I’m going to try to do two things today that are probably inadvisable. The first is that I’m going to attempt to cover the entire chapter in this sermon. It’s only 14 verses, so it’s not impossible, just probably not advisable. The second thing I’m going to do is attempt to exegete it in reverse. I’m going to start with verses 11-14 and then afterwards I will do 1-10. Now I do that because even though I may not be following the text chronologically, I think I am honoring the sense of the text. I think that the author of Hebrews has been giving this great theological treatise, a sermon really, on the superior merits of Christ above every other institution or agency, and perhaps he senses a danger at this point that his audience is starting to get bored. And so in vs 11, he suddenly diverges from his message, and gives a word of exhortation, that they need to sit up and listen and learn.
Now I echo that sentiment today, because I think that this is tremendously important material that we need to know if we are going to have the full effect of our salvation in operation in our lives. I think there is a dumbing down of the gospel in our age, in an attempt to make it relevant, in an attempt to hold people’s attention, or in an attempt to be entertaining, and the end result is that the average Christian doesn’t really understand neither his salvation, nor God’s purpose in saving him, and consequently has no clue as to what he is supposed to do now that he believes. I’m afraid many people don’t even know what they believe. They just have been told to believe in Jesus, that he died on the cross, that He loves us, and so we just believe, and now we don’t have to worry about going to hell anymore, and we can have a good life because God loves us and wants us to have a good life. That’s the sum total of most people’s doctrinal understanding.
But the author of Hebrews is spending a lot of time and effort in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to tell us about the magnificence of who Jesus is, and what He came to do, and what He continues to do. And it’s important to know all we can know about who Jesus is, because that is the basis for our belief, for our faith. Also it’s important because the more we know about Jesus, the more we will love Him, and the more we love Him, the more we will be moved to live lives that are pleasing to Him. It’s just like a relationship with a man and a woman when they are dating. They start to spend time together. She wants to know all about you. She wants to know your past, your future, your plans. And as you learn more and more about each other, your love grows for one another. Thus it is important that we learn all we can about who Jesus is and what He did and continues to do. Because that knowledge is what we base our faith on. And our faith is the basis for being granted salvation and all the attendant benefits of salvation. And our knowledge for God produces our love for God, which is the motivation for our obedience to Him.
So the Holy Spirit in vs 11 interrupts the theological treatise to reprimand the audience for their ignorance. And by extension, He is upbraiding the present audience here today as well for our ignorance. Notice, He says, “Concerning him we have much to say, and [it is] hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” Concerning Him, I believe, is speaking of Jesus. It could be that he is saying, concerning Melchizedek we have much to say. And of course, he does have a lot to say about Melchizedek in the upcoming chapters. But this book is not about Melchizedek, it’s about Jesus. And so I think he saying we have a lot to say about Jesus, but you’ve become dull of hearing.
As I’ve gotten older, I have become dull of hearing. I blame it on years of surfing. There is something called surfer’s ear that affects us guys that spend too much time in cold water. The ear canal builds up cartilage to protect itself from the cold water and wind, and eventually it closes up the ear canal. So you can’t hear very well. That’s my excuse, at least.
But I don’t think the author has in mind surfer’s ear. I think he’s talking about lazy listening. I think we are not tuned to the things of God because it’s much easier to listen to music, or some sort of entertainment or a nice sentimental story. The opposite of dull hearing would be sharp hearing. It’s like Maggie my dog. She hears some things a lot better than others. She can hear me open a package of bread from the other side of the house and be there in a flash with her tail wagging. She loves bread. But she can’t seem to hear me when I tell her to get off the couch. She seems deaf as a post then.
I wonder if some of you have the same problem. You can hear a couple of measures of the beginning of a song and tell me immediately what the name of the song is and who the author is, but you can’t find a verse in the Bible with a concordance. You’ve become dull of hearing because you haven’t trained yourself in the things of God. To use another analogy, you haven’t developed a taste for spiritual food. That is what is said there in vs14, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” The key is training. The more you train your voice, the better sense you have of being on pitch or in tune. The same is true of spiritual things; it involves practice, training your senses so that they are not dulled by the things of the world, but trained in the things of God, so that we may be in tune with God.
Some of you have been Christians a long time. I hesitate to ask for a show of hands, but I assume that many of you have been saved since you were children, or young adults. And so vs 12 says to you, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
The problem with some of you is that maybe that your home church only gives you milk, and never feeds you solid food. Some churches just serve whipped cream. I love whipped cream. I like it when my wife makes homemade whipped cream to go on chocolate cake. And it’s ok to have some every now and then. But a steady diet of whipped cream is not good for you. And furthermore, its not going to have the nutrition that you need to grow and maintain your body as it should be.
