Last week I was preparing for a sermon on Hebrews 7 (go here for MP3) and was particularly struck by these words:
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after 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. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
It seems that the writer to the Hebrews draws these conclusions from Psalm 110:4 – which he quotes twice in the chapter – and the fact of Jesus' resurrection. To the writer, the resurrection shows that Jesus is the one to whom God was speaking in Psalm 110. In fact, he sees those words as the oath which guarantees Jesus' priesthood (v20-21).
He then draws a number of implications from these observations:
1st: Because Jesus lives forever, he has a 'permanent priesthood' (v24). Not that Jesus needs to offer his sacrifice over and again, but that he acts as our mediator and advocate before the throne of God on an ongoing and eternal basis.
2nd: Because of his ongoing intercession with the Father on our behalf, he is able to 'save completely' those who come to God through him (v25). The Greek translated 'completely' is eis to panteles which can be read qualitatively, ie. 'completely' or temporally ie. 'forever'. The context seems to suggest that 'forever' or 'eternally' is the best meaning, but if we are saved eternally, then that implies that we are saved 'completely' as well!
3rd: Such a high priest meets our need: 'one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens' this all emphasizes his difference to the human Levitical priests – a point which is again made in verse 27 (he does not need to offer the sacrifice for himself, but offers himself); and in verse 28 (the high priest of the oath is not weak like the priests of the law).
This all highlights for me that we sometimes believe we know what we need, but it is God who really knows what we need! In this case we are told that what we really need is a High Priest who is holy, pure, blameless and set apart. I wonder if we don't see this need because we forget the reality of our separation from God – the separation that in the OT law was shown by the physical separation of the unclean and un-sanctified from entering God's presence as signified in the Most Holy Place. In other words, we forget that we are sinners and that God is Holy, and that there is not normally any way for us sinners to approach the Holy God. The only way we can even begin to contemplate such a possibility is because we have Jesus, the Son, as our High Priest who has offered himself to God for us.
How much more amazing then does that make the statement back in Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
How amazing to be able to approach God with confidence through faith in Jesus – knowing that God will give us mercy and grace!
Perhaps we might think of this next time we sing the last verse of Charles Wesley's great hymn 'And Can It Be':
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.