The Feast of the Nativity has come to an end. The shepherds have returned to their flocks. The Wise Men have gone home “another way.” The Holy Child has been saved from King Herod. He has grown up in Nazareth, and the Prophet and Forerunner John has baptized Him in the Jordan.
Has our celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God any lasting effect on us? Has our observance of His baptism meant anything to us? Or are we resuming our daily routine with nothing but pleasant memories of yet another Christmas and another Theophany?
Who is Jesus Christ to us? He is known by various titles: Messiah, King, Shepherd, Master, Prophet, and Savior. But in today’s reading of Hebrews 7:18-25, the apostle reminds us of another role that we should consider important to us. He writes, “But He [Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” (OSB Hebrews 7:24).
Why Jesus is Our Great High Priest
Our passage explains why we can look to Jesus as our great High Priest and what His priesthood means for us. Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah. But from the time of Moses, priests only came from the tribe of Levi. So why then can we consider the Lord to be a priest? In today’s passage, the apostle explains that He is in the priestly order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was a mysterious figure who appeared to Abraham and blessed him with bread and wine after a victorious battle. The writer of Genesis introduced him as the King of Salem and Priest of the Most High God (Genesis 14:18-20). Thus, his priesthood existed centuries before Moses instituted the priestly order of the Levites.
The apostle notes that the psalmist ascribes this priesthood to Christ in Psalm 110:4. The psalm writer had said that Christ did not claim to be High Priest. But the God the Father had “exalted and appointed Him” to be priest in two Words of scripture. First, the Father had said “You are my Son, today have I begotten you (OSB Hebrews 5:5). And the Almighty had also quoted Psalm 110 saying, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Christ’s Priesthood Is Superior to the Levitical Priesthood
By teaching that the psalmist had referred to Christ, the apostle not only established that Christ is a priest. But the writer of Hebrews taught that Crist’s priesthood is far superior to that of Aaron and the Levites. First, the apostle notes that an oath established the priesthood of Christ in the order of Melchizedek. But no oath instituted the Levitical priesthood (vs. 20). Second, the writer of our epistle proved that the priesthood of the Levites was not lasting because every priest in this order lived for only a short time. But the High Priesthood of Christ lasts forever because He has risen from the dead to make continual intercession for us (vs. 25).
Therefore, the apostle teaches that the priesthood of Christ is a “surety of a better covenant” (vs. 22) than the covenant of Moses. The Greek term for “surety” is based on the idea of a bond or guarantee (Strong’s #1450, 74). Thus, Christ Himself became the pledge of the “better covenant” when he offered the sacrifice of His blood to put the New Covenant into effect (Hebrews 9:19; 9:24-26).
Why is this understanding of Jesus the High Priest of utmost importance for us? Our reading enriches our understanding of the Lord when it summaries what His eternal priesthood does for us. The apostle writes, “for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the brining of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (OSB vs. 19).
By Christ’s Priesthood We Can Come into the Presence of a Holy God
This understanding means little to us unless we realize that God is holy. Nothing unholy, unclean, and unrighteous can survive in His presence. Therefore, the psalmist said, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…?” (OSB Ps. 24:3-4). Thus only the High Priest was entitled to enter the Holy of Holies where God Himself dwelt. And He did it but once a year—and not without blood which he offered for himself and the people’s sins (Hebrews 9:7). But this approach to God was imperfect and incomplete for only the High Priest could dare to come near to God and then with overwhelming terror and dread.
But by the sacrifice of our Great High Priest, we need not hesitate to come up to the very Throne of God. Thus, as the chalice of the Body and Blood of Christ is brought out for the faithful, the deacon says, “In the fear of God with faith and love, draw near” (St-Tikhon’s 1984).
How precious is the privilege of entering into the presence of the Holy God. It is possible only through the priestly ministry of our Great High Priest. By His blood we are cleansed so that we know that He will not refuse us or cast us away from Him. But at every time and every place, we can hasten in prayer directly and confidently to the arms of our Heavenly Father. So if we hesitate to come to God because of a sense of unworthiness or fear of judgment, let us call upon our High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. By the sacrifice of Himself, He brings us forward to meet the Almighty God who is ever ready to receive us.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.