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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Messiah Psalm

Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted text in the New Testament. Why? And what did Yeshua mean when he quoted it to challenge the concept of a Davidic Messiah?

Listen to a study of Hebrews 4:14-5:6 which unwraps Psalm 110 and introduces the priesthood of Messiah. “The Messiah Psalm” offers discussion about the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 as it appears in the teaching of Yeshua (Mark 12) and the Epistle of Hebrews.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirteen: The Messiah Psalm
Originally presented on April 13, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”;
just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

-Hebrews 4:14-5:6 (NASB)

Lancaster teaches some really interesting things in this session, but we have to get there first.

As he often does, Lancaster begins by recapping his previous sermon, in this case by reminding us that we need a priest to approach God, to approach paradise, because we have big angels and a flaming sword keeping us out.

Lancaster also reminds us of who the original readership of the writer of the Hebrews epistle was, and it sure wasn’t us, that is, twenty-first century (Gentile) Christians. The original audience, from Lancaster’s point of view, were first century Hellenistic Jews living in Judea. They had just suffered the martyrdom of James the Just, brother of the Master, the head of the Apostolic Council, along with other important leaders, and they had either just been denied access to the Temple and Priesthood or they were about to be denied. The Sadducees, who controlled access to the Temple, never got along with the Master Yeshua (Jesus) because they deny the resurrection and the existence of the divine soul, both of which the Master taught.

PriestsFrom a Christian’s point of view, it’s very important to realize that the Jewish disciples of the Master did not have a problem with the Temple or the Priesthood at all. They only had a problem with the corruption of the Sadducees who at that point in history controlled access to the Priesthood and the Temple sacrifices. Most Christians read Hebrews as the anti-Levitical Priesthood and anti-Temple book in the Bible, so it’s important to point out these distinctions.

In the next part of the sermon, Lancaster takes us on a small but important detour away from Hebrews and into the Gospel of Mark:

They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

-Mark 11:27-28 (NASB)

Lancaster says that Yeshua evaded the question for about a chapter and then got down to the heart of the matter.

By chapter 12, verse 34, Jesus had so deftly responded to all of his challengers that no one dared to ask him anymore questions. Then Jesus had a question of his own:

And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ [Messiah] is the son of David?”

-Mark 12:35 (NASB)

This is one of those questions that if we don’t consider the context of what was going on and we don’t apprehend the query in the manner of a first-century Jew, we’ll completely miss the meaning. Asking if the Messiah is the Son of David is like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Of course, he is! It’s incredibly obvious. So why did Jesus ask this question?

David himself said in the Holy Spirit,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.”’

David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

-Mark 12:36-37 (NASB)

Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. It was common for him to refer to older scriptures, so on the surface, this doesn’t seem unusual. It was common for Paul and the other apostles to quote from previous scriptures, so again, it doesn’t seem to be an unusual event.

King DavidBut of all the Old Testament scriptures quoted in the New Testament, Psalm 110 is the one quoted most often, being cited a total of fifteen times, with nine of those mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The apostles related to Psalm 110 as one of these most noteworthy Messianic prophesies (with Psalm 2 being the other). What was Jesus, and later the writer to the Hebrews, trying to say that we miss, especially in English?

Lancaster tells us that English language Bibles render Psalm 110 poorly because they generally translate the words “my Master” and “Hashem” both as “Lord”. This gives the impression that God is talking to Himself.

Lancaster reads the ESV translation of Psalm 110 but with some slight differences that render it more comprehensible. I’ll reproduce it here with those differences formatted in bold and underlined text.

Hashem says to my Master:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Hashem sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
Hashem has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Master is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

-Psalm 110

The craziness of this Psalm is that David, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, referred to his descendent, his “son” as it were, as his “Master.” No son is Master of his father. This was Yeshua’s point. The Messiah was surely the Son of David but Psalm 110 also understands that Messiah is more than the Son of David. If Messiah was only the Son of David, he would be seated at David’s right hand.

Licht senderSince Messiah is seated at God’s right hand, whose son does that make him (hint, hint)?

Lancaster read from a collection of traditional Jewish midrash which incredibly, has Abraham also asking why Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham ultimately, is seated at God’s right hand.

