And no one takes the honor [of the high priesthood] to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten Thee" [glorified Christ]; 6 just as He says also in another passage, "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, 10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Dignity, Eternity, and Purity
I want to hang the message this morning on three words that describe Christ in this passage: dignity, eternity, and purity. Now I know that those are big words for children, and maybe even for adults. But do you know what wise children say? Wise children say, "Pastor John uses some big words, and I don't understand them all; but I'm glad he doesn't just use words that I already understand, because then he would have to leave out a lot of important things in the Bible and I wouldn't grow in my understanding." So let me try, for the children and the adults, to tell you what I mean by dignity, eternity, and purity.
But let's set the stage with the main point. The main point of this passage (verses 4–10) is found in verse 9b: "He [Christ] became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Christ is the source of eternal salvation—salvation from the guilt and condemnation and power of sin and from the wrath of God and the fear of death and a life of meaningless work. And this verse says that all of that salvation comes from Christ. He is the source, or the cause, of that salvation. And it is eternal: "he became the source of eternal salvation." It lasts forever. It starts in this life and it lasts through death, through judgment, and goes on forever and ever. This is what the book of Hebrews is about. It is what the Bible is about—salvation that lasts forever based on Jesus Christ.
That's the main point of these verses. "Christ became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." Everything else in these verses explains how Christ could do that. That's where the words dignity, eternity, and purity come in. I want to try to show from these verses that Christ became the source of eternal salvation because of his
- dignity as the Son of God, and because of his
- eternity in the priestly order of Melchizedek, and because of his
- purity in the crucible of suffering.
Dignity means worthiness of honor. A dog has more dignity than an ant; that is, it's worthy of more honor. That's why nobody gets upset when you poison ants, but would get angry at you if you poisoned all the dogs in the neighborhood. And children have more dignity than dogs, because humans are worthy of more honor than dogs are. The humane society gathers up stray dogs and mercifully puts some of them to sleep. But nobody would let them do that with children. And God has more dignity than children—or adults—because he created us and owns us and is infinitely superior to us in every way. So dignity means worthiness of honor. Christ has infinite dignity as the Son of God.
Eternity means forever. Something that has eternity has no beginning and no ending. If something lasts for a while and stops, it does not have eternity. If something didn't exist for a long time and then it was created or came into being, it doesn't have eternity. Eternity means forever—backward and forward. No beginning and no ending. Christ has eternity in the priestly order of Melchizedek (which I will explain in a minute).
Purity means unsoiled, not dirty. It means that when Jesus suffered and was tempted, he did not give in to the impurities of anger or bitterness or cursing or self-pity and unbelief. He prayed for help and God helped him stay pure.
Christ Is our Source of Eternal Salvation Because of Those Qualities
Now the main point is this: Christ became for us a source of eternal salvation because of his dignity, eternity, and purity.
Someone may ask, "What about his death for our sins? I thought he became the source of salvation by dying for our sins. Why talk about his dignity and eternity and purity as the way he became the source of eternal salvation?" That's a very good question. There are three reasons.
One is because that is what this text does: it talks about Christ's dignity as the Son of God and his eternity as a priest like Melchizedek and his purity in suffering.
The second reason is that these three things explain why Jesus was a suitable Savior to die for our sins. And when you know why he was a suitable Savior, your confidence in your salvation and your Savior is stronger; and when your confidence is stronger, you are more courageous to live the kind of risk-taking, self-sacrificing love that this book is going to call for in chapters 10–13.
The third reason Hebrews talks about the dignity and eternity and purity of Jesus as the way he became our source of eternal salvation is that knowing him—really knowing who he is and what he is like and what he experienced—makes a personal relationship possible. The less you know about a person, the less you can have significant personal relationship with him or her. We need to meet the real Jesus in the Word of God. We need to see him in his dignity as the Son of God and in his eternity as a priest in the order of Melchizedek and in his purity in the midst of incredible suffering. This is how you have a personal relationship with Jesus.
