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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2003-09-28

Text: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

We continue with our series of messages from the Book of Hebrews on the theme 'Christ, Supreme In Our Life'. In the first two chapter we saw that as the Only Begotten Son of God, Christ is supreme above all the angels; chapter 3 reveals that Christ is supreme to Moses the great deliverer of Israel and also to Joshua who brought Israel into the land of rest. To the first recipients of the Book of Hebrews, who were Jews, these comparisons that show the supremacy of Christ were significant, because of the important roles which angels and human deliverers played in crucial moments of their nation's history. Angels appeared only to a privileged few like Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Daniel, Elisha, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem. The deliverers of Israel like Joshua and Moses were likewise inaccessible to the Jews who lived in New Testament times, since they lived way back in the past. 

But now, as we come to chapter 4, we see something different: The supremacy of Christ is highlighted in an institution which was still existing, visible and accessible to those who lived at that time: That institution is the priesthood. To the Jews living in the first century, the priests were the spiritual leaders of Israel. They were reverently called the Kohenim. They lived a life of consecrated service and holiness, in order to stand in the gap between God and man. Since the readers of this epistle could still see for themselves these priests fulfilling their priestly role of offering sacrifices at the Temple daily, the demonstration of the supremacy of Christ over them would perhaps have provided a far more convincing argument for them than His supremacy over angels and over Moses and Joshua. 

With this understanding, let us now read Hebrews 4:14: 'Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.' Here, Jesus is called our Great High Priest, and the book of Hebrews provides all the proof we need that He is the only Priest we will ever need. In fact, one of the unique features that distinguishes the book of Hebrews from all the rest of the New Testament books, is its detailed teaching on the Priesthood of Christ. 

This morning we want to see what we need to now about Christ, as Our Great Priest. Why do we need to know about Christ's priesthood? What relevance is there for us? Some of us here may have friends who are Roman Catholics. The central element within the Roman Catholic Church is actually the priesthood. As Bible-believing Christians we believe in the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9 'royal priesthood'). We need no separate elite class of believers to mediate between us and God.

But in the Roman Catholic Church, the priesthood occupies so important a position in the whole system, that no Catholic can hope to gain salvation, blessing or divine help without the functioning of a priest to perform rituals like the mass, prayers for the dead, absolution of sins, seven sacraments, even to interpret the Bible. 

The result of this as we all know, is that instead of trusting fully and totally in Jesus Christ alone for their spiritual needs, they look to Mary, look to their saints, and perhaps most of all, they look to their whole hierarchy of priests, which includes their bishops, cardinals and of course, the Pope. Now this means, that when we share the Word of God with our Roman Catholic friends, one of the things we need to do first is to help them re-orientate their thinking about the role of the priesthood in their lives, and help them to see by using God's Word, that Jesus Christ alone is the one and only great High Priest they will ever need, the one and only qualified mediator, and intercessor, and sacrifice that God has ordained for all men. 

We must be thankful to God that in Christ we have a Great High Priest who loves us, saves us, teaches us, helps us, blesses us, with more than what we need, so that we really have no need to seek anyone else or anything else for all of these things. And it is because we have such a great high priest that we can come boldly and confidently to God's throne of grace to have intimate communion with Him, as Hebrews 4:15-16 'For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' It is only with such boldness of access to God that we can really seek God's help and attempt great things for Him according to His will. Without this boldness, there is no power in our praying. Let us now go right to the Scriptures to see where this assurance is given: let us turn our Bibles first to Hebrews 5. Here we can find the first way in which Christ is the Perfect High Priest for us.

A. Jesus has an Unparalleled Priesthood

1. In His Ability to Carry Out His Priesthood

The Chapter begins with a brief explanation of the duties of the high priests of the Old Testament (vv.1,2). Firstly, a high priest must be one who is taken from among men, and he is ordained for men. Only then can he truly represent sinful man before God. He is given responsibilities in things pertaining to God, and specifically for the work of offering up gifts and sacrifices to God. This means that he must be able to represent man and handle the offerings well.

Verse three tells us of a very important qualification: The high priest must also be able to have real loving compassion on those who are ignorant - this refers to those who have transgressed God's laws unintentionally, out of ignorance. He must not be harsh with them and quick to condemn them, but patiently instruct them in the Word of God. Those mentioned as 'out of the way' refers to those who have gone astray (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like a good shepherd, the high priest must love them enough to lead them back to the paths of righteousness. One of the duties of the high priest was to pray for the people. In order to make the best heartfelt pleas and petitions to God for them, he has to be able to feel for them and sympathise with their plight. He cannot be so high above them that he is out of touch with them, but close enough to them to minister to them on their level. Who can do all these things, and do it consistently all his life?

