THE PERFECT HIGH PRIEST
By Pastor Glenn Pease
We instinctively feel a oneness with those who have had a common experience with us. On the other hand, we have a hard time relating to those whose experience has been radically different from our own. During the war the men who were under constant fire resented the officers who were sent out from headquarters to bolster their morale. They were orators, but they made no impression because they did not know what it was like to face death every day and night. The men who were most helpful were those officers and chaplains who were with them in the mud and blood.
The author of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are suffering persecution, and the pressures of life. He is making it clear that their High Priest is no ivory tower mediator, but is one who has been on the firing line. Jesus does not know the treats of life and the pressures of sorrows of living by His divine omniscience, or by speed-reading the best authors of history. Jesus knows what the battle is all about by personal experience. He has been there. In fact, He has been to hell and back.
Jesus is not a commander of troops who has never left His command headquarters at the right hand of God. He entered the combat zone, and He even emptied Himself of the fullness of His deity, which made Him immune to all of the weapons of the enemy. He took upon Himself the nature of those who were His soldiers. He became a man who could feel the hurt and the pain of life's battle. Why did He so completely identify with us in our humanity? It was so that we could identify with Him.
The book of Hebrews stresses the fact that it is just as important that we grasp the humanity of Christ as His deity. He was the Son of God and the Son of Man. There is no such thing as a coin with only one side, and there is no such thing as a biblical Christ with only one side. Biblical balance demands that we see the fullness of Christ in both His deity and humanity. Chapter 5 has both, but the stress is on the humanity of our high priest. He knows what it is to be human and to have human limitations. Did Jesus have weakness? Yes He did. He had a body that became weak with hunger and exhausted after a hard day of ministering to people's needs. Beyond His physical weakness, which meant He needed rest and sleep, He also struggled with His will to obey God.
Verse 7 refers to the loud cries and tears of Jesus as He struggled with the issue of death. He did not want to drink the cup of judgment for sin, and He prayed that the cup might pass from Him. We see here the weakness of the flesh and the wavering of the will. He goes on to win the battle, and He said, "Not my will but thine be done." The point is, He had a human will that was resisting the will of God. Jesus knows what it is like by actual experience to struggle with the temptation to serve the self rather than surrender to God. Jesus knows human life from the inside, and He fully understands the struggle to be an obedient servant of God. Nobody can ever say that they cannot take their problem to Jesus, for He just wouldn't understand. The fact is, there is no one in the universe who is more understanding of our human limitations.
Peter De Vries portrays this truth so dramatically in his novel The Blood Of The Lamb. It is a story of a family where a little daughter is dying of leukemia. One evening the father went to the hospital to visit his little girl, and she was all excited because she had just watched an old Laurel and Hardy movie on TV. She said that the neatest part was when the little man threw a pie in the face of the big man. She said, "I was afraid of what the big man would do, but he just wiped it off his face and stood there. He took it and did not hit back." This made a deep impression on the little girl, and dad agreed that it took a stronger man to take it and not strike back.
A few days later the little girl's birthday arrived, and the housekeeper had made a special cake for her. The father was to deliver the cake that morning. He always stopped at the church next to the hospital before he went to see her that he might pray for her recovery. He encountered one of the nurses on his daughter's floor, and she whispered to him that he had better get up to his daughter because a terrible staff infection is sweeping the whole floor.
The father laid the cake on the pew and dashed out of the church. Within hours his little girl was gone because she was too weak to withstand this blow. The father signed the papers and staggered out of the hospital. As he passed the church he remembered the birthday cake he had left there. He went in and there it was just as he left it. The sight of that cake with his daughter's name on it broke him, and he stumbled out of the sanctuary almost blind from the scalding tears. As he passed a statue of Christ hanging on the cross he had a moment of impulsive rage. He took the cake and threw it into the face of that statue. When he observed what he had done panic swept over him, and he cried out, "What have I done? What sort of blasphemy have I committed?"
