The Heavenly Priest
Hebrews 4:11 — 5:10.
"Called of God as was Aaron"
"Let us therefore be diligent to enter into that rest, lest any one fall after the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and effective, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is not a creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and laid bare unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
We will dwell now on the close of that parenthesis which has already occupied us — the exhortation based upon the fact that Christ was "Apostle and High Priest of our confession," and Son over the house of God, and that His people were His house if they continued to hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of their hope stedfast unto the end. This led to that which we find constantly throughout this epistle, a needful exhortation to those whom he is addressing, that they should be stirred up to lay hold of the truths which are being presented.
In concluding this exhortation, we come to the words we have read, "Let us labor." It is not labor for the rest, but be in earnest, be zealous, be sincere, "to enter into that rest," lest any of you, who make a profession of Christianity, — especially those among the Hebrew professing Christians, whose constant temptation was to turn back to an earthly religion and to worldly ordinances, — lest any of you should "fall after the same example of unbelief." Then he shows what this word of God is, that he had been applying to their hearts and consciences. He had quoted from the ninety-fifth psalm, just one passage; we see how searching it is, how it reaches not merely to them, but how it also applies to our own condition, our own need, and our own dangers.
The apostle says, This word of God which I have been quoting is "living and powerful." The scripture which he had quoted for the special need, if they received it aright, would act upon conscience and heart and guard them from danger. That is ever the way with the word of God. It is "living and powerful," or operative, "sharper than any two-edged sword." What a comfort it is that we are handling not the thoughts of man, or his opinions, but we are dealing with God, and God dealing with us by His Word! How solemn and searching it is! It is not a mere letter; it is that which is inspired, actuated by a living Spirit — the word of God, given by Him, used by Him, applied by Him! Here is our confidence when we come to speak of God's holy word. It is not the word of man, but "as it is in truth the word of God, who trieth the hearts." "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life."
Now that is the word of God — living, operative. Ah, the dust may gather upon your Bibles and upon your hearts, but that is the living Word, and wherever it has an entrance it does its work, it shows its power. How wide-reaching that work is in conviction, which seems to be the main thought in this connection. How all the thoughts of the sinner's heart are laid bare by the word of God! All his armor wherein he trusted is taken away! The bow drawn at a venture pierces between the joints of the harness, and all the self-righteousness, all the indifference and the pride of man, must fall before this living, energetic Word. It is "sharper than any two-edged sword."
We read of our blessed Lord that "a sharp, two-edged sword proceeded out of His mouth" when John saw Him, as in the beginning of Revelation; and at the close again, when the "sharp sword" of the Spirit, which is the word of God, proceeds out of His month. A two-edged sword cuts in every direction, not merely those who are grossly and obviously immoral, nor only those who in the sight of men are sinners, but this sword cuts also those who in their pride and morality despise others, and think they have no need of God's mercy.
If God draws the sword here tonight, it is to declare that all are sinners, that there is not one here but is a lost sinner before God, if he has not found His way of salvation. Apply this Word to the saint of God, it searches not merely his outward life, it corrects not merely certain things that he may do, but it searches also his inward thoughts, as we read here. It is not merely what I do outwardly, but "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." We are very apt to make distinctions in our lives, to divide them; a certain part is secular, another part religious. The sharp two-edged sword of God's word cuts in both directions. It shows a man that he cannot be for God on one day of the week and for self or the world on the other. He must be altogether for Him.
We may seek to apply it to other people; we sit in judgment on others, upon our fellow Christians, it may be upon the men of the world, but "thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" The sword of the Spirit cuts not merely those whose faults we can see, but it cuts us as well. How solemnly, in what dependence upon God, should we take up an instrument like that, "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"!
