For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2, verses 16-17.
Diving deeper into these two verses, let’s talk briefly about Jesus becoming “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” We’ll only spend a brief time here because, when we get to chapters four through eight we’ll dive into greater detail. The easy answer to “who is that merciful high priest” is, as you’d expect, Jesus; duh! But what about his representatives? In this day and age, is your pastor a merciful and faithful high priest?
Way back in the book of Exodus God established a particular tribe to be His priests. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was selected to be God’s high priest, and the tribe (or clan) from which Aaron was descended was that of Jacob’s son, Levi. The men of the tribe of Levi were to be set aside as special for God, serving as His priests. That seems like kind of an extreme thing by our standards, taking a whole clan of people and saying “they’re mine” but that’s what God did. What’s more, all Levite men were to serve God and some were to serve Him as ordained priests, offering sacrifices to God in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple). Not all Levites were priests but all priests were Levites. Indeed, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan describes how a priest and a Levite (different men) walked by the man who had been robbed. Only a strange foreigner – a pagan and outsider of Jewish law – stopped to show the man God’s love. It shows that even God’s special people make mistakes.
Just like our pastors today. I’m friends with more than a few pastors. More than just a handful read this blog. More than a handful of them sometimes message me and give me their thoughts on the thoughts I share here. I take it as a great compliment that men and women of the cloth would take time to try to make sure I’m doing good credit to their calling. Some of them – most of them actually – send me great feedback that helps me understand perspectives I hadn’t considered, things I haven’t learned. Some of them send me things with which I disagree; in fact, they piss me off. And some of them have made mistakes, said things that turned out to be self-serving and selfish. Some pastors are jerks.
Just like the Levites of yesteryear. Just like you and me.
When I was growing up, my view of clergymen in general was jaded by the tele-evangelist scandals of the 1970s and 1980s. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Robert Schuller: they were all disgraced in one way or another by their sins. Sins of adultery, sins of deceit, sins of greed: they were the undoing of great, self-made men who led huge flocks of believers. The public and their parishoners held them to a high standard, and these men didn’t make it. They sinned and, in some cases, rightfully paid dearly. I mean, they were ministers. They were supposed to know and be better!
At the same time, I learned from listening to great pastors I personally knew in church. Guy Newland, Ann Haw, Reuben and Paul Youngdahl: these were people I knew and learned from, people I listened to and admired. They were devout, honest, and real. You’ve probably never heard of them, though if you’re Lutheran you might know about the Youngdahl’s, especially if you’re from Minnesota. They were sinners, too, but their sins were their own, I’m sure, and not exposed for trial in the court of public opinion.
Just like most of the Levites and just like most of our pastors today.
And yet none of them are Jesus. None of these good, flawed, even admirable yet sinful priests could serve as a minister of God the way Jesus could. None of the priests in the Temple of Jesus’ day could stand blameless in the Holy of Holies to atone for peoples’ sins the way Jesus could. None of them could offer their blood as the real atonement. No pastor or preacher today could ask for or grant forgiveness the way Jesus does. No teacher of God’s Word could teach the way the perfect rabbi from Nazareth did. They know it: it’s a hard blessing with which to live in your calling.
Yet we need them. We need men and women to minister to us. We need people who are called, impassioned, and entrusted with the knowledge of God’s Word to translate it for us. They aren’t Jesus and neither are we. Yet we need their talents to help teach us things we might not otherwise learn because theirs is the calling to be God’s merciful and high priests. More than ever, pastors and priests have more resources than at any time in history to fulfill their good calling. And, again, more than ever before, perhaps more since any time since AD70 (when Rome destroyed the Jewish priesthood), our world is hostile to their work. ISIS, atheism, the antagonism of leftism, socialism and communism once again on the rise, an unfriendly media and popular culture, official antipathy: next time you talk to your pastor or priest, thank them for what they do. Maybe give them a fist bump instead of a rhetorical fist to the jaw. Not just anyone can be a merciful, faithful high priest of Jesus. I can’t; Could you?
For more reading: Hebrews chapters 4-8, Genesis 14: 18-20, Luke 10:31-32.
Lord Jesus, You and only You are the perfect high priest but thank You for your representatives of the cloth here in our world today.