As he looked the figure on the cross slowly wiped the icing from His face like Laurel did, and instead of striking back he saw tears in those eyes. It suddenly dawned on him that Jesus was the big man with the power to take pain and not inflict it, for He understood, and His heart was also broken along with his. The father's experience is what the author of Hebrews wants all Christians to experience. He wants them to see that Jesus is a high priest who really understands, and who can sympathize with all of our weaknesses. He ends chapter 4 by saying that this truth will enable us to draw nearer to the throne of grace with confidence, for we can know Jesus will show mercy and grace to meet our every need.
Had Jesus not entered flesh to suffer people would always have the feeling that God was so far removed from the realm of their struggle that He would be a Lord without sympathy. But Jesus became man and suffered in human flesh that He might be a sympathetic Savior who knows by experience what the human battle is all about. Jesus had to relate to both God and man, and so He had to be perfect and sinless like God, but also experience the weakness and limitations like man. Jesus is the only person in this universe who has all the qualifications necessary to be the perfect mediator and high priest. That is why there is only one mediator between God and man-the man Christ Jesus.
In verse 2 we see that the ideal high priest is one who can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward. The word gentle is a key word and quality for all who minister to human need, for the opposite response of rough treatment is what comes naturally in response to the ignorant and wayward. As Christians we all priests, and we all need to let the gentle spirit of Christ reign in us as we deal with human weakness. William Barclay writes of this word, "It means the ability to bear with people without getting irritated and annoyed. It means the ability not to lose one's temper with people when they are foolish and when they will not learn and when they do the same thing over and over again and when they seem to be senselessly blind."
The only way to develop this gentleness is by a full and honest self-evaluation. The man who will not admit his own weakness, and who will not say, "There but for the grace of God go I," will never be a true priest, and will never be able to counsel and comfort the depressed and fallen. Only those who see their own weaknesses can understand the sins and follies of other people. The deeper you go in seeing yourself and all of your own potential for folly, the greater will be your understanding and sympathy with others.
Jesus never once sinned, but 4:16 says He was tempted in every respect as we are. This makes it clear that Jesus knew the profound power of sin to entice man's nature to respond in disobedience to the will of God. He learned obedience by what He suffered. He learned by what He suffered in resisting temptation that there is a tremendous cost to obedience, and for it takes tremendous will power to stay faithful to the will of God. Others might underestimate your struggle, but Jesus never will. He understands every person's temptation.
Many will say that He was the Son of God and so had the power to resist, and so He does not really understand what it is like to face temptation as a man without divine power. But He really does, for He felt the power of temptation in His humanity, and He knows He could not have remained sinless without divine aid. That is why He came into the world. If He thought man could be sinless without divine aid, He would have guided some man to be sinless and become the perfect sacrifice, but He knew it was impossible. He does understand, that is why His perfection is not held up as a deterrent to our coming to Him, for He does not demand that we also be sinless. He is our high priest who bids us to come with our sin and weakness, for He has made provision for forgiving and cleansing.
Jesus is the perfect high priest, not only because of His perfection, but because of His gentle and sympathetic handling of our imperfection. He does not say, "I made it through the world unspotted, and so you do the same, or else." Instead He says, "Come to me with your spots and I will wipe them all away." Jesus knows that if He had been only a man He to would have fallen, and so He is sympathetic with all who have fallen.
Even though He was sinless, Jesus still needed to be saved. We seldom think about the salvation of the Savior, but verse 7 makes it clear that Jesus was saved. He cried out to God through His tears to save Him from death. Had His humanity ended in death there would be no Savior. Man had to conquer death. Deity does not, for it cannot die. The human nature of Christ did die, and it was His human nature that needed to be saved. The text tells us that the prayer of Jesus was heard and He was saved. The resurrection was the answer to that prayer. The resurrection was the salvation of Jesus. The Savior had to be saved in order to save us.
Through all of His suffering and death Jesus learned just what human life is all about, and the tremendous cost of obedience. He became the perfect Savior because He experienced all that they experience who need to be saved, and being made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. This means we have the perfect high priest. He knows our weakness from experience. He understands why we fail, and so we can be fully open and frank before our Lord. Because He conquered all sin and weakness, and because He offered a perfect sacrifice, He is able to gain our pardon and forgiveness for all our sin and weakness. We need to take full advantage of who Jesus is for good mental, emotional and spiritual health, for in Him we have the perfect High Priest.