A Priest Like You

The Gospels tell us that Jesus is God himself become man. In Hebrews 2:17, the author emphasizes Christ as high priest. For Jesus to be your effective, perfect high priest, he needs to be truly human.

Understand how merciful your high priest is. Christ had to be made truly human. He had to become truly human to be your Savior. Christ is not an extra-terrestrial visiting earth. The focus here is on his identity with you in your experience. He knows your temptations, sufferings, and problems. He knows the temptation that proceeds from suffering, thus he is able to help you when you are tempted. He was a child, a teenager, a young adult. As a red-blooded Jewish teenager, he faced the temptations that young Americans face. Is there any teenage girl who has not struggled with questions about identity, acceptance, and rejection? He understands, because he grew to understand that he was here to do his Father’s will, and that involved being rejected even by those who were close to him. He experienced abandonment, helplessness, and suffering that sometimes come with aging. Yet in all of this he never sinned. Thus he delivers from the devil and the fear of death, vv. 14,15. Notice that Hebrews does not tell you that as the almighty, eternal Son of God Christ defeated Satan. His victory over Satan came as he took upon himself your humanity, as he entered your weakness, as he suffered here on earth, culminating in his sacrificial death. In that weakness is his victory–and yours. No foe is too powerful for him, or for you, as you rest in him.

“May everything become insufficient for you except the only Mediator who took upon Himself our flesh and has become a man who came forth from man, like unto His brethren in all things, sin excepted. He bowed down so low that He became poor to make poor people rich.”

G. H. Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism, p. 191

Think about his office. Christ is your high priest. Hebrews distinguishes between priest and high priest, 9:6,7. Christ is the greatest priest, the fulfillment of the Old Testament priests. Like the Old Testament priests, his work is done out of the view of the people, something that adds to his glory. The readers (and we tend to be like them) wanted to walk by sight, rather than by faith. He is the merciful high priest. (Mercy is undeserved favor.) The focus of “merciful” is his heavenly intercession, 4:14-16. Jesus did not stop being human when he ascended into heaven. Don’t let the importance of the priest’s sacrificial ritual make you overlook his intercessory work. As you wrestle with discouragement and doubt, he is praying for you right now. He is faithful. He endured to the end without faltering. He is loyal to God and trustworthy to his people. He may not be visible, but he is worthy of your trust.

“We have a perfect high priest, one who learned obedience, who perfected himself, who became like us, who can have compassion with us, who once for all offered himself through the eternal Spirit, but who in that way also secured the right to sit at the right hand of God. He is a high priest who, like Melchizedek, is at the same time king, king of righteousness and king of peace, a eternal, spiritual, and heavenly king; a high priest who acquired, possesses, and distributes the heavenly goods to come, who can appear in heaven before the face of God for our benefit, pray for us, and save us completely (7:25; 9:24). And this describes the priestly activity that Christ still performs even now.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 478

Trust the mediator who made propitiation for your sins. Christ works in service to God. He is concerned with “the things pertaining to God,” or “matters for which you are responsible to God,” ( as F. F. Bruce writes). Prominent among these priestly matters is sin. We may think of sin as that which makes us feel guilty. And it is appropriate to focus on that (true) experience of guilt to point people to Christ. We also think of sin as damaging relationships, both with God and with those around us. Again, there is an appropriate place for confessing and dealing with that brokenness as you repent both to God an your sinned-against neighbor and turn to the Lord. But you have missed the heart of what sin is unless you see it as being first of all an offense against God. How can the perfectly holy God tolerate sinners like you and me? How can God be just and still save us?

Christ’s work is making propitiation. Christ propitiates God’s anger. “Propitiation” is a better translation than “atonement.” The term translates the Hebrew verbs “to atone,” and “cover.” It has in view the satisfaction of God’s holy wrath against our sin. Propitiation does not involve a contradiction or conflict within the Godhead. “To love” and “to be propitious” are not identical. God’s wrath is not turned into love, 1 John 4:10. Propitiation enhances God’s love, Romans 3:25,26. Propitiation is accomplished by Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and his high priestly intercession. The atonement satisfies God’s holy wrath. Christ’s sacrifice is the propitiation offered once-for-all, 1 John 2:1,2. Thus he can be a merciful priest.

“But what does propitiation mean? In the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is expressed by a word which means to “cover.”… Sin creates a situation in relation to the Lord, a situ­ation that makes the covering necessary. It is this Godward reference of both the sin and the covering that must be fully ap­preciated. It may be said that the sin, or perhaps the person who has sinned, is covered before the sight of the Lord.

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 30

Christ did this for you, his people. He accomplished the salvation of his own. He did not merely open the door, but God’s wrath is gone as far as Christ’s brothers are concerned! Do you live in doubt? Do you find yourself asking yourself again and again, do I really belong to Christ? Am I a Christian? Hebrews shifts your gaze from yourself to your Mediator. You are part of his people. Salvation is not merely of individuals (though each of you needs to trust–you don’t enter heaven on your parents coat tails), but of a body. Yes, he died and rose for me, specifically, and for you, specifically–not just for an anonymous mass of people. But he did that for us as his people. The baptism which sealed your union Christ marked you also as being his body. You are the people for whom he made propitiation. You are the people for whom he intercedes. You are the people who together worship and serve him. You are his people by grace, through faith in the Lord.

You are going to face temptation this week. Don’t depend on your own determination to overcome it. Rather, look to the Savior who was tempted just like ou, and was without sin. You may face doubt, discouragement, and depression.. Turn to the God who became man to accomplish your salvation and who, continuing as the God-man, intercedes for you.