By Simon ManchesterSunday 22 Nov 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
Before we turn to Hebrews Chapter 5, I want to read to you a quote which I found in a book from the 1920s because I am eccentric and I drift on my day off through second-hand bookshops and pulled this book off the shelf and found this quote in the middle of the bookshop and bought the book, and this is the quote: “it’s a very wise man, and I wonder if you will appreciate as I did”.
“I have come home from some Meetings thoroughly tired and disappointed and disillusioned. I’ve settled down in my chair with bitterness in my veins instead of blood. There was a desire to crush an opponent and phrases which would silence him on my mind.
I was too tired to pray, too tired to stir up any desire to pray and then I left as it were the door of the mind ajar. There was very little more than a vague longing for the coming of the Friend, that Friends who understands our worst moments and then the peace which is indescribable quieted my mind.
I’ve never seen a vision – I’ve never heard a voice, but I have felt that the last words I wanted to use were those which would bring someone down”.
There is a man under stress deciding that he would quietly seek the help of someone great and gracious and he means, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ and then experiencing the immeasurable and inexplicable help that comes from Christ to the person who trusts him and belongs to him and looks to him.
That book actually has nothing at all to do with Hebrews but the phrase or the paragraph that I have just read to you in a sense is crucial to the book of Hebrews because the book of Hebrews is attempting to show to us the infinite value of Christ, not only to come and save a person eternally but also to help them in the present in a very deep and real way.
And we need this salvation, of course, we need this help, we need the help because a lot of life is beyond us and there is a lot of sin inside us, and the devil is prowling around us, and we need his help. And the author of Hebrews is presenting as I say, Jesus Christ to people who might foolishly look away and go somewhere else.
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And so the writer is presenting Jesus in two great dimensions – one is who he is, and one is what he does. And the ‘who he is’ of course is that he is the supreme Son of God and therefore there is nothing beyond him and the second is that he is the one who suffered everything for us and therefore there is nothing that doesn’t concern him or nothing that he can’t help with.
And it’s those two aspects of Christ – His Supremacy and His Suffering – which if you think them through will show that Jesus Christ is The King and The Saviour who every single person in this world needs – not only for their ultimate salvation but also for their immediate daily needs.
Maybe I could put this in the negative to make the point – if there is anyone here this morning who thinks that Christ is not very impressive or who thinks that Jesus is not very sure and reliable, then it’s quite possible that his supremacy and suffering have not hit home to you as they really ought. And when they do hit home (and there are so many of us here this morning who can testify to this) when the greatness and the goodness of Jesus Christ hit home, and we get to the point when we surrender and we kneel down before him and say to him ‘be my King, be my Saviour’ then eternal life begins and we are brand new people and when this goodness and greatness of Jesus keeps affecting us as Christian people, then we find that there is no one better to turn to. But when we do think there is someone better to turn to, the greatness and goodness of Christ have not affected us as they should.
We should be people as it were ‘leave the door ajar’ and find that he can help us in our time of need. Friends, I think this is the theory behind the book of Hebrews – I’m only up to Chapter 5 in this journey through the book with you and therefore we are 5/13ths the way through the book but I actually think this is the great theory of the book and we find this out as we keep going that the writer is telling us that if you keep reading the book of Hebrews, you’ll understand Christ better and if you understand him better, then you will really stop looking elsewhere for ultimate needs.
Your boast will be Him.
Your joy will be Christ.
And that’s why I think we have progress, all of us to make because we are tempted to look elsewhere for boast and peace, and joy and they fail to satisfy.
Now if you think I am struggling to get you into this, I’m not alone because the writer says at the end of our chapter (verse 11) he is struggling to get his readers to ‘get it’ as well. He says in 5:11 “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” literally you are a bit sluggish.
And of course I am not just saying this to you – I am saying this to us. We are slow; we are dull, we are sluggish, we think badly, we chose badly, we walk badly, we live badly, and we have to grow in wisdom, and that’s what the writer is working at.
He says “you readers should be teaching this, it should be coming out of you, but I am having trouble getting it into you” and the problem is that you prefer milk to solid food. He doesn’t necessarily mean by that – that you prefer baby things to adult things or you prefer simple things too complicated things – we all like simple things. Occasionally we like to chew on something a bit more complicated, but he doesn’t mean that. He means the problem with his readers is that they are not yet ready to move from where they think lasting pleasure and joy is to where lasting pleasure and joy is.
