(Hebrews 4: 14-5: 10)
As many of you know I didn’t go to seminary. I went through a police academy and law school so I don’t have a Master of Divinity or any other theological degree I can claim as the source or foundation of my faith. A form I had to fill out recently for the Conference as part of this year’s Charge Conference asked a series of questions for my clergy profile. One question was regarding my faith journey and asked me to describe my “call” as in call-to-the-ministry. It wanted to know about the nurturing process and the manner by which I arrived at my present faith and devotional life, and to please limit myself to one page single spaced. Nice try. Not having one of those “ah-ha” moments where I was blinded by the “light” I essentially told my story beginning where I was born into the Methodist Church and greatly influenced by my Methodist minister grandfather. I talked about the different churches Teresa and I attended and mentioned that none of them appeared to do much on days other than Sunday and didn’t have what I considered to be a clear mission field statement or one that at least acknowledged that there was a mission field. I talked about moving to Port Townsend and reconnecting with my Methodist roots in a church that had an outward view of faith in action and good deeds which allowed me to stretch my wings. I then mentioned by failed bid for reelection as Prosecuting Attorney which led me to enrolling in a class that eventually led to my becoming a Certified Lay Minister. I’m not sure you can classify being voted out of office as a calling to the ministry, but here I am. My forty-year journey, give or take a few years, in many ways prepared me for a calling where I could put what I had learned through my life experiences into being a somebody who could do something and actively be a part of the solution for God’s kingdom here on earth.
And Jesus being called by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek is what the author of Hebrews is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. He starts out by saying that we have this great high priest in Jesus who can sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted in every way that we have been and remains without sin. He says: Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help. He’s describing the throne as not one of judgment or fear, but now as a place where God extends compassion and goodwill to those who follow his Son, Jesus Christ. He’s encouraging the readers to remain committed to Jesus, the great high priest who can relate to human frailty and temptation, while remaining perfect himself. This description would have resonated with them because to the Jews, the high priest was the highest religious authority in the land. He alone entered the Holy of Holies in the temple once a year to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation. The writer tells us that every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for the previous year’s sins. It was the high priest who went before God to deal gently with the ignorant and those who were misled since he himself was prone to weakness. The high priest would make a sacrifice on behalf of himself and the nation. The writer explains that no one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron. In mentioning Aaron the writer is referring to the fact that the establishment of a high priesthood originated with Aaron who was Moses’s brother and a descendant of Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. The writer had previously compared Jesus to angels and Moses and is now contrasting him to the Levitical high priest lineage.
The preacher goes on to say: In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him, “You are my Son. Today I have become your father,” as he also says in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The preacher says that this high priest status is not one that Jesus sought for himself. He was appointed by God the Father who names him as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Hebrews hearing this sermon or reading it on their own would have realized the magnitude of this appointment as Melchizedek was highly regarded by the Jews. In Genesis 14: 18 Melchizedek is referred to as the King of Salem which is now known as Jerusalem, and a priest of God Most High. This is reinforced by the fact that Melchizedek was not a Jew or an Israelite but has highly favored by God for his righteousness. His reputation would have been well known by first century Jews. By doing this, the preacher develops the identity of Jesus as the superior high priest.
The preacher continues by saying: During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. Christ did not call himself to the office of High Priest, the Father called him to the honor, and it was a special calling. A calling where he would serve as the Mediator between God and us forever. He endured suffering and temptation so that he could truly function as our high priest, understanding our weaknesses and interceding before God for us. As humanity’s representative, Jesus intercedes for us before God, and as God’s representative, he assures us of God’s forgiveness. Unlike the high priest who could go before God only once a year into the Holy of Holies to make sacrifices for the atonement of our sins, Christ is always at God’s right hand, interceding for us whenever we need him. He is always available to help us when we pray in earnest, when we bring all our troubles to him to bear.
The eternal salvation we have been offered means the elimination of a verdict on our sin, the setting aside of judgment, and the award of undeserved membership in God’s family here on earth and in eternity. The salvation we are offered turns us towards heaven and inaugurates a life of discipleship with the living Christ. And because Jesus was called by God to be our great high priest our salvation is the reason we can smile in the morning and rest in the evening.
Let us pray.
Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do, yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me. Yes, what a glorious blessing it is to have Jesus as our great high priest who understands all-to-well what it means to be human. We praise God for his wisdom in calling Jesus to be our high priest, our intercessor, our mediator between us and God during those times when we have failed, when we have fallen short, when we are beset on all sides by trouble and turmoil. We can never repay the great sacrifice that was made on our behalf so we sing: O Jesus Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee; for thou, in thy atonement, didst give thy-self for me; I own no other master, my heart shall be thy throne, my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for thee alone. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.