Sermon preached on Hebrews 2:10-18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/22/2018 in Novato, CA.
“Merciful and Faithful High Priest”
It is a well known and accepted truth among Christians that Jesus is our high priest. What you might not know, is that teaching in the New Testament is only explicitly stated in the book of Hebrews. Yes, other New Testament books portray Jesus as a priest. The concept is there, throughout the New Testament. But only Hebrews explicitly states it. And not only does Hebrews state it, it repeatedly states it and it spends a lot of time developing the doctrine. What a wonderful treasure we have here in the book of Hebrews. And here is the first place in Hebrews that it explicitly states it (though it’s also mentioned conceptually from the start in 1:3). Verse 17, Jesus is a merciful and faithful High Priest.
Yet this too, was something the Old Testament promised. If you recall back to 1 and 2 Samuel, the people were having trouble finding good leadership. We often think of those books as how God brings a king in King David and promises through David’s line to raise up the Messiah. But long before, at the very start of 1 Samuel, God first promised to raise up a faithful priest. 1 Samuel 2:35, God says, “Then I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before my anointed forever.” That promise was given in light of the fact that the current priest Eli had failed in his job as priest. Eli’s sons were perverting the office of priest, and God called Eli to account because of it. And so, it was in light of the failure of the priesthood of Eli’s house in those days that God promised to one day raise up a faithful priest that would serve as priest forever. Here then, in Hebrews, Scripture boldly declares to us that the promise has been kept in Jesus. He is the promised high priest. He is the merciful and faithful priest whose priestly service will endure forever.
Let us begin then today thinking about this high priest by considering the incarnation. Our first point will be to see how this passage relates the incarnation to Jesus’ priesthood. In short, this passage says that in order to be a priest for God’s people, he would need to be human. When we think of a priest being a mediator, we can think of the value of him being able to represent both parties. Last chapter already emphasized Jesus’ divine nature from eternity. But here we see his effectiveness as a priest tied to the fact that this eternal one also became human at the incarnation. That uniquely qualifies him as the God-man to be a priest between God and man. Today’s passage focuses on his becoming man in the incarnation.
We see this, for example, in verse 17. Jesus had to be made like his brethren in all things. There it goes on to connect the necessity in order to be our priest. But it’s important to understand that language of “all things”. This is a topic of Christology and the early church had to spend some time wrestling with this in light of heretical views that some people were trying to introduce into the church. For example, in trying to deal with Jesus’ divinity in comparison to his humanity, there were some people that tried to reconcile those at the expense of either his humanity or his divinity. For example, the Docetists said Jesus only appeared human. Later, the Eutychians also denied that Jesus was fully human, claiming that the divine nature absorbed his human nature so that he wasn’t human like the rest of us. Many other wrong views also were advocated. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD produced the definitive statement on this matter, clarifying that the Bible taught that Jesus had both a fully divine nature and a fully human nature, but those two natures were united in his one person. In regard to verse 17 here, the point would be that Jesus’s human nature human in every respect. That is further stated in verse 14 where it talks about Jesus partaking in the same flesh and blood that all humans have. And so, we’d need to go elsewhere, like last chapter, to think more about his divine nature. But here, we get the point made very clearly regarding his humanity. In everything that makes a human truly a human, Jesus became that.
One of the implications of this incarnation is that he has become brothers with us. That theme runs throughout this passage. This especially has in mind the saved people of God, versus simply humanity. Verse 11 clues us in on that, because it speaks of how Jesus is now not ashamed to call them brethren. In contrast, we think of how in Luke 9:26 Jesus says that at his second coming he will be ashamed of those who are not his followers. Similarly, in verse 12, quoting the victorious portion of Psalm 22, speaks of how Jesus ministers in the assembly, among his brethren. That language of declaring God’s name and singing praise in an assembly hints at his priestly role, too, by the way. Verse 17 again mentions that the saved are his brethren. In context, this passage seems to connect his brotherhood with fellow believers with the incarnation. Verse 11 speaks of how both Jesus and the saved are all of one source, they have the same heavenly father. What a blessed and amazing thing to consider that for Jesus to save us, he becomes a priest; and for Jesus to be a priest he becomes human; and for Jesus to become human, he very much becomes family, even in the human sort of sense. Jesus is delighted to call us who are saved his family; his brethren, of the same flesh and blood; whom he leads us together into worship and fellowship with the glorious God of heaven and earth!
