Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect,
so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,
to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
(Hebrews 2:17 ESV)
When we hear the word priest, many different images come to mind. If you're from a catholic background, you think of the leader of your local parish. Many just picture a man with a white block in the middle of his collar in sharp contrast to the black shirt. Others may think of Old Testament images of the Levitical priesthood offering sacrifices.
When Hebrews uses the language of priest, it's referring to the sacrifice offering, Levitical priesthood. These men were responsible for administering the many different sacrifices and offerings the people of Israel were required to give. It was their job to mediate between the people and God. The priests were allowed to do certain things and be in certain places in the Temple that the common people were not. Hebrews 5:1 defines their role this way, "For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins."
These priests, being sinful humans themselves, also had to offer sacrifices for their own sins in addition to the sins of the people. So, their work was never done because they and the people they served were never done sinning. And, because the law and sacrificial system has "but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near" (Hebrews 10:1).
Therefore, if our sins were to be forgiven, we needed the substance, not the shadow. And, in Christ we have been given the substance. He came to be our perfect and last Great High Priest, "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17). Because Jesus took on flesh, he was able to become the high priest we needed.
Jesus, being perfect and without sin, did not need to offer sacrifices for himself; nor, does he need to continually offer sacrifices for the people. Instead, he "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins" and "sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12). A priest was never able to sit down because his work was never done. The temple had all kinds of furniture - tables, bowls, and candles. But, one thing it didn't have was chairs. When Jesus offered himself as the propitiation for our sins he sat down. He was finished. There was no more sacrificial work to be done.
Let's be thankful this Christmas that Jesus was made to be like us by taking on flesh so that he could become our merciful and faithful high priest.
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