23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
There are very few things in life that are more stressful to people involved in any large organization than the change of leadership. In a corporation when there is a change of the CEO, most employees do not really notice, but if you are higher up within the company these changes are more stressful. I have been a part of two companies while there was a change in the Chief Executive. By in large it did not affect the day to day operations but there were subtle changes that emerged from the change of leadership. These subtle changes, the changes that occurred do to different leadership styles and vision of the future of the company greatly affected the overall perception of the company. When leadership changes there is a period of time where the future is unknown. This is the stressful part of change, this unknown aspect. Will they cut jobs? Will they institute changes that will affect my position? Will they improve the company or run it into the ground? It does not matter if the change in leadership is for a business, a nation, a school, or a church when there are changes at the top of the organization those vested in that organization wonder.
Most of us have worked under some sort of leader or manager at some point in our lives. When these changes have occurred the job we are required to do has not changed but there are subtleties that we recognize. They focus on different aspect of the job and at times it is an aspect that we were never concerned with before. When the focus changes, we either adjust or seek other options. But what happens when the change in leadership affects something beyond our personal income? What do we do when the change of leadership is at the top of the organization whose purpose and priority is connecting individuals to the divine? The writer of Hebrews is directing our attention to this very serious aspect of life.
Last week we began the discussion of Priests and how there really are not any contemporary officers that reflect this office. But there are offices within various religious organizations that do come close. The reason behind this is because the religious structure of the contemporary era does not reflect the various aspects of religion in the ancient days. The various priest of Israel served as conduits between God and mankind. The people would come to the priest bringing the various offerings and the priest would take those offerings, perform the various rites, and then the priest would offer the person the assurance that God would consider their petitions. But there was only one priest among the many priest that could go directly before the mercy seat of God. This one priest would carry the offering of the entire nation, would answer for the entire nation, and would carry the response of God to the people.
The lower priests would be in service for around twenty-five years, beginning their service at the age of twenty-five and then retiring at the age of fifty. But the high priest would serve beyond the age of fifty till he died. The office of the high priest was a hereditary office, but there were some restrictions. The heir to this office had to be pious, intelligent, kosher, wealthy, and for lack of better words good looking. They were to be the representatives of the people to God and God to the people so they had to be perfect. The problem is they were human and perfection is hard to come by, and at times the heir to this office did not quite fit the bill. It was the job of the Sanhedrin or the seventy-one most respected priest, to determine if the heir was acceptable and if they were not choose the next in line. And after Israel demanded a king the office of the High priest became a political office where the king as well as the Sanhedrin would have to approve the next successor.
The political aspect of the high priesthood became even more charged as time went on to the point that after the people of Israel returned from exile the political leaders would often choose the priest and the Sanhedrin would place them in office. The only thing that remained was that they had to be kosher, or follow the laws of God ceremonially.
This office, regardless of who filled the position, remained the only representative the people had before God, and was the representative of God to the people. As you can imagine this single person held great power, if they were corrupt the entire nation was corrupt and if they were pious the entire nation followed as well, because they alone stood before God. Yet this office was constantly vacated because people die. Every generation the person sitting in the office would change at least once, and as politics gained greater control over the religious aspects of life these changes could happen even more often.
This change in leadership is what the writer of Hebrews wants to direct our attention to. With each change the people could draw closer to God or fall further away. At times the office would be so corrupt that God would call a prophet from the midst of the people to rise up and speak out against the religious establishment to redirect the attention to what was really important. Which would change things for a while but the cycle would continue.
But Jesus the priest in the order of Melchizedek was different. He holds the office permanently, forever, even to the end of ages. Let that sink in for a moment. Just sit for a moment and consider why it is important for the writer of Hebrews to write the words, “but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
Our priest does not change. What does that actually mean to our spiritual lives?
Recently our yearly meeting had a significant leadership change, the highest position in our organization was vacated by one and we filled it with another. This could have great significance in the direction of the organization, but ultimately nothing has changed. There is only one priest and that priest has not changed. There is only one that stands between God the Father and us, Jesus.
This priest is holy, blameless, undefiled, separated and exulted. He is perfect in every way. He is the greatest representative of God to mankind because he came down from the throne of heaven to live among us. He is also the greatest representative of man to God because he was born and lived a full human life. He is God and Man able to speak for both at the same time.
But what does that mean to our spiritual lives?
Our priest does not change, even though our leaders do. This means that we should focus our attention on Jesus, study him and his ways. We should consider his teachings and listen to his words. If he is our priest we should appeal to him, and if he is our teacher we should follow his ways.
So often times we are distracted from this. We begin to look at the leaders of a church, the leaders of a denomination, or leaders of a nation even, and we want to rely on them to be the conduit for us. But we as leaders are not the priests. I cannot as a pastor take on the responsibility of your soul because I am not given that authority. I cannot through the mysteries of worship guarantee your salvation, because I do not have that authority. I am not the priest. The Superintendent of the Yearly Meeting is not the priest. The bishop of Canterbury, Rome, the metropolitan of Moscow, or the chairman of the Baptist convention are not the priest. If we are putting our faith in these people, expecting these men and women to provide for us the means of salvation we have misplaced our faith.
All I can do is encourage you to look to Christ. All I can do is walk with you as you discover more of Christ. All I can do is pray with you as you petition Christ. All I can do is pray that you will know Christ more fully and that you will allow the Spirit of God to flow through you. Here is the kicker though, that is all you can do as well.
We can strive to make our worship services more entertaining, but if we do not point people to the true priest we have done nothing. We can make doctrinal changes, appoint people to positions and educate people in the ways of our church, but if we do not point them to the true priest, Jesus, we are just an empty organization. We could sing songs of praise, have the greatest musicians in the world, but if they do not point us to Christ we are nothing.
All we do should be focused on Jesus because He is our salvation, He is our representative, He is our priest, and our God. Now how does that affect our spiritual lives?
Paul encourages us to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. James encourages us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger because we are members of one another. John tells us that we know love by this that He laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. All of these teaching have one thing in common, they are reflections of the life and ministry of Jesus.
But how does that affect your spiritual life? Who are we putting our faith in? What are we putting out faith in? Who are we following? And who is following?
Jesus was born of Mary, live in the community, worked with Joseph, and became a man. He made it his custom to worship, He withdrew often to isolated places to pray, and he loved the people around him. He taught, fed, healed, and encouraged people to embrace a better life. He became human. And through his sacrifice we can become who we were meant to be.
We have one priest. Only one priest. Our priest is man and God perfectly and completely joined together for eternity, and our priest is calling each of us to follow him. And as we follow him we are to take on his life and lifestyle so that others might see him though us. Worship, Prayer and service; lives fully focused on him and his ways. We have only one priest.
As we enter this time of holy expectancy and communion with God as Friends consider more fully what Jesus our priest means.