What If God Were One Of Us

Bible Book: Hebrews  5 : 1-10
Subject: Jesus; Salvation; Blood of Christ; Jesus, High Priest

This week I came across the following report from a fictitious church’s Pastor Search Committee:

“We do not have a happy report to give. We have had a very difficult time finding a suitable candidate for this church, but after a lot of work we do have one promising prospect.  Thank you for your suggestions.  We have followed up on each one with interviews or by calling at least three references. The following is our confidential report.

ADAM: Good man but has problems with his wife. One reference told us how he and his wife enjoyed walking nude in the woods.

NOAH: Former pastorate of 120 years with zero converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects.

JOSEPH: A big thinker, but a braggart; believes in dream interpreting and has a prison record.

MOSES: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator; even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly in business meetings. We also discovered he left an earlier church over a murder charge.

DAVID: The most promising leader of all - until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor’s wife.

SOLOMON: Great preacher, but like his dad - has a serious woman problem.

ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure.

HOSEA: A tender and loving pastor, but our people could never handle his wife’s occupation - not to mention her name.

JONAH: Told us he was swallowed up by a great fish. He said the fish later spit him out on the shore near here. We hung up.

AMOS: Too much of a country hick. Backward and unpolished.  With some seminary training, he might have promise; but he has a bias against wealthy people.

JOHN: Says he is a Baptist, but doesn’t dress like one.  May be too Pentecostal. Tends to lift both hands in the air to worship when he gets excited. As you know we limit that kind of thing to one hand. On top of all this he sleeps in the outdoors, has a weird diet, and is known to provoke denominational leaders.

PETER: Too blue collar. Has a bad temper, even said to have cursed. In our opinion he’s too much of a loose cannon.

PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher. However, he’s short on tact, unforgiving with young ministers, harsh, and has been known to preach all night.

TIMOTHY: Too young.

JESUS: Has had popular times, but once when His church grew to 5000, He managed to offend them all; and His church dwindled down to twelve men. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, He is single.

JUDAS: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We’re inviting him to preach this Sunday in view of a call.

As this humorous tale shows, appearances can be deceiving - and I share it because to me, the next part of the book of Hebrews sounds kind of like a search committee report - in that it compares two potential “candidates” for the Lord of your life - the Jewish High Priest and Jesus Christ - Who is of course THE High Priest.

The writer of Hebrews does this as a way of showing that Jesus is definitely the BETTER of the two. And, this might have been hard for the first readers to swallow because the High Priest looked very impressive. His outer appearance was amazing. Here’s how R. Kent Hughes describes him:

“Over his linen tunic the High Priest wore a blue robe. And attached to it were pomegranates that were artistically woven from blue, purple and scarlet yarn and placed intermittently between small golden bells - that rang musically with his every movement. A richly woven multicolored sash held the robe in place. Next he wore an apron-like ephod that was woven of gold threads, finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarns. The shoulder-pieces of the ephod each bore a large onyx stone set in gold filigree.  The names of the twelve tribes were engraved on these stones six on one stone and six on the other in order of birth. Then, fastened to the front of the ephod by golden chains, was the breastplate, a nine-inch square tapestry of gold, blue, purple scarlet and linen that bore four rows of three stones - first, ruby, topaz, beryl; second, turquoise, sapphire, emerald; third, jacinth, agate, amethyst; forth, chrysolite, onyx, jasper - twelve stones each engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes -  all twelve next to the priest’s heart along with the mysterious Urim and Thummim. Lastly, the priest was crowned with a turban of fine linen, bearing a plate of pure gold with the Hebrew inscription “HOLY TO THE LORD.”

Think of it! What a sight the High Priest must have been in the bright sunlight of Israel as he approached the temple! He would have looked so good!

Of course Jesus had none of these outer vestments. From an appearance standpoint He was very unimpressive. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, like someone people turned away from; and we didn’t value Him.”  (Isaiah 53) But the writer reminds his first century readers that in spite of His outer appearance Jesus is infinitely BETTER.