The Even Zohar, Rabbi Yeshiel Tzvi Lichtenstein in his commentary on Mark 12:25 states that Messiah was indeed the Son of David in the flesh and the Son of God in the Spirit.

Yeshua was confirming that he was the Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. Lancaster says it was Yeshua’s interpretation of Psalm 110 that resulted in his execution.

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

-Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)

If the high priest had just asked “are you the Messiah” and Jesus had said “yes,” maybe he could have been wrong but it wouldn’t be blasphemy. But the high priest asked if Jesus was Messiah and Son of God, and Jesus answered yes. That’s what caused the high priest to condemn Jesus to death.

Now back to Hebrews 4 and our need for a high priest.

Lancaster spent a fair amount of time stating that Jesus had to be fully a human being, not just God or an angel masquerading as a human being. When Jesus was tempted, it had to be completely possible for him to give in to temptation and sin. It’s not temptation if there isn’t a real risk of sinning and if it was actually impossible for Jesus to sin, then he wasn’t really tempted, and therefore, he wasn’t really human. It had to be very possible for Jesus to sin, just like the rest of us. The only difference is that unlike the rest of us, Jesus passed every test and never, ever sinned.

This is where I got stuck last week, since it seems like someone who passed every test still wouldn’t be able to empathize with all of humanity because only he passed all the tests. The rest of us fail.

The High PriestBut in his sermon, as Lancaster entered Hebrews 5, he said this was a very important point. When the writer of Hebrews describes the high priest in verses 1 and 2, he’s not thinking of the then corrupt Sadduceeian high priest, but the ideal among high priests, Aaron. Ironically, one of Aaron’s highest qualifications, according to Lancaster, for the high priesthood was his sin in the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). It was because Aaron sinned that he could empathize with the weakness of the Israelites and have compassion as he atoned for their sins.

But this presents a problem, at least in an eternal sense.

…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

-Hebrews 5:2-3 (NASB)

Aaron, or the idealized high priest, could “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but on the other hand, he still had to offer sacrifices for himself because he too sinned.

While Aaron was the greatest and most noble of the high priests, there was still one who had better qualifications, one who could also empathize and “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” but ”One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Verse 5 quotes from Psalm 110 and verse 6 is the writer’s proof text:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Lancaster leaves us hanging at the meaning of “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” so I suppose we’ll have to wait until next week to get into what all that’s about.

What Did I Learn?

I liked the “straightening out” of Psalm 110 so that it becomes easier to tell “who’s who” in the text. Also, I found the emphasis of Lancaster (and the writer of Hebrews) on the humanity of Jesus compelling. I’ve heard Christians refer to Jesus again and again as a “man-god,” which makes him sound like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel rather than who he was and is. It’s fascinating to consider Jesus, our high priest in the Heavenly Court, as fully a human being and out of that sinless humanity, he is able to empathize with flawed and failing people in his being the atonement for our sins. I still struggle with how one who has never failed, as Aaron failed, could ever really feel empathy and completely understand, not only real temptation and the risk of failure, which Jesus did experience, but also how we actually, miserably fail, which Jesus never experienced.

The Death of the MasterIf Jesus had failed, he’d understand us better, but if he failed, he would have been disqualified and never would have ascended to be seated at Hashem’s right hand as our Master.

I can imagine this interpretation presenting some difficulties for many Christians relative to the traditional understanding of the “Godhead” and Trinitarian doctrine. I don’t think Lancaster is challenging this necessarily, but he is forcing us (me, anyway) to view the nature and character of Messiah differently. He was, and arguably still is, fully and completely human and the Son of David according to the flesh, but also fully and completely the Son of God according to the Spirit. How this works, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows, although there are plenty of opinions to go around, including the denial of the Master’s divine nature completely.

I can only imagine that Lancaster in his analysis of the Book of Hebrews, may have taken this one on as his sermon series progressed. Right now, at the end of sermon thirteen, we’re hanging at the priesthood of Melchizedek. Next week, Hashem be willing, we’ll learn more.