That is there is something odd about us where we are committed to finding it where we won’t properly find it. And we are slow to go and find it where we will find it. That’s what he’s saying, and that’s why verse 14 (which is our last verse in the chapter) says “solid food is for the mature who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish the good from the evil”.
Well, I was reading recently that a school in Uganda had set up a bell for many years which they clanged to bring the children to class and to announce playtime and lunch. Somebody discovered as a visitor that the bell was a live mine! There was this school bashing a live mine sometimes a day to get the children to take note.
Well, the writer of Hebrews is bashing what is a live word, and I presume that if it takes off and we get it, that we are transformed and changed people. So let’s think about our verses this morning under two brief headings.
The first is What makes a Good Priest and the second is What makes the Perfect Priest.
First of all verses 1-4 What makes a Good Priest. “Every high priest” verse 1 “is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”.
Now does everybody this morning know that the prophet is God’s servant who brings his word down to the people and the priest is God’s servant who brings the people’s needs up to God? So the prophet has a downward role, and the priest has an upward role. And he is talking here about the priest.
There are two qualities for the priest, according to verses 1-4, this is the Jewish priest, which are essential. The first is (verse 2) he has to be sympathetic. He has to deal gently. Now that doesn’t mean of course he is careless about sin and it doesn’t mean that he says to people ‘sin doesn’t matter, and I don’t care what you do, and nothing counts’. No, No, No – he’s concerned about sin, but he is sympathetic. He’s not superior; he’s not angry when people came with their sins, he’s not frustrated because he understands his sin. He has sympathy.
The second mark of the priest (verse 4) is that he has authority. He doesn’t appoint himself, he doesn’t choose himself, and he doesn’t just wake up in the morning and say ‘I think I’ll be a priest’. He is chosen, and he is called by God.
And the first priest who was ever chosen was Moses’ brother, Aaron and Aaron was the first priest for the people of God, and all the priests follow down the line of Aaron. And this authority was God-given.
Now you can see the genius of God because first of all the Old Testament priest was not optional – you didn’t deal with God without a priest – you needed a priest. And the priest of God was not a puppet who could be pushed around by people of God. He had to live by the Word of God and offer the sacrifices that were appointed. But also the priest wasn’t arrogant – he was sinful himself, and he was familiar with weakness, and he knew what it was like to go astray and so he had great sympathy and dealt gently with people. So the priest that God put into place was a blessing marked by great gentleness but also marked by great authority.
And again you can see where this is leading because who has more authority than Jesus? He’s not just a man chosen among men; he’s the Son of Man come into the world to live among men, so he has unbelievable authority. He runs the universe.
And who has more sympathy than Jesus because he didn’t just experience temptation, he went to the very limit of temptation, and therefore he knows exactly what it is like to go to the limits of temptation, but he didn’t give in to it so he’s got a very soft and sinless heart and therefore he is full of compassion – whereas our sins make us hard and hard-hearted. But his sinlessness makes him soft hearted and sympathetic. And so that’s where of course these verses are leading –
A priest would have sympathy and authority but who better than Jesus and therefore these readers of Hebrews who have turned away from following Jesus and are drifting back to the Old Testament religions (that’s a big danger) are going from the great to the very ordinary – they are leaving what is good, and in a sense they are going back to what is evil.
Now friends, the writer is not critical of Old Testament priests. We mustn’t be negative about Old Testament priests – they were the provision of God, but the writer is critical (listen carefully) of ongoing priests or of people who keep going to priests because priests are finished – they are over – the great Priests Jesus has come, and he is now THE ONE AND ONLY MEDIATOR between God and people. There is no one else in the universe who can mediate between God and people but Jesus. That’s why Paul says in 1 Timothy 2 “there is one mediator between God and man – Christ Jesus”.
And the writer of Hebrews is critical because there are people who still think that those priests who are still operating in his day are doing the job which they are not doing. We need to understand this ‘one mediator’ called Jesus Christ because that’s the only way we will understand salvation.
I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and I’ve noticed that people who still think that they are priests hardly ever understand Christianity. Those people who still think that they are middlemen between God and people just don’t understand Christianity. And sadly people who think that there are priests out there who are middlemen between God and people, they don’t understand Christianity either. It’s so sad because they don’t seem to get it – the light has never come on – they never get the light or the life or the freedom which Christ has come to bring.
But when a person discovers that there is one middleman called Jesus Christ, then Christianity starts to make sense.
And there are many of us here this morning who are Christians – we need to get this more and more because as we get it more and more then we find ourselves being more joyful and being freer whereas Christians who never really grasp what Jesus has done can never really rejoice properly and they can never really grow properly.
