The Faithful High Priest
So far, we’ve seen how the author of Hebrews establishes the foundation of the superiority of Christ over everything, including angels. We’ve seen that Jesus, as divine Son, entered human flesh to become a merciful and faithful high priest for us. We’ve seen that Jesus is our heroic older brother, going before us to conquer death, and because he has suffered when tempted he is able to help us when we are tempted. We now turn our attention to a comparison to Moses and how Jesus’ exodus from death leads us into a better promised land of deeper rest than what Moses could offer.
First, we need to revisit 2:14-18 to set the stage for chapters 3 and 4.
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
We see in verse 17 that Jesus, through his life of suffering and experience, became for us a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God. What the author does next is take up each one of these two adjectives of the high priest in reverse order. First, he focuses on the faithful high priest in 3:1-4:15.
1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
Just like the start of chapter 2, the author calls us to consider Jesus. There is a rhythm in this book. First, he tells us about Jesus, then calls us to consider him, and warns us of what will happen if we refuse him. He wants us to avoid sluggishness in our pursuit of Christ. Jesus is better than everything else. He deserves to be first in our lives. If we listen, we will find that we are inheritors of great blessing.
Let’s consider him together now.
What do we see about Jesus in these first 6 verses?
Jesus is an apostle, High Priest, faithful, appointed, worthy of more glory, worthy of honor, builder of the house of God, builder of all things, Son, and our hope.
Notice verse 1. The author gives us two descriptions of Jesus: apostle and high priest. What do these descriptions mean?
Apostle – one who speaks for God
High Priest – one who mediates for God
John Piper says, “Jesus is a word from God and a way to God.” These two descriptions sum up the presentation of Jesus in 1:1 – 2:18. He is the ultimate word from God, and through his death and resurrection has become the way to God. By becoming the true Psalm 8 man, Jesus has led us out of sin and death in a new, better exodus.
The author now continues his method of comparison. He wants to prove that Jesus is better. So in verses 2-6 he compares Jesus to Moses. But once again, we see that Jesus is better. What’s the difference between the two?
|Worthy of glory||Worthy of more glory|
|Worthy of honor||Worthy of more honor|
|Faithful in God’s house||Faithful over God’s house|
The interpretive key to these 6 verses is faithfulness. William Lane says, “Faithfulness on the part of a servant is required; faithfulness in a son is an expression of pure love.” The faithfulness of Christ in service to God as the son over God’s house (the church) is another building block in the author’s argument that Jesus can be trusted. They already trusted Moses. Will they now trust Jesus?
Jesus has been faithful. The love that Jesus has for the Father is the engine for his faithfulness to him, which means that the love of the Son for the Father is the key to understanding how he has saved us. In love, Jesus saves – both in obedience to the Father who desires to save and in response to our need to be saved.
This faithfulness on the part of Jesus fulfills the Old Testament promise of a faithful high priest. “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel 2:35)
The author connects us to this image of the house in verse 6, “We are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” In doing so, the author is asking an insightful question. Jesus has been faithful. Moses was faithful. Will you be faithful? Or will you harden your heart?
What do we do with that word “if” in verse 6? “If we hold our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” The author is pushing us to consider our faith. The author is not pushing toward becoming something as much as he is pushing us toward being something. John Piper helps us see that in his wonderful sermon entitled “Do Not Harden Your Heart in the Day of Trouble.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/do-not-harden-your-heart-in-the-day-of-trouble)
It might sound as if the author is questioning the security of our salvation. But he’s not! Instead, he’s using this language to prove that our salvation is secure, and giving us a way to know that it’s secure. Your present faith is the best indicator of your future faith – not as much because you are faithful, but because Jesus is faithful. After all, he’s the faithful Son who built the house. He’s the founder and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2). Do you believe right now that Jesus is your savior? Then you are secure!
Verse 6 becomes the evidence of your faith rather than an enemy to your faith. It grants more assurance, not less. As Piper says, “Everything in chapter 3 is written to encourage and empower you to be earnest and vigilant and focused in the fight to maintain strong assurance in Christ.”
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
We see the author quote from the Old Testament again, just like chapters 1 and 2. He’s a master artist with the brush of the Old Testament, painting the picture of God’s faithfulness as grounds for continued faith today. Verses 7-11 are a quotation of Psalm 95.
Psalm 95 served as the call to worship for the Jewish people. Each time they met in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day they would hear this Psalm. It was a reminder to listen, a reminder of those who refused to listen, and a reminder of the tragedy that not listening becomes. Let’s turn to Psalm 95 and read the entire Psalm.