Emor: Being Your Slave What Should I Do?

onfire.jpgAnd G-d said to Moses: … [a Kohen] shall not contaminate himself [through contact with] the dead of his people. Except for his closest kin–his mother, father, son, daughter or brother. Or for his virgin sister… who has not married a man–for her, he should contaminate himself…

But the Kohen Gadol, the greater of his brethren… may not come in contact with any dead; [even] for his father or mother, he may not contaminate himself.

-Leviticus 21:1-11

A heretic once asked Rabbi Avahu: “Your G-d is a Kohen; so in what did He immerse Himself after He buried Moses?” Replied Rabbi Avahu: “He immersed in fire.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a

But one thing remains unresolved: surely G-d is no ordinary Kohen, but a Kohen Gadol, whose greater holiness proscribes any exposure to impurity, even for the sake of his closest relatives. How, then, could G-d “contaminate” Himself, even for His “children” or His “sister”?

Put another way: if, in His relationship with us, G-d assumes the role of an ordinary Kohen, whose lesser holiness allows him contact with impurity for the sake of “Israel, His kin,” G-d certainly transcends this role, possessing also the inviolable sanctity of the Kohen Gadol.

“A Pool of Fire”
-Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Chabad.org

I couldn’t help but think, not only of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, but of his role as High Priest in the Court of Heaven. One role seems inconsistent with the other, because how can the High Priest cleanse himself when he has not only touched the dead, but has been the dead person? It’s a mystery I choose not to pursue because, in all likelihood, it cannot be pursued from the mortal realm, but then again, Rabbi Tauber also said this of God as the High Priest:

As “Kohen Gadol,” G-d effects all without being affected, pervading the lowliest tiers of His creation without being tainted by their deficiencies. Yet G-d chooses to also assume the more vulnerable holiness of the divine “ordinary Kohen” (which translates, on the human level, into the ordinary Kohen’s permission to contaminate himself in certain circumstances): to contaminate Himself by His burial of Moses, to suffer along with His people, to bloody Himself in the process of extracting them from exile. He wants us to know that He is not only there with us wherever we are, but that He also subjects Himself to everything that we are subject to.

At the same time, He is also there with us as “Kohen Gadol”: transcending it all, and empowering us to also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.

I know that I’m reading far more into this than Rabbi Tauber would ever have intended, but again, we see Jesus as both mortal man and Divine High Priest of Heaven. As “Kohen Gadol,” the Messiah transcends our world in inviolable sanctity, but as the teacher who walked among his people Israel, he pervaded “the lowliest tiers of His creation without being tainted by their deficiencies.”

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

-2 Corinthians 5:21

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

-Hebrews 4:15

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

-1 Peter 2:22

Rabbi Tauber also says this, as was quoted above.

…transcending it all, and empowering us to also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.

Jesus lived among human flesh as human flesh and yet did not sin. And he died and was resurrected and in glory, sits at the right hand of the Father. And he is our High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary who never sinned and yet who can sympathize with our human weaknesses.

Shechinah-Above-The-TownAnd if I can borrow from Rabbi Tauber, by Messiah’s holiness and his example to us, we can aspire to become better than who we are, as he has empowered us to “also attain something of His inviolable sanctity.” How like Paul’s comment from 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “we might become the righteousness of God” is the commentary from the Rabbi?

Although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), it is also said, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Thus holiness is something to be acquired by man, not purely through our own efforts but through faith, and yet not only through faith, but through our efforts.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40

Jesus the man. Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the Priest. Jesus the Divine. It’s hard to know how to relate to him. Most Christians prefer to address Jesus as a close friend and companion, a “bosom buddy,” even a cuddly comforter. Yet in Revelation 1:17 when John, who had walked with Jesus in this world, saw him in the Heavenly realm, he ” fell at his feet as though dead.”

God is at once Almighty in the ultimate, cosmic, radically One sense, and also close to His people, acting tenderly toward us, as a Father, as a husband, as a brother:

It would therefore follow that G-d, who ascribes to Himself the Halachic status of a Kohen (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a) is precluded by Torah law from “contaminating” Himself through contact with the impurities of mortality. Yet the Torah tells us that G-d Himself buried Moses, and the Talmud discusses how He subsquently purified Himself in a “pool of fire.” Our sages explain: The people of Israel are “G-d’s children”; Moses is thus one of G-d’s “closest kin,” for whom a Kohen is permitted–indeed obligated–to become tameh.