And - I don’t know if you’ve been counting - but that word, “better” is used A LOT in this New Testament book that we’ve been studying for the past month. In fact, the author uses it 13 times - as a way of underscoring the truth that Jesus is BETTER no matter who you compare Him to. He’s better than angels, better, than Moses, and now better than the High Priest.  Remember, the first readers of this book were under pressure to return to Judaism–so this “better message” is something they needed to hear. Take your Bibles and turn to Hebrews 5.  Follow along as I read verses 1-10.

1. Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

2. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

3. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

4. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5. In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

6. And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

7. During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One Who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.

8. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered.

9. And, once made perfect, He became the Source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him,

10. and was designated by God to be High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Okay, let’s review this comparison by first reviewing the qualifications of an EARTHLY High Priest. To help you remember, they each begin with an “S.”

(1) The first requirement was SOLIDARITY.

In other words, the Jewish High Priest had to be one of the people.  As verse 1 says, he was “selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God.” To put it succinctly, in order to intercede FOR man - he had to BE a man.

(2) This leads to the second requirement: SYMPATHY.

You see, as a man - the High Priest would have compassion for other men. Being one of the people made it easier for him to understand their struggles. Look at verse 2 again, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray,since he himself is subject to weakness.” As one of the people he could sympathize with the sinners he represented before God.

In fact, on the Day of Atonement, while decked out in all his spectacular priestly robes, he had to first kill a bull for his OWN personal sins and his family’s sins.   The Mishna records this prayer by the priest, which probably reflects something of the ancient Aaronic prayer:

“O God, I have committed inequity and transgressed and sinned before Thee. I and my house and the children of Aaron, Thy holy people, O God, forgive, I pray, the iniquities and transgression and sins which I have committed and transgressed and sinned before Thee, I and my house.”

This prayer was followed by the High Priest taking the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkling some on the mercy-seat - and then sprinkling more seven times before the seat. It was only after doing this - only after taking care of his own sins - that he dared offer sacrifice or his people on the Day of Atonement.

So, the ideal High Priest was aware that he was no different than the people - and this gave him the compassion necessary to serve as their representative.

(3) The third requirement was SELECTION.

In other words, this was not an elected position. There were no primaries or caucuses - no endless debates - no High Priest election year - praise God! Look at verse 4: “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.” By the way the history of Israel shows that attempts to become a priest without God’s selection always met with disaster.

For example:

* Korah and his 250 followers were swallowed by the earth because they elevated themselves to the priestly office by burning unauthorized incense.

* Saul lost his reign because he impatiently assumed Samuel’s priestly function.

* And Uzziah wrongly utilizing a priestly censer broke out with leprosy that lasted until his dying day.

No - this was a job that was divinely chosen. God had chosen the LEVITES as the only men who could serve in this way.

(4) The fourth requirement of a Jewish High Priest was to offer SACRIFICES for the people.

Verse 1 says, he had to offer gifts and sacrifices to God.  As I inferred earlier, once a year he went into the Holy of Holies to gain forgiveness for the people of Israel. And only HE could do this - no other priest could go behind those high thick curtains.  The bells he wore were an audible authentication of this - for only he had bells on his robes. And to show you how fearful a job this was for a sinner - even the High Priest - to go into the presence of THE Holy God - he went in with a rope tied around his leg - so that if God struck him dead because he hadn’t atoned for his own sins first or for any other reason - well, with the rope his body could be pulled out without risking other lives to go in and get him.

So - solidarity, sympathy, selection, sacrifices - pretty impressive credentials!  And, I’m sure that Jewish believers in the first century were often reminded of this. Jews who were NOT believers in Jesus would say something like this to these Jewish Christians,

“We have the High Priest - and you Christians don’t. How are you going to be pardoned if you have no priest - no one sacrificing for you - no one interceding for you?   How does this ‘New Covenant’ you talk about supersede the old if you have no High Priest?” And these Christians could respond, “But we DO have a High Priest in Jesus. Let me tell you what He is like. Let me explain how He compares - so you can see He is FAR superior.”

With that in mind let’s use our text to do a little comparison of our own.  How does Jesus do when we put Him up against the High Priest?

I. Selection

What about SELECTION?

Well, everyone say, “CHECK!” because Jesus was chosen by God!  Look at verse 5:

“Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son - today I have become Your Father - or TODAY I HAVE CELEBRATED YOU.”