Let us speak a little further of this searching, penetrating character of the word of God. Man usually speaks of himself as having a soul and body as if there were but two parts to him. The word of God searches down deeper than that; it divides asunder between soul and spirit, those two departments of his being which are both. unmaterial. The soul has to do with his affections, his appetites, his desires, — all that which he has, in a greater degree, but still in common with the lower orders of creation, — all that has to do with the emotions, the feelings, the sensibilities. The spirit, on the other hand, has to do with the higher faculties, the mind, the intellect, the conscience. The word of God comes in and divides between these two. We little realize how often people confound feelings with religion. If there are those here tonight who are unsaved, it is astonishing how many of them would describe their religious thoughts by their emotions. They feel happy, and that is their idea of being religious; or, if they are in a sense under conviction of sin, they are afraid to accept the free grace of God because they do not feel as if they were worthy, or as if they were saved. How constantly are the feelings put in the place of the conscience and the higher intellect which God has given man!
Now the word of God pierces "to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit." You may be moved even to tears. That is no sign that you are born of God. Your emotions may be stirred. You may have the deepest kind of gratitude, as you think; your whole being may seem to be bowed as the trees of the wood are bowed by the breeze, and all that may simply be partial, external. The word of God pierces down between all that emotion, and sees whether the conscience, whether the mind has bowed in submission to the authority of God's truth; whether the conscience has been purged by the blood of Christ, whether faith has accepted the free gift of God.
Again, he says, it pierces to the dividing asunder even of "the joints and the marrow." Here is an illustration taken from the body. The joints are what enable our body to exert its outward activities. If the body were altogether rigid, there could be no motion, no activity. The joints are thus connected with the outward expression of things. The marrow, on the contrary, is that which is within. It is the very essence, the very centre of man's physical being. Here again the word of God pierces, and distinguishes between the outward form and inward state. It shows a man what he truly is. And so it is "a discerner" (a judge) "of the thoughts and intents of the heart." I find here in the original a word which is rather commonly used. It is the word "critic." We hear of a "higher critic" and "higher criticism" — men sitting in judgment upon the word of God and declaring what of it they will receive and what they will reject. Here is a Critic; not a "higher," but the highest critic which sits in judgment upon men. It is not we who judge the Word, but the Word that judges us. It comes to ask no favors, no authorization of men. God's word comes from Him, as judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Our thoughts are shown by the word of God. It discerns the very intents, emotions, desires of our life — they are laid bare by this holy Word!
Do you say, According to this, you are putting the Bible in the place of God? Verily so! Nay; rather the Bible is but God's speech. It is God Himself speaking; the next clause shows us that: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight." We would say, "in its sight," to preserve the connection. Ah, no; the word of God, the critic of the thoughts and intents of the heart, brings us into the presence of God: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight."
That is what the woman of Samaria found at the well. Here was a Stranger, speaking to her and telling her all things that ever she did. It was the word of God searching heart and conscience, discerning the thoughts and intents of her heart. What was the effect of it? It brought her into the presence of the Son of God Himself: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and laid bare," as the word is, "exposed," the outward covering taken off, all unreality and all that will not stand the test of God's truth laid bare "to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." Do we realize that we have to do with the living God?
What emphasis this gives to the exhortations the apostle had been giving the Hebrews in the part we have just gone over! How it showed that their hearts and consciences should be exposed to the light and action of that Word; and if there was reality of faith in them, to lay fresh hold upon the precious things they had received. And if they were but mere professors, how it should have stirred them up to a sense of their lost condition, and now to accept the Christ of God! That, too, should be the effect of the word of God upon us at all times. It should cut off all that is unreal and cast us afresh upon the blessed grace of God which we ever find in Christ toward us.
Now that is what is brought out in the next portion that we read. I am sure you will mark the blessed and beautiful connection with what we have just been looking at. The Word has been plowing up heart and conscience. It has been dividing between the joints and the marrow, and showing us all the secrets of our hearts in His presence, and one feels utterly worthless and helpless, feels his nothingness. What is he to do? Ah, let us hear what God provides for those who have been acted upon by His living Word:
"Having therefore a great high priest who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who cannot sympathize with our infirmities, but one in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin. Let us approach therefore with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace for seasonable help."
Here is God's provision for a people who realize their feebleness, and upon whom His Word has had its proper effect. He turns them back now to the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus Christ. He needed to stir them up to hold fast the confession of their faith without wavering. Now that they are stirred up, they can turn their thoughts back to Christ. We have already had our blessed Lord presented as priest in two passages: the first of them showed Him as having made reconciliation, or propitiation, for sins, and, as having suffered under temptation, able to succor those who are tempted. In the second passage we saw Him as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, and we partakers of the heavenly calling. That suggested the thought that we enter upon here.
