St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Jesus Is The Greatest High Priest

Sermon on Hebrews 7:11-27

Text: If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood — and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood — why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’”
22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
26 Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

If you want to get into a lively debate, ask someone who was the greatest at something. For example, who was the greatest president? The answer will differ from person to person. Some might answer: “George Washington.” After all, he was the first president. Others might answer: “Abraham Lincoln.” He freed the slaves and led the people during one of the darkest times in our country’s history. There are others who would offer other suggestions. What about who was/is the greatest quarterback in the NFL? Again, it will depend on what you choose to use as your criteria to pick. Do you choose by number of Super Bowl rings? Yardage leader? Wins? Ultimately, it’s all a matter of opinion. In our text for our consideration, we find the absolute, definitive answer to the question, “Who is the greatest high priest?” We see very clearly JESUS IS THE GREATEST HIGH PRIEST 1. Because Of The Sacrifice He Offered, 2. Because Of The Duration Of His Service and 3. Because He Continues To Intercede For Us.

We need to have just a quick reminder of the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was written to people who had been brought up in Judaism. They knew all of the Mosaic Laws and sacrifices. By God’s grace, they had been brought to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now, because of a persecution, some of them were minded to return to Judaism. Throughout this letter, the author shows them what they would be losing if they returned to Judaism. They would lose their eternal life. To bring this point home, the author keeps coming back to the point that what they had a Christians was far superior to what they had previously. In this particular section of the letter, the author highlights why Jesus is far superior to any of the high priests.

One of the functions of the high priest was to offer sacrifices. As the author takes note of this fact, he shows why Jesus is the greatest high priest. We read in verses 26&27, “Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.” Before the high priest could offer sacrifices for the people of Israel, he had to offer one for himself. He had to sacrifice this animal, so that his sins would be taken care of before he could offer the other sacrifices. This was not the case with Jesus. These verses describe him as being, “Holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” You couldn’t blame him for a sin that he committed, because he committed no sin. He was pure, spotless when it came to his life. He was set apart from sinners. Although he lived among them, he never shared in their sins. This is why Jesus was/is superior to any of the high priests. He didn’t have to sacrifice for his sins, because he had none.

Another thing that separates Jesus from the others was the sacrifice that he offered. Throughout Israel’s history, there were millions of animals that were sacrificed on the altars of the tabernacle and temple. There was an endless parade of lambs, sheep, goats, bulls, and birds. One after another, they were killed and offered to God on behalf of the people. We see the superiority of our great high priest Jesus in the sacrifice that he offered. “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Verse 27) Jesus was not only the sacrifice. He was the ultimate sacrifice. This sacrifice was not just for one group of people. It was a sacrifice for all people. The sacrifice that is spoken of here is the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the cross. The reason this is the ultimate sacrifice is that it did what those millions of other sacrifices could never do. Jesus sacrifice on the cross paid for the sins of the world. It paid for all of those times when we have disobeyed God, wanting to do what we wanted to do rather than obeying God. There was every cross word that passed through our lips. There was every time we turned our back on someone in need. For these and all of our other sins, God would have been just in sending us to be punished forever. Yet, our great high priest Jesus Christ stepped forward and offered the ultimate sacrifice, when he laid down his life on the cross. Through that perfect sacrifice, Jesus paid for all of our sins. We also note that Jesus took up his life again on Easter. Because of this perfect sacrifice, God sees you and me as holy, perfect. As a result, we have heaven to look forward to. We praise Jesus as the greatest high priest, because of the sacrifice that he offered for us.

In verses 23&24, we are reminded of another reason that Jesus is the greatest high priest: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” Because all of the other high priests were human, eventually they passed away and were replaced by another human being. As a matter of fact, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, wrote that there were 83 different high priests from the first one, Aaron (Moses’ brother), to the last one serving when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. That’s a lot of turn over throughout the centuries. This is not the case with the greatest high priest, Jesus. “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” We also read in verses 21&22, “[Jesus] became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.”

What difference does this make for us? Since Jesus is the permanent high priest, we know that there will not be any changes in the rules or how we are treated. So, when Jesus tells us that he has done everything necessary for our salvation, we don’t have to worry if that will stand for the rest of our lives or, all of a sudden, God will change his mind and say that we must do this or that in order to be saved. It says that God made an oath. He swore by himself, and God doesn’t lie or go back on his oaths. Because Jesus has the permanent priesthood, it says that he “has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” The old covenant that was established was the law, which said that we have to be absolutely perfect in every one of our thoughts, words, and actions, throughout our entire lives, if we wanted to enter eternal life. The problem wasn’t with the agreement that God made with mankind. It, like God, was perfect. The problem was that we couldn’t hold up our end of the bargain. So, through the working of our Savior, a new covenant, a better covenant was established, which says that all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved. We enter into this agreement through the working of the Holy Spirit. It is a permanent covenant, one that we absolutely can count on, because Jesus is our permanent high priest.

In addition, we think of all of the promises that Jesus has made to us. If there was a constant turnover, we might wonder if some of those promises would be forgotten or that they would change. However, since Jesus is a permanent high priest, we know that all of those promises will be remembered and that he will carry every one of them out. Jesus is the greatest high priest, because he is a high priest forever.

One of the duties of the high priest is that he was to intercede for the people. We read in Hebrews 5:1, “Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God.” They were to act as a go-between for the people of Israel and God. We see this especially of the Day of Atonement. On that one day of the year, the high priest would take some of the blood of the sacrifices and enter into the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was. They would sprinkle some of the blood on the Ark, asking God to pardon the sins of the Israelites. We read in verse 25, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus, as the greatest High Priest, continues to intercede for us. Every time that we sin, Jesus intercedes for us, coming to his Father on our behalf. He pleads our case before the Father, pointing to the blood that he shed so that our sins would be forgiven. We take comfort in the fact that it says he “always lives to intercede for us.” Jesus never tires of interceding for us, for our forgiveness.

We are also reminded that Jesus intercedes for each one of us, individually. This means that he knows every one of us. He knows when we sin and need his forgiveness. He knows when we are weak and need his strengthening. Jesus knows all of our needs, even before we know about them. He continually approaches his Father’s throne of mercy and intercedes for us. We cannot have a better high priest, one who knows us so well and one who loves us so much. Jesus shows that he is the greatest high priest by the way that he continually intercedes for us.

Earlier we talked about who was the greatest president or who was the greatest NFL quarterback. There can be no question about who was the greatest boxer of all time. It was Muhammad Ali. We know this, because he told us over and over again that he was the greatest. Of course, saying that you are the greatest is one thing. Actually being the greatest is another, and who that is is often open to debate. There is no debate as to whom the greatest high priest of all time is. It is Jesus Christ. He is the greatest high priest, as he offered the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. He is the greatest high priest, because his priesthood will never end. He continues to serve you and me as the great high priest as he continually intercedes for us. We thank God for revealing to us exactly who the greatest high priest is. It is Jesus. Amen.