then his role as reconciler between God and humanity is complete.  

 This was only possible because of his perfect obedience.  He was a Son of God by nature, so we would expect obedience.  But he also learned obedience through his own suffering.  So he was obedient not just through his nature, but also through his own practice.  And he had to choose obedience.  Any priest has to choose obedience to fulfill his calling by God.  

 Jesus is perfectly and uniquely qualified to be the perfect high priest because he knew fully and completely both temptation and obedience.  This was only possible because he was fully God to know fully obedience and fully human to know fully temptation.  Through this he became a source of salvation to all who obey him.  

 This is the uniqueness of the Christian faith: We trust in a Savior who shared in our trials.  No other religious system can point to their God and say, “He went through it himself.”

 And now, we as his followers, are called to become a universal priesthood of believers.  We are also called to be priests.  We are to occupy the middle ground between unsaved humanity and God and bring about reconciliation.  We are called to be sympathetic to the plight of humanity because we have also known temptation firsthand.  We are chosen by God to be a priesthood of believers.  And we are called to offer sacrifices to God.  The sacrifice God desires of us is ourselves.  We are to give ourselves freely for the glory of God.

 We have been made sons and daughters of God by grace received through faith.  And now we are called to go on to perfection through our obedience.

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