For these three reasons at least, Hebrews tells us that Christ has become the source of eternal salvation because of his dignity, his eternity, and his purity. So let's look at these one at a time. And pray as we go that the effect will be deepened confidence in your salvation and deeper love in your personal relationship with Jesus.
Christ's Dignity—Glorified by God the Father
Verse 4 begins, "And no one takes the honor [of the high priesthood] to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was [see Exodus 28:1]." In other words, the office of high priest is an office of immense dignity and you can't just decide to have it. God has to call you to it like he called Aaron in the Old Testament.
Then verse 5 says, "So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but he who said to Him, 'Thou art my Son, today I have begotten Thee' [He glorifies Christ in this way]." In other words, Christ did not glorify himself with the dignity of the office of high priest; God the Father did. But what's surprising about this verse is that the title "Son of God" replaces the title "High Priest." The first half of the verse says that Christ did not glorify himself as High Priest, and we expect the second half of the verse to say, "No, God made him High Priest." But instead it quotes Psalm 2:7 about God begetting Christ as his Son.
The point, I think, is that Christ is qualified to be our High Priest and to become the source of eternal salvation because he is the Son of God, and it was God himself who qualified Christ in this way. Christ is begotten of God from all eternity; and God declared him the Son of God in power by raising him from the dead (cf. Hebrews 1:5; Acts 13:33).
So Christ has the dignity to be our High Priest and to become the source of eternal salvation. No one but the Son of God could do it. No other being in the universe has the dignity that was required to obtain an eternal salvation. It took an infinite dignity. No priest of Aaron's line and no angel in heaven could do it. Only one could do it—the Son of God. So we see how important it is to know the dignity of Christ.
All hell will rage at you one day with this one message—especially when you are nearing death: your salvation is not sufficient; your guilt remains; condemnation hangs over your head; and the wrath of God is not removed. At that moment you will need truth about the foundation of your eternal salvation. And one truth that will strengthen your confidence in that hour is the truth that you have no ordinary High Priest, but one who has the infinite dignity of the Son of God, and he has therefore become the source of eternal salvation.
Eternity of Christ—High Priest Forever
Second, consider the eternity of Christ as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He has become the source of eternal salvation because he is an eternal priest. Verse 7: "Just as He says also in another passage [Psalm 110:4], 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'"
Now Hebrews 7 takes up this Melchizedek idea in detail. So I am going to save most of our thoughts about it until that sermon. But let me give you a summary here. Melchizedek is mentioned two times in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4), that's all. In Genesis he meets Abraham coming back from a military conquest and blesses him, and Abraham gives him tithes. The text simply says, "He was a priest of God Most High." There is no information about his parents or his ethnic origin. He appears and disappears until a thousand years later in the time of David, who quotes God as saying that the Messiah is "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." And that's it. Nothing more about Melchizedek until this writer mentions him here.
The point is this: Melchizedek symbolizes in the Old Testament a priesthood different from the priesthood of Aaron and the tribe of Levi. Melchizedek became a kind of symbolic pointer to a priesthood with no beginning and no ending. That's why Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5:6 stress the word "forever"—"You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."
Now we'll come back to Melchizedek in chapter 7 but the point here is this: Not only does Christ have the dignity of the Son of God, but he also has the eternity of the "priestly order of Melchizedek." What Melchizedek symbolized, Christ realized. Christ really is a High Priest, as Hebrews 7:3 says, "having neither beginning of days nor end of life." He has eternity.
That is the second reason he has become for us a source of "eternal salvation." Not only was his death infinitely valuable and infinitely effective because he has infinite dignity, but he goes on ministering the effect of that death for us in heaven forever and ever and never dies. He has eternity in the order of Melchizedek.
