Jesus Our Perfect High Priest (Part Two) - Hebrews 5:1-10
Our text this morning is Hebrews 5:1-10. It says,
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. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
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.”
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. 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, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Since the end of Hebrews 4 we have been invited to come boldly before the throne of Grace. Boldly does not mean arrogantly, cavalierly, haughtily, or pompously. Rather, it means that the humble can come boldly and confidently to Jesus.
By way of reminder, let’s read Hebrews 4:11-16, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 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. 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. 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.”
When we come to the scriptures become aware of two things: God’s holiness and our own sinfulness. The Word of God lays bear our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts. Thomas Watson speaks of the importance of seeing our sin when he says, “The first ingredient off Christ’s gospel-medicine is eye-salve.”1 The work of the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to make a man see the sin has blurred and blinded our vision. An author in a book I’ve been reading says, “If we are blind to the depth of our sin, then we are handicapped in perceiving the grace of God to save us in Christ. As the saying goes, if you don’t understand sin, you will never understand grace.”2 Therefore, our blindness concerning sin has tremendous implications as to how we understand grace, salvation and eternal life.
In my devotions this week I read two separate scriptures that reminded me of the importance of the Word of God as it guides and directs us to God. In these passages we see the inability of sinful people to draw close to a holy God and the need for a mediator.
The first passage was in Exodus 3:4, “God called out to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Notice the first thing that God says to Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandles off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Moses was curious about this bush that was not burned up by the fire that he had been observing. Out of curiosity He drew close, dangerously close. But God called out to him saying, “Moses, Moses! Do not come near...for the place that you are standing is holy ground.” We see in verses 6 how Moses responded, “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”
The second passage that I read was Joshua 3:2-4. In this passage the people of Israel are leaving the wilderness where they have wandered for 40 years. They are about to enter the promised land so the LORD gives the people directions that they are to follow. We read, “At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, ‘As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it.’” They are given more instructions, “There shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
As the people were being led into the promised land the LORD gives them a warning. They are to keep their distance from the ark that the Levitical priests were carrying. They are not to get too close to it. They are given specific instructions, “There shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length.”
A cubit is 18 inches. 2000 cubits is 3000 feet. To give you some idea of the length of 3000 feet, it is the size of over eight football fields (8.333). The people were to follow the ark as it led them but they were not to get close to it. The only men who were allowed to be near the ark were the men of Levi who had been called, appointed and consecrated for this service by God Himself.
These men were not asked to carry the ark because of their stature and strength. These men were not chosen because they were the spies who searched out the land and knew the way. They were not chosen because they were the heads of the tribes, or because they were special in any way. In fact, in our text today we see that they were tempted just like all of the rest of the people (5:2). They were sinners and they needed mercy and grace just like everyone else.
These men were commissioned and appointed by God. When God instituted the Mosaic covenant the Levites were chosen to serve God in all of the worship that was done. It was the Levites who received the sacrifices and gifts of the people. A Levitical priest was not only appointed by God but all His service was thoroughly regulated by God and it had to be done in the proper manner.
When the Word of God reveals our sinfulness we realize that we need mercy and grace. We need God to love us in our pitiable and wretched condition and to lovingly act to save us. This is precisely what God has done. He loved us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins.
Last year some men in our church went through a systematic theology book by Louis Berkhof. In that book Louis Berkhof addresses the love of God and he emphasized the three things that express the love of God. We have seen these three expressions throughout the book of Hebrews and will continue to see them over and over again. The three expressions of the love of God are seen in the grace of God, the mercy of God, and God’s long-suffering towards people. All three of these things (grace, mercy and long-suffering) are expressed to sinful and undeserving people.
The love of God is expressed to us by the grace of God. “The grace of God is the unmerited love of God towards those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a judgment of condemnation. It is the source of all spiritual blessings which are bestowed upon unworthy people.”
Secondly, the love of God is expressed in the mercy and tender compassion of God. The mercy of God is ‘the love of God towards those who are in misery or distress. It contemplates man as one who is bearing the consequences of sin, and is therefore in a pitiable condition. It is exercised only in harmony with the strictest justice of God, in view of the merits of Christ.’
Thirdly, the love of God is also seen in how He bears with rebellious fools. It is expressed in how God responds to those who are ignorant and wayward. ‘This is called His long-suffering or forbearance. This contemplates the sinner as continuing in sin, notwithstanding repeated admonitions and warnings, and it is seen especially in postponing the merited judgment that is deserved.’3
Because God is gracious, merciful, and long-suffering with us in our sinful and pitiable condition He has provided a way for us to approach Him. In the Old Covenant He chose certain priests to be mediators between the people and God. This is what we see in Hebrews 5:1-4. In the New Covenant, however, we see that a greater high priest has been appointed by God. We see this in Hebrews 5:5-10. Jesus is a loving Mediator who is fore-bearing and gives grace, mercy to an undeserving people.
One of the main themes in Hebrews 5:1-10 is that the high priest must be chosen by God (5:1). He must be appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God (5:1). No one takes this honor upon himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was (5:4).
This high priest position is filled by God’s own sovereign choosing; therefore, it is a great honor (5:4). Those who were chosen cannot be prideful. No, they are weak people who were graciously chosen by God. They were not chosen because God found any merit in them (5:2-3).
