Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10

Jimmy JoHebrews, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read Hebrews 4 here.

Read Hebrews 5 here.

Our passage today obviously continues on from what we’ve been reading so far in the book of Hebrews.  What may be less obvious is how it continues on.  However, I’m going to leave a more detailed discussion of that for a little later.  For now, we can begin by noting that the “therefore,” with which this passage begins likely flows out of the last couple of verses we looked at last week.  Specifically, 4:12-13 says: 

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4: 12-13

And last week’s passage had to do with entering God’s true rest, an eschatological rest which is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises to us.  And that idea builds on the notion of remaining faithful, which has been a major concern of the author.  4:12-13, then, have the effect of something like, “Remain faithful, holding on to the promise of God’s rest, because God knows our true hearts and judges us accurately.” 

It’s from here, then, that we get the “therefore” which begins our passage today.  “4:14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  So if I can abbreviate, this has the effect of, “God knows and judges our hearts.  But we can take heart, we can be not anxious, we can live in the promise (and not in fear) because we have a great high priest in Jesus.” 

This idea that Jesus is our high priest is an important one for the author of Hebrews, and one that he is going to examine and reflect upon throughout the letter.  But in today’s passage, right at the beginning, he gives us what is essentially his main thought here: “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  In other words, Jesus understands where we are coming from.  More specifically, Jesus is able to understand our struggles, our temptations, our humanity because He himself was fully human. 

For that reason, though the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; though it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, receiving mercy and grace in our time of need.  We can have this confidence because Jesus is our high priest and no other. 

The author goes on to say, at the beginning of chapter 5: 

1Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

Hebrews 5: 1-4

And the first part of this passage is essentially an exposition of what we’ve just discussed – that is, that Jesus is able to intercede for us because He is like one of us.  But in verse 4, the author adds an another element.  This role of high priest is given, not assumed (or taken).  “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.”  It’s upon this idea that the author builds with two Old Testament quotes: 

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 5: 5-6

The first quote (“You are my Son…”) is taken from Psalm 2, which says: 

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
    and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him

Psalm 2

Now without going into detail, we can see that the Psalm as a whole has to do with God’s sovereignty over all creation.  Our quote, which is taken from v. 7, seems to indicate that God gives or shares that sovereignty with the Son (likely a royal reference).  And it’s important to note that all of this is in comparison and contrast with those rulers of the earth who might foolishly think they have some measure of control or power.  In short, it says to all of those who think they rule, “You are mistaken – the Lord alone is sovereign.” 

The second quote is taken from Psalm 110.  This reads:

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.

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

The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high.

Psalm 110

Again, we cannot get too deeply into this here, but I hope it’s pretty apparent that this psalm also has to do with the reign of God over the earth.  And again, that reign is given to and/or shared with another (here, “The Lord says to my lord…”).  And it is in this psalm that this ruling is set in the context of priesthood – verse 4 says, “You [the one to whom rule is given] are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 

Now what’s important for our purposes today, inasmuch as these Psalms are quoted by the author of Hebrews, is that both rule and priesthood are given – they are appointed by God.

This seems to be how the author is thinking about the motif of Melchizedek here.   It’s going to come up again – that Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek is a repeated motif for the author.  Later, he reflects on how the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater (from a particular vantage point) than that of the Aaronic priesthood.  Here, the idea seems to be that the priesthood of Melchizedek is given directly by God, as opposed to the Aaronic priesthood which is assumed by heredity (that is, one is born into the tribe of Levi, like Aaron).  And Jesus’ priesthood is given directly by God – Jesus being born of the tribe of Judah, not Levi. 

So what that points to, according to the author’s thinking, is Jesus’ obedience to God’s purposes and God’s command.  Thus, he says in the final paragraph of our passage: 

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5: 7-10

In other words, though Jesus is the Son of God, due all the honour, glory, and power of the creator and ruler of the universe, he was completely obedient to the will of the Father, becoming fully and completely human.  As such, He was able to identify completely with us, offering up prayers and petitions, becoming fully our high priest as no one else could. 

The author’s main point here seems to be that Jesus, our great high priest, is able to identify with us.  In other words, the author seems mainly intent on encouraging his readers, encouraging us.  But this is dependent upon the crucial, underlying theological foundation of Jesus’ incarnation – this is all made possible because of Jesus’ full and true humanity. 

This may seem like an obvious point; or perhaps it seems like an esoteric one (that is, there is so much mystery that we don’t even try to understand it).  But in reflecting on this it occurs to me that we may have a tendency to focus on one or the other.  Some of us are so concerned with what Jesus does for us, that we don’t bother too much with the theology.  Others of us are so enamored with the theology – the ideas, the philosophy – that we lose the relevance to our actual living.  And what I simply want to say is that what Jesus accomplishes flows out of who He is.  We cannot have one without the other.  And so we can’t cling to the one without paying attention to the other. 

Now how does all of this fit into the flow of the overall argument that the author seems to be making?  Well let’s review quickly what’s been going on. 

Primarily, we’ve seen that the author’s concern is to demonstrate the superiority and sufficiency of Jesus.  As such, he’s demonstrated the superiority of Jesus over angels, though we won’t review that in detail now. 

In the larger section that we’re looking at, the author has been concerned with (at least at first) demonstrating the superiority of Jesus over Moses. 

And we saw that Jesus is greater than Moses because (or inasmuch as) Jesus’ faithfulness is greater than Moses’. 

Because of Jesus’ faithfulness, we should also respond in faithfulness.  Says the author, don’t be unfaithful like the Israelites were (to Moses). 

Rather, cling to the promise (of God’s rest), knowing that our faithfulness will lead to rest. 

And our passage today, I would argue, says something like – that faithfulness is difficult.  But Christ understands our humanity and intercedes for our fallenness.  Because He can fully relate with us, He is our true high priest. 

Now as a bit of an aside – an aside because I simply haven’t been able to really wrap my head fully around this, or fully formulate my thoughts around this – in demonstrating this, the author uses a couple of Psalms that situate Jesus (inasmuch as he is applying them to Jesus) as a royal figure.  Both Psalms indicate that Jesus as the Son of God has claim to the authority of God (according the Father’s will). 

At the same time, by naming Jesus as our high priest (in the order of Melchizedek, not Levi or Aaron), Jesus again takes a role beyond that of which Moses held.  Again, short-handing it somewhat, Jesus supersedes not only Moses, but also his brother Aaron, the first high priest.  Though the author doesn’t make this point explicitly, it seems to follow logically inasmuch as the author is demonstrating the superiority of Jesus.  

Now in all of this, what the author of Hebrews is demonstrating is how desperately we need Jesus.  Because it is only through Jesus that we can take hold of the promise; it is only through Jesus that we can look forward to the true rest; it is only Jesus who can make a way for us, in spite of our sinfulness, our fallenness; only in Jesus do we find our true deliverer and our true high priest. 

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