So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:5–10)
Cast your mind back to AD60. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus is the governor of Britain, and this Roman had quite a reputation. Almost twenty years earlier he was the first commander to cross the Atlas Mountains with an army, and he was now concerned with squashing out any hope of rebellion on our turbulent island. The Island of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) was in his sights, or more particularly the druids and refugees who there dwelt secure. Tacitus takes up the tale:
On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general's appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.
The conquest was devastating to the population of Britain, who took their Druidism seriously. How now can we approach the gods, they wondered? They were not permitted to enter the sacred glades as they were not druids. They had lost their intermediaries, their priests, and this was a hammer blow to the confidence of the Britons. Paulinus knew what he was about.
The fact is that this notion of the need for an intermediary between the self and God lies deep within the human psyche, and we all tend to rely on our priests. It might not be your friendly, local vicar but we tend to have favourite authors or preachers. Certain church leaders hold our attention, and we feel the need for someone else to guide us as we approach God.
Why might this be? Well, I suspect it is to do with the fear of God.
Now, I know much contemporary spirituality is to do with “my mate God” where “God Almighty” has been replaced by “God All Matey”. Listen to many popular preachers and you may gain an image of God as some sort of transcendent buddy, ready to grant blessings on demand. Yet for all this the language often used of God still a sense of awe, if only because we wish to bring a higher power to our side. Instinctively we still recognise that God is greater than we are, that he possesses infinity. When someone you admire greatly walks into the room, you tongue tends to tie itself in knots. How much more the case when you realise you are in the presence of God! It is here that we might tend to reach for someone else to help.
Let me try and put it as clearly as I can. Once you recognise the existence of God, and begin to think through the implications of that belief, it forces you to reconsider quite who you think you are. If God is sovereign, then you are not. If God is a creator, then you are a creature. If God is infinite, then you are finite. He creates life, and your entire life is heading towards death. He is limitless, and you are limited. He is all-knowing, and your knowledge is small indeed. That is what is at the heart of the fear of God. It is that a great God makes us feel small indeed.
So, how do we approach such a God? Surely, the best thing to do is use some sort of intermediary. Someone who can dare to stand before God in our place. Someone who has the confidence to face God in prayer. Why would God bother to listen to me? I’ll get someone whose voice is more confident. This desire in Ancient Briton gave rise to druids, but who is our priest now?
The answer, given in this passage from Hebrews, is that your great high priest is none other than Jesus himself. Who else would dare to come before the all holy God, than one who was without sin? Who better to represent us than one who has an intimate knowledge of what it is to be human. Who is a firmer foundation than one who is God himself, the second person of the Trinity? Surely his is a voice which will be heard, prayers which will be answered. Surely the Father will grant the wishes of his Son.
Oh, let Jesus be your High Priest and let me urge you to throw everything else away. You don’t need it. Don’t base you spirituality on certain books, leaders or authors. Base it on Christ himself. It is my job as your Rector to point you to Christ, and then get out of the way!
Let Jesus be your high priest, and you will discover a fresh confidence as you yourself approach God. You have Jesus yourself as your priest! As the Apostle Paul put it: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
So as I finish, let me get out of the way and point you to Christ. The one who is interceding for you.
Dwell on that!