It is very beautiful to see how the Spirit of God develops and elaborates the precious truth of Christ's priesthood from the smallest germ until we have the full image of Him in all His glory and beauty in the central portion of our epistle.
Here we have a most important step in connection with Him. He is a great High Priest. To an Israelite this would contrast Him with all other high priests. If you had asked a Hebrew who was the great high priest, he would have said, Aaron was the first, and, as directly called of God, had preeminence over all others. But in this portion we are distinctly told of One who is beyond Aaron, infinitely greater than he. The greatness of His high priesthood makes Him stand out in distinction from all priests who were taken from among men. Then, as to where He is, the sanctuary in which He ministers, He has passed, not merely "into the heavens," but "through the heavens." This imagery is taken from the tabernacle, as we have been already seeing. There we had the court in which the altar of burnt offering and the laver were; then, passing through the first curtain, you were in the holy place, with its various articles of furniture; then the veil leading into the holiest of all, into which the high priest entered only once a year.
In this earthly sanctuary the priests' main service was in the court, around the altar of burnt offering, or else in the holy place. The high priest only entered "the holiest," where the mercy-seat was, once a year, under a cloud of incense, and not without blood.
But here is a great high priest who entered in where? Not into sanctuaries made with hands, but into heaven itself, and He has passed through the heavens. The heaven of the atmosphere above us, in which the birds fly and the clouds of heaven float, is what we may call the first heaven. Above that is the starry heaven, the firmament which showeth His handiwork; but far as eye can reach, as far as telescope can discover the most distant heavenly bodies, beyond even the reach of our thoughts, our great High Priest has passed through all the outer courts into the very presence, into the very sanctuary of God, where the throne of God itself is. "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things" (Eph. 4:9, 10).
There He is our great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, into the very presence of God. Thus we see Him contrasted with all other priests; and, as to the place where He ministers, heaven itself, the very presence of God. Now we have His person brought before us — "Jesus, the Son of God." "Jesus" describes Him as the Man upon earth, — His human name, — the Jesus who walked this earth, who went about doing good, who went to Calvary and there laid down His life a sacrifice for sin. But this Man, Jesus, is the Son of God. God has marked Him out, as we saw in our first address, as Son of God by a sevenfold testimony of Scripture. Here you have not merely a wondrous man, but the divine Son of God made flesh, who has accomplished redemption for us.
As you think of Him, of this Priest passing into the very presence of the ineffable glory of God, I ask, Is there not divine fitness in the exhortation, "Let us hold fast our confession"? Tell me, dear fellow believer, are you in the least tempted to give up this blessed High Priest? — tempted to give up the Son of God? What would you accept in exchange for Christ? Were you offered all the wealth of this world, position and honor, power, long life, — everything that your heart could conceive, — and you were asked to give up Christ, would you not turn with contempt, with indignation, with horror, from the very suggestion of it? Oh, I am sure our hearts respond to what Peter said when our Lord asked of His disciples, "Will ye also go away?" "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
"Were the vast world our own,
With all its varied store
And Thou, Lord Jesus, wert unknown,
We still were poor."
Oh, beloved, our souls ring with the echo of this blessed exhortation! We do, we will, by God's grace, hold fast to our confession, to the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, the Son of God.
But we are a feeble people, a tempted people, a people who are passing through the wilderness, beset with snares, temptations, difficulties, on every side. We make a great mistake if we belittle Satan's power. We make a great mistake — as I am sure your experience will bear me out — if we belittle the attractiveness and the allurements of the world. Who has not felt its chilling, blighting influence? Who has not felt the need of being doubly armed against all its attractions? And when we come to its trials, to the difficulties of the way, to the manifold assaults of the enemy, who has not felt the need of a power greater far than even the power of his own love to the Lord Jesus?
And so He is presented to us not merely as the High Priest who has gone above, but as One whose infinite, tender sympathy is ever engaged on our behalf. This is exquisitely beautiful. We can only look at it now we can meditate upon it to the joy of our hearts at our pleasure. Here we have, not merely the great High Priest who has passed into the heavens, but we have One who is touched, or, as he puts it in a strongly negative way, "We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, sin apart."