1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” 11 Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”
To understand verses 7-11 in both Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3, we must understand the context surrounding the events recorded in the book of Numbers, particularly in chapters 13-14. But before that, it is helpful to go back to Exodus 17 and find out what Meribah and Massah are.
The Israelites have just been led out of Egypt though ten miraculous plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They’re now in the desert and ask for food. God gives them manna from heaven. Then, they grumble some more and ask for water. God tells Moses to strike a rock and water will flow. He does, and they drink.
Let’s read Exodus 17:1-7
1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
So Meribah and Massah are allusions to the event where the Israelites quarrel with the Lord. Then later, in Numbers 13-14, we see them testing God on the border of the Promised Land.
What is happening in Numbers 13? Spies are sent into the Promised Land to scout it out. The spies return and report that the people are strong and well-fortified and they cannot defeat them. Only Caleb and Joshua stand against their claims and, in doing so, stand for God. They trust God’s promise.
What is happening in Numbers 14? The people rebel against God. They do not believe Joshua and Caleb and instead give into the fear that the other spies have described. Moses intercedes for the people because they have despised God and he is ready to destroy them. God spares them but promises judgment. They will not see the land he promised their fathers. After hearing the judgment, the people decide they’ll go and fight after all. Moses warns them not to, saying they will be defeated. But in their stubbornness, they go anyway. They are defeated. Their unbelief leads to their destruction. They missed out on the rest they could have had because they refused to listen to God. And so, once again, the author warns his readers to listen to God, and we come to the second major warning in the book.
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Hebrews 3:12-19 serves as an exhortation to us. Once again, we see the author present Jesus to us and then turn and tell us to pay attention. The problem is hardness of heart. How is the heart hardened?
First, by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). Archibald Alexander said, “All sin takes its origin from false views of things.” John Calvin said nothing is easier than for our heart to be deceived. What we believe about God matters. Our deep need is to see the gospel clearly. When our vision gets blurry, sin seems a better option.
Second, our hearts are hardened because we have an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). As we give in to sin, our heart stops believing God and begins believing something else – a false view of things.
Third, our hearts are hardened because we drift (2:1). Once we have given in to sin once, the subsequent temptations become easier to fall into. Before we realize it, we are drifting away.
How could sin seem a better option? Because sin bends our hearts toward sin. We are not good people who do bad things from time to time. We are bad people who do good things by the power of the Spirit. Apart from God, we cannot do anything good. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).
What is the way to a soft heart? It is by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Only there will we find any power at all to fight sin. Only there will our evil, unbelieving heart be exposed. Only there will our hearts be transformed through mercy and grace. Only there will we see the faithfulness of Jesus.
The faithfulness of Jesus is our great hope. His heart is the defense against our heart. His heart pushed him into our world. It pushed him into human skin. It pushed him to the cross. It pushed him to take all our sin in himself and to defeat it in his perfect righteousness.
Notice the problem with the Israelites. It was not that God abandoned them. It was that they abandoned God. They didn’t enter God’s rest because of their unbelief. Psalm 95 says of the Israelites, “they always go astray in their hearts.” Tom Schreiner says, “The word ‘always’ indicates that Israel’s wondering from the Lord was not temporary or occasional but was the constant refrain of their lives.” What is the constant refrain of your life? Is it to always go astray or is it to always draw near?
The question Jesus posed to his disciples applies to us now: “where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25)
Jesus asked that question as he calmed the storm. The wind and waves were crashing into their boat. They were professional sea men and yet they were afraid. And as they looked at Jesus they saw him asleep in the midst of the storm. Didn’t he care about them? Wasn’t he concerned? Could he not be bothered to rouse from his sleep now? So they go to him and shout out, “Master, master, we are perishing!” And Jesus awakes and rebukes the storm. And after the waves still and the wind dies, he turns and asks, “Where is your faith?” They didn’t know God cares for them even in the middle of a hurricane.
This author is asking the same question. He’s doing what he encourages them to do to stick close to Jesus, namely, to “exhort one another every day.” These Hebrews were facing intense suffering and persecution. And their pastor looks them in the eye and asks them pointedly, “where is your faith?”
So, where is yours? Is it in the one who not only calms earthly winds and waves but also the fear of death? Is it in the one who not only awakes from sleep to save but also sends the winds and waves for our good? What are you facing that Jesus is incapable of handling? What are you facing that is greater than the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power?