Our Great High Priest
June 14th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled Our Great High Priest. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And the text is Hebrews 5:1-6:
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made a High Priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, Today have I begotten Thee.
And He saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
The most impressive figure of the ancient worship was, of course, the high priest. His gorgeous array, his significant and meaningful garments alone would have set him aside. But he also had this marvelous prerogative. Once a year in the holy, high Day of Atonement, it was his privilege to enter beyond the veil, into the inner sanctuary and there to stand in the presence of the symbol of God Almighty [Leviticus 16:14-17, 29, 34; Hebrews 9:7]. And he stood there as the representative of the people, the whole nation: the good, the bad, the mean, the defiled, the holy, the pure, the wretched, the miserable, the honorable, and the great. And the great significant fact found in his standing in the holy sanctuary was this: that men, however they were – in their wretchedness, in their misery, in their poverty, in their sin, and lack, and want – men had still access unto God.
According to the passage that I have just read, there were two great necessary qualifications for the high priest. One, he had to be appointed by God, selected from heaven, set apart by the Almighty. Hebrews 5:4, "And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God." And the second great qualification was that he had to be taken from among men in order that he might be compassionate, and sympathetic with those whom he represented. "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained in things pertaining to God, that he might have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2].
So he had those two qualifications: first, to be ordained of God, and second, to be taken from among men. It is the same thing as if our government chooses an ambassador to a foreign court. He is chosen from us because he represents us and is in sympathy with us. And he must be acceptable to the court to which he is named. Thus, the high priest in the ancient ritual and the ancient worship, he was first ordained of God, appointed of heaven, set apart and called of the Lord [Hebrews 5:1-4]. And therein lies the great significance of his office. For had he been appointed by men, it would have been just the expression of the human heart in its yearning after God. "We selected him. We appointed him. And he makes supplication unto God at our behest, and in our behalf, at our choice, and in our election." He would have been just the expression of the human heart in its upreach after heaven.
But the fact that the high priest was ordained of God, selected of God, chosen of heaven, meant that God had opened a way for us to find access unto Him. It was God’s wish that the man draw near. And God had provided some holy way by which we could speak to Him face-to-face.
So the high priest was set apart and ordained by the Lord; God chose him, God selected him, God called him. And no man took the honor unto himself. No man could aspire to the office and achieve it. It was a God-appointed and God-ordained selection and ministry.
The second thing in the qualification was that he was taken from among men that he might be a compassionate high priest, for the unknowing and "them that are out of the way. For that, he himself was compassed with infirmity" [Hebrews 5:1-2], that he would know how to be tender and sympathetic and understanding with those who likewise were encompassed with infirmities. He was not an angel then. The high priest was not some other order of being. But he was a man in all things like unto his brethren. For in that he was a man, he would have a fellow feeling and a spirit of compassion for those on behalf of whom he stood in the presence of God.
For the high priest himself, when he entered into the Holy Place on the high Day of Atonement, entered first for himself and made expiation for his own infirmities. He divested himself of his gorgeous robes and clad plainly in linen, having washed, he took blood of atonement, and there in the presence of the holy God, made expiation for himself and for his family [Leviticus 16:6]. Then, after he had confessed his own infirmities, he placed his gorgeous robes – the miter, ephod, breastplate, onyx stones, bells, pomegranates – all of the regalia of the high office, then went into the Holy of Holies, representing his people [Leviticus 16:13-15]. For an angel could not enter into the holy presence with blood of expiation, and an angel was never dressed with an linen ephod, nor did an angel ever bear on his breast the twelve stones inscribed with the names of the people of God. But it was a man, always a man like unto his brethren, himself "compassed with infirmities" that he might "have compassion on the unknowing and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:2].
So the institution of the high priesthood in the ancient ritual: when an Israelite came to the house of God to stand in the presence of the Lord, he found somebody there who could understand his trials and his troubles. He never appeared, did an Israelite, before some higher order of angelic being who might listen to his troubles with a freezing glance, a chasm yawning between them; who, in serene indifference, unable to experience all of the trials that he himself had borne, sitting like a smiling Buddha – before whom I have seen the most wretched in the world grovel in ignorance and in poverty, in trial and distress – and that unfeeling, unsympathetic, uncompassionate removed deity, sits there forever in unconcern, smiling in an unfeeling serenity.