The sad thing for so many who keep thinking in terms of reaching God themselves or having church reach God or people reach God is that they never really rest on the achievements of Christ and therefore they never really rest. And they never really come to rest on the sufficiency of Christ and therefore they never really rest or rejoice or grow.
So there’s the first thing we need to notice this morning – the real priest, the Old Testament priest, the now superseded priest had sympathy and authority.
Well now, what makes the perfect priest? This is our second point this morning in verses 5-10. If the Israelite priest had sympathy and authority, Christ, says the writer, had infinitely more and he joins together the two verses – if you look at 5:5 you will see the first and in 5:6 the second.
The first is the quote from Psalm 2 where God says to Jesus “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”. Now literally the verse says ‘you are my son I today have begotten you’. This is a little bit complicated but see if you can stay with it.
What the Father is saying to the Son is something that he has said from eternity to the Son which is that ‘you are my Son’, but of course God got to say it publicly when Jesus was born and then when Jesus was baptized, God said it publicly and when he was transfigured, Jesus said it publicly and when he was glorified, the Father said it publicly.
So time and time again the Father had said to the Son publicly “you are my Son”.
Now the second quote you see in verse 6 which comes from Psalm 110 is where the Father said to the Son “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”. In other words, you are the permanent priest. You are the permanent mediator between God and people.
Now again, see if you can stay with this. God said to the Son your priesthood is not just going back to Aaron and Moses; your priesthood goes all the way back to Melchizedek who is in the time of Abraham. Your priesthood is bigger, and better says the Father to the Son than the priesthood of the Levitical Priesthood – the ritual – the temple – the sacrifices – the altar. Your priesthood, says the Father to Jesus, goes right back to the very beginning.
Melchizedek is a bit of a shadowy character, and we will meet him again in Chapter 7, but all the writer is meaning to say to us here is that there was a man in the Old Testament called Melchizedek, and he was a king, but he was also a priest. He combined the two roles, and nobody else has ever combined the two roles until Jesus.
So there is someone in the Old Testament, Melchizedek who was the King of Salem and many people think that Salem became “Jerusalem” which David conquered and took over to the great city and this Melchizedek figure back in Abraham was the King of the city but he was also the priest of the city, and he combined in himself the kingship and the priesthood – the rule and the salvation and now the writer says – the Father announces that Jesus is the same type of King/Priest. Nobody of course in the Jewish history ever combined king and priest – they were separate – but Jesus combines the two.
So these two quotes which come from two great Psalms emphasise the identity of Jesus – he is the Son of God, but he is also King and Priest. And the solid food of this friends (listen carefully) – there is a point to this, this is not just academic, is that the more you and I think about who Jesus is and what he has done, the more we will be set free to appreciate his salvation and also his present help in our trouble.
So the significance of this is if Jesus is the Ruler of everything and you get this, you won’t so easily panic when things go wrong. And you won’t so easily wonder if life is suddenly out of control because you will have meditated on who he is and you won’t mentally demote him and mentally promote yourself because you have absorbed properly the person and the role of Christ.
And if Jesus is the Saviour of all believers and you get this increasingly, you won’t so easily wonder if he save you and you won’t so easily measure your security by your performance, you will measure it by his performance, and you won’t so easily avoid him, you will find yourself looking to him and leaving the door ajar for his fellowship and his influence.
Now the qualifications of Jesus to be High Priest are set out in verses 7-9, and the first thing we are told is that he went through the absolute pit of suffering (verse 7). “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission”.
Now you don’t send up loud cries and tears unless you are facing something dreadful. Many people, of course, went to their deaths calmly and quietly – what did Jesus offer up loud cries and tears? Well because he was asking the Father to take him through death and judgment. He was facing not just physical crucifixion, but he was facing the cost of our sins. That was terrifying. In fact, it is immeasurable to work out in your mind what it must have been like for Jesus to have the sins of every human sinner piled up on top of him. And Jesus as he faced the future, sent up these loud cries and tears that the Father would bring him through that and he was heard.
The second thing is that he learned obedience. He learned what was involved in being obedient. He didn’t move from being disobedient to obedient. He grasped what was involved in his task. He walked every obedient step in his ministry, and he discovered what it meant to be obedient.
And the third thing we are told in these verses is that he was made perfect. That didn’t mean of course that he was imperfect and became perfect, it means that he was made perfect for the mission, perfect for the role and for the task of saving and now that he has been faithful all the way, he became, says the writer, the source of eternal salvation.
