By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER V
"Deep down in the heart of men there is a strong and instinctive demand for a priest, to be daysman and mediator, to lay one hand on man, and the other on God; and to go between both."1 So writes F. B. Meyer.
This majestic subject of the priesthood of Christ has already been introduced to us in the fourth chapter of Hebrews. Jesus has passed into the heavens and yet is intimately involved in our earthly needs and concerns. What a glorious proclamation! No wonder the writer calls Jesus a GREAT High Priest. For Jesus to enjoy the splendour of heaven's glory, the grandeur of heaven's delights and the rich fellowship of the Father and Holy Spirit; and yet "be touched with the feelings of our infirmities", is a miracle of love and wonder indeed.
My heart melts before my great High Priest as I worship Him. He knows the feebleness of my frame. He knows the limitations of my mind and insight. He sees my leaning side and knows where I need support. All of this has touched the Lord. It has called forth a "fellow-feeling"2 as Strong suggests in his explanations of the Greek. Christ has been through this realm of humanity and well He understands what it means to be a man. He was very God and very man. Now I can come to Him for help. Ralph Earle helps us with this explanation: "The Greek word for 'help'
(v.16) suggests 'running at the cry of'. When we cry out in any time of need, our great High Priest comes quickly to help us 'in the nick of time'."3 Thank God for "nick of time help"!
The Psalmist sang of God's "tender mercies". These are mercies that are easily bent in our direction. What glorious offers are made to us in the opening parts of this discussion of Christ's priestly role. How could anyone contemplate turning their back on such a One? Judaism's priests and ceremonies are but cold shadows since the glorious "Sun" has come.
I. The Duties of Priests (5:1-3)
In the Old Testament setting, priests, though they belonged to the tribe of Levi, were actually only part of the rank and file of humanity. They possessed no magic or supernatural characteristics. They were "taken from among men" and were "compassed with infirmity". Thus their duty was to represent men to God, offer gifts and sacrifices before the Lord and deal compassionately with the ignorant and wayward. Readily we can see that Christ has more than filled these duties when He offered Himself as the Supreme sacrifice for sinners. Gentleness and compassion seemed to be the hallmark of His ministry. Ralph Earle makes the following interesting observation for us:
"Twelve times in the Synoptic Gospels we are told that He was moved with compassion or had compassion on the people. But since the verb is in the aorist tense in ten of the twelve instances it may well be translated: 'He was gripped with compassion'. This was Jesus' instant reaction to human need whenever He found it. And we may be sure that He still reacts and responds in exactly the same way today. As our compassionate High Priest, he feels gently towards us in all our trials and tribulations."4
The earthly priest, because he too came to God as a sinner, had to offer sacrifices for his own sin. His position and role looked forward to a greater Priest who would come "without sin" (4:15). When Jesus died for mankind, not one drop of His blood was shed for His own sin. He was sinless. Never had an evil passion risen within His bosom. Never had He felt the movement of the sinful nature within His heart. Not once had a thought of sinful lust been savoured in His mind as a sweet morsel. Not once had a word crossed the threshold of His mouth that brought the frowning disapproval of His Heavenly Father. Never had His hands been involved in a crime of any sort or magnitude. He did not bear the nature of sin and He had never committed an act of sin. Without argument, the Priesthood of Christ far surpassed the priesthood of Aaron.
II. The Call of the Priest (5:4-6)
The call to the priesthood was a noble and honourable calling. It was certainly not to be considered lightly or approached carelessly. Aaron had been "called by God" to fill this place. However, as we have already noticed, Aaron was chosen out of the rank and file of common man.
Our great High Priest bears two distinctions. First, He was not set apart out of the run of common, sinful humanity. He is God Himself. He is the surpassing One of the earlier chapters. Second, He too has been called by God. This call is of fathomless magnitude. We must note first that it was received from the very One who had declared that Jesus was His Son. Also, we learn that this call did not have a time limit on it for Christ has been made a Priest "forever".
III. The Sufferings of Our Priest (5:7-10)
One can scarcely read these verses without being pressed by a moving reverence and a holy awe. Again, Mr. Earle notes that though the book of Hebrews "expresses in the strongest possible terms the deity of Jesus", it "also states most startlingly the full extent of His humanity. Christ was no actor on the stage of life; He lived life in all its terrible, tragic reality."5 Can we not feel with Jesus, at least in a small, small way, the emotions of Gethsemane and the pangs of Calvary? Without doubt, we are far too limited to grasp a fraction of Christ's vicarious suffering. Yet, can we call ourselves Christians and partake of the Lord's Supper with no appreciation for the toll of sin's weight, the horror of sin's grief and the agony of God's separation? Read verse seven again. What a list of freighted words: prayers, supplications, strong crying, tears, death and feared.
