Jesus: The Sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4.14-5.10)

The emphasis of the preacher/author of Hebrews is hard to miss. In a word (or two):

Hold on!

Don’t give up!

Hang in there!

To encourage his congregation, the preacher of this ancient homily has grounded his message in the Word of God: God now speaks through his Son who is better than the angels, better than Moses, and now is a better high priest.

In the text under consideration, the preacher wants his people to see Jesus as the “great high priest” who passed through the heaven (he will explain this later). He emphasizes that Jesus is a sympathetic high priest because he has been tempted in every way we are; however, he is a qualified high priest because he had not sinned as we have—so unlike the high priest of old, Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could take care of the people’s sin. Therefore—and this is important—we should be eager to approach God because we know that we will find mercy and help there.

In weaving the analogy between the role of Jesus and that of the Old Testament high priest, the preacher seeks to clarify a couple of points. First, like the high priest, Jesus is called from among the people (his brothers; so chapter 2). So he understands us because he is one of us. Second, high priests are not self-appointed and neither was Jesus. God appointed him as stated in Psa 110:4.

Yet what really touches the Hebrews preacher is the sheer humanness of Jesus’ ministry. He prayed and prayed with weeping tears to the one who could save him from death—and God heard him. This invites some reflection since when Jesus prayed he was seeking another route other than his death but in the ends submits: “Your will not mine.”

Still, in a rather cryptic statement, the author of Hebrews says the Son “learned obedience from what he suffered.” How could the Son—who did not sin—learn obedience? Perhaps obedience goes beyond just doing what is commanded; maybe it is deeper than that. Perhaps it has something to do with lining our wishes, desires, and wants up with God’s.

“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.” (Heb 4.16)

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Bringing Many to Glory (Hebrews 2.5-18)

Long before verse numbers were added to the Bible, the Hebrews writer used a less than helpful method of citation: “…there is a place where someone has testified.” Some place in the Bible it says… This some place happens to be Psalms 8.4-5:

… what is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;

you put everything under his feet” (Psalms 8:4–6 NIV)

The psalmist ponders why God would be so concerned about humanity. Because the psalmist speak of “man” in the collective sense, the Hebrews writer can take advantage of the singular, which he applies, as you might expect from this ancient preacher, to Jesus.

In becoming human, Jesus became a little lower than the angels (following the LXX), but now he has been exalted far above them. Notice as you read Hebrews that the author wants us to understand that it was the Man Jesus who was exalted.

The logic of what follow may be difficult for modern readers to follow. It goes something like this: Jesus was exalted because he died > because he died, he can somehow experience death for everyone > by doing this he will bring many children to glory > since he is the “author of their salvation” > who is somehow made perfect by suffering.

Did you follow that? It’s OK, if you did not.

The big picture is that this Jesus who was made a little lower than angels in becoming human and is now exalted can fully identify with those who belong to him.

How’s that? Better?

Jesus and his followers now belong to the same family and Jesus is not embarrassed to claim them as his siblings. It is precisely Jesus’ humanness that makes him “able to help those who are being tempted.” It is this that makes him the perfect priest we all need.

Jesus understands what you are going through. He has been through it himself. Now, the writer of Hebrews claims, Jesus, in his exalted state, remains our Man in heaven.