Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
“Heb. 5:1a “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God,…”
Sin disturbed the original relationship between God and man. It put up a barrier, and men can come with boldness into the presence of God (4:16) solely because God in mercy established a system whereby men could do it.
God graciously allowed men access to Himself, but to remind us of the great distance between God and men, He granted access to Himself solely through the means of mediators. As a constant reminder of man’s sinfulness in contrast to God’s holiness, no communication is allowed between man and God apart from a go between.
In Old Testament days, certain men were set aside to stand in the place of men to deal with things pertaining to God. These representatives of men were called priests, men who came between God and man, making a link between the two.
Heb. 5:1b “… that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:”
God’s holiness required not only mediators, but also sacrifices, for men to have access to Himself. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, no restoration of the relationship between God and men. To remind us again of the vast distance between God and men, it was ordained that men could not even offer gifts and sacrifices to God apart from a mediator.
Access to God required two interrelated things: a mediator and the shedding of blood. Priests and sacrifices are essential, and both go together. Take away either, and you destroy the other. Sacrifices are useless without a priest. A priest is no peacemaker without a sacrifice.
Heb. 5:2a “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way;…”A priest was expected to have compassion on the ignorant, those who do not know the full dangers and misery or the course in which they walk. A priest was to have compassion on them that are out of the way, the ones who have strayed into paths of sin and error.
The Jews of Jesus’ day never saw a High Priest like this. From the fall of the house of Zadok, when Onias III was assassinated (171 BC), till the fall of the Temple (70 AD), few High Priests manifested worthy qualities. They were essentially politicians doing religious deeds.
The callous High Priesthood eventually ruined the attitude of most priests in Israel. They became professional businessmen rather than ministering servants. Though hundreds upon hundreds of priests lived in Jesus’ day, “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (MT 9:36). There were clergymen everywhere, but no shepherds.
Coldness is ever a problem among “religious professionals.” Some ministers are like drill sergeants. I would rather be like Dr. Criswell, who is so softhearted that his people almost have to isolate him from those in need to keep him from giving everything away. We do not have to be at either extreme, but it is better to be duped than to be hard.
Men might admire and iron duke for war, but who wants and iron minister in times of trouble? People who truly sense the need of a minister are already feeling low and dejected. They are distressed, sorrowful, and ready to repent. They need compassion.
We are not to condone the sins of men, but neither are we to drive away the sinner. The only ones that should be excluded from our help are those that exclude themselves.
We must be willing to teach the ignorant. Ezra was upset with the sins of his people, but he “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). We must bear with the sheep without getting annoyed and irritated.
We must be tender enough to lead the straying ones back to the right path, and rejoice over every wandering sheep that refinds its way. We need a calm gentleness, and grace to keep from losing our tempers when men are foolish.
Whatever position one fills with regard to the work of God, compassion is a must, for love compels men to surround itself. Compassion will help men gather around us, thereby giving us the chance to point them to Jesus.
Avoid callousness as carefully as you would avoid a dreaded disease. If we are too cold, too hard, too stern, men will avoid us. People will not follow an unloving minister long. Children will not enjoy an unloving Sunday school teacher long. The sheep will not abide an unloving church long. Compassion is the necessary ingredient.
Our verse deals with helping the saved, but allow me a word with regard to the lost. Compassion is also the key to effective evangelism. We must love men’s souls more than they do their own. Some will never awaken to their own need of salvation until they become curious, wondering why someone else cares.
Heb. 5:2b “…for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.”
Priests were not super-saints. They were fellow saints, beset with the same weaknesses and problems others had. Anyone dealing with the sins of others had best first look well unto his own. It would be terrible hypocrisy to deal with the sins of others while being careless about one’s own.
Knowing that the ministers are fellow saints should help the sheep come to their shepherd more readily. They know he is one of them, a friend who understands. They can approach him without feeling, devastating awe. They can freely talk to him, and tell him their trials and troubles, for he does not give an aura of freezing distance.
Heb. 5:3 “And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.”
A ministering priest was to have no guilt resting upon him. He had to be clean himself before he could lead others to cleanliness. Hence, the priests of old, being sinners, had to offer sacrifice for their own sins.
Even the High Priest, being a sinner, had to offer sacrifice for himself. No dignity of position, no merit, no prestige, can deliver a sinner from standing in need of a sacrifice for sin.
The imperfections of the Aaronic priests starkly revealed the ultimate failure of any earthly priest. An ideal priest could never be found among the sinful sons of men. The flaws of the priests helped prepare the way for making men ready to receive an infinitely better priest.
Every man who served as a priest in old days was merely a picture of the only real priest. Once He came, the name “priest” should have never again been used of any other man in a mediating sense. Spurgeon felt the greatest blasphemy of Roman Catholicism was having clergymen called priests. He deemed it an ultimate attack against the sole priesthood of Jesus.
All believers are priests in the sense of not having to use earthly mediators in coming to God. We come directly to the Father through our High Priest, Jesus, the sole mediator between God and man. No other man has the right to be called priest in the sense of mediating between God and man.
To have access to the Father, men still need a priest and a sacrifice. Both are found in Jesus of Nazareth.