This too is for the sake of your confidence in the face of fear and doubt and temptation and accusation. Do you want to become an oak tree saint instead of a cattail saint? The Bible says, "Meditate on the Word of God day and night" (Psalm 1). This is the sort of thing to meditate on: Christ has become a source of eternal salvation because he has the dignity of the Son of God and because he has the eternity of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Here's another way to say it. You can ask your friends, Wouldn't it be an all-satisfying experience if two things were true? 1) If you had a treasure of infinite value—I mean infinite with nothing lacking that is truly valuable; and 2) if you had the guarantee that you could go on enjoying its infinite resources forever and ever with no end and no diminishment? In other words, infinite value with infinite duration is what would bring us complete satisfaction. The best thing possible and never-ending enjoyment. Then tell them that this is exactly why you are a Christian—because Christ has become the source of eternal salvation because he is the infinitely valuable Son of God and because his care and advocacy is never-ending.
Christ's Purity—He Learned Obedience
But there is one last foundation for our eternal salvation. Christ became the source of eternal salvation, not only because of his dignity and eternity, but also because of his purity. And not just the purity that he brought to his ministry as the Son of God, but purity that he had to forge in the furnace of suffering.
If you ask, Did his divine dignity and his priestly eternity give him automatic purity? the answer is No. It was not automatic. Verse 8 says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." This does not mean he moved from being disobedient to being obedient. It means he moved from being untested to being tested and proven. He moved from obeying without any suffering to obeying through unspeakable suffering. It means that the gold of his natural purity was put in the crucible and melted down with white-hot pain, so that he could learn from experience what suffering is and prove that his purity would persevere.
And did this come automatically? No. Verse 7 says that it was prayed for and begged for and cried out for and wept for with tears. This was no fake test of Christ's purity. Everything in the universe hung on this test.
Was it brief? Some take verse 7 to refer only to the battle in Gethsemane when he sweat drops of blood and pleaded with God. I don't think so. Notice the word "days" in verse 7—"In the days of His flesh." Not just a night or a day, but during all the "days of his humanity" he was wrestling and praying and begging and crying out and weeping. It was not brief. It was a lifetime of warfare against sin.
And when verse 7b says that he was praying and crying "to the One able to save Him from death," does that mean that he was mainly praying for deliverance from physical death? Was that the main aim of his praying in the days of his flesh? I don't think so, because verse 7 says "he was heard." I think that means God gave him what he asked for, and verse 8 describes the effect of that answered prayer: he learned obedience. Jesus was praying for obedience—for persevering purity.
In other words, Jesus knew that there was a death worse than death. Much worse. Physical death is bad enough and he desired that there be another way to do the Father's will than to die on the cross. But far more horrible than dying on the cross was the impurity of unbelief and disobedience. That was the great and horrible threat. So he prayed all his life against that, and he was heard by his Father and, instead of caving in to sin, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
He became a source of eternal salvation because of his dignity as the Son of God and his eternity in the priesthood of Melchizedek and his purity in the crucible of incredible suffering.
Do You Have This Eternal Salvation?
Which leaves one last question: Do you have this eternal salvation? Not everyone does. Verse 9 tells us who does: "And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Those who are obeying Christ have the eternal salvation that he obtained for us. Are you obeying Christ? Or are you living in disobedience to his will?
One thing is very clear from Hebrews: the will of Christ that has to be obeyed is first and foremost the command to trust him, to hold fast to our hope (3:6), to guard against a heart of unbelief (3:12), to hold fast to our confession (4:14), and to draw near to Christ for help (4:16). In other words, the first and main act of obedience is to believe in the promises of God (3:18–19) and to hope in him. All other obedience, according to Hebrews, is the fruit of this first and root act of obedience (10:34; 11:8, 24–26; 13:5–6, 13–14). So daily acts of practical obedience are the evidence of this first obedient act of saving faith.
If you are not walking in obedience to Jesus, then I call you to repent and to stop putting your hope in the promises of sin and to start putting it in the promises of God. He is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, that is, to all who hope in his promises and live like it.