This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, but this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him,
‘The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest for ever”’—
accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.
Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
In this reflection, and in the reflections tomorrow and the day after, I invite you to listen to three voices from our Reformed tradition and hear what they have to say about Christ’s priesthood. The first voice is that of John Calvin (1509-64) who was born and educated in France and became the influential Reformer of Geneva.
In his commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, Calvin says that the highest human good is to be united with God, who is the fountain of life and of all good things. However, it is often our sense of unworthiness that prevents us from approaching God. What we need, therefore, is someone who will reassure us and vouch for our worthiness. This is what Christ our perpetual high priest does. But why is he qualified to do this? The author of Hebrews has already told us “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15) Jesus has lived a truly human life with its ups and downs, its strengths and weaknesses; yet he also placed no sinful obstacle to prevent the flow of God’s grace through him. Therefore, Calvin writes that Jesus is qualified to be our Mediator who stretches out his hand and leads us to approach God’s presence.
Jesus takes us by the hand and introduces us to the One before whose burning holiness we instinctively shrink back. Yet Jesus introduces us as those who are saved by his gracious action, and also does something distinctively priestly: intercedes on our behalf in order that we find favour with God. Calvin writes that Jesus is both our intercessor and advocate who turns the Father’s eyes away from our sins and toward his righteousness. Our approach to God’s throne that at first filled us with dread is instead filled with grace and kindness (Institutes 2.16.16).
O God of burning holiness,
sometimes I shrink from your presence.
Help me to grasp the hand that Jesus offers;
the hand of my high priest and intercessor and advocate.
In his strong grasp I dare to believe
that my true self is not diminished by sin
but enlarged by grace.
By that same grace,
help me to share Jesus’s good news with others. Amen