Children, especially spiritual children, need to be fed milk at first, but then they need to move on to solid food, so that their body can mature and grow stronger. And so it is with us. Otherwise we remain “babes in the woods” so to speak. And we cannot discern the difference between good and evil. We end up being taken in by false doctrine, and by the deceit of the devil.
Now then, let us eat some solid food this morning, that we might move on towards maturity in Jesus Christ. And one of the roles of Jesus Christ that we are considering is His position as High Priest of our faith. And perhaps this is difficult because we can’t relate to this position of high priest. We don’t see that sort of position in the church today and so we can’t relate to it.
But think about it this way for a moment. If we accept the fact that God exists as He has disclosed Himself in His word; that He is the maker of the universe, the ruler of the world, the judge of the earth, in whom all righteousness and holiness dwells in inapproachable light, and we exist and live and breathe by His permission. If we accept that premise, then what is our response? To ignore Him? That will hardly do. To try to placate Him? How? What are we to do? How do we approach Him?
Well Jesus gave us the answer in John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So we must worship God. He is Spirit, therefore He cannot be seen, so we must worship Him in spirit, and worship Him in truth. We must worship Him as He wants us to worship Him, according to what He has revealed. And in ancient times, God ordained priests to facilitate that worship. They represented God to man, in revealing His truth, and they represented man to God, in offering sacrifices and gifts to God which was the way in which God wanted man to express his worship. And among the priests, there was the office of the High Priest, who was the chief of priests, and He served a special function on the yearly Day of Atonement, in going before God in the Holy of Holies to offer the sacrifice for the sins of the people.
Now that’s what this author says in vs 1, “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Notice, the high priest is taken from among men, to act in the appointed role on behalf of men in things pertaining to God. He is a man, appointed by God to act on their behalf. And God appointed him to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
So Holy, Righteous God, required that priests act as intermediaries by offering sacrifices and gifts for the sins of man in order to be accepted by God. Man is a fallen creature, born in sin, with a sinful nature, and as such is estranged from God and cannot approach God. The sacrifices and gifts could not of themselves atone for sin, but they showed man’s repentance over his sin, which God accepted, and He therefore provided a substitute animal to bear their punishment. The priests facilitated this system of sacrifices and gifts to God.
Now such a priest had a dual responsibility. To man he could, in vs 2, “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness.” In other words, since the priest also is a man, he has the same weaknesses and temptations that men have, and thus can have compassion on them.
And because of his weaknesses, because he is a man born in sin, with a sinful nature even as they, vs. 3, “he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.” So he has to offer sin sacrifices for himself, and then for the people. He is an intermediary, but a flawed one. And if you were someone who went to a priest in those days, hoping to have him intercede for you to God, then you would have to hope that he had been faithful himself to offer sacrifices for his own sin, so that your prayers might not be hindered by his weakness.
Another important characteristic of priests is that they did not designate themselves priests, but that designation came from God. Now that’s important, because then as also now, many people are running around claiming to speak for God, when in fact, God has not appointed them. I will never forget it was during Hurricane Sandy, I believe, which narrowly missed us here in Delaware but pounded New Jersey and caused more damage than any other storm to date in that state. And I remember reading something just before the storm hit that a group of religious leaders from some sort of denomination that specialized in miracles and prophesying, had sent out a statement saying that all these preachers had been praying and formed a prayer chain or something like that around the Mid Atlantic region, and somehow God had told them that the storm would turn away and we would be spared of any sort of direct hit. And I got an email from one of their followers to that affect as the storm was bearing down on us. And I usually just bite my tongue and delete that sort of thing. But I couldn’t help myself that day, and so I sent the guy an email reply with this quote from Jeremiah 14:14 Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.” I never got any more emails from that guy again.
So God appoints those who truly speak for Him, and He appointed the high priests, not man, not some denomination, not some seminary, not some pastor search committee. And it says here that God appoints the priests. And now the Spirit uses that designation to extol the virtues of Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest in vs.5 “So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’”. So quoting from Psalm 2:7, God speaking to the Messiah, appointed Him as His representative, as His Son. And then quoting from Psalm 110, vs4, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”
What greater appointment for man’s High Priest could be imagined, than God in human form, Jesus Christ incarnate, being made forever to be our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Now there will be much more to be said about Melchizedek in the passages ahead. But suffice it for now that you know that in Genesis 14:18 he appeared to Abraham as both king of Salem, which was an ancient name for Jerusalem, and also he was designated as priest of God Most High. And Abraham recognized him as the priest of God and gave him his tithes. Now this event preceded the law of Moses concerning priests and the order of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel by several hundred years. Melchizedek seemed to appear out of nowhere, without any precedent. And Psalm 110 is quoting God as saying that the Messiah is a priest forever, not after the order of Aaron, not of the Levitical priesthood, but after the order of Melchizedek.