None can fulfill these duties the way that Jesus, our High Priest can. He is unparalleled in His ability to carry out the duties of a priest. Vv.7-8 brings this out 'Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.' Here we see in Christ a high priest who has suffered all the physical infirmities of human life, and who is able now to offer up powerful prayers and supplications for us with strong crying and tears (cf. how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44 'And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.'), and how he prayed for His disciples in John 17). As a high priest Christ was unparalleled not just in His ability but also:

2. In His Appointment to The Priesthood

The high priest must also be divinely appointed for the task. In v.4 the writer says, 'And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.' Since Aaron was appointed by God to be the high priest of Israel the only ones who could serve as high priests were his descendants. Anyone else would be disqualified. Number 16 records an instance when a man named Korah led a rebellion of people who tried to take on the role of priests for themselves by offering incense to God, but they were judged with an awful judgment - the earth opened up and swallowed them up. Why? Because they were not descendants of Aaron, the high priest.

Now, Christ was not at all a descendant of Aaron. He was from a different tribe, the tribe of Judah, which was the line of kings, not priests. So how can he qualify to be a priest at all? The answer is found in vv.5,6 'So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. [Psalm 2] 6 As he saith also in another place [Psalm 110], Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.' According to this, the priesthood of Christ was of a different order from the OT priesthood, but one which was also divinely appointed by God. The words of official appointment to the priesthood in v.5 are quoted from Psalm 2:7 'I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.' The description of this new appointment of priesthood is quoted from Psalm 110:4 'The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.'

Who was Melchizedek? He was the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God to whom Abraham offered tithes (This is recorded in Genesis 14:18-20 [after rescuing Lot] - 'And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.') 

This new priesthood which is of the order of Melchizedek is superior to the old one, because of four points: Firstly it combines together in one the office of king and priest together. Hebrews 7:1,2 'For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace'

Secondly, this order of Melchizedek has no end, as v.3 says 'Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.' The term 'without descent' refers to the fact that unlike others, there is no recorded genealogy of Melchizedek in the book of Genesis. He just seems to come out of no where. This gives grounds to infer that his priesthood is an eternal priesthood.

Thirdly, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek in turn blessed Abraham. vv.4-7 'Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.'

What this means, is that even the priests of Israel had to submit themselves by paying tithes to Melchizedek through their forefather, Abraham, and be blessed by him. This illustrates the superiority of Melchizedek's priesthood over the priesthood of Israel. And it follows that since Christ is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110), His priesthood is superior to all the priests of Israel!

Fourthly, according to vv.18-21 the new order of priesthood was inaugurated by an oath of God, while the old order was made only through a weak commandment or law. The old order of priesthood was inaugurated as part of the Ceremonial law which was not meant to be permanent. In contrast to this, the new order which was inaugurated by an oath sworn by God Himself is more binding and can never be repealed. This is stated in v.18-21 - 'For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)'

Now that we have seen that Christ has an unparalleled priesthood both in terms of ability and appointment, let us go on to see another way in which which He is our perfect priest:

B. Jesus has an Unchangeable Priesthood (vv.22-25)

This point is stated plainly in v.24: 'But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.' The priesthood of Christ never changes. It always remains the same. In contrast to this, any order of human priesthood in this world is always changing. No priest, bishop, cardinal or pope is ever in office permanently. One comes into office instituting certain policies, and then the next comes in and changes all that. And because of this church history has been marked with many changes. If our salvation depended fully upon a leadership or priesthood that was always changing how can we hope to be saved?

Within the last ten years, the Anglican Church took the step of allowing women to become priests in the Anglican Church. And they then ordained 14,000 women in Anglican and Episcopal churches worldwide to their priesthood. A change like this could never have been imagined 50 years ago. But this just goes to show that in the world of mankind nothing, not even the institutions that are regarded as being sacred and beyond compromise, can escape the process of change.

Now changes are sometimes necessary and good, as they can bring good improvement to an existing situation. But when we talking about things concerning our relationship with God, and our salvation, and the ministry of mediating between men and God, changes can mean the difference between eternal life and eternal death! These matters are not to be trifled with. They must be firmly fixed and constant. What we need is a priest who never changes at all, and whose ministry remains absolutely consistent. There is no human being who can ever meet that requirement, but our Lord Jesus Christ can (Heb 13:8 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever.').

In Christ we have an unchangeable priesthood. And this means that our salvation and our relationship with God is built upon a firm, solid rock. In fact, this is the firmest possible base for our confidence in approaching the Lord. Let us go on to see another way in which Christ's priesthood is greater than all earthly priesthoods: 

C. Jesus has an Unending Priesthood (v.25)

He remains our Great High Priest for all time and into eternity. And how can He do this unless He lives eternally? Let us read verse 25 of our text in Heb 7-- 'Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.'

By contrast v.23 states that the earthly priesthood 'were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death.' All the priests in this world cannot expect to have a ministry of more than 50 years, because they will all grow old and die. And then new priests have to be raised up and trained to take their place, so that the ministry can go on. That is why there has to be a whole succession of priests, bishops and popes to carry the work on, because every man has one important limitation: death. But there is One whom death could not conquer. The cold and dark grave could not keep our Lord Jesus back from Life. 

