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May 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 10, 2020


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 Hebrews 5:1-4

Intro: Wednesday evening, our meditation was in Luke, chapter 9

Speculation was growing regarding Jesus
– he was a spiritual leader, but what kind of leader?
• 2,000 years later theologians and anthropologists are still asking
• where did Jesus fit in his culture’s conceptual framework
◦ a prophet, a Rabbi, a sage, a healer, a mystic?
– there is not one label that captures all that he is
• even for believers: he is our Lord, Savior, Messiah
◦ Hebrews has already referred to him as
God’s Son, the pioneer of our salvation, and an apostle
◦ each is an attempt to get to at an important truth
• the writer of Hebrew’s special interest is, Jesus our great high priest

What service did the high priests perform for Israel?
– above all, they provided access to God; they served as a go-between
• sacrificial worship opened up a lived-experience of God
• the priest maintained a channel of communication and interaction
◦ providing instruction, assistance, and purification from sins
– chapters 5-7 will explore the high priest’s role:
• what qualifications were required of priests?
◦ and what services did they provided?
• the writer want his readers to see Jesus in this light,
◦ and how he is superior in every respect to those who came before him
◦ one of the priests’ requirements is irrelevant to Jesus
◦ Jesus did not qualify for another prerequisite, technically
yet in that prerequisite, he surpassed them
– we’ll find insights that are intriguing, and found nowhere else in the New Testament
• but our main concern will be, What does this mean to us?

Three Qualifications and two obligations

The first two qualifications:
chosen from among men (generic: humans)
• the priest had to be human in order to represent humans
• people had to be able to identify with him, and he with them
◦ a social worker can be educated in the psychology of poverty
◦ but have no personal understanding of what it is to live it
• high priest had to know human condition from the inside
◦ intercession is to pray for another as fervently as if for oneself
◦ in the case of the priest, he was interceding for himself as well as the people
appointed to act on behalf of men and women in relation to God
• the high priest’s assignment: service the spiritual needs of others
◦ one of the ways Paul described his role is found in 1 Corinthians
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1)
• at the heart of the high priest’s ministry was the altar
to offer gifts: thanksgiving offering, peace, daily offerings
and sacrifices for sins – sins, guilt, impurities (Lev. 7:37)

Two obligations:
– first, to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward
ignorant: note the “unintentional sins” in Leviticus chapter 4
◦ education was included in the priests’ job description (De. 3:10)
wayward: misled, to wander off
◦ these words represent normal life situations
◦ the purpose of the law was to correct these conditions
• the sins for which Israel suffered most severely were different
◦ we’ve seen: disobedience, rebellion, unbelief
◦ these instances were not unintentional–they knew better
– second, to offer sacrifices for sins–his own as well as theirs
• the high priest not only resolved the sins of the people, he shared them
• this is one of the points where Jesus differed from the priests
Jesus is a high priest who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15)

A third qualification: no one takes this honor for himself
– when Israel was ripped into two nations,
• this was one of the great sins in the north
◦ Israel’s king invented a new cult for his subjects
After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places (1 Ki. 13:33)
• the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Aaron was called by God
◦ and later on, God chose the entire tribe of Levi to be his priests

Jesus meets these qualifications and obligations
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 as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek Hebrews 5:5-10

The writer begins with the last qualification mentioned
So also Christ did not exalt himself to made a high priest
– this takes us back to an earlier quotation; Psalm 2:7 (in Heb. 1:5)
• and he returns to a Psalm he has already quoted; Psalm 110:1 (in Heb. 1:13)
◦ this particular verse was well-known to the early disciples
◦ Jesus quoted it, and so did Peter in his first sermon (Acts 2:34-35)
• but the writer doesn’t quote that same verse from Psalm 110
◦ he quotes a verse no one else in New Testament ever mentions
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”

– even in Psalm 110, this verse is a mystery
• it is a reference to an obscure event
◦ an event from Abraham’s life that happened in a flash
• we’re going to have to wait awhile,
◦ before the writer unloads all that is revealed in this verse

