Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jesus as High Priest

There are many aspects to the Lord's personality, aspects we have been given through His grace to explore for all eternity. We will never learn all there is to learn about Him, because He is infinite, but the glory will be in the journey, drawing ever closer to Him.

The Christmas season rightly focuses attention to Him as savior, the babe born of a virgin and who lived a sinless life, died as the sacrifice to satisfy God's Holy righteousness and fulfill the sin-debt that must be paid. We usually focus on Him as Savior, friend, father, and occasionally as judge. But there is another aspect to Him that I would like to explore today: Priest.

David refers to the coming Messiah as a priest on the order of Melchizedek. "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind. You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." (Ps 110:4)

Caption: (Cf. Gen 14:18-20). Here the mysterious figure of Melchizedek (Cf. Heb 7:3), depicted as prophet, priest and king, goes out to meet Abraham after his return from the latter’s defeat of his enemies and offers a sacrifice of bread and wine on his behalf. Melchizedek prefigures the person of Christ who, similarly shrouded in mystery, enjoys the three-fold status of priest, prophet and king and will also offer a similar sacrifice of bread and wine become his Body and Blood for us all." Source

Who was Melchizedek and why is his Order considered higher than Aaron's, the first High Priest of the Levites? We read of Melchizedek when he meets with Abraham in Genesis. He is an actual King and an actual Priest, living and walking on the earth in Abraham's day. "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." He gave him a tenth of all." (Gen 14:18-20).  The city of Salem was later known as Jerusalem.

As a side note, Talmudic tradition (not bible) indicates that the research of famed medieval French rabbi, Shlomo Yitzhaki (February 22, 1040 – July 13, 1105), better known by the acronym Rashi, and who was the author of the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), and is considered the "father" of all commentaries that followed on the Talmud, explains that the High Priest known as "Melchizedek" who received tithes from Abraham after he defeated the four kings in battle, was Shem, the righteous son of Noah. Tradition is not inspired word of God, so we can't know for sure, but in the end God knows who Melchizedek is.

In Hebrews 7:3 we read again of Melchizedek, and notice that there is an omission. Usually, especially in the Old Testament, people are introduced to the reader by their genealogy. "So-and-so who was the son of so-and-so and father of..." But it is specifically noted that Melchizedek has no genealogy, so we wonder how Rashi learned of Melchizedek's lineage. In any case, the personage of Melchizedek is certainly righteous, for no other reason that Jesus is High Priest in that Order. Anyway, the story of the meeting with Abraham is repeated in Hebrews, and introduced this way:

'Melchizedek's Priesthood Like Christ's'
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually." (Heb 7:1-3).

Melchizedek is referred to again in Hebrews 5:6-10; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:1-21: "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek"; and Hebrews 8:1. From his initial introduction at the meeting with Abraham it was another thousand years until David mentioned him and another thousand again until the writer of Hebrews mentioned him, and then Melchizedek disappears from the biblical record. But the notion of Jesus as Priest does not.

High Priests of the Temple died and their office was given to the son. But Jesus is perpetual and His office of High Priest will never die. High Priests in the temple managed the sacrifices, which were daily. Thousands upon thousands of lambs and other animals were killed, blood ran by the buckets all day every day, but Jesus is the once for all sacrifice. He IS our High Priest, forever. "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;" (Hebrews 3:1-3)

So what does a High Priest do? They were compassionate about sins, being human themselves. They participated in the sacrificial system, managing others' sacrifices. Yet being human, they also had to sacrifice on behalf of their own sins. They represented humans before God.

In Revelation 1:6 we read that we are made to be Kings and Priests. "and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father--to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." Again, in Rev. 5:9b-10 we read that "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Peter reveals that we as believers are part of a royal priesthood:

"you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ... But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Pet 2:5,9). Matthew Henry writes:

"All true believers are a holy priesthood; sacred to God, serviceable to others, endowed with heavenly gifts and graces. But the most spiritual sacrifices of the best in prayer and praise are not acceptable, except through Jesus Christ. Christ is the chief Corner-stone, that unites the whole number of believers into one everlasting temple, and bears the weight of the whole fabric. Elected, or chosen, for a foundation that is everlasting."

What Grace! What Mercy! He as the Chief Cornerstone as High Priest, elects His priests and unites us in a priesthood to serve Him! We are called privileged and we are. Our duties today and forever are to offer up spiritual sacrifices to Him the Most High. Is this a good gift in your eyes? Better than an X-box or a bike or a diamond bracelet? It is a tremendous gift to be called to a royal priesthood serving the High Priest in heaven. It is a high calling. Are you living a holy life worthy of Him and making spiritual sacrifices so His name is magnified? I am rejoicing! I am singing His praises!

As you ponder the mysteries of His very Being this Christmas season, ponder Him as high Priest representing us before God. What a blessed Gift to be able to serve for Him and with him!

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