-Tauber

Rabbi Tauber comments from a Talmudic and mystic sense, so we probably can’t directly apply his words to our discussion on Jesus, but his imagery is so wonderfully kind, gentle, and intimate, that it’s difficult to resist such an “inappropriate” application.

For we too have been dead in our sins and yet Jesus cared enough to bury us with him, so to speak, so that we could come alive in the resurrected Christ.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

-Ephesians 2:1-6

rabbi_wasserman_funeralMetaphorically then, as our Kohen, he “is permitted–indeed obligated–to become tameh” for the sake of his beloved ones.

I know that for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been commenting on the various articles in David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. Messianic Judaism stresses a significant distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Ekklesia of Messiah, but for today’s commentary, I chose to focus on what we have in common. Although Israel was chosen and remains the “apple of God’s eye,” so to speak, I can’t believe that we Gentiles are the proverbial “left-handed, red-headed foster children” of God, and that He merely tolerates us and only truly loves Israel. For the promises of Messiah to be true, we have to be his beloved children as well, so that Jesus was willing, even obligated, to become “tameh” for us as well.

What would I do for the High Priest who considered me as a close member of his family, and who attended to my “body” while I was “dead in sin?” What wouldn’t I do?

I would be willing to take the lowest position in the Kingdom, the moral equivalent of the guy who cleans the toilets or takes the trash out to the dumpster while everyone else is seeking glory, seats at the head of the banquet table, and partying with the Prince in the palace, just so I could be the least of his servants.

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.

-William Shakespeare
Sonnet 57

Good Shabbos.

152 days.

Intermediaries

The Torah at SinaiAny belief that an intermediary between man and God could be used, whether necessary or even optional, has traditionally been considered heretical. Maimonides writes “God is the only one we may serve and praise….We may not act in this way toward anything beneath God, whether it be an angel, a star, or one of the elements…..There are no intermediaries between us and God. All our prayers should be directed towards God; nothing else should even be considered.”

-from Jewish Principles of Faith (Wikipedia)

It is a positive precept to pray every day to the blessed God for Scripture says, “and Him shall you serve” (D’varim 6:13); and through the Oral Tradition our Sages of blessed memory learned (Talmud Bavli, Ta’anith 2a) that this service means prayer. For Scripture states, “and to serve Him with all your heart” (D’varim 11:13): What is service with the heart? – prayer.

-from The Concise Book of Mitzvoth
Compiled by The Chafetz Chayim

I’m continuing to read D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians and this part of his commentary about Galatians 3:17-20 struck me as interesting:

Paul said angels put the Torah in place by an intermediary, which is Moses. The martyr Stephen made a similar statement in Acts 7:33 where he spoke of “the law delivered by angels”.

As we see in the previous quotes, one of the principle beliefs in Judaism is that there is no intermediary between a Jew and His God (I recall hearing my Jewish host at a Passover seder declare this in a toast over twenty years ago). Yet clearly, Moses was an intermediary. For that matter, so was Aaron and every High Priest after him, who entered the most Holy Place once a year on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation of Israel.

Christians like to say, at the death of Jesus, when the parokhet (veil) was ripped top to bottom, exposing the most Holy Place (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:18), that we were given direct access to God through prayer and are now able to “boldly approach the Throne of God” without an intermediary. And yet, both Hebrews 5:1-10 and Hebrews 7 describe Jesus as our High Priest in the Heavenly Court, interceding on behalf of humanity. Paul even said that:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. -Romans 8:26

I know Jews don’t pray to Moses or Aaron, but at least during the time of the Tabernacle and Temple, Jews did go through the priesthood to offer korban to God. And do all Christians pray to God or, believing in the Trinity, do some pray directly to Christ?

If God is One and key parts of theology say there is no intermediary between man and God, regardless if you are a Jew or a Christian, then how can we reconcile all of these intermediaries?