So that’s our first point to see here the incarnation, especially as it relates to Jesus being our High Priest. Now let’s turn in our second point to think about the suffering that is described here for Jesus. His suffering is also related to the incarnation, of course. He would not have been able to suffer like this, unless he became human. But the suffering of Jesus is also put here in terms of his priesthood. Look there starting in verse 10. It speaks there of Jesus being perfected by his sufferings. What does that mean? Despite alternative interpretations, I’ve been convinced by the scholarship that says it’s a reference to Jesus being ordained as a priest. I think a better translation is that he was ordained through suffering. Hebrews clearly quotes from the Greek LXX when quoting the Old Testament. Well, the Greek word used here for “perfected” is the same word used a number of times in the Old Testament in translating a Hebrew idiom for “filling the hands.” That Hebrew idiom referred to the ordination or consecration of someone to the priesthood. That sense is further suggested by the next verse which speaks of Jesus being the sanctifier of those he sanctifies. That’s also priestly language, since priests sanctify, consecrate, things. And so, we see this same Greek word “perfecting”, for example, in Exodus 29 in the LXX. That’s the passage which speaks of the process of how to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests under the old covenant. There, the ceremony included anointing them with oil as well as giving offerings, including a sin offering. This set them apart as holy unto the Lord for their sacred work as priests. Exodus 29:9, using this same word in the Greek, says, “Thus you shall ordain (or some translations: consecrate) Aaron and his sons.” Later in Exodus 29:33 it pairs this idiom next to the word for consecration, equating the two.
Well, there is no record of Jesus going through such a ceremony like Aaron and his sons did. Nor would he need to, because was not being made a Levitical priest under the old covenant. We’ll consider more on that later in Hebrews, where we see that Jesus was of a different order of priests. Certainly, there wouldn’t need to be a sin offering for Jesus to be ordained as a priest, at least for himself, since he had committed no sin. Yet, Hebrews here says in verse 10 that there was a way that Jesus was consecrated or ordained into this ministry as priest. It was through his sufferings. His anointing as priest was the anointing of his sufferings! Jesus goes from heaven to earth, from his divine exaltation to the humiliation of becoming man, in order to be our priest. God then ordains him to this work as priest by his sufferings. That’s an amazing thought presented here in Hebrews.
What sufferings did Jesus endure while he was here on earth? Well, certainly various sorts. We can think of all the sufferings in general that belong to mankind, in our flesh and blood. But the text lists a few specific ones. In verse 18, it speaks of the suffering Jesus experienced in temptation. We know how troublesome our temptations are. We can think of sometimes how we suffer as we are afflicted with temptations by Satan, the world, and our own flesh. We might sometimes mistakenly think that such temptations were easy for Jesus to overcome, where for us they are a great burden. Yet, verse 18 says that Jesus suffered in his being tempted!
Another aspect of Jesus’ sufferings is in how he had to endure so much opposition and persecution. Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Those spiritual leaders who should have been first to welcome and receive him were his most ardent persecutors. This is acknowledged in what is quoted in verse 13. There are two quotes here, both going back to Isaiah 8. Spoken originally by Isaiah, but now applied as words of Jesus: “I will put My trust in Him,” and “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” This should cause a student of the Bible to go back to the context of the Isaiah passage to help understand the purpose of the quote. Well, when you go back to Isaiah 8, certainly suffering comes to mind. There, Isaiah realizes how few people have received his prophetic words. Largely, the people in Isaiah’s day had rejected the Word from the Lord that he brought. So, in response Isaiah says that he will trust in God. He’ll wait patiently for these words from God to be fulfilled. In the meantime, Isaiah and his children will make up a remnant, and serve as witnesses against the rest of unbelieving Israel. Well, that very much describes Jesus’ earthly ministry. He and his few disciples stood as witnesses to so many in Israel that at first rejected Christ and the Word from heaven that he brought.
Of course, when we think of Christ’s sufferings, we ultimately think of the cross. That’s chief in mind here too in this passage. Verse 14 highlights his death. It connects it with his incarnation. It certainly is the peak of his suffering. And as we’ll go on later to read in Hebrews, it’s the climax of his priestly service. And so, when we think of Jesus being ordained by suffering as a priest, we should especially think of the cross. There, he’s particularly consecrated as priest, with an offering, with a sacrifice for sin. There, his blood is shed that consecrates him as priest while doing his chief act as priest, presenting himself as a sacrifice for his people; his brethren!
This leads us then to our third point for today, to consider the aid Jesus gives us as a merciful and faithful high priest. This is really the great news for us in this passage. Verse 16 tells us who benefits from his priestly service. It’s not for angels that he gives aid, but for the seed of Abraham, for these brethren that he has become like in order to save! Surely that includes all, Jew or Gentile, who’ve become a child of Abraham through faith in Jesus. Or to say it another way, his aid is for those sons he brings to glory, verse 10.