The obligation Jesus fulfilled was what he offered up
– this is the same word used for offerings on the altar (vv. 1 & 3)
in the days of his flesh – for the writer this is important
◦ he sees a clear distinction between two realms of Jesus’ existence
◦ one material and temporal, the other is spiritual and eternal
his physical existence in the past and his spiritual existence now
• the only instance of Jesus praying with loud cries is from the cross
Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34)
◦ but would we refer to that as prayers and supplications?
– the point I’m trying to make, is this:
• the writer may be referring to Jesus in Gethsemane,
◦ but perhaps there is also something more
◦ that Jesus fulfilled a priestly service through his prayer for others
a service he continues to provide today
• regarding his Gethsemane prayer, the prayed to the One
who was able to save him from death, and he was heard
Timothy Johnson, Jesus prayed that he would not have to drink the cup of death, but he also prayed your will be done, not mine. “The passion account that follows in the Gospels makes clear that Jesus’ prayer for God’s will to be done was heard, rather than his prayer for the cup of suffering to be taken away from him.”
◦ what gave Jesus’ prayer its force, was his reverence

And speaking of reverence,
– the next three verses deserve our most reverent attention
Although – because Jesus was God’s Son,
◦ you would think obedience came easy for him
◦ that it would just be handed to him or he’d come equipped with it
• but obedience was something he had to learn
◦ like everything else about being human
through what he suffered
William Barclay, “The Greek phrase . . . is a linguistic jingle, emathen aph hon epathen. And this is a thought that keeps recurring in Greek thinkers. They are always connecting mathein, to learn, with pathein, to suffer.”
• learning is connected to experience and experience to suffering
• various forms of suffering: physical, mental, personal, relational, etc.
◦ and also when we have to overcome the resistance of our will to God’s will
Timothy Johnson, “. . . no human can step all at once into God’s will, for two reasons: the first is that God’s call is new every day; the second is that humans can dispose of their freedom only moment by moment.”

In what sense was Jesus made perfect?
– in John 5:36, the same word is used when Jesus referred to the works he was given to accomplish
• perfection is a completeness, a fullness
Howard Marshall, “‘Perfection’ . . . means ‘excellence’ in doing whatever a thing is supposed to do; it signifies fullness and completeness for whatever a person or thing is meant to be and do, often as a result of training and practice.” “Perfection is not realized in a moment . . . . it is both process and result.”
– the picture given to us of Jesus is deeply human
• this is what he went through to become
the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him

Finally, we leave this passage with reminder that Jesus was
designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek

Conclusion: Jesus could not be like us until he learned what we know

We know suffering, and we learned it through experience
– Jesus learned suffering in the same way
• his last utterance from the cross was a loud cry
• a cry of abandonment that reaches to the depths of human pain
– suffering does not make us human, we suffer because we are human
• a person who hasn’t suffered isn’t fully human
◦ that’s why people who don’t know the suffering of others
are frequently inhumane
Abbot John Chapman, “Perfection in this world is not a calm union with God, unless God so wishes. Our Lord suffered temptation and desolation to show us that they are not incompatible with perfection, but are perfection.”

I belong to an online group chat, where we discuss Christian prayer. Eight months ago, a young woman posted the following:
“I am a 14 year old living with the most painful chronic pain condition on earth. I’ve been Christian all my life but I’ve been doubting that God is a loving God lately. Why would God let me go through horrible pain every day? I would really appreciate it if someone reached out to me.”
I responded, reminding her of Job whose suffering also caused him to doubt God’s love for him, and that he was especially critical regarding God’s justice in allowing innocent people to suffer. His pain, sadness and frustration caused him to say some harsh things about God that, to his pious friends, sounded like blasphemy. I wrote to her,
“Sweetheart, that is what suffering does to us. The disappointment with God that you feel is normal. ‘It is not an imperfection to find it painful to submit to God’s will. Our Lord showed us that, by His Agony in the garden.’ (Abbot John Chapman). Don’t let your doubts and bitter feelings make you think something is wrong with you or your faith. In his worst hour of Suffering, Jesus also felt unloved and forsaken by God.
“You will have days, perhaps weeks or seasons when God seems remote or disinterested in you. But you will also have moments when he is so incredibly close, it will make you cry. In either state or feeling,
‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).’ ”

With apologies for making this run so long, I want to share two more quotations that are relevant. The first comes from the hand of a theologian and the second comes from the heart of a poet.

Timothy Luke Johnson, “Faith, then, is a deeply responsive hearing of God’s voice as it comes to humans in the circumstances of their worldly existence. It is saying yes to a ‘call’ (3:1) that leads them beyond their present world into a larger one defined not by their desire but by God’s creative and commanding word. Such faith is ‘obedience’ because it is a hearing that overcomes the human reluctance to move into a larger and more frightening world, and the human preference to live within the comfort zone of the accustomed. It is important to note that for Christ as for other humans, such obedient faith cannot be accomplished once for all.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear.

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows that I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

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