… but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 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. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Yesterday we looked at Moses. Today, we look at his brother, Aaron, the first high priest, and all the high priests who followed him. The work of the priests in the Old Testament was very important, and very messy as well (but then, sin is messy, isn’t it?): there was a lot of blood, and animal entrails, and the priests had to wash themselves constantly. The work of the priests was to accept sacrifices from the people, offer them to God for their sins, and intercede with God for the people. We know that those sacrifices did not actually remove the guilt of sin (Hebrews 10:1-4); they pointed forward to a perfect sacrifice that was to come.
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the most holy place in the tabernacle or temple and would sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats on the atonement cover, to atone for his sins and the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). The fact that the high priest had to do this every year tells us the blood of animals did not actually atone; once again, it pointed forward to a sacrifice that one day would atone.
In addition, Aaron was a sinner, and Aaron died. But just as God would raise up a better prophet than Moses, God would provide a better high priest than Aaron. As our reading today tells us, Jesus is the perfect and eternal high priest. Because he lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Because he is sinless, he does not need to offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Because he — the perfect, spotless lamb — sacrificed himself once, for all, he does not need to keep on offering sacrifices.
Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice (Isaiah 53:5), to reconcile us to God (Mark 10:45), and to continually intercede with God for us (Romans 8:34). At his death, the curtain in the temple separating the Most Holy Place was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), opening the way into the presence of the Father. Jesus—tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin—is the mediator whom we may gratefully and joyfully approach to find grace and mercy.
Is Jesus your high priest? Have you placed your sins upon him alone? If so, you may joyfully sing:
Jesus, my great High Priest, Offered His blood, and died;
My guilty conscience seeks No sacrifice beside:
His powerful blood did once atone, and now it pleads before the throne.