So let’s think about the kind of aid Jesus brings us his people. Several things are mentioned here, but let’s begin in verse 10 with the big picture. There, Jesus’ aid is described as he being the captain of our salvation. That word “captain” is a hard one to translate in context here. It’s a word about someone causing something to begin. Various possibilities have been suggested here in addition to captain such as: author, founder, pioneer, pathfinder. Regardless of the best word, notice the imagery in this verse which conveys what this word is describing. It says that Jesus brings many sons to glory. The idea is that Jesus leads those sons into glory; think almost like follow the leader. Jesus leads the people he is saving into that salvation. He leads them along the way of salvation into glory. And so, whether you call him a captain or a pioneer or an author, don’t miss that imagery of him leading the way with you following behind. When we again think of that in light of this theme of a priest, that makes a lot of sense. Given our history of sin, would you want to walk first through the door of heaven into the presence of God the righteous judge? I’d want Jesus my priest to walk in first! I’d want to follow him! He’s my advocate as my priest! Well, verse 10 talks about the aid he gives us first with this sort of colorful language. Jesus paves the way into glory for us and we follow along.
The next benefit or aid Jesus gives us is described in verse 10. The translation says that Jesus is the sanctifier who sanctifies us. To clarify, I don’t think this so much refers to what we talk about under the heading of sanctification. When we talk about sanctification in doctrine class, we are talking about the ongoing and progressive renewal that God brings believers throughout their life and finished in heaven. But here, this seems to be more the idea of the priest’s work to consecrate us; to set us apart as holy unto the Lord. Sometimes this gets referred to as definitive sanctification, in that it’s something already happened for Christians. Hebrews 10:29 speaks in similar terms when it says that it was Christ’s blood that has already sanctified us. Similarly, verse 17 here speaks of the propitiation Jesus made for our sins; as priest he gave himself as that sacrifice to make us clean and holy before God. The analogy from the Old Testament is all the ceremonial laws and when either someone became ceremonially unclean, or there was a sin to deal with, there were often priestly rituals and sacrifices by which the priest could restore their ceremonial cleanliness or deal with the sin via sacrifice, so that they could again worship God in holiness. This is what Jesus as our high priest does: he’s a sanctifier; a consecrator. In his priestly duty he consecrates us his people and qualifies us to come in holiness before the All Holy God.
Another chief benefit and aid that Jesus brings us is there in verse 14. He came to destroy the devil. 1 John 3:8 also says the same thing. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. We see one aspect of this in terms of death. It describes how Satan would wield the power of death. That’s an interesting statement because we know that death on the one hand is the just judgment of God. Yet, Satan nonetheless has wielded that over us. He’s gotten us to sin and therefore has brought us into death. That’s what we see from the very beginning and he has continued that ever since. Not only that, but we see the bondage this death has brought to mankind, even while we are alive on earth. Satan would manipulate this too for his evil ends. Ever since death became a reality for mankind, we have feared it. It hangs over us, always threatening us. But verse 14 says that Jesus releases us from this lifelong fear of death. Death loses its sting over the Christian because we are assured that to die means that we depart to go to be with Christ in paradise.
Well, so far, we’ve covered the biggest benefits of being in Christ, but there is one more mentioned here. It’s in the last verse. Verse 18 says that Christ helps us even now in our daily, ongoing temptations. Because he has gone through all these temptations, he can understand our struggles and all the more help us. He gives that help inwardly by his Spirit, which can encourage us, and convict us, and grow us. He also helps us in our struggles here and now by his priestly intercession that he does for us before the Father in heaven, Romans 8:33.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, be encouraged amidst the challenges of this life. I think of that quote from Isaiah in verse 14. Today, too, there are times where we might seem all alone as followers of Christ in this world. But remember that you do not stand in this world alone. Be encouraged that you have a merciful and faithful High Priest! He has been faithful to carry out the Father’s plan of redemption so that you can be saved by faith in his name. He has been and still is merciful to us in all this aid he gives us. He will faithfully continue to show such mercy and aid to us.
Having such a high priest, may we say with Jesus, that we put our trust in the Lord. I’m referring to the quote there in verse 13, that Isaiah and then Jesus said, “I will put my trust in Him.” Let us say that today, along with Jesus and all the saints that have gone before us. I will put my trust in God. Trust firmly in him no matter the sufferings and temptations and persecutions that come in this life. For you have such a faithful and merciful high priest who has saved you and is continuing to aid you, until that final day when he ushers you through that doorway into glory. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.