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Royal Priesthood

Hebrews  5

It is unfortunate that the church decided (rather early) to create a class of individuals known as priests. It diminishes the grand doctrine of the royal priesthood of all believers. Such a priesthood, however, must have a high priest – Jesus.

1Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

4No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;

today I have become your Father.££

6And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

in the order of Melchizedek.ӣ

7During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.


The humanity of the priesthood

God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that we need someone to stand between us and his awesome righteousness. He appointed no angel to this task; rather, he has always chosen humans.

The ability to sympathize

Some time ago the press chuckled deliciously at a second hand store. The reason was simple; the items in that store came from the CEO of Enron. His wife ran the store. For her, I suppose, it was a terrible change of position. But most of us cannot sympathize with her; we’ve never been millionaires.

That ability to sympathize – to say, “I know how you feel,” is essential to a priest. It comes from “having been there.” Paul teaches us here that it has two advantages:

  • Such a priest can deal gently with ignorance. At one time or another, all of us have been ignorant. I know of no one, however, who likes to have that fact trumpeted about. So I wish to cure my ignorance in a way which does not crush me with humiliation. Therefore, I am more willing to listen to the one who enlightens me gently.
  • Such a priest can deal gently with those who go astray. All of us are sinners; there are many temptations common to all of us. None of us like to hear hellfire and brimstone. None of us like to go to the dentist, either. But when we must, we prefer the dentist who uses the anesthetic.
Priesthood given by God

It seems there is one qualification for priesthood: God selects you. He makes it clear in the Old Testament that priests had to come from the tribe of Levi. There is absolutely no question of “earning it.” He will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.

Indeed, the only qualification seems to be humanity. Here we see God recognizing our needs. He says, in effect, that no one is worthy to be his priest. No one of us can stand between the wrath of God and poor mortals. Therefore, since none of us are qualified, he will select his priests in such manner as to show that fact – and thus we will know it is not our merit but his choice that makes us priests.

Did I say, “us?” Yes, us. The Scripture tells us that we are a royal priesthood. And like the ancient one, not one of us can deserve it.

High Priest

Do you not see it? If Christ is High Priest, then those who follow him must be priests also. Christ is also King of Kings; therefore this priesthood is a royal priesthood. So what shall we do?

  • Recognize that we are called to this priesthood. Know that we are the ones who go between God and man – for each other, and all those who do not yet know Christ.
  • In so doing, we must “deal gently.” Remember that we are but sinners, and our condemnation is not good. The Spirit will convict of sin and judgment; we must hold out the hope of forgiveness and salvation.
  • Remember, most of all, we did not earn this. He gave it to us by grace.

Does this seem strange to you? Remember that Jesus is our High Priest. As the children say, What Would Jesus Do? If he is High Priest, and we his imitation, then we are priests too.


Drive from your mind, if you will, the picture of priests in flowing robes. This priesthood is in imitation of our Lord, and it therefore is very different.

Prayers, petitions and tears

Is your prayer life weak? Consider how our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Do his prayers there sound like yours, or are yours rather weak and singsong instead? The phrasing in this passage gives you a clue to a more powerful prayer life.

  • Begin with prayers – a solemn discussion of your heart’s desire before God.
  • Intensify your call; turn from prayer to petition. Prayer seems to mean just once; a petition must be circulated. Ask others to pray with you; persist in prayer.
  • Finally, throw your entire life into your prayers. He may have heard your prayers, even seen your petition – but has he felt your tears? Are you so intent that your heart aches for the object of your prayers?

Christ did that, and we are told his prayers were heard. But in the garden they were not granted. If you will pray as he did, you will be heard – but God’s purposes must prevail. It is wisdom and humility to acknowledge this – and to accept it.

Indeed, this passage assures us that Christ was not heard for his position but for his reverent submission. In those two words lie the secret to prayer:

  • Reverent – meaning one who acknowledges the power and majesty of God Almighty, and knows prayer to be an act of daring.
  • Submission – meaning one who accepts the complete authority of God – and lives his life that way.
Learning obedience through suffering

If you see only the divine side of Christ, you might ask, “What did he have to learn in the way of obedience?” It seems to contradict his sinless nature. But consider: if you are a football player, there are many books you can read which will help you with your skills. But if you read, but do not practice, you will not make the team. You must practice (to the Christian, be obedient) as you play.

  • If you wish to remain in the coach’s good graces, practice. If you wish to remain in God’s love, be obedient.[1]
  • Christ did this; at the very least we should see in this an example of the humility which befits his followers.
  • Ultimately, suffering perfected Jesus for his task. This does not mean that he somehow “became” sinless; rather, he became prepared.
Being heard

We know that God hears the prayers of the righteous. In Christ’s example we can learn much about how to be heard:

  • Are you serious about your prayers, or are they just motions, somehow required by God?
  • Are your prayers flip and casual, or do you approach him in an attitude of reverent submission?
  • Have you learned obedience? Are you willing to try?

Slow to learn

Paul ends this little section with his frustration. Have you ever explained something to your children that which they should know by now? You can sympathize with Paul here; it’s hard to explain things to the “slow to learn” crowd. Unfortunately, some of us are proud of our slowness. But consider:

  • God often tests us to show us our own slowness.[2] When he does, we should listen and learn.
  • Sometimes God does the opposite; he withholds things from us because we are not yet ready for them.[3] In this way he shows his mercy.
  • Sometimes we hear what God says – and find it difficult. We then twist it into something we want to hear.[4]
  • Most often, our “slow to learn” is simply the hardness of our hearts.[5]

This is most injurious to us – but even more so to the church around us.

Admonish and teach

The members of this class, like the Hebrews to whom this was written, should be ready to pass the faith along. In particular, we need to be those who admonish and teach each other – royal priests, interceding for each other.

  • Do you complain that this is too hard to understand? Consider well that the word is revealed to little children, but not to the wise.[6] Perhaps our own wisdom stands in the way.
  • If we are to teach each other, then surely we must have the word in our hearts first.[7] Perhaps the reason you don’t feel very priestly is that the word has fallen into rocky ground with you.
  • We must also do this in the appropriate style. Remember, when you teach or admonish, you are to do it as if you were speaking the words of God.[8] In a very real sense, you are.
The test of maturity

So, how do I know when I’ve reached this stage? See the three tests that Paul puts before us:

  • We must be those who receive instruction and put it into “constant use.” If we use this only on Sunday, we cannot please God.
  • We must also be “trained.” This implies formal instruction – so are you listening to the sermons, working in a small fellowship – and in general opening yourself up for instruction?
  • All this is so that we can distinguish good from evil.

Good from evil? Is that it? Surely that’s not too difficult to do.

Consider, however, that this problem is as old as Adam – who flunked, by the way. It is difficult. Indeed, it might be completely beyond us, were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit within us.[9] By his power we can become mature.

I must close with a word of caution. In becoming mature, there is the temptation to become a Pharisee – one who piously condemns others. Listen to Paul’s words to the Romans:

1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

(Romans 14, NIV)

Remember that the priesthood is composed of human beings – who therefore can be gentle with one another.

[1] John 15:10

[2] John 6:16

[3] John 16:12

[4] 2 Peter 3:16

[5] Mark 8:17ff

[6] Matthew 11:25

[7] Colossians 3:16

[8] 1 Peter 4:11

[9] 1 Corinthians 2:14

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