To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Prayer for Illumination (Kenny)
(Joke from Wendy about the pastor and the taxi-driver)
There are all kinds of ways we can get caught “in-between.”
Sometimes being in-between can be a good place to be … sometimes being in-between is really difficult.
When we get to introduce friends from different parts of our lives to each other … and if they wind up liking each other, it can be really fun to be be in-between.
When we get stuck in-between people who are in a conflict, it can be really difficult.
In our reading from Hebrews, we encounter a claim that Jesus is our ultimate high priest.
I would bet high priests aren’t something we think about all that often … but for the ancient people, the people who would have been hearing Hebrews originally, high priests were an important part of life. High priests had an in-between role – they stood between God and humanity, representing God and offering God’s word to God’s people / they stood between humanity and God, offering the people’s sacrifices and prayers to God.
Tom Long, one of the bible commentators I have been reading to get a better handle on Hebrews has a great definition of what it means for someone to be a priest. He writes,
“The task of a priest is to approach God on behalf of the people, to gather what the people bring – their offerings, their prayers, the symbols of repentance, their cares, their deepest needs – and to take these offerings into the very presence of God. The priest, therefore, faces in two directions. On behalf of the people, he faces toward God and travels to the holy place with their offerings … the priest also faces toward humanity on behalf of God. The priest represents God’s holy presence among the people” (Long, 65).
Understanding a priest as someone who stands in-between God and God’s people, and in-between God’s people and God, listen to Hebrews 4:14-5:10 –
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
As Hebrews has gone about encouraging the church, the preacher has pointed out that Jesus is greater than angels, Jesus is greater than Moses (the great leader of the Israelites), and now highlights that Jesus is the greatest High Priest.
Israel’s priests came from Moses’ brother, Aaron’s, sons, they were known as the Levites.
The High Priest was the priest with the most responsibility for sacrifices.
In our passage from Hebrews a bunch of scripture passages come together – “You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” comes from Psalm 2 and “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” is from Psalm 110. Early on, Christians connected these Psalms with Jesus.
The story of Melchizedek is a little strange. Melchizedek’s name only shows up in a few passages of scripture; Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Hebrews. Melchizedek was the first priest ever mentioned in the Bible. Melchizedek showed up after Abraham rescued his nephew, Lot.
Melchizedek blessed Abraham, offered Abraham bread and wine, and then Abraham gave Melchizedek one-tenth of everything he had. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure, we don’t know where he came from, or what he did after he met with Abraham.
Genesis 14 says that Melchizedek-was a priest, but he came along well before Israel set up its formal priesthood. Melchizedek was not connected to Aaron or the Levite line of priests.
This is important because Hebrews claims that Jesus is the ultimate high priest, but Jesus couldn’t have been a traditional priest because Jesus didn’t trace his family history back to the Levites, Jesus’ family history went back to David and the family of Judah. Hebrews 7:14 talks about this – “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”
In Hebrews 7:15-19 the preacher continues pointing out how Jesus is High Priest in the order of Melchizedek saying,
And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
The connection of Melchizedek and Jesus would have reminded ancient Christians that there was at least one other priest in Israel’s history who was not a Levites … at least there was a precedent from scripture and from history … for the claims Christians were making about Jesus.
Jesus stands in-between … he stands in-between humanity and God, offering sacrifices and prayers, and Jesus stands in-between, God and humanity, revealing God’s presence to humanity.
There are a couple of things this can mean for us.
First, Hebrews 4:16, points out that since Jesus is our high priest, since he knows what it is like to be a human, since he knows our weakness, since he experienced everything we can experience, and didn’t sin, we can pray with confidence – “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Because Jesus is our high priest, we can be sure God hears our prayers. We can pray with humility and with courage … we don’t have to make a case for ourselves like that arrogant sounding guy in Jesus’ parable … we don’t have to get God’s attention … we can pray in awe and humility … we can pray with courage and confidence knowing we have Jesus’ ear.
Second, sometimes when we are in-between, it can be really hard … especially if we wind up being in-between people we care for. Sometimes we might wonder how in the world we keep ending up in these in-between situations … I think this can give us courage knowing that as Jesus’ disciples, as Jesus’ church, if we are following Jesus, sooner or later, we are going to wind up in-between … hopefully when we notice we are in-between we can look to Jesus … to his role as high priest and seek to represent God to the people around us and represent the people, through our prayers, to God.
We follow a savior who spent a lot of time in-between and we can have courage when we find ourselves in-between.