The book of Hebrews has emphasized the work of Jesus Christ as a prophet, the Son who is the final, definitive revelation of God. Now, in Hebrews 2:17, the author shifts to talking of Christ as high priest.
Understand how merciful your high priest is. Christ had to be made like you. He had to become truly human to be your Savior. Christ is not an extra-terrestrial visiting earth. 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. 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, verses 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.
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. 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.
Trust the mediator who made propitiation for your sins. Christ works in service to God. He is concerned with “the things pertaining to God.” 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.” 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. John Murray writes: “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. (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. “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).
You are going to face temptation this week. Don’t depend on your own determination to conquer. Don’t trust some self-developed system for improving holiness. Rather, look to the Savior who was tempted just like you, and was without sin. You may face doubt, discouragement, and depression this week. It may flow from circumstances around you, or it may come from the realization that once again you have failed your Lord. Turn to the God who became man to accomplish your salvation, and who, continuing as the incarnate God-man, intercedes for you.