Here we see the blessed sympathy of our great High Priest. You remember in the type that Aaron the high priest bore upon his breast, indelibly engraved in the jewels of the breastplate of glory, in that Urim and Thummim which was upon the ephod, the names of the children of Israel upon his bosom. When he was in the sanctuary these names were there. So with our blessed. Lord, He bears upon His heart, in all love and sympathy, the names of His beloved people. We also know that our great High Priest bears our names upon His shoulders that is, He upholds by His power as He sustains by His love.
What a comfort it is in the midst of the trials of the way to know that we have a sympathetic High Priest! Oftentimes we may go to one another with our trials and we meet each other with a certain measure of sympathy: "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." But how incomplete is the sympathy of the dearest friend that you may have! There are experiences, there is a sense of weakness, there are needs which you are either ashamed to speak of or realize the uselessness of telling the dearest earthly friend about. How blessed it is to know that there is not an atom of experience we may have that is beneath the notice of our blessed High Priest! There is not a trial, so small that you might be ashamed to speak of it to man, that you cannot tell out in His sympathetic ear. He was tried as we are — for that is what has given Him capacity to be a merciful High Priest! He has passed through our experiences; it is not merely One who has divine knowledge of our path — God has that: "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me," says the psalmist, then Thou knewest my path." God knows the path of His people. He knew the sorrows of Israel down in Egypt; but, beloved, with our blessed Lord it is something more than divine knowledge of the sorrows and needs of His people; it is divine experience of those sorrows and needs.
Look at the book of Psalms throughout; it is the book of experience of a feeble, yea, a sinful and oft-failing people; but as you look all through it you will find mingled with the experiences of a failing people like experiences of One who passed through them, apart from sin. You will find our blessed Lord there separate from an ungodly nation, surrounded by a mass of profession who had no delight in God whatever, and you see the suffering that it brought upon His soul. You find Him in the same circumstances in which we are, surrounded by a mass of ungodliness and Christless profession. He knows the sufferings which His people pass through in that regard. We read in the Gospel of John that even His brethren did not believe on Him; and one may be living in a Christless household; the wife of one's bosom, the husband, may not know and love the Lord Jesus. Dear friends, companions, associates, may be far removed from us, as to the knowledge of Christ. Ah, the Man of Sorrows, the One who took that name, knows what all these circumstances mean. One can only suggest thoughts here that you must trace out more fully for yourselves; but if you think of yourself in any kind of experience which it is right for you to be in, in any kind of need which you have not brought upon yourself by your own wrongdoing, you can think that our blessed Lord has trod these same steps before.
We read of one of John Bunyan's characters that at the close of his life he said, wherever he had found the footprints of the Lord Jesus, there he had coveted to put his feet. How beautiful that! but, dear brethren, sweeter far is the thought that our blessed Lord, when here on earth, searched wherever the footsteps of His weary people would have to tread; and He not only coveted but He did put His feet just there. Christ has gone through all the circumstances of the wilderness. He knows what it all means in a way infinitely beyond the experience of the ripest saints, for He has passed through it, apart from the deadening, dulling, wasteful experiences of sin. We pass through the wilderness, alas, too often yielding to sin. Our blessed Lord passed through never yielding in thought for one moment to a thing that was not according to His Father's will.
And that brings us to speak of what I am sure your heart rejects, the thought that our Lord had in His life any experiences which could be associated with sin. Sometimes people say Christ knew what temptation meant. Here is a man, for instance, who is tempted to angry passion, to some dishonest dealing, to defraud, or unsubdued desires of so many forms, and he says, The Lord Jesus can sympathize, He knows what such thoughts are; He knows what strong temptations are to yield to this thing or the other. I say it with all deliberateness, that if this is your Christ, it is not the Christ of God. He suffered when He was tempted. Tempted in all points as we are, from without — by man, by Satan, by the effects and results of sin in the world; to all this He never yielded one iota. Never could temptation be from within. I say it reverently, had He had a sinful thought or desire, had He had to struggle against wicked passions, (the Lord forgive even the words as applied to Himself,) He would have incapacitated Himself from being either a Sympathizer or a Saviour. Oh, it was because of His spotless purity, because He was in circumstances where we fail, but where He did not fail, that He is a perfect sympathizing Priest.
