These chapters in Hebrews are short–aren’t they–compared to Matthew? So, today’s short chapter to read is Hebrews 5.
The comparison of Jesus to the OT priests started in chapter 4 and continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.
The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).
Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task? Verses 7-9 answer that question. I wrote provocatively yesterday that “Jesus had it easy” but I’ve felt that way many times as a Christian. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.
The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of this nonsense. As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus felt the power of temptation more.. uh… powerfully than me because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like I often do. Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in his earthly life. So Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine. Verse 7 describes a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross–not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils. Now the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin. That included physical death but also spiritual death–separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently–in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too–for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request! Think about this the next time God answers your prayer with a “no”–Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking for something that God was not willing to grant. Why? Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Just as you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term, so God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father.
He is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries. Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest? Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know? Be encouraged; whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father. There’s nobody better or more qualified to do it.