The Called above the called
When speaking of Doctrine, many assume that we are speaking of the nitty, gritty details of theology (i.e. what clothes were used to make the tabernacle, how many times did Paul say “love” in his letters, did Jesus intentionally blind Himself, etc.). But truly, whenever we speak of the Bible, if we claim to believe it, we are speaking of our Doctrine. Because Doctrine is not based on my various preferences, but is instead a system of thinking and beliefs that is formed outside of myself first, and I then profess to believe and therefore live by it. In light of this, we see that the Gospel is Doctrine itself, and if we claim to believe the Gospel, then we are obligated to learn the Doctrine by which we profess salvation through Christ. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews reflects this reality, in that he goes into further detail about the work of our Lord then most would deem necessary. But when you read and understand what the writer says here, it is suddenly apparent that this isn’t just some useful details, but essential facts. We may be saved by the Gospel initially apart from our complete understanding of it, but this in no way negates our obligation to learn it. We are required to learn it, lest we become ignorant and fall away.
So here we find the writer beginning Chapter 5 with such detail as you will never hear in a modern church, as it does not pack the pews, seeming at first to be dull (especially to youthful Christians). When you start with the words, “every high priest taken from among men is appointed…” the eyes begin to roll back. But read on, and you begin to see something different. Vs. 1 shows us that men were appointed for men, but it did not actually mean that the men chosen were anything special. God did not choose the “cream of the crop,” but rather chose a group of men for a specific purpose. These men, the sons of Levi, would be given the office of the priesthood, which may sound at first nothing more than a practical branch of religion, but was in all reality a position of high risk. It was in fact a much higher risk than being that of a warrior, since the priest was at risk of dropping dead, should he fail to perform the task given to him correctly. Aaron’s own sons experienced this, as they offered “strange fire” (i.e. burned incense contrary to what they were told to burn) when they were engulfed in a flame. Fire, quite literally, came down from heaven, and they were set ablaze for the Lord. So when we are speaking of priests, we are not speaking of preachers per se, we are speaking of actual men risking their lives to do what God commanded (something scarcely seen in Western Christianity, as they are hardly willing to lift a finger). Much more than is the risk of the high priest, who was given a task greater than his fellow priests, in that once a year he would come before God to offer sacrifices for all the people. This specific sacrifice was to deal with the sins that the people had not sacrificed for, forgotten, overlooked, or simply didn’t know were sins. It was not merely to “cover their bases,” but was more a stark reminder that as much as they might try to take care of their sins, there was a myriad of sins they simply could not cure, because they could not understand the sinfulness of sin as God sees it. And thus the task of the high priest was distinct from the other priests, and so it was with Christ. Each high priest that was taken from mankind, and would stand before God to offer this vital sacrifice. But it wasn’t just for the people of Israel as a group, but also for the high priest. You see, the high priest was not chosen because he was sinless. Indeed, he of all people would have feared this position the most, since he knew his sins, whereas he didn’t know the sins of the people. And because he knew his sins, he could sympathize with the people of Israel, who likewise sinned, and thus came before God with a humble, reverent heart, since “he himself also is beset with weakness.” So when he is called by God as high priest, it is a humbling, undeserved honor, and he therefore sees that it is God who provides the solution, not through this man’s goodness or sincerity.
But here is where we find that the high priest, seeing that he was sinful, was only a picture- a representation of what was to come. And therefore we see Christ, who likewise did not glorify Himself, but came to do the will of the Father. And this was seen in that the Father said “You are My Son [Christ], Today I have begotten You.” This is revealed when Jesus was baptized, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the Father said “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mat. 17:5) But too often we stop short the vital reality that this wasn’t just “a perfect Man,” as He was a very particular Man, being the Son of Man and Son of God, called by God as the Highest Priest. In other words, the death of Christ on the cross was some generic sacrifice of selflessness, but was a particular sacrifice of redemption as the High Priest, sacrificing Himself for men, since they were unable to save themselves, being sinners. But not merely in death did He save, but in His life preceding His death. He lived as though He was one of us, and as was said in Hebrews 4:15, “…we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” So here we find a sinless High Priest, and yet He offers up “prayers and supplications,” and that with “loud crying and tears…” And He does so to the Father, who would be the only One who could “save Him from death.” We see this in Matthew 26:39, where Jesus says in the garden “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” He, who did not deserve death (contrary to the rest of us), cried out to God to save Him from death. Why is this? Because He was facing death for we who should be there instead, as we were sinners, He was not. And something happened to Him that we, on our own, would never have been able to experience, nor would we ever be able to reach such a position as He. Because unlike us on our own, He was heard. The Father paid attention to Him. For men, it was the high priest, specifically designated by God to come for them before Him, and He would “heed” the sacrifices brought at that moment. But Christ did not need a substitute, nor did He come with something to attempt to get the Father’s attention. Christ, because of His “piety” (literally “dread,” “fear”) and because He was sinless. In other words, God sent His spotless Lamb to face the punishment for us, and to essentially dread the thought of it for us, and He was heard in His trials and prayers that followed, because He did the Father’s will (what He was told to), and unlike all of humanity, He did it without flaw or neglect. And although He had no reason to learn, He learned on our behalf obedience. Specifically, He did what He was told because we would not. And that not for vain glory, as seen in the fact that it was in suffering that He obeyed, to the point of death, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, [specifically] death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8)
And as a result of all of this (the perfect life, the dread of death, being heard by the Father), He died. And He died submitted to the will of the Father. “It is finished” He said, signifying the completion of that high priestly work. And thus being perfect (complete), He became to those who were sinful (lacking obedience) the perfect we so desperately need before the Father. He became to all those who believe God, and who seek to do His will, the “source” of eternal salvation, and the actual ability to do what we ought to do. And all of this was because God designated Him as the Highest Priest, “according to the order of Melchizedek.” Something so seemingly trivial was so vital to our salvation. Something we know so little about was the most important aspect of Jesus coming. When we picture the life of Jesus, do we see a good man going around doing good things before being unjustly killed by Gentiles and Jews? Or do we see a High Priest, coming to keep the commandments of the Father that the Israelites (the people He came to) could not keep, and to die intentionally, not unnecessarily, so that He would be the perfect sacrifice for sins that the blood of bulls and goats could not cure? And when you study the Gospels and Epistles, does this mold how you see Christ?
It should. Because as we are about to see at the end of this Chapter, and at the beginning of Chapter 6, those who “neglect” these things are at risk, not of death, but eternal damnation, since they evidence that they do not actual care enough to see the Gospel in all its glory. If the inhabitants of Heaven can sing forever the “praises of the Lamb,” and sing such deep and particular theological songs, should we not pay much closer attention?
To be continued