And - Jesus was not High Priest because of genealogy.  In fact, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. No - He was individually chosen by GOD. And then look at verse 6 where God says: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now, many of you may be asking “Who is Melchizedek?” and I’m not saying!  I mean, I won’t say much today because more will be said about Melchizedek when we get to chapter 7 - but I will give you this much:

Melchizedek is mentioned twice in the Old Testament: in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 and then eight times in the book of Hebrews. He was a king-priest who lived in the time of Abraham and whose ancestry is unknown.  I say “KING-priest” because Melchizedek was King of Salem - which is another name for Jerusalem and was also a PRIEST of the true God. He lived many centuries before the Aaronic priesthood was established and unlike theirs his priesthood is unending. Remember - Aaron’s priesthood began in the time of Moses and ended in 70AD when the temple was destroyed. So, as a Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus’ priesthood is WAY superior to the Jewish High Priest.

II. Solidarity and Sympathy

Let’s move on to “s’s” two and three  -  SOLIDARITY and SYMPATHY.

Everyone say: “CHECK! CHECK!” because as verse 8 reminds us, Jesus suffered - just like we do. In prior chapters we’ve studied this fact repeatedly. Remember chapter 4 from last week:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One Who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.”

Since we know Jesus was God become FLESH - He definitely qualified for the SOLIDARITY “s.” He was one of us. Do you remember Joan Osbourne’s song by that title: One of Us?  The chorus went like this:

“What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home.”

And - I’m sure like me, when you heard it you found some of those lyrics offensive - but they do ask an interesting question - one that is answered in the Bible. This Book of books tells us that Jesus - God - WAS one of us so we know that He UNDERSTANDS what it means to be a human like you and me.  And there’s the other “s”  -  SYMPATHY.

As I have emphasized over the past few weeks - Jesus went through everything we do - every weakness - every temptation. Of course He didn’t do this to LEARN what it was like to be a Human. God is omniscient. He knows all things. No - He did it for us - so WE could know that He can truly sympathize with our struggles. This is what the writer means when it says “Jesus learned from suffering.”  It’s a reminder that Jesus did suffer as we do - He SHOWED His obedience in this way. I like how J. B. Phillips translates it:

“Son though He was, He had to prove the meaning of obedience through all that He suffered.  Then, when He had been proved the perfect Son, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who should obey Him.”

III. Sacrifice

Okay - one more “s.” SACRIFICE.

Well, the writer reminds us that like a high priest Jesus was always interceding for others. Verse 7 says,

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears…”

And then verse 9 says, that on the cross, Jesus was the One great sacrifice for the sins of all mankind:

“Once made or proved to be perfect, He became the Source of eternal salvation.”

Unlike the flawed and fallen Jewish High Priest, Jesus, the perfect Son of God did not have to offer sacrifice for His own sin.  And because of this His sacrifice on the cross was not just a temporary stop gap. No - it was a once and for all sacrifice.  He died for all the sins of all people who have ever lived or ever will live.

This week I read a story about a rabid dog that terrorized a village.  It had already bitten one person who had died a horrible death. The village blacksmith finally cornered the dog, holding it at bay while everyone else escaped. He was bitten several times before he finally killed the animal. Then returning to his forge, he deliberately chained himself to an iron fixture so that when his own insanity over took him the other villagers would be safe from his maddened rage.  Then he calmly awaited his doom. This is a picture of what Jesus did on the cross. He took the poison of our sin into Himself - allowing the Roman soldiers to nail him to the cross - where He died our death.

I’m sure you’ll agree that what Jesus did on the cross is FAR superior to the sacrifices done by the Jewish High Priest. I mean all their sacrifices only covered sins - they could never cleanse sinners. This required the spotless blood of the Lamb of God - Jesus. Only Jesus’ blood could make us pure in God’s eyes. This is why when Jesus died on the cross - the curtain of the temple separating the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom.

No more would God be separated from the people. No more do we fear coming into His presence. Through Jesus sacrifice we have direct access.

This morning we celebrate Jesus - the GREAT HIGH PRIEST’S sacrifice for our sins through the ordinance of Communion. And as we do, let me invite all Christians present to partake with us because even if you are not a member of this church … If you are a Christian … if you are His, this is Yours.