We proclaim the fact that Christ is resurrected, alive and well, boldly and loudly to the whole world because it is this that enables Him to save us completely. Verse 25 says, 'He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.' Not only has Jesus Christ saved us by dying on the Cross for us, but now He also preserves us, keeps us, and continues His unceasing ministry of ensuring our salvation till the very end of time. And He is doing all this for us right now at this very moment. How? Through interceding for us in Heaven. Our salvation is therefore fully guaranteed from beginning to end, by the power of the endless intercession He is making for us, as our Great High Priest! Let us go on to consider now another way in which Christ's priesthood is perfect:

D. Jesus has an Undefiled Priesthood (v.26)

V.26 says, 'For such an high priest became (suited for) us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.' This verse speaks about the moral qualifications of Jesus Christ. If we have a high priest whose ministry is unchangeable and unending, but he happens to be morally corrupt, then that would be news bad for us. 

But the Word of God emphasizes to us that our Lord Jesus is morally perfect, righteous, upright, and sinless. His record is absolutely spotless. His integrity cannot be breached or challenged. In contrast to that, every order of priesthood on earth has been ingloriously blemished by sin and moral corruption. It is a sad fact but true. No leader in this world is perfect. Every one of them has some moral weaknesses. The Catholic Church, has been in the news recently in reports of grave shameful scandals involving some of its priests. We may feel sorry that this has happened, but it simply emphasises the truth that no human priesthood can be free from moral blemishes.

But we thank God that our High Priest is perfect. According to v.26, His administration is marked by holiness, harmlessness, absence of any defilement and by separation from sinners. Now, the phrase, separated from sinners does not mean that He is so far from us that He can no longer feel for us and sympathize with us. This fact had already been established earlier on in Hebrews 4:15. In Christ, we have a High Priest who is fully sympathetic to our feelings and our needs, because He Himself has experienced them. But He has the added advantage of remaining sinless. And this enables Him to have a priesthood ministry that is totally unhindered by sin. This brings us to our next point:

E. Jesus has an Unhindered Priesthood (v.27, 28)

Verse 27 of our text tells us that the earthly high priests had to offer up sacrifice, first for their own sins, and then for the people's. They themselves had sins and were in need of forgiveness. As an illustration of this, try to imagine that you are in a hospital where there are patients with different kinds of illnesses, and doctors who are trying to heal them with medicine. But to your horror you find out that the doctors themselves are also patients in the same hospital, and trying to get themselves healed of diseases. What would you do? I think you would leave and go to another hospital, because you would say, 'if the doctors cannot heal themselves, how can they heal me?'

Any earthly priesthood would always have this problem. The priests have to deal with their own sins first, before they could deal with the sins of others. In Old Testament times this was evident when they had to make two sacrifices, the first one for themselves, and the second, for the people. And sometimes God did not accept the sacrifices the priests performed in the Temple, because of their sins. This problem was therefore a great hindrance to an effective ministry.

But our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus does not have this problem at all. Being sinless, He can come boldly and freely into God's presence and straightway minister to us. There is no reason for God to turn away from His sacrifice, and therefore there is no hindrance at all to His ministry. And besides that our Lord Jesus Christ did not have to keep on making sacrifices repeatedly, as the earthly priests did. He has made one complete sacrifice for all time and never has to repeat it again. This brings us to our final point:

F. Jesus has an Unrepeating Priesthood (v.27)

According to v.27 the earthly high priests needed to offer up sacrifices daily. ('Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice,') The sacrifices were never final, because they had to be repeated again and again. And by the way, this is also true of the Catholic Mass, which is supposed to be Christ's sacrifice repeated again and again by the priests. 

Anything that needs constant repetition to bring about an effect cannot be better than something that can accomplish the same effect conclusively. Tuberculosis was at one time thought to be difficult to cure. A patient with this disease had to spend the rest of his days at a sanitarium where he would have to keep on receiving treatment for TB. And even then, he was never fully cured. But in 1944, a new antibiotic called streptomycin was discovered, and today 95 % cases of TB can be completely cured once and for all just through taking a short course of this medicine.

When Jesus Christ gave His own life as a sacrifice at Calvary, He created the final cure for sin. Anyone who trusts in this completed sacrifice needs no further sacrifices after that. He is completely cured. His sins are completely forgiven. This truth is stated most wonderfully in Hebrews 10:14. Let us look briefly at this verse that says, 'For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.'

In the light of this, it saddens our Lord Jesus to see people still trying to work their own salvation, and atone for their own sins, by doing works of penance. All these things sadden the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2000 years ago He had already made a complete once and for all sacrifice for sin on the cross. And yet instead of enjoying all the benefits of this great sacrifice that cost our Saviour His own precious life, people till today are still trying to make their own inadequate and ineffective repeated sacrifices. What an insult this is to our Lord Jesus Christ.

I trust that none of us present here, are doing that. And considering what we have learnt this morning from our study of the Scriptures, I trust that every one of us will praise God that we only need one Great High Priest, who is of the order of Melchizedek, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood is unparalleled, unchangeable, unending, unhindered and unrepeating. Let us seek no other priest but Christ, and trust only in Him.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25