High Priest

by Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson

Sometimes—especially in the United States—people will unintentionally invade our private space just a little by asking, “Do you have a life verse?” We understand what they mean: “Is there a text in Scripture that has been a guide to you throughout the whole of your Christian life?”

Some people seem so bold in asking us this question that in whimsical moments we imagine them breaking through the crowds going straight up to the apostle Paul and asking, “So, Paul, do you have a life verse?”

I count everything as lossWould he say, do you think, “Haven’t you read my letters?” Perhaps the verse that comes nearest to Paul’s “life verse” is Philippians 3:8:

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

In simple terms he says, “I want to know Christ.”

That was not merely a personal testimony. For Paul assumes this should be the life testimony of every Christian. He goes on to say:

Every one of you who thinks about himself as a mature Christian should think this way. And if you think otherwise, then God will lead you back to this by his grace.1

This is the conviction that drives each of these chapters. So, having seen what is involved in Christ being prophet, we now turn to reflect on what it means to have him as our priest.

“Priest” is the only title given to Jesus that that has virtually an entire book of the New Testament devoted to explaining it—the letter to the Hebrews.

Hebrews is an anonymous letter. Its author describes it as a brief word of encouragement or exhortation.2 Central to this encouragement is his exhortation to “Consider Jesus,”3 to be “looking to Jesus”4—and especially to see him as our high priest.

Facing Trials

Why was that important to these Hebrews? They had experienced the same trials as Paul did when he became a Christian.

First, they would have been disinherited. They “suffered the loss of all things.”5 That must have been the fate of many Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Still today when a member of a strict orthodox Jewish family becomes a Christian, he or she may be literally disinherited.

So, clearly, many of these young Christians had suffered great material privation as the result of their faith in Christ.6 Not only were they personally disinherited, but they were both socially and spiritually excommunicated.

Put yourself in their shoes. You are a solid, law-abiding citizen of Memphis, or Columbia, or Cleveland, or Edinburgh, or London—or wherever. But because of your commitment to Jesus Christ, you are disinherited. What automatically follows? You become persona non grata in all the societies, clubs, networks, social friendships (and children’s schools!) that have made up the fabric of your life. All that is now closed to you. You are excommunicated from family and society.

But in addition there is the place of worship you attended from childhood. Its people, services, ceremonies, songs, liturgy, and all its activities were all deeply ingrained in your life. Only now, when you are no longer there, do you realize the extent to which these things defined your identity. But now you are no longer welcome there. That church—still standing there as a reminder of the community that reared you and the identity you once had as part of it—is one you are no longer a part of. Instead you now meet with a number of others in the sitting room of a friend. All the things you used to enjoy—once so “meaningful” to you—rituals, officiating ministers, liturgies, music, worship ensembles, large crowds, special days of celebration—they are all gone. Now you meet in someone’s house, and they don’t even have a piano!

That was the situation of the first readers of Hebrews. No longer was their worship marked by the grandeur of the temple, the mass choir, the special moments. No longer did they catch sight of the high priest—the only man who, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to enter the sacred room to seek God’s forgiveness for the people. No longer do they wait for him to reappear and raise his hands in the historic words of the Aaronic blessing, assuring them of the Lord’s benediction and his peace because “there is forgiveness with him.” That visible sense that their sins had once again been covered and that the face of God was smiling upon them as his covenant people—it is all gone, never to return unless…

Tempted to Go Back

Unless what? Unless they go back. Some of them were tempted to go back.

Perhaps you are in a church that the whole congregation loves deeply, where the worship is God-centered, the preaching biblical, the fellowship caring, the vision for world missions strong, and the spiritual needs of the flock met. You have had dear friends whose company moved them to another location. They look for a new church home. But whenever you speak on the phone with them and ask how they are doing they say, “Fine, except . . . oh, if only we could be back again in our old church; we just can’t find anything like it here!”

That was the situation for the first readers of Hebrews. In former days they could see and touch and even smell the worship services—the great company of people, the music, all of the glorious aspects of Old Testament worship that God had given. Now it was all gone. Was it all gone –for nothing?

What was the answer? How could the author of Hebrews write anything to encourage them in this situation? His response is to say:

Don’t turn back. If you are tempted to it, then you have been looking in the wrong direction. You have been seeing things from the wrong perspective! You are not looking far enough! You’re not seeing clearly enough! Don’t you see what is really important? Get your eyes off buildings and liturgies and crowds and music. Fix your eyes on Jesus!

1 – See Phil. 3:15.
Heb. 13:22.
Heb. 3:1.
Heb. 12:2.
Phil. 3:8.
Heb. 10:32–34.

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Name Above All Names

Name above All Names
Copyright © 2013 by Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson
Published by Crossway

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Filed under: Spiritual Growth