Hebrews 5:1-9 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.
The role of the high priest in the Old Testament was to stand between the people of God and the Lord—to be a mediator who would offer sacrifices for the sins of the people and pray to God to forgive them.
His very presence was a living reminder that something had gone very, very wrong between mankind and God—that the perfect fellowship that God created in the beginning and intended to last forever had been lost along the way and now there was a distance between God and man on account of sin.
No longer could man come to God on his own—no longer could he expect to be heard by God—no longer could he live in the presence of a holy God.
And so God established the priesthood from Aaron’s family and ordered the worship life of the people of God in such a way that fellowship could be re-established between God and man by the service of priests.
The priests and especially the high priests would come into the presence of God and confess the sins of the people of God and sacrifice an animal whose blood would atone for those sins.
Of course, we know (just like they did) that the blood of animals could never really pay for man’s sins but only had its power by pointing to the once for all sacrifice to come-- and so those sacrifices had to be repeated again and again, countless times over hundreds of years.
That was the job of the priests-- and even though they were specially chosen for this work, they were still no different than any of the other people in that they were sinners too.
That gave them some compassion and understanding of the people’s weakness but it still ultimately left them in the same place—as needing someone to make things right for them too—someone who would truly reconcile them to God. The Bible says:
Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, this cycle of sacrifice reached its culmination in the worship life of the people of Israel.
A bull was slaughtered for Aaron’s sin and its blood was drained into a bowl. He dipped his hands into this blood and sprinkled it on the cover of the ark and the front of the ark as a visible sign that it took the shedding of blood for sinners to come into the presence of the Lord.
And then two goats were brought to Aaron and the first was killed for the sins of the people and then he took his bloody hands and laid them on the head of the second goat and confessed all the sins of Israel and it was led away out into the wilderness as a visible sign that their sins were taken away.
The Lord demanded that the people were to worship in this way so that they would learn the wrath of God that demands a life for sin—but also the mercy of God that provides a substitutionary sacrifice of one life in place of another.
All of it commanded by God down to the last detail so that God’s people would believe in the Savior to come who would be both the sacrifice and the priest who would make it once for all. The Bible says that:
No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
Aaron did not take the office of priest for himself—he was chosen and called by God. In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true high priest did not usurp an office that did not belong to him but was chosen by his Father to be the one who would offer up the once for all sacrifice that atoned for the sins of the world.
As great a man as was Aaron, as important as was his ministry of setting before the eyes of the people the promise of a Savior to come, he was only a servant compared to the very Son of God—Aaron was sinner like all the rest of God’s servants compared to God’s only-begotten Son.
The Bible says: 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”;
That was who was needed if people were truly going to be reconciled to God—not the sacrifice of animals—not even the sacrifice of one sinner for another—but God’s holy, sinless Son going to the cross as our perfect substitute—able to bear the sins of the whole world and die for the sins of the whole world and atone for the sin of the whole world and reconcile the whole world to God because he was God himself.
Such is the incredible love that God has for us poor sinners that the heavenly Father chose his own Son to be the great high priest who would offer the sacrifice necessary to pay for our sins and bring us back to God who said about him: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
Like every other priest before him and every other priest after him, Aaron served the Lord for a time and then died. His high priestly work came to an end. Jesus’ great high priestly work for us has not ended and in this he is like Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament. The beginning of his story is not told nor do we hear of his death. He reigned as king of Salem during the days of Abraham, the city of peace that would become Jerusalem.
His name “Melchizedek” means the King of Righteousness but he was also a priest. Abraham came to him and bowed before him and offered him a tithe.
In all this, Melchizedek is a picture of the Savior to come who is the righteousness of God personified-- and who rules a kingdom of peace-- and who is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.
Jesus rules the world at this moment for the sake of his people-- and it is his righteousness that is our right standing before God-- and his high priestly work of intercession goes on for us every moment of our life as he lifts up his sacrifice for our sin and beseeches our heavenly Father for our salvation just as he did during his earthly ministry. The Bible says:
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.
Throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry, we see Jesus going about his high priestly work of interceding for and praying for his people.
Standing beside the grave of Lazarus and praying that people would believe in him as he gave life to a dead man; interceding for the church throughout the ages in the Upper Room; crying out to his heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as he is about to consume the cup of God’s wrath over our sins; and especially on the cross as he calls upon his Father to forgive us of our sins.
The Good News for us is that his heavenly Father heard and answered these prayers of his Son, our great high priest. And so it continues to this moment and every moment until he come again as Jesus intercedes for our salvation.
We are part of the on holy Christian church, united in the body of Christ just like he prayed for in the upper room. We will be raised from our graves just like Lazarus was for Jesus in the resurrection and the life. And our sins are forgiven just like Jesus prayed for on the cross, shedding his blood to wash them away.
The Good News for us is that Jesus prays for us and his Father hears him and we are saved by his holy obedience and innocent death. The Bible says:
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,
When Jesus came to be baptized by John, John was aghast and refused—he knew that Jesus had no sins that needed by be washed away and Jesus prevailed upon him and said that it was necessary that all righteousness be fulfilled and he was anointed in those waters by the Holy Spirit to be our prophet, priest and king.
That was God’s own declaration concerning his Son and yet Jesus continued to do everything spoken of him in the prophets—giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, and setting the prisoner free.
He lived a perfectly holy life in our place, doing outwardly and inwardly everything that God requires of each of us. He was tempted and remained faithful to his Father’s will. And he suffered under every bit of his Father’s wrath over our sins and paid for every sin of every sinner who has ever lived.
As God’s Son he didn’t have to do any of this for himself but he did it for us, as our substitute, born under the demands of the law as we all are, making himself subject to it for our sake as one who took himself our flesh.
He perfectly fulfilled, in his human flesh, everything that God expects of mankind and he did it so that through faith in him, his perfect, holy, obedience and righteousness could become our own. That is what is necessary for us to be saved—to be holy as God himself is holy—and the only way for that to happen is to receive the holiness of God’s Son as our own through the obedience of faith that looks to our perfect high priest and trusts in his work on our behalf. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.