“Christ, Our Great High Priest” (Hebrews 7:23-28)

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 24, 2021

“Christ, Our Great High Priest” (Hebrews 7:23-28)

For a number of weeks now, our Epistle readings have come from the Book of Hebrews. And throughout these readings, Hebrews has been making this major point: All the worship practices of Old Testament Israel, all its religious institutions, were pointing ahead to, and have been fulfilled by, Jesus Christ. The Sabbath rest, the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the priesthood–all these have been fulfilled in an even greater way by Christ.

Take the priesthood, for example, and the office of the high priest, in particular. Our recent readings from Hebrews have made the point that Jesus now is our great high priest. Hebrews 2 told us that Jesus came in order to be “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 4 said that “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.” And so now today, when we come to Hebrews 7, we continue along those same lines, under the theme, “Christ, Our Great High Priest.”

Our text begins: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Christ] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”

“The former priests,” it says. Now since none of us here were around back when Israel had priests, I suppose I should begin by explaining who they were. The “former priests” were those of the Levitical priesthood, that is, from the tribe of Levi and descended from Aaron. The Lord God had established the priesthood for Israel at Mount Sinai, appointing Aaron, the brother of Moses, to be the first high priest. All the subsequent priests were descended from Aaron, and out of all the priests, one of them at any given time would serve as the high priest.

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office.” Now this seems pretty obvious, since once they died, that would be the end of their priestly service. But what Hebrews is doing is setting up a contrast between those many former priests and the one great high priest we have now, namely, Jesus Christ. Our text says: “but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Christ has a permanent priesthood, because he has overcome death. Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever. Therefore, he still holds his priestly office.

By the way, Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi. He was not descended from Aaron. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. He was descended from King David. So Jesus has a unique, one-of-a-kind priesthood. He is a special priest, our great high priest, set apart to do a work only he could do.

Our text continues: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” This is the work only Christ could do, that is, to save us. He is able to save to the uttermost–completely, to the nth degree–Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him. Jesus is able to save to the farthest reaches of lost sinners. Jesus is able to save you, and he has.

Through Christ, we are able to draw near to God. Without him, we could not do this. Our sins would separate us from God. We were alienated from God. But now in Christ we have been brought near, we have been reconciled back to God. And this happens only through Christ. “No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus says. But through him, we do have access to God’s throne of grace. Just as only the high priest of old could enter through the curtain into the Holy of Holies, now Christ our great high priest has entered in, and he has opened the way for us to draw near to God.

And Jesus is still serving as the high priest for sinners, since, as our text says, “he always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus still today, right now, is acting as our high priest. Having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, Jesus right now is standing at the heavenly altar, and he is praying for you. He is interceding for you. When you are in danger or in need, Jesus is praying for you. When you stumble and fall in your Christian walk, Jesus is praying for you. He’s saying: “Father, do not hold this sin against them. Look, here is the blood I shed to atone for their sins. Forgive them, Father. Restore them to the right path.” Yes, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for you, and this is of great comfort!

Hebrews continues: “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

Christ, our great high priest, is far superior to those high priests of old. They were sinful men. Jesus is without sin, holy, innocent, and unstained. Those priests had to offer up sacrifices first for their own sins, before they got to the sins of the people. Jesus had no sins of his own that needed forgiving. Those priests had to offer up sacrifices daily, weekly, year after year, showing that the blood of bulls and goats could never really, fully, take away sins. The sacrifices those priests made pointed ahead to the once-and-for-all sacrifice Christ would make. Jesus only had to offer up one sacrifice, and it was enough to cover all the sins of all men everywhere, in all times and places.

What was this most powerful sacrifice that Jesus offered up, a sacrifice strong enough to atone for all the sins of mankind? Our text tells us: “he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” Jesus is both the priest and the sacrifice! Christ is our great high priest, and at the same time he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus offered up himself on the altar of the cross. He gave his body into death, so that we might have life. He shed his holy precious blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And now, here at this altar, Jesus invites us to draw near and partake of his very body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. What a high priest we have!

Our text concludes: “For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” The law of Moses appointed Aaron and his sons to serve as high priests for Israel. But they were weak and sinful men. And their time has come and gone. Far greater, God has sworn with an oath and appointed his own Son to serve as the great and perfect high priest for all people, forever. As was prophesied of Christ in Psalm 110: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” Like mysterious Melchizedek, who predated the Levitical priesthood, Jesus has a unique priesthood. All those priests of old served their purpose. But now they’ve given way to the final, forever priesthood of the great high priest, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Take comfort in this today, dear friends: You have a great high priest serving on your behalf. He has a permanent priesthood, because he has overcome death and now lives forever. Your high priest is able to save you to the uttermost, completely, to the nth degree. Through him, through Christ, though formerly your sins kept you from God, now you are able to draw near to God and his throne of grace for mercy and help in time of need. On top of this, Christ your high priest in heaven ever lives to make intercession for you. Jesus is praying for you, and he knows exactly what you need.

Your great high priest has offered up the perfect sacrifice on your behalf: It is Christ himself. He, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, made atonement for your sins by his death on the cross. Jesus will never fail you. He is God’s own Son, your perfect high priest with a permanent priesthood. Therefore, today at this altar:

Draw near and take the body of the Lord,
And drink the holy blood for you outpoured;
Offered was He for greatest and for least,
Himself the victim and Himself the priest.

Published in: on October 23, 2021 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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