Similarly, Christ did not exalt Himself to be made a high priest; rather, He was appointed by His Father (5:1). He was designated by God as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (5:10). Christ is the epitome of humility. Consider Hebrews 5:5 &7-8, “Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest...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. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Philippians 2)
I think of Christ when I read these words of Thomas Brooks, “There are none that see so much need of grace as humble souls; there are none that prize grace like humble souls; there are none that improve grace like humble souls; therefore God singles out the humble soul to fill Him to the brim with grace, while the proud He sends away empty.”4 The prideful see the sin in others, but not in themselves; therefore, they receive no grace.
The apostle John reminds us of the humility of Christ when he speaks of Him becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He says that Jesus was full of grace (1:14). And he says, “For from His fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1:16)
Hebrews 5:1-10 can be divided up into two sections. In Hebrews 5:1-4 we are given the job description of the Levitical high priest who served in the earthly temple. In Hebrews 5:5-10 we are told how Jesus Christ is qualified to be God’s high priest in a new covenant that has made the first one obsolete.
In Hebrews 5:1-4 we learn the following things about the Old Testament high priest:
This position was filled by God. God alone could place a man into this office. It was not accomplished by the aspirations of the man or by one who sought to obtain the office. “For every high priest chosen among men is appointed (chosen, selected, designated)...by God, just as Aaron was.” (1,4) Again, not only did God chose the high priest who was to be placed in that position but God designed and regulated everything that the high priest was engaged in by His Law, the Word of God, Scripture.
We are given the function of the high priest. He was to “act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer sacrifices for sins.” (1)
We are given the disposition of the high priest towards the people he mediates on behalf of, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” (2)
We are told the disposition of the high priest, “...he himself is beset with weakness.” (2)
We are given the obligation that he had, “...he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.” (3)
In Hebrews 5:5-10 we see how Jesus Christ can be our new high priest even though He was not of the tribe of Levi. He was of the kingly tribe of but of Judah. Jesus, like Melchizedek, who is mentioned twice in our text, fills multiple offices at one time. Melchizedek was a priest and a king;
Jesus fills the offices of the Prophet, the Priest, and the King.
We see that Christ did not exalt Himself to become a high priest, He was appointed by His Father. “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (5)
As our great high priest, Jesus acts on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer a sacrifice for their sins. He does not offer the blood of bulls and goats, but He offered Himself as a sacrifice which propitiated the wrath of God. (4:27)
We are told about Jesus’ disposition towards those He represents in Hebrews 4:15 we read, “For we do not have a great High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”.
We are also told of the disposition of our great High Priest in Hebrews 4:15, “...but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Because of Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father He is a sympathetic and gentle high priest. We can approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.
Unlike the Levitical priests who served in the temple, Jesus did not sin when He was tempted. He obeyed the Father when He suffered and reverently called out to Him. He was kept by God and has become a perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (5:9).
Christ Jesus, who was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man so that He could become our great High Priest (Philippians 2:5-7).Henry Smith once said, “Christ ceased not to be a King because He was like a servant, nor to be a lion because He was like a lamb, nor to be a judge because He was judged, nor to be God because He was made a man.” Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the Living God, the King and Lion of Judah, the Judge of the living and the dead. He took upon Himself the nature of a servant, He became a Lamb to take away sins, He humbled Himself to be judged by the divine law on our behalf, He was God but became a man so that He could be our great High Priest and offer to sinners grace and mercy and compassion.
As a man He submitted Himself to suffering and to weaknesses. He faced temptations just as we do, yet without sin. We are told how Jesus dealt with all of these things in Hebrews 5:7, “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. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
Perhaps it was as Thomas Goodwin reflected upon Jesus’ prayers and how God answered them that he wrote these words, “After you have prayed, observe what God does towards you; especially how He guides your feet and heart after prayer; there is much in that. That which was the spirit of supplication in a man when he prayed, rests upon him as the spirit of obedience in his course.”5
Our text ends with these words, “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.”
What does it mean that Jesus was ‘made perfect’? Jesus was tempted but He never sinned so He was not blemished, soiled, stained and imperfect through sin. No, He was kept perfect through all the trials, temptations and sufferings by submitting His will to the Fathers and became perfectly equipped to be our High Priest. As a result, Jesus is the source of eternal salvation for all who come to Him and believe upon Him.
We mentioned something that Thomas Brooks said earlier, “There are none that see so much need of grace as humble souls; there are none that prize grace like humble souls; there are none that improve grace like humble souls; therefore God singles out the humble soul to fill Him to the brim with grace, while the proud He sends away empty.”
Jesus is now extending grace to those who will approach Him in humility. The humble will see their need of grace and prize it. And having received the grace of God they will improve upon it and the LORD will fill such a person to the brim.
If you would claim to have experienced the love of God then this means that you have seen your sinful and wretched condition and you have drawn near to the Throne of Grace to receive grace and mercy. All of us should be able to testify that we have returned to the throne of grace often to find our High Priest Jesus Christ there with a disposition of long-suffering, grace and mercy.
1Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, p.7
2Sacred Bond, Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, p. 120
3Louis Berkhof, The Manual of Christian Doctrine, p. 23
4Thomas Brooks, Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, p. 108
5I.D.E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, p.224