The "total goodness and godliness" of JesusNovember 5, 2014
In the previous post I asked whether or not Jesus is really all we need. I hope your answer to that is Yes! But that leads to yet another question: how do we know Jesus is up to the task? What gives us such confidence? What makes him so special? Continue reading . . .
In the previous post I asked whether or not Jesus is really all we need. I hope your answer to that is Yes! But that leads to yet another question: how do we know Jesus is up to the task? What gives us such confidence? What makes him so special? How is he any different from Buddha or Mohammed or a really gifted counselor or close friend or Bible teacher? The answer is found in the seven-fold description of him that we read in Hebrews 7:26-28. Here is how it reads:
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever” (Heb. 7:26-28).
R. T. France perhaps put it best when he said that the words in vv. 26-28 point to the “total goodness and godliness” of Jesus (102). Let’s look at them closely.
(1) Jesus our high priest is holy. This isn’t the normal word for “holy” in the NT. This term (hosios) means morally pure. It is the utter opposite of impious. It points to the fact that Jesus alone was devout, pious, and always pleasing to God (see Heb. 5:7-8 and 10:5-10).
Sadly the word “holy” has lost its punch in our day. Just consider how we employ it in such flippant ways: there’s “Holy Toledo!” “Holy cow!” “Holy mackerel!” “Holy smoke!” “Holy roller.” And the list could go on without end. And the problem worsens when you apply the word to a person. It conjures up the image of someone who rarely smiles, looks like they’ve been sucking on a lemon all day, is quite unpleasant to be around, and lives in constant fear that someone somewhere is actually having fun in life.
But that’s not what it means when it is applied to Jesus. It means that notwithstanding the barrage of temptations he faced, together with the appeal and seductive allure of his own world to abandon faith in God and fornicate and lie and steal and ambitiously promote his own cause, he remained perfectly committed to God and his will.
(2) He is also said to have been innocent. This means that he was without guile or guilt. He wasn’t immune from being accused of sin and evil. The Pharisees certainly attempted to do that on several occasions. It simply means they had no grounds for doing so. Whether it was the law of God or the law of the land, he is without blame. This applies not only to his outward actions and words but also to his inner motives and feelings. He was marked by integrity and untouched by evil.
(3) He was also unstained. This word has in view the ceremonial purity that was required of high priests during the time of the Old Testament. Here are some of the so-called blemishes that would disqualify a man from serving in the tabernacle:
Making contact with a dead body
If he had a bald patch on his head
If he shaved off the edges of his beard
If he had any self-inflicted cuts on his body
If he was blind or lame or had an arm or leg that was longer than the other
If he had an injured foot or hand
If he was a hunchback or a dwarf
Just to mention a few . . . (see Leviticus 21:1-23 for the full list).
These requirements, of course, in no way suggest that if you have such an affliction today that you are unqualified or unholy and thus excluded from God’s love or his presence. Rather, God used these physical limitations or blemishes to teach a spiritual lesson, namely, that access to the presence of God requires utter and absolute perfection.
In the case of Jesus, he was morally and spiritually unstained. He had no moral blemish on his record. There was never an instant that he fantasized wicked or perverted thoughts or spoke an unkind word or chose to violate a divine law. He was holy, innocent, and unstained.
And why is this so important for us today? Well, consider what it would mean if Jesus were unholy, guilty, and stained by sin. It would mean that he, like you and me, would be given to impatience. He would often react to us with irritation and annoyance. He would be inconsistent in his love and would tend to make decisions selfishly, based on what best serves him rather than what is in our interests. He would be driven by prideful ambition, greed, lust, and self-protection. Is that the sort of Savior and Lord you want? Is that the sort of great high priest you desire to intercede on your behalf at the right hand of God? Is that the sort of friend on whom you can rely and to whose loving care you can entrust your life? I don’t think so.
But how did he remain sinless? My guess is that your instinctive and immediate reaction is to say: “He never sinned because he was God.” Well, of course, in one sense you are correct. Jesus was and is and will forever be God in human flesh, God incarnate. And God by definition cannot sin. But I think the answer lies elsewhere. I believe Jesus remained holy, innocent, and unstained because he consistently relied upon the indwelling and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Make no mistake about the reality and force of the temptations he faced. He felt the full impact of Satan’s seductive appeals. He wasn’t immune to the appeal of gaining money by illegal means. He knew what it was like to gaze upon a woman and be tempted to lust and fantasize. But he never yielded to such enticements. Why? Because he never ceased to draw upon the power of the Spirit to continually redirect his thoughts to his heavenly Father and to the beauty of holiness and the surpassing pleasure of obedience.
(4) The fourth thing said about Jesus as high priest is that he is separated from sinners. This may simply be a way of summing up the three previous points. He is “separated” not in the sense of refusing to fellowship with us, not in the sense that he regards us as beneath his dignity, not in the sense that he won’t draw near to us and love us and always be present with us. Rather, he is “separated” in that he never has and never will commit the sins we commit.
However, others argue that he is separated from sinners “by being exalted to the heavenly realm. The separation that occurs is produced by Christ’s exaltation” (O’Brien, 280). He no longer lives in the physical presence of sinners and is no longer exposed to their temptations or failings.