But when an Israelite came to worship the Lord, there was God’s servant, God’s man, God’s appointed intercessor, and he himself likewise, a man of infirmities [Hebrews 5:1-2]. He himself had trembled before God [Leviticus 16:6; Hebrews 5:3]. He himself knew what it was to be beaten, to be poor, to be wretched, to be sick, to be aged, to be infirm, to be tried. And there could the Israelite pour out his soul unto God’s representative and find in the high priest an answering and responsive heart.
I could see how men could admire an "Iron Duke" in the days of battle and war, but an iron priest is unthinkable. I can see walls of brass for defense in the hour of conflict and conquest, but it is unimaginable to me that seeking consolation and succor and sympathy in help, we find nothing but brass and iron. What we need is a branch of flesh and of blood and a heart that was schooled in the day of suffering taken from among men of like infirmities, that he might "have compassion on the unknowing and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2]. So the author presents the office of the high priest in the ancient ritual.
Now, he is saying that all of its meaning and its type and its significance finds its true substance in Jesus our Lord, who is our great High Priest [Hebrews 5:5-6]. And he applies both of these things to Jesus. He is appointed of God and He was taken from among men [Hebrews 7:14, 21]. He shared our humanity, our sufferings, our trials, our sorrows that He might "have compassion upon us who are unknowing and out of the way" [Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:2].
So, we take them. First, he was appointed of God. "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God [Hebrews 12:23]. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made a high priest." But God chose it. God appointed Him. God selected Him. God ordained Him. "Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee." And again, "Thou art a priest forever, not after the order of Aaron, who died, but after the order of him who had an endless ministry, after the order of Melchizedek."
So our Lord is God’s appointed Man; He is God’s elected Man. Jesus, our Savior has been set apart by God as the medium [1 Timothy 2:5] and the Intercessor and the Mediator [Hebrews 8:6, 9:15] by whom we have entrance into the heavenly sanctuaries [Hebrews 10:19-20]. God hath appointed Him through whose name we pray [John 14:13-14]. God hath set Him apart by whose power we live unto God. The Lord has done it. Christ did not assume His office unbidden, nor did He aspire to it and seek it. But God chose Him and set Him apart. From before the foundation of the world God selected Jesus, our Christ [Ephesians 1:3-4].
And when He was born into this world, He was born into the heart of the prophetic Scriptures [Matthew 1:22-23]. They pointed to Him through the ages. This is God’s selected Man. This is God’s sacrifice. This is God’s Mediator. This is God’s Intercessor. This is the One who shall teach His people the way to God.
When He was born into the world, the Holy Spirit and the angels set Him aside, appointed Him, ordained Him, as the Holy One of God [Luke 2:9-15, 26-27]. When He was baptized the voice came from heaven, "Thou art My Son, in whom I am well pleased" [Matthew 3:16-17]. And twice again was that same holy voice heard [Matthew 17:5; John 12:28]. And the Lord declared Him, set Him apart, pointed Him out, ordained Him as the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4]. "This is God’s appointed Man." And the Lord opened to Him the gates of glory, and He entered into the heavenly sanctuary as the appointed Ambassador, representing us in the high, holy courts of heaven [Acts 1:9; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:24-25].
Somehow, there is an instinct in the human soul for a mediator, a representative, an intercessor, a pleader, an advocate before God. All over this world – around this world in every nation, in every kind, in every tribe, in every language – have I seen that instinct reaching out for a pleader, an intercessor, a representative before God. Sometimes, it will be saint. Sometimes, it will be virgin. Sometimes, it will be patron. And they bow down and plead with the saint for intercession before God, bow down before the virgin, bow down before patron, pleading for an advocate with God.
This great author says that we have no need of a saint, no need of a virgin; no need of a patron, for Jesus is God’s appointed Mediator and Intercessor to plead our cause before heaven itself [1 John 2:1]. In Him is the full answer to the instinct of the human heart, an advocate, an intercessor, a pleader, a representative before God.
I stood at the grave of William Carey in Calcutta, India. And on that grave is one of the most pathetic sentences I have ever read in all literature. Carved inside, deep in the stone that marks his grave are these words: "A poor, miserable, helpless worm. On Thy kind arms I fall." Wretched, and miserable, and sick, and infirm, and aged, and now dying, "on Thy kind arms I fall."