That being the case, what is our resource? The word of God has searched us as we are passing through the wilderness with its abounding trials; we have a High Priest who has entered the sanctuary; we hold fast to Him. But as we pass through the wilderness, we know that the loving heart of our blessed Saviour throbs in unison with every God-given experience that His people have; therefore we can come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy, no matter what the need may be, to find grace for seasonable help — the grace that will help us in the very difficulty in which we are. Our Lord is not satisfied with sympathy in the human sense. Man may sympathize with you without being able to help you. The Lord Jesus not only sympathizes, but He gives grace to help. The sins and failures of the saints is not what is thought of here. That is met by our Advocate, as seen in 1 John 2:1.
Notice that beautiful expression, "the throne of grace." The Israelite was familiar with the thought of the throne of God. He was familiar also with the thought of the mercy-seat, with the cherubim of glory overshadowing it; but it was a strange thought to him that this mercy-seat should be a place of free access to him. His thought of it was that the cherubim of glory guarded the way into the presence of God, just as effectually as the cherubim with the flaming sword guarded the way to the tree of life at the entrance to the garden of Eden. His thought was that God was to be at a distance. Faith's thought is that through Christ we can draw near with boldness to a throne of grace. We will look at the mercy-seat at another time, where it is brought up in detail, later on in our epistle. I merely allude to it here as we pass. It was the place where God's righteousness was manifested, where His judgment was declared, where His holy law was the basis of His dealings with man. This throne of God in righteousness, however, was covered over by a golden, a divinely given covering, and upon that was sprinkled the blood of atonement. That was the mercy-seat. For us it is become the throne of grace because of Christ's finished work, and the sprinkled blood which shows God's acceptance of the Sacrifice and that our Priest has gone into the sanctuary, whither we by faith can follow Him. It is thus the throne of grace, where God's grace, and not His judgment, is manifested. His judgment has been visited upon the Substitute; His grace now goes out to the guilty who draw near through Jesus, and we can thus "obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Thus if the wilderness brings out our need, it brings out the infinite resources of Christ, the great High Priest.
"For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things relating to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; being able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is clothed with infirmity; and on account of this, he is obliged, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no one taketh this honor to himself but as called of God, even as Aaron."
We have in this portion, not a description of Christ, but of the priests according to Israel's order. The high priests were taken from amongst men, and were ordained for men in God's matters, that they might offer "both gifts and sacrifices for sins." We have here a contrast with Christ. He was not taken from amongst men in the ordinary sense, though absolutely and perfectly a Man. He was not one ordained to minister in the ordinary way of the priesthood, to offer gifts and sacrifices first of all for himself, and then for the people. He was not one, as we have seen, who ought to have compassion on those who were ignorant and out of the way because He was compassed with infirmity. That is a human priest's compassion. A man says, I cannot be too hard upon this one, because I have been in the same position myself; I also have failed; I am compassed with infirmities. Is that God's thought of a priest? Ah no; that is the human priest. This human priest must offer, not only for others but for himself, sacrifices for sins. Is that our Priest? Did Christ need anything to fit Him for God? When heaven opened and the angels came down at Bethlehem, was there any suggestion that God did not delight in the Babe in the manger there? When He rent the heavens at the baptism of our Lord, had there been any sacrifice offered that made God declare, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?" and later on, when at the mount of transfiguration the glory of God overshadowed everything and the Son of God shone out there as the sun, had there been a sacrifice offered? Ah, our Priest needed not to offer for Himself! God had infinite delight in Him, and, could ever at any moment have received Him up to His own right hand by virtue of what He was in Himself.
All of this, then, is in sharp contrast with the high priest whom we are speaking of.
Further, he says, "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that was called of God, as was Aaron." Aaron was called of God. In the rebellion of Korah and his company, when he exalted himself against Moses, and against Aaron the priest, what was the result? They were summoned before the sanctuary, every man with his censer, and as these men who would intrude into the high-priestly office drew near, fire from God's holy presence comes out and destroys them. No man taketh this honor upon himself, and Korah and his companions are witnesses of the fact that none could intrude into the priestly office, only those whom God called.