This whole heart-rending passion was for the help and salvation of unlovely humanity. By it Jesus has become the author, or "cause"6 as Adam Clarke states it, of our salvation.
Thank God for an eternal, gentle, accessible, approved High Priest who has dealt with both our sinful record and our deep-seated sin nature.
As one reads through this fifth chapter, the swing of mood and the change of attention is most dramatic. It is almost as if the spiritual condition and the danger of these Hebrews grips the writer's heart afresh when he realizes that, due to their immaturity and spiritual stagnation, he cannot progress with the subject at hand as he would like. He is moved to warn, to startle and to plead with them that they might be awakened from their sleepy state.
I. Cold Molasses (5:11)
These Hebrew Christians are described as being dull of hearing. The word "dull" suggests slow, lazy sluggishness. Even when they hear truth, they are like cold molasses in their response. The word translated "dull" comes from another Greek word meaning "illegitimate". In their spiritual stupor, these people act as if what they have been taught does not apply to them; as if they have no rightful privilege to what they are hearing.
Mr. Clarke says, "Your souls do not keep pace with the doctrines and exhortations delivered to you". He goes on to describe them as people who "have the road laid down plainly before them, how to proceed specified, and the blessings to be obtained enumerated, and yet make no exertions to get on, but are alway learning, and never able to come to the full knowledge of the truth."7
In an age when any amount of spirituality is supposedly enough, how careful we must be not to lay off the oars of spiritual pursuit and drift in the cold of a sluggish spirit. We are in danger of contenting ourselves with the mechanics of religion without a growing, vital relationship blossoming in our souls. How many plainly see their own glaring deficiencies, their anemic love for God, their haphazard fervour and yet continue in their dull condition. All the while, worldly priorities claim a greater hold and a stronger grip. Prayer meeting attendance drops off and soon they are missing from the Sunday evening service as well. A flippant, careless attitude is soon to overtake them as they grow increasingly calloused to truth and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They act as if they have all eternity to seek a pure heart and the blessed infilling of the Holy Spirit. They seem not to sense the dangers of the nature on board!
It is the very nature of the carnal principle to postpone and procrastinate its own death blow. Thus, its very presence breeds a dull, sluggish attitude. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks if we should continue in "the sin" (as the original states it) in order that there might be an abounding of grace. The answer is a resounding negative. There is no need to postpone the crucifixion of this body of sin and go on carrying an unnecessary weight and hinderance with us.
May the hunger for cleansing overcome this spirit of lethargy in these dear Hebrews. May they soon move forward into the work of grace that is their rightful inheritance through the death of Jesus Christ.
II. Retainers (5:12a)
In many educational circles, children no longer fail, they are simply retained. Our study points to a group of people who were still in kindergarten when they should have been the teachers. They were in need of hearing the ABC's of God's divine oracles. The pull back to old Judaism left them in a spiritual fog.
Many decry the lack of deeper preaching in our day. Yet, there are retainers in the churches by the dozens who are not up to date in following the light they already have. They are content to sit on the sidelines and be a spectator when, in fact, God calls them to be an active, vital, living part of His orchestra. Our religious world needs the clear call of Holiness preaching, but how many church members have never been clear in their justified state or have lost grace from their hearts?
There are others who want to step into leadership and influential, teaching positions in the church but they are not mature enough in grace for such offices. They need to grow in grace and knowledge. In the case of some who wish to be youth leaders, consistent spiritual pursuit has not marked the individual's life. Oh, that they would die out to themselves and sin so that they might be not only set apart for God but also sanctified wholly.
III. Bottle Suckers (5:12b-14)
Here is a very graphic picture. Imagine your pastor, sitting on the platform as the music fills the sanctuary before the service begins. There, to your horror, he whips out a baby bottle from his suit pocket, and commences to suck while he waits. Shocked? Yes. Actually, flabbergasted would be a better word. But no less graphic is the word picture before us in the Scripture. These people should be the preachers, but they are still in, or have regressed into, the bottle stage.
Spiritually, they are back in the nursery instead of on the platform. They are back on milk when they should have been chewing and digesting roast beef.
Dr. Dale Yocum has made the succinct observation that "one of the most baneful aspects of carnality" is its tendency "to stunt spiritual growth and perpetuate babyhood".8 May it not just be endured and suppressed, but dear Hebrews, go on, go on!
1. F. B. Meyer, The Way into the Holiest, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1950) p. 67.
2. James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee: Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., n.d.) p. 68.
3. Ralph Earle, Ed., Exploring the New Testament, (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1955) p. 380.
4. Earle, p. 380.
5. Ibid, p. 381.
6. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p. 717.
7. Clarke, p. 720.
8. Dale Yocum, The Holy Way, (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1976) p.76.