He is our representative to lift up the fallen, to give strength in our weakness, to give life in our death. That is why He stands at the bar of God; God’s appointed Advocate for us, the court-appointed Lawyer and Intercessor and Pleader and Defender for us. God is not against me, God is for me. And however beaten or victorious, however strong or weak, however young or aged and infirm, He is there at the appointment of God to plead my cause, to answer my prayers, to save my soul.
That is what He means. That is why He is there. He is my Representative. He is my Advocate, appointed by the highest tribunal in the universe, at the court of the bar of Almighty God. And I need no other. All-sufficient grace, all-sufficient help in Christ our Lord, our High Priest, appointed by God for that ministry of mediation [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:24-25].
Then the author says of our Lord that He also was taken from among men, "that He was compassed with infirmity that He might have compassion on the unknowing and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:2]. He was acceptable unto God, appointed by the Lord.
Every boy in the seminary learns that first Greek sentence in John’s Gospel, En archē ēn ho logos, kai o logos ēn pros ton theon [John 1:1]. And that Greek phrase pros ton theon means "face-to-face, as an equal with God." As Paul wrote it:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held on –
to be grasped to be equal –
with God: But made Himself of no reputation, poured Himself out and was made in the likeness of a man, formed in the fashion of a servant.
"Equal with God" [Philippians 2:6], face-to-face with God, acceptable to God, appointed by God, knowing God and all of the secrets beyond the veil, He also was taken from among men. He became a man that as a man He might experience the trials and the sufferings, the troubles and the heartaches of His brethren [Philippians 2:7-8].
And that gives rise to the most beautiful passages in the Book of Hebrews. Twice before has the author already spoken of the sympathy of Christ because He understood us and was one of us. In the second chapter:
For both He that sanctified us and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it Behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.
[Hebrews 2:11, 16-18]
Then, he wrote of it again:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried like as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace and help in the time of need.
"Taken from among men,compassed with infirmities," that He might "have compassion on the unknowing and on us who are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2]. So our Lord came and identified Himself with us, made common cause with common flesh, for you can’t learn suffering by reading it in a book. It has to be written on the heart. And our Lord became a servant, humble, experiencing all of the trials that we ourselves know [Philippians 2:7, Hebrews 4:15]. "He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:3]. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I guess that would be less than you could buy an animal, thirty pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16]. And He was denied by cursing, by one of His best and closest [Matthew 26:69-74] – and on: and the nation to whom He was sent mocked [Matthew 27:29-31, 39-43], and rejected Him [Matthew 27:15-22]. And a governor, in guilty weakness, delivered Him to the fury of an angry mob [Matthew 27:23-26]. And I would suppose that from the Cross, He had the fullest and the awfulest view of the tragedy of humanity that the world could ever, ever know. He sank into our wretchedness, and He knew the depths of our miseries. And in it He cried, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, My God, why, oh why, hast Thou forsaken Me?" [Matthew 27:46].
From among men, encompassed with infirmity, just like us, that He might "have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2], that He might have compassion on the ignorant. If all of the ignorant came, we would all come, all of us. How little do we understand and how little do we know. Oh, I realize there are some who think they know everything; they have all of the answers. They rashly and proudly stand in the presence of God on their own all-sufficient merits. God could never be known to them, nor could they ever know God. The sun shines, but they close their eyes. The thunder peels but they shut their ear. The proud, the self-sufficient, the vain, the ostentatious, the sophisticated, the cruelly, coldly barren sterile intellectual, He could never know God. "That He might have compassion on the ignorant" [Hebrews 5:1].
But if you don’t know, and you don’t understand, and you can’t see, and you can’t explain, the High Priest will teach you. Sentence at a time, in simple, plain words; here a little, there a little, today, tomorrow, line upon line, precept upon precept [Isaiah 28:9-10, 13]. Like He took the ignorant tax-gatherers and fishermen and humble people and taught them in parables and in plain, simple sentences the way of the Lord [Mark 4:33-34]. He will teach you that way – plainly, humbly, simply, a little at a time, a day at a time, syllable at a time, sentence at a time – through this grief, through that valley, in this trial, in the dead of this night He will teach us, for He is taken from among men, and was encompassed with infirmities that He might have compassion on the unknowing, on us who don’t understand, "and on them that are out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2]. And there again, He has included us all; "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way," [Isaiah 53:6] that He might have compassion on them that are out of the way [Hebrews 5:1-2].