Now, passing to the next portion, we find this true of Christ Himself.
"So also Christ hath not glorified himself to be made high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
"Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up both supplications and entreaties to him who was able to save him out of death, with strong crying and tears (and being heard because of his piety), though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience from the things which he suffered. And having been made perfect, he became, to all them that obey him, author of eternal salvation; being saluted of God as high priest after the order of Melchisedec."
Our blessed Lord was not a self-constituted priest. It was God Himself that marked Him out as such, and the passage which I have already quoted at His baptism shows when God so declared Him. The heavens were opened, and the Voice from the glory cried aloud, "This is My beloved Son." That is the echo of this very scripture from the second psalm, which we have looked at in our first chapter, "Thou art My Son." He is declared to be the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit comes upon Him anointing Him for His priestly service.
How blessed it is to think of God's call of His Son to the priesthood! It is not an external appointment, as Aaron's was. He is not selected in divine sovereignty merely because of God's absolute will. He is marked out, He is appointed, to be sure but it is because of what He is, the Son of God, that He is declared to be the Priest of God. So, as we think of our great High Priest, we think of one who was called of God by virtue of what He is as you read in Leviticus, the garment of the priest was never to be laid aside. He was always to wear his priestly garment. So with Christ He can never cease to be a priest, because He can never cease to be the Son of God. He is priest because of what He is. Emphasizing that further, the next quotation is, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec." Melchisedec priesthood will engage us again. We have these foreshadowings of truths which will be clustered together and gathered up in all their fulness by the Spirit later on. The thought of the Melchisedec priesthood is its eternal and royal character. He abides a king continually, and a priest continually, in type. Our Lord was not only the Son of God, and so abiding and called a priest, but He is a Melchisedec priest, in resurrection. When He rose from the dead He was put upon the throne, and there "death hath no more dominion over Him" — He abides forever.
Having seen His call to the priesthood in these two scriptures, we see its character in the next three verses (7-9), "Who in the days of His flesh," etc.
Here we have the work of the priest suggested. It is only suggested, not gone into fully. The days of His flesh are spoken of, the time when He was here, His whole ministry here, particularly that time where all His sufferings were headed up in Gethsemane and at Calvary. In fact, that which is referred to here is more particularly Gethsemane. First, He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears. The Lord Jesus was a Man of prayer. Read the Gospel of Luke, and see Him again and again in prayer. He delighted in prayer. He was the dependent One throughout His entire life, and loved to pour out His soul and His needs to His Father; but there was a time when this prayer became strong crying, when it became earnest entreaty. We know when that was.
Follow Him to the garden of Gethsemane. We have seen Him weeping at other times. We have seen Him when He stood over the city, and — as He looked down upon beloved Jerusalem, and knew how soon the enemy would cast a trench about it and it would be leveled with the dust, the Gentile hordes treading it beneath their feet — He breaks into tears, and says, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes." The Lord Jesus shed tears then. We see Him again at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, shedding tears of sympathy, — of real, genuine, perfect grief. Though He knew He would staunch the tears of Mary and Martha in a moment, in the perfection of divine sympathy He first of all weeps with them.
But in Gethsemane other tears are shed. We see Him the Man of prayer in His life; but now, all His prayer is gathered up into an intensity of longing, of pleading, of holy suffering. We see tears, but they are connected with those great drops of blood which fell as sweat from His face. What means all this, beloved? It was simply the antechamber of the Cross. It was the vestibule of that awful chamber of darkness into which, blessed be God, we can never enter — the suffering which He endured at the hands of a righteous God dealing with Him because of our sins — when He who knew no sin, was made sin for us! As He looked forward to that awful cross, as He entered the penumbra of the cross, His whole soul was exceeding sorrowful, unto death. Sustained physically by an angel sent to help Him, there He wrestled with the awful, fearful anticipation of having to be cut off from the presence of God, in whose smile He had found His heaven throughout His entire life. O brethren, we cannot, we never can, know the depths of anguish which our blessed Lord endured as Priest when He was made a Sacrifice for our sins! It is as though the Spirit of God leads us so far, even as our Lord led His disciples a little way, and said, Tarry ye here and watch, while I go yonder. The Spirit of God would lead us into Gethsemane, and say, as it were, Tarry here and contemplate the sorrows of the Son of God. He must go on further into the black depths of Calvary itself. We can never follow Him there.
