Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jesus better than Aaron: A Sermon preached at Holy Communion in Magheralin Parish on 22nd October 2006. Hebrews 5:1-10

At first glance, the letter to the Hebrews can seem slightly alien to us, with all its talk of priests and sacrifices, and even the reference to Melchizedek in this morning’s reading. Yet it is a wonderful part of the Bible, which shows us the greatness of Jesus, and how he is ‘better’ than the Jewish system of sacrifices.

Why is it we meet together to share bread and wine, rather than sacrificing an animal? Why don’t we practice the Jewish system of sacrifices any more?

As we join the writer this morning, he is in the middle of an extended argument about how Jesus is a better high priest than the line of Aaron. Just before our passage begins, at the end of chapter 4, we read: ‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavenlies, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.’ (4:14) This is because Jesus, our great high priest knows our weaknesses, having been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Our passage this morning, then shows that even though there are similarities between the two, how Jesus is better than Aaron. Notice the similarities. Aaron was selected from among men, and appointed by God. So was Jesus, as the writer illustrates by the use of two Scriptures – ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’ from Psalm 2, the first part of which is the word spoken to Jesus at his baptism, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke. The second Scripture is where God says ‘You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ We’ll come back to this in a moment.

So if Aaron and Jesus were both called by God, and both became high priest, what is the difference? Why is Jesus’ priesthood better than Aaron’s?

Well, because verse three applied to Aaron, but not Jesus: ‘This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.’ (5:3) Aaron’s priesthood was beset by sin. Remember when Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, and seemed to be taking so long? Aaron was making a golden calf for the people to worship, leading them (albeit at their own initiative) into idolatry. (Exodus 32) Before Aaron could offer the sacrifices, he had to get rid of his own sin.

But Jesus is a better high priest because he was sinless. As verse 8 says, ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.’ (8-9) Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t perfect at a time and was only made perfect - rather, it means that he was shown to be perfect through his completed, total obedience to God.

And yet, the original readers of the letter to the Hebrews would be wondering how Jesus could be the high priest. After all, he wasn’t part of the priestly line, he was descended from Judah, not Levi. He wasn’t a son of Aaron. But as we have already read, he was designated by God as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. This was the priest-king of Salem, the priest of God Most High, who met with Abraham, bringing bread and wine and blessing him. (Genesis 14:18-20). He is seen as a ‘type’ or picture of Christ, fulfilled by Jesus, as he also fits the prophecy of Psalm 110. We don’t have time to go further with Melchizedek now, but read Hebrews 7 later to find out more!

Through Jesus’ perfect obedience, he is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Aaron’s sacrifices could never take away sin, as Hebrews tells us later… but Jesus’ sacrifice of himself offers us salvation. We who gather around the Lord’s Table remember and celebrate that perfect sacrifice. It is indeed the good news of the gospel.

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