If that is the case, and I believe it is, we should connect this description of him as separate from sinners with the next phrase where he is said to be exalted above the heavens. This phrase points to his transcendent glory and would encompass his resurrection, ascension, exaltation, glorification, and seating at the Father’s right hand. He has departed from this earthly sphere in which sin reigns and has entered the heavenly realm in his Father’s presence where no sin is allowed.
(5) On the basis of all this it should then be obvious that unlike the Old Covenant priests, he had no need to offer a sacrifice for himself and then for the people. Rather he dealt with sin when he once for all offered up himself.
As reassuring and helpful as was the Old Covenant sacrificial system, it had inherent flaws and shortcomings. One was the fact that the man making atonement for sin had to include himself in the offering. In the instruction for how the Day of Atonement was to unfold, we read this:
“Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself” (Lev. 16:11).
Try to get this picture in your mind. People bring incense to burn at the altar hoping that the fragrance will appease God and avert his wrath. Others bring a financial gift hoping it will pay off their spiritual debt. In the OT they would bring a lamb or a goat hoping that the sacrifice will cleanse their conscience. In our day people envision themselves bringing some good work or a long list of promises and good intentions and pledges and a description of past accomplishments hoping that when God sees it he’ll say, “Well, that’s quite impressive. I forgive you.” Or they bring a drink offering and pour it out as a libation to atone for their failures. Or they bring the first fruits of the harvest. Some today even cut their own flesh on the deluded belief that the shedding of their own blood will make things right and soothe their uneasy conscience.
But Jesus approaches God and offers only himself! The sacrifice was of his own life, but also of his intimacy and fellowship with the Father. He gave it up and endured separation under divine judgment so that we might never have to endure such horror.
He did not make an offering for himself but of himself for others.
And he did this “once for all” (v. 27). Once for all doesn’t mean once for all people but once for all time. It points to the finality of his death. There is no need for another. No second or third or one-thousandth sacrifice for sin is needed. We don’t have to atone with a sacrifice for every sin we commit. It’s been done once and for all time by Jesus.
So this one word translated “once for all” points to a single historical event that is unrepeatable precisely because it is altogether sufficient, enough, and perfect. May we now and forevermore put an end to our needless and blasphemous efforts to atone for our own sin, as if by some act or promise or gift or personal sacrifice we could satisfy God’s wrath. Christ has done it: once for all!
Before I leave this point I want to say one more thing. This statement at the close of v. 27 to the effect that Jesus “offered up himself” finally and forever puts an end to the obscene idea that on the cross God the Father was cruel and abusive and compelled his Son to suffer judgment in our place. The offering of Christ on the cross was Christ’s idea. He did it joyfully, lovingly, freely, voluntarily. Jesus wasn’t the victim of coercion. He didn’t knuckle under to his Father’s iron will. The authority to offer up his life was his alone. Yes, it was the joint will of the Father, Son, and Spirit that this occur. They all together joyfully concurred in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. So put an end to all blasphemous talk that somehow the cross was an occasion of “cosmic child abuse”! Never!
(6) The high priesthood of Israel was as exalted and honorable an office as anyone could possibly attain. But those who were appointed were still sinful men. They failed and forgot and were late for appointments and lusted and were covetous and prideful and yelled at their wives and didn’t always treat their kids with kindness and justice. They were as beset with sin as you and I are. That is why he refers here to their “weakness” (v. 28).
However, the point of importance is that all such high priests were appointed to their office by the “law” of Moses. But not Jesus! Long after the Law of Moses regarding the high priesthood had been given, God appointed his Son to be high priest and sealed it by an oath. The oath he's referring to is found in Psalm 110:4, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This oath came several hundred years after the law.
(7) The seventh and final characteristic of Jesus as our high priest that makes him special and incomparably superior to all other priests is that his priestly office and ministry lasts forever. Now that Jesus has been raised and exalted to the right hand of the Father he will never die; he will never be replaced by another; there are no term limits to his office. His ministry on your behalf doesn’t last for a year or a century or a millennium. It is everlasting and eternal!
The perfection in v. 28 does not mean that Jesus was sinful and morally imperfect and only later rid himself of such flaws. It points yet again to the way in which he demonstrated that he was entirely qualified to serve as our high priest. He endured a lifetime of testing and hardship and temptation, and in every instance proved faithful. Whenever obedience was called for, he obeyed. Whenever the right word was needed, he spoke it. Whenever the righteous deed was appropriate, he performed it. As he progressed through life on earth he moved from untested obedience to tested and proven obedience and thus showed us that he was qualified and capable of filling the role of our great high priest.
Why then will you not come to Christ? What do you fear? Are you afraid he won’t receive you? But v. 27 promises that he is “able to save to the uttermost” anyone who draws near to God “through him.” Are you afraid if you do come he won’t be adequate to meet your needs? Are you afraid he’ll mistreat you like others have done so in the past?
Oh, but this is the glory of knowing that he was, is, and always will be holy, innocent, and unstained. Put positively it means that he never acts out of selfish motives or overlooks those in need or fails to provide grace and power to those who ask. He never fails to comfort the hurting or to encourage the despairing or to forgive the repenting or to receive the outcast. He never fails to show mercy to the oppressed or to love the unlovely or to save those who believe. Why then will you not come to Christ? There is no other way. So Come.