Christ Our High Priest

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 110:4

Psalm 110 became the New Testament writers’ favorite chapter of the Bible because it speaks of two things: Christ’s exalted place at God’s right hand, and his eternal high priesthood, in the mysterious “order of Melchizedek.”

The Bible really is a strange book in many ways. For those who are familiar with it some of the strangeness may have worn off or not be readily apparent, but all you have to do is look more closely to see it. For instance, how familiar are you with the practice of animal sacrifice? Yet the Bible is full of stuff about priests and sacrifices. In fact, these concepts lie behind the whole argument of the New Testament book of Hebrews. Hebrews was written to encourage believers who had left Judaism to become followers of Jesus, but who were now feeling considerable pressure to return to the old faith.

That pressure came in several forms. There were, of course, ties of family and tradition pulling them back. There was also increasing persecution against Christians. Perhaps most significantly, Jewish teachers were arguing that Christianity was inferior to its Old Testament predecessor. The Christian’s leader, Jesus, was compared unfavorably to Moses, the great law-giver, and his brother Aaron, the high priest. In fact, while Judaism could still boast of a priesthood descended from Aaron, the Christian religion didn’t even have priests. Its leaders were pastors and teachers. It offered no atoning sacrifices for sin. So how could it possibly be as good as Judaism? That’s how the argument went.

The Order of Melchizedek

The Christian response to these arguments follows what to us seems like a rather strange line, and it begins in a very unusual place, the 110th Psalm. Psalm 110 is a prophecy of a victorious divine King, who is enthroned by God at his right hand.

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (v. 1)

But then comes a further divine decree. God declares that the King will also be a priest.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.” (v. 4)

The writer of Hebrews seized upon that verse – Psalm 110:4 – and made it the linchpin of his argument. Just as the first verse of Psalm 110 reveals the divine kingship of Jesus, so verse four testifies to his priestly office. Six of Hebrews’ thirteen chapters (chapters 5 – 10) deal with the subject of Jesus our great high priest, who is superior in every way to all who had gone before. In these chapters the writer to the Hebrews carefully lists Christ’s qualifications for the priesthood. Anyone, including Jesus, had to meet certain requirements in order to be a proper priest. First, he had to represent his people, that is, he had to be one of them (Hebrews 5:1). The priest had to be “chosen from among men,” as Hebrews says; he had to be truly human. And so the writer delights in emphasizing the full, the true humanity of Jesus Christ (see 5:7-8).

Second, a priest had to be called and ordained by God for his office (5:4). No legitimate priest could be self-appointed. Becoming a high-priest wasn’t like being elected president. You couldn’t run for the office and win it through superior campaigning. In the Old Testament it was only the descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, who qualified for the priestly office. But Jesus was not a Levite; he was from Judah, descended from the house of David. So how could he be a priest at all, let alone the ultimate high-priest? The answer is that God chose and appointed him directly, as foretold in the Psalms.

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 also says in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 5:5-6

So the writer finds biblical precedent for the concept of an unusual priesthood. It was the 110th Psalm that pointed the writer of Hebrews to a strange story in the book of Genesis that provided a precedent and a model for Jesus’ unique priesthood. That model was the strange and mysterious Melchizedek, whom Genesis describes as “king of Salem [that is Jerusalem],” and a “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). Melchizedek in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of Christ. Because Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek and was blessed by him, it’s clear that Melchizedek is even the superior of Abraham as well as all his descendants (see Hebrews 7:1-2, 4-10). Moreover, because Melchizedek has no beginning or end, as the writer says (at least in terms of the biblical narrative he doesn’t, which is all that Hebrews is concerned with) he is an “eternal” priest, just like Jesus (7:3, 23-25).

So Christ is fully qualified to be a priest. In fact, he is far superior to all human priests because of his sinless perfection. Every high priest had to offer sacrifices for himself first of all. So how could such a man possibly offer a perfect once-for-all sacrifice for others? But Jesus is different: “Unlike the other high priests,” says Hebrews, “he does not need to offer sacrifices day by day, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (7:27).

Our Intercessor

Earlier in this series on Christ in the Psalms (message 2427) we focused on that sacrifice that Jesus offered once for all for the sins of the world, the sacrifice of his own body. Because Jesus died for us on the cross, our sins are paid for, fully and forever. No other sacrifice is needed; none other is even possible. All we need do is trust in him, and salvation and forgiveness are ours.

But I want to think now for just a moment longer about what it means to have Christ living right now as our priest. Because Christ is alive forevermore, says the writer to the Hebrews, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). That echoes what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). So, concludes Hebrews, “We have a great priest over the house of God” (10:21).

And what he means is Jesus is our great priest right now. Jesus did pay for our sins. That’s finished. But his work for us is far from over. In fact, right now he is praying for us. That’s a truly amazing thought! Jesus our high priest can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14). He really has identified with us. He has felt every temptation and sorrow or pain that we might experience. He knows first-hand whatever it is we’re going through. And he will help us get through it, no matter what the trouble.

Hold Fast and Draw Near

So what should we do in response to this truth? Once again, listen to Hebrews. It tells us in no uncertain terms. Because Christ is such a high priest, we need to hold fast and draw near. First of all we must “hold firmly to the faith we profess,” says the writer (4:14, cf. 10:23). There can be no going back for Christians, not to an old religion, or to former practices, or to a different way of life. Because if you know Christ there’s no one and nothing better to go back to. Just think about the fact that right now Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of God the Father, far above all powers and authorities, is praying for you. What more could you ask for? You don’t need any other go-between. You don’t need a human priest to put you right with God. You don’t need saints or angels to intercede for you. You don’t need to perform some ritual or ceremony to bring good luck. You don’t have to bargain with God to get you out of trouble, or offer sacrifices to get him on your side. You’ve got Jesus; stick to him!

The other practical lesson Hebrews takes from Jesus the great high priest is that we must draw near to him, and to God through him (10:22). Because of this great and compassionate priest we have a tremendous privilege: free and open access to God himself. We can come with boldness even, assured of a welcome. Entering the throne room of an ancient ruler was a frightening (and potentially deadly) experience – just think of Queen Esther. But because of Jesus our high priest we need never fear or hesitate to come into the presence of the eternal and almighty Sovereign of the universe.

And what will we find there? Not anger and punishment, but mercy and grace and help in our need. So come to God through Christ; the way is open! Hebrews isn’t just talking about salvation here. It’s talking about our ordinary worship, and especially our prayer life. Since we have daily need for mercy, so we should approach God every day through Christ. In the Old Testament you may remember that only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he just once a year on the Day of Atonement. But now all who trust in Jesus’ blood and righteousness may come. The way is open to anyone in him. Just as the curtain separating the Holy Place in the Temple from the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn in two when Jesus died, so the way to God now is open because Jesus’ body was torn on the cross. Hebrews calls this “a new and living way” because it’s based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. And access to it and through it is for everyone. Not just for the special few, or those who deserve to be there. It’s for people like you and me. So let’s take advantage of it!

Jesus is our great high priest. Hold fast to him and draw near through him.