There is the strong crying and tears. And when He reaches Calvary, from out of that thick darkness we hear one agonizing cry that tells of the infinite depths of sorrow in His holy soul, that tells of the awful load that He was bearing: "Eli! Eli! lama sabacthani? — My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Strong crying and tears indeed! — and high priestly work, this.
Let me pause a moment to say that the soul that looks on Calvary, and sees the priestly Sacrifice there, is freed forever from any fear of judgment and wrath. He knows that it has been borne by a divine Substitute.
But, blessed be God, we can look a little further here. We hear His agonized cry. Right from the very horns of the unicorn: it is as though you saw this fierce beast with his victim upon his horns. He is crying unto Him who is able to save Him out of death. Mark the words: it is not "save Him from death," (our blessed Lord was not saved from death; He went into it, in the depths of what death is,) but it is "save Him out of death, and was heard in that He feared" — heard because of the perfection of what He was, because of the perfection of His character, of His piety, of His obedience unto death. And so when that mighty unicorn, that aurochs, has Him on His horns as it were, instead of trampling Him to permanent destruction, (the Lord forgive such language — I only use it by way of contrast,) instead, thus, of wreaking full and eternal vengeance, as it must have been done on us had we been under the wrath of God, He was snatched from those very horns, brought up out of the grave, raised up and seated at God's own right hand, by the glory of the Father! The Priest taken from the horns of the altar and placed now upon the throne, the very mercy-seat of God!
Did He not learn lessons there which even the Son of God could not have learned anywhere else? Yea, "though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." This is suggested in that passage in Philippians where He took "the form of a servant . . . and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." He learned obedience unto death and then we see, "God also hath highly exalted Him," and now He is the author, the leader, and the perfector of faith, "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him." That is, He can now "bring many sons unto glory," because, as the captain, or leader, of their salvation, He has been "made perfect through sufferings."
Who shall say Him nay as He opens wide His arms and gathers in the unclean, the unworthy and the guilty? — draws them to Himself, and says, Heaven is open for you, I shall lead you in and present you faultless before the presence of My God and Father with exceeding joy! Who would dare lay a restraining hand upon one soul, and say, This one shall not go with you? this one does not deserve to enter there? Ah, beloved, He is the author of eternal salvation, blessed be His name, to all who have in heart bowed to Him. The obedience is not the obedience of the law. It is not obedience for the obtaining of life, but it is, as the apostle says in the epistle to the Romans, the obedience of faith faith that has bowed in obedience to Christ, that has owned God's righteous judgment upon itself, that accepts God's perfect provision of what Christ has done.
There, then, you have His priestly work. Are you surprised that He is called the Author of eternal salvation? Who can touch Him now? Can death say aught to Him? He has been down into it and through it — it could not hold Him. Can Satan lay his unclean hands upon Him? Satan has had to say to Him, and found nothing in Him. All his malice and hatred have been vented upon Him. He has suffered for sin, and put it away. The storm is gone forever, and He is the Author of eternal salvation. He has gone on high, and God now addresses Him: — not "called of God," as you have it in this last verse, but "saluted of God:" the risen, glorified Son of God presented there in the infinite glory of heaven: set above principalities, potentates and powers, He is saluted of the Most High God as "King of righteousness" and "King of peace" — a "High Priest for ever," with all the dignity and glory connected with that title, with all the blessed power of salvation suggested in it for us. God gives Him His place at His right hand, a High Priest forever after the order that can never pass, the royal order of that Melchisedec priest who abides forevermore.
Are not these themes to stir our hearts to worship? to make us despise all paltry things that would swerve the heart from Christ? May they search out any hidden disloyalty to the glorious Person of whom we have been speaking, to cleave more absolutely, more simply to Him who is all in all in heaven, and who by the grace of God has been made all in all for us!