We’re "out of the way" by nature [Ephesians 2:3, 12]. There’s a black drop of depravity in all of us. And, we’re "out of the way" [Hebrews 5:2], by self-will and choice. And the Lord understands and has compassion on us who are "out of the way," self-willed; said "No!" where we ought to say "Yes!" Said "Yes" where we ought to have said "No," stumbled where we ought to have walked straight, bowed in weakness where we should have been strong; He understands and has compassion on us who are "out of the way" [Hebrews 5:1-2].
And the great author presents Him as our all-sufficient Savior. "Able to save to the uttermost" [Hebrews 7:25], he says to the end, "because He ever liveth," has an undying priesthood like Melchizedek [Hebrews 7:5-16]. "Because He ever liveth to make intercession for us" [Hebrews 7:25], and there He stands, our great High Priest. Our names are inscribed on the breastplate that lies on His heart. Our names are inscribed on the onyx stones that adorn His shoulders. And our names are on His lips as He pleads our cause and our case in the great high court of heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].
In this appeal may I say a word of the way Jesus helps us? Sometimes we are inclined to think that our great Lord helps the people like we would throw bones to a hungry dog. No, He does it prudently and orderly, beautifully, quietly. He made the hungry people sit down in companies on the green grass. Then He took the food and blessed it and gave to the disciples, and they gave to the people [John 6:10-11]. And He did it beautifully and quietly and orderly, prudently and wisely.
So our Lord blesses His people today. There is a way, there is a form, there is a company, there is an orderliness. The Lord speaks to our hearts and bids us come [Matthew 11:28]. And He has a way for us to come, before men, standing in the congregation to confess our faith in Him [Romans 10:9]. Then He has us to be baptized according to a meaningful ordinance and commandment [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5]. Then He places us in His church and there, through the days and the years with our fellow members, He feeds us and watches over us and takes care of us [Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2]. He does it always in an orderly way [1 Corinthians 14:40].
And that is God’s great appeal to His people now. Have you ever confessed Him publicly? Have you ever stood up in the congregation to avow your personal faith in Jesus as Lord? Then He bids you; this is His way of blessing. Come. Come, standing before the people, "I take Jesus as Savior." Then He has His people in His church, adding to His body [Ephesians 4:16]. And in this city, in the heart of this city, is this glorious congregation whom we love as we love our own lives. If you were to take a cardiogram of thousands of our people, you would find written on that cardiogram "the First Baptist Church in Dallas." God adds to His church in His blessing for His people. Then together in prayer, in Bible study, in singing the hymns of Zion, in encouragement, He takes care of us. He feeds us. He blesses us, our living Lord.
And that’s our invitation to you this solemn morning hour. In the balcony round, the stairway here and at the back, would you come? On this lower floor into the aisle, and down here to the front, would you come? "Today, I give my heart in trust to Jesus." Or, "Today, we place our lives in the fellowship of this precious church," the body of Christ, bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh [Ephesians 5:30]. Would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, into the aisle, down a stairwell to the pastor, "I give you my hand, pastor. I give my heart to God. Here I am and here I come," while we stand and while we sing.
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Central figure of ancient worship – the high priest
B. Two necessary qualifications for the high priest
1. Appointed by and ordained of God(Hebrews 5:4)
2. Taken from among men(Hebrews 5:1-3)
a. Representative not an angel, but a man
b. When an Israelite came to worship, he found a high priest who understood weakness and sorrow
II. All the meaning of the type finds true substance in Jesus
A. Appointed of God (Hebrews 5:4-6)
1. He did not assume the office unbidden
2. Prophets spake of Him, angels announced Him, voice of heaven declared Him
3. The instinct in the soul for an advocate before God
4. He is our great representative and intercessor
a. Grave of William Carey
B. He was taken from among men(Hebrews 5:1, John 1:1, Philippians 2:6-8)
1. The sympathy of Christ because He was one of us (Hebrews 2:9-18, 4:14-16)
2. He knew the depths of our miseries (Matthew 27:46)
C. He can have compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way(Hebrews 5:2)