For an introduction to this series, click here.
November 8, 2007
I am going to start here with the last few verses of chapter 4.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (4:14-16)
This passage begins a long section where the writer explains how Christ is the great High Priest for all the saints, fulfilling and superseding the Old Testament system of priests and sacrifice.
"For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people." (5:1-3)
In the Old Testament system, the priest offered a sacrifice for himself and for the people. He could identify with his people because he was human, but he was also a flawed, imperfect priest who had to make atonement for himself at the same time he made atonement for the people.
"So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you;' as he says also in another place, 'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.' In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." (5:5-10)
Without the book of Hebrews, we would have no idea what the passage in Psalms meant when it said that God had anointed someone as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. You may remember Mel. He was the priest to whom Abraham gave gifts after the rescue of Sodom. The writer will explain what this Melchizedekian priesthood means later in the book, but the most important thing we learn from this passage is that the passage from Psalm 110 is referring to Christ.
"About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (5:11-14, ESV)
The writer interjects a terrible indictment here. It continues in the first part of chapter 6, but I decided to address it here. I understand that the writer is partially addressing non-believers here, people who were aware of the truth of Jesus but refused to believe it. But the passage seems primarily directed to the believing recipients. They were shallow in their belief as well.
I wonder how many people in our modern churches fit this description? I think it would be a high number, probably starting right here with me. I think the great failure of the 20th century American church is that we did not emphasize doctrine. We believed in "practical" teaching. "Just tell us what to do, pastor, don't bore us with the details of why," was and still remains the attitude of a lot of Christians. Thankfully it seems we are seeing a move away from that kind of didactism (is that a word?) in our conservative Baptist circles and more toward an expositional mode of teaching and preaching. Christians don't need to be talked down to, we need to hear the whole counsel of God proclaimed.
One other point that needs to be made here. The writer uses the metaphors of milk and meat, comparing them to shallow and deep doctrine. Yet when we read I Peter 2:2, Peter uses milk as a positive metaphor. We cannot assume that all metaphors are to be taken the same way throughout Scripture, especially when dealing with two different authors. Just because something is usually used negatively does not mean it cannot be used positively in another context. Another example is yeast, or leaven. Many times in Scripture it is used as a negative picture of sin. That was the picture of unleavened bread at Passover. But Jesus in Matthew 13 says, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven." Unless you think Jesus was saying the kingdom of heaven is sinful, then you have to conclude that leaven is used in a positive sense.