So Jesus was appointed High Priest by God. The other characteristic that you will remember though of priests is that they were taken from man. And vs 7 speaks to His humanness, or the days of His flesh. “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.”
Many commentators think this speaks particularly of His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, but I think it doesn’t have to be restricted to just that incident, but throughout His whole life, He was constantly in communion with His Father and dependent upon doing His will. Some of the hardest trials you will go through, and some of the deepest sorrows you may experience are not always associated with suffering pain and injury, but in doing what is right. Going against what the flesh calls for, going against what the world calls for, and the loneliness and sense of desolation that evokes is reason enough for loud crying and tears.
What this is referencing is the qualification of a priest that He is able to sympathize with those whom He represents, that is mankind. Christ suffered all the things that we suffer, and much more than we could ever suffer. He did what was right before God, without sin, suffering even until death. His faithfulness unto death qualifies Him even more than any earthly priest, who shared the same weaknesses of the flesh as his fellow citizens, because though He shared in the sufferings and temptations and trials of men, yet He was victorious over them in righteousness. And because of His righteousness, or as it says because of His piety, God delivered Him from the chains of death, and He rose again from the grave victorious with the keys of death and Hades in His grasp.
In vs8, it says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Now this verse has caused a lot of confusion, because we can not imagine how Christ could learn obedience. But I think it needs to be understood this way, “although He was a Son, (that is the Son of God, deity), even though He had a right to do what He wanted, He learned obedience from the things He suffered in the flesh (that is in the things He suffered as a human.) In other words, He humbled Himself and practiced obedience to the Father’s will in His flesh, in His humaness, even while suffering, which made Him qualified in experience to be our representative. Even though He was omniscient, in His experience of suffering there was a sense in which He learned experientially what it was to be human.
And we learn to be obedient through suffering as well. Unfortunately, we tend to learn more from our disobedience. The way most of us learn is by learning the hard way. We disobey, and suffer the consequences, and we end up learning through our disobedience. It’s much smarter to learn though example. It’s so much smarter to learn through obedience to what God has said in His word, rather than to think we have to figure it out for ourselves. That goes back to the exhortation about being children that we looked at earlier. Children learn through experience. And that’s why discipline is such an important part in a child’s upbringing. But as you grow older, and more mature, you should be able to learn from other’s experience. That’s wisdom.
And then vs 9 says, “having been made perfect…” Once again, people have trouble with this idea that Christ had to become perfect. But the best way to understand that word is to translate it as “complete.” So He became complete by suffering in His flesh. He became the complete, perfect High Priest because He was not only fully God, but fully man, and suffered all things in the flesh as a man, yet without sin, preserving His righteousness.
Back in chapter 4:15 we read, “For 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 having suffered in the flesh, having been appointed by God, having been ordained after another order of priests, having been the righteous and Holy Son of God, we therefore have such a Great High Priest, who has became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.
Listen, we just read that Jesus learned obedience from the things which He suffered and was saved from death through His piety. Is it not just as appropriate that the obedience of the redeemed results in their salvation? Is it so inappropriate to think that obedience and faith go hand in hand? Listen, you cannot have faith without obedience. Faith is not just a head knowledge, but a heart repurposed. Remember the admonition of Jesus in Matt. 15:8-9 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”
Or perhaps we need to remember His warning in Matt. 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter.] “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Notice the emphasis on doing God’s will, and then the opposite of practicing lawlessness which is a hallmark of lip service. So then, practicing righteousness, obedience to God, is hallmark of true worship.
The final qualification of our Great High Priest is that to all who obey Him, He is the source, or the author of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Peter said in Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
He is not only the author of our salvation, but also the finisher of our salvation. Hebrews 12:2 “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The fact that He is eternal, sitting eternally on the throne of God, interceding for His people, means that our salvation is eternal. It’s eternal because the source of our salvation is eternal. It’s eternal because HIs sacrifice is eternally effective, once for all accomplished, never to be repeated and permanently valid. And it’s an eternal salvation because Jesus Christ, our Great High priest ever lives to make intercession for us, to help us in our time of need. He is always available, ever working on the behalf of those who have put their trust in Him.
I hope everyone here today has become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Are you trusting in the sacrifice of Himself on your behalf for your acceptance with God? There is no other way to God, and no other source of eternal life. Trust in Him today as your Savior, Lord and King, and in HIs work as our Great High Priest.