I have a son who is working at a Coffee Shop called “The Source”. Apparently, it’s a great coffee shop! I’ve not, well I’ve visited once but if you visit The Source – called the coffee shop – you will receive coffee! If you visit the source – called Jesus Christ – you receive eternal salvation.
And it is incomparable – these flowers that are around me this morning are left-over from a funeral that we had this week for a lovely lady who had reached the great age of 100. And this particular week we are having another funeral for a lady from the church who had reached 101 so I kind of uniquely stand between these two mighty funerals.
It is the opportunity at the funeral to explain that there is one who has a solution and an answer to the grave and the coffin that we are facing in the building. And yet even as I explain that there is one who is able to take a person through the doors of the grave and give them eternal salvation, you can almost see the people who have come into the funeral just switching off.
And I feel like the writer of Hebrews – I don’t actually know how to do the job of getting them to take seriously the news that he has brought to the world? And yet there is this strange disinterest, isn’t there, in the very thing which is going to answer the grief of the moment. And as the people gather for the afternoon tea or the morning tea after the funeral, there is this strange aversion to talking about this very person who can give eternal salvation and yet you would think, wouldn’t you, that the people would come up afterwards and say “I’m sorry I haven’t really got this, could you just explain – what does it mean that someone can get through the grave and provide eternal salvation – you must tell me about this”.
But instead of interest, there is avoidance and the writer of Hebrews I think understands the difficulty of getting this through to the outsider but also helping the insider appreciate it as we really ought. And I’m in the same category as you – I am asking God, please impact me more with who Christ is and what he has done so that I am set free from looking in all the wrong places for the person who can answer.
And it is a very wonderful thing, isn’t it, that here is a person called Christ who has come into the world and has lived so faithfully and has died so powerfully that he is able to offer not only a solution to our death and our judgment but also in the present when we belong to him, he’s able to give the help that we need for coping and thinking and facing and living – a very, very great gift.
I just want to finish by saying two things, and that is – I don’t think that Christ gives sympathy for our sin. I was reflecting on this and recognising in my self, and you may have this tendency that there is something strange about us who follow Christ that there are times where I think we bring to him an explanation for our sin and not a confession.
Have you not had times where you have been talking to him about a particular way you have behaved or something you have done, and you have found yourself slightly explaining yourself to him?
This is what happened
And you’ll understand why I did this
Because you know I’ve been through a difficult time
This has been quite stressful
Therefore I had to …………..
And I want to suggest to you that Christ does not have sympathy with sin. He does have sympathy with the grief that comes with our sin and he does even perhaps have sympathy with the struggle of our sin but that’s not the same as having sympathy with the sin and therefore we need to confess to him our sin in a very frank and full way in order that he will forgive us in a very full and free way.
But his sympathy as he sees his own servant come to talk to him about the mistakes, the sins, the foolishness is looking for somebody who will confess it frankly so that he can forgive it fully.
Well, I was reading not long ago of a man, a minister, who was visiting a very old man and when he went to visit the old man, he discovered him sitting in a chair in his room and opposite him was an empty seat facing him. He said to the old man ‘why are you sitting facing an empty chair?’
The old man said ‘well many years ago I was having a great struggle in trusting Christ and talking to him and praying to him and I mentioned this to my minister. My minister said you ought to sit in front of you an empty chair and as you sit there to pray, why don’t you imagine that Christ in his greatness and in his goodness is sitting in the chair opposite you? And then speak freely to him as you would speak to a friend and know that he will understand every single part of your life and every single issue that you are going through’.
So the old man said to this visiting minister – this is what I have done for many years, I’ve put a chair in front of me and I have prayed as if I was speaking to a friend in the chair.
Well some weeks later this old man died, and the daughter of the old man went to visit the minister and said ‘my father has just died and I was wondering if you would take the funeral’?
He said ‘yes, I’d be pleased to do that’.
She said ‘you’d be interested to know, you’d be encouraged to know, you’d be pleased to know that he actually died in his chair, his beloved chair and as he died in his beloved chair, he died with his hand on the arm of the opposite chair’.
And that is to understand the Friend, the one who can give help in time of need, King, Priest – perfect combination.
Let’s pray – Father, we thank you this morning for sending to us in the Lord Jesus someone who is great and good – someone who is King and High Priest and we pray that you would impact us more and more with these great truths so that some here would believe and live and many here this morning who do believe and do life would have new joy and new hope and new prayerfulness and new strength.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.