The whole notion of a high priest is so foreign to we egalitarian Americans and moderns. We are centuries removed from a time when hierarchy and royalty were the norm. But it’s helpful to remember that, for the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, the notion of a hierarchy and even monarchy was the norm. Frankly, the jury is still out from my perspective if our modern way is any better. There is something regal in the notion of hierarchy. And, to be sure, there are dangers and advantages in that way of ordering society. But isn’t that true of any system of ordering society?
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 7:26-28; 8:1-2:
Brethren, it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever. Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord.
St. Paul is trying to get these Hebrew Christians to grasp the “WHY” behind the system of worship and leadership that God Himself established for the Jewish people in the First Testament. And part of what God set in place was the notion of a “high priest.” This priest was the head of the priests and he had specific duties and obligations in Temple worship. In fact, his duties were both irreplaceable and terrifying! He would enter the Holy of Holies only once a year at the Feast of the Atonement (Yom Kippur) with the blood of a sacrifice for his sins and the sins of all the nation. And he would sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant to show that the people repented of their sins and wanted to restore their relationship with God!
Then St. Paul says that our Lord Jesus has now become our “high priest” and He is the only One we will now ever need because, as we pray in the Liturgy, He is the One Who offers and IS offered. He is the Giver and the Gift! And St. Paul uses five words or phrases to describe WHY Jesus Christ is the final and only true “High Priest.”
Jesus is High Priest because He is:
- Holy – Remember, “holy” means “set apart for a specific and exclusive use.” Jesus is Holy, not because He’s good or never makes a mistake. That’s later in the list. Jesus is Holy because He comes to us with ONE, Specific, Task to perform: He is come to destroy death on our behalf and bring us to the Father!
- Blameless – Here’s where we get to the point where Jesus never does wrong. No one can blame Him for any violation of the Law or the Wisdom of God! Unlike the earthly high priests, He has no sins to confess or atone for. He atones for the sins of others on their behalf!
- Unstained – Just like the lamb that was used for the sacrifice at Yom Kippur had to be “without spot” so the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world is “unstained” by any defilement. The Perfect One fights and wins eternal life for all of us who are imperfect!
- Separated from Sinners – He is not One Who needs forgiveness, but He forgives those who do need forgiveness. He is like us in our humanity, except without sin.
- Exalted above the Heavens – Our “High” priest is not like the shadow of high priesthood in the First Testament who were merely earthly men serving to train us to recognize the true High Priest when He came. No, this High Priest “goes where no man has gone before!” Jesus makes the path to the Creator open for we humans by going beyond where any of us could have gone by ourselves!
Today, do you recognize this High Priest in Jesus Christ? Are you able to humbly bend your neck before Him Who is your High Priest? There is something powerful in that recognition and humility that will teach you how to be free if only you are willing to be Orthodox on Purpose.