OUR HIGH PRIEST Hebrews 4:14–6:20
“Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5:1).With Jesus as our High Priest, we can approach God’s throne with confidence.
Having Jesus as High Priest guarantees our welcome by God (4:14–16), for Jesus, who God appointed to represent us (5:1–6), is also the source of our salvation (vv. 7–10). To reach maturity we must build on this foundation (v. 11–6:3), which cannot be laid again (vv. 4–6). Rooted in faith, we will produce the fruit that accompanies salvation (vv. 7–12), resting on the unbreakable promises God has made to us in Jesus Christ (vv. 13–20).
Understanding the Text
“Tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” Heb. 4:14–16. “But you don’t understand,” are perhaps the most common words a pastor or Christian counselor is likely to hear. Each of us has a tendency to think that our troubles, our temptations, are unique. They’re not. Each human being is tempted through the same avenues—through relationships with others, through vulnerability to pain, through pressures beyond his or her control, etc. It’s true that not everyone knows the pain of rejection by a spouse bent on divorce. But even our nine-year-old knows the pain of rejection by a best friend, who over a misunderstanding takes off her half of their “best friend’s necklace,” covers her ears with her hands, and says, “I’ll never talk to you again.” That’s what the writer tells us about Jesus. In His humanity Christ experienced every kind of temptation—every vulnerability of mankind. He felt the pain of rejection, the pangs of hunger, the hostility of the crowds, the fear of His coming death. And because He knows exactly how painful it is to be a human being, He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.” Think about this next time you’re hurting. Think about Jesus the Man; remember how completely He understands. Then, without hesitation, come confidently to the throne, where God dispenses grace, and receive the mercy and help He is so eager to pour out on you. “Every high priest” Heb. 5:1–10. The writer continued to develop the theme of Jesus’ humanity, to show how it relates to His priesthood. No angel could serve as high priest, for no angel could understand our weaknesses and “deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray” (v. 2). It takes a human being, aware of human weaknesses, to be sensitive to humanity’s needs and so represent us before God. What a wonder this is. Jesus came to know the anguish of vulnerability. Jesus, approaching the cross, “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.” One of the Gospel writers tells us that His agony was so great He sweat drops of blood. Oh, yes. Jesus understands us, far better than we understand our own weakness. He resisted every temptation, and so experienced man’s weakness to the full. The thought here is important. Suppose two friends go on a diet. The first day each becomes hungry, and one says, “I’ve got to have a candy bar!” And he eats. The other says, “I’ve got to have some candy too—but I won’t.” Instead he stays faithful to the diet for six weeks. Which one, do you suppose, really understands hunger and a yearning for food? The one who surrendered to his hunger the first day, or the one who lived with his hunger for six weeks? This is what the text is saying about Jesus. He understands our weaknesses, because He never gave in to them! Jesus lived, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, with all our vulnerabilities, and never once surrendered to them. And in this process He was “made perfect” as our Saviour. Not that there was any change in His essential nature as God. He was “made perfect” in the sense of being fully equipped by suffering to sympathize with us, for by suffering He learned what it means to be human. Because our High Priest became a man and lived as a man among us, He is able to “deal gently” with us who are so ignorant and so prone to go astray. Jesus understands our weakness. He does not condemn. He saves. And Jesus cares. “By constant use have trained themselves to distinguish” Heb. 5:11–14. The writer seemed more than a little upset that his readers had not realized what a wonderful High Priest we have in Jesus, and gone on to maturity. He expressed his annoyance. But he also shared the key to maturity. We become mature by constantly using the truth God has revealed to distinguish good from evil. Don’t mistake possessing information for maturity. The ability to quote long passages of Scripture or to argue theology is meaningless. What brings a believer to maturity is the conscious effort to distinguish between good and evil on criterion established by God’s Word. The difference between “milk” and “meat” is not a difference between a superficial and comprehensive knowledge of Christian doctrine. It is not a difference between a little knowledge and a lot. The difference is found in the way we process Scripture. To those who hear but do not apply Scripture, the truths they know are milk. But to those who hear and do apply the Word of God, the same truths become solid, sustaining meat. “Let us go on to maturity” Heb. 6:1–6. It’s important to notice that this famous warning passage in Hebrews is concerned with maturity rather than salvation. Some have become deeply concerned that they might “fall away” from salvation, and be unable to be “brought back to repentance.” However, as the whole section from 5:11–6:12 deals with maturity, it’s best not to assume the writer suddenly shifted in mid-thought to a different topic. What then is the passage saying? First, that the foundation on which we build our lives has already been laid in Christ. When we trust Him, our great High Priest, we are already on the foundation. Now we need to build on it—not lay it again. The image that I keep seeing is that of a terrified person stretched out on a solid cement slab laid on solid rock. He’s digging in his fingernails and holding on for dear life, terrified that he’ll fall off the foundation. The problem is, since he’s just laying there holding on, the rest of the house isn’t going up! The wood for the frame and the trusses for the roof are sitting there on the ground, but nothing can be done as long as the man lies there, clutching the foundation as if his life depended on it. Our relationship with God through Jesus is not like that! In Christ God has laid a foundation on which we are secure. Rather than devoting all our energy to holding on, we’re to devote our energy to building on the foundation God has laid. Once we realize how safe we are, we can step out in joyous faith and go on to maturity. “Crucifying the Son of God all over again” Heb. 6:4–6. The issues of death, faith, and resurrection have all been resolved in the death of Christ. The problem with the panicky people the author addressed here was that they hadn’t thought through what uncertainty about their relationship with God implied. So the writer, with more than a hint of sarcasm, asked a hypothetical question. We can see it clearly in this paraphrase of these critical verses. What would you want to do? View your failure as a falling away of God, so access is lost? How then would you ever be restored—you who have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, and known the flow of resurrection power? Do you want to crucify Jesus all over again, and through a new sacrifice be brought back to repentance? How impossible! What a disgrace, this hint that Jesus’ work for you was not enough. Thank God, Jesus’ work as our High Priest was enough. And we are secure in Him. “We are confident of better things in your case” Heb. 6:7–12. The writer shifted images from construction to agriculture. God wants us to produce a useful crop. And, because of our relationship with Jesus, we will! Good things do accompany salvation: things like work and love shown toward God, and help offered to His people. These are the things we should concentrate on. We need not be anxious about our salvation. We can put all our energy into serving God and others.
God Doesn’t Lie(Heb. 6:13–20)
I like the familiar saying. I’ve even seen it on bumper stickers. “God Said It. I Believe It. That Settles It.” Of course, for some people, that doesn’t settle it. That was the problem with some of the folks the Letter of Hebrews is addressed to. And so the writer invented his own bumper sticker. God promised. God swore He’d keep His promise. And that settles it for sure. It’s not just that God, who doesn’t lie, has promised to bless us. God sealed His promise with an oath, executed in the blood of His one and only Son. God wouldn’t lie in the first place. But God would never, ever, consider violating an oath that He made at such unimaginable cost. Why did God take such pains to confirm His promise? Because He knew how vulnerable we are to fear and doubt. He knew how weak our faith becomes at times. And so, not because He needed to, but as an anchor for the hope we have in Christ, God promised, and He swore His oath—to reassure us. What a gracious God we have. And how little cause we have to doubt Him. What God has promised us in Christ is ours. In Jesus we have “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Don’t rely on your ability to keep on believing. Rely on God’s ability to keep His promises.
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. It is so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”—Martin Luther