Today’s Reading: Hebrews 4:1-16
After leading His people out of Egypt, God provided them with a detailed description of how to worship Him. A significant part of this description was the setting aside of a large group of people (those of the tribe of Levi) to be “priests.” Their job was to serve the Lord in His Tabernacle (and later His Temple), to offer the sacrifices brought by the people. So the people would bring their offering of grain, or of animals, give them to the priests who would then present them to God. In it’s simplest form, the responsibility of the priests was to present the people to God. They really functioned as a go-between.
That is a really simplistic overview, but I think is enough to enable us to understand Jesus as our priest.
So there were priests and then there was the high priest. This one man had additional responsibilities, most notably for our purposes was an annual duty on behalf of all of God’s people. This is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Leviticus 16 describes in detail the responsibilities of the High Priest on this day, with the overall purpose being that on this one day all of the sins of God’s people would be recounted and atoned for. Part of his duties on that one day was to take two goats, to sacrifice one and on the other to place all the sins of God’s people – he would put his hands on the head of the goat and recite out loud all the wicked and rebellious actions of God’s people. Then that goat, now known as a “scapegoat,” would be led out into the desert and released, symbolizing the carrying away of all the sins of God’s people. That being done, the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Most Holy Place, – to enter the very place where God dwelt – to make sacrifices for the sins of the people. This was the only day entrance was permitted, and the High Priest the only man permitted to enter.
Jesus fulfilled this role. He made atonement, or provision, for our sin in a way that no sacrifice or scapegoat ever could.
Because this is who Jesus was, His role as HP changed everything. In the old system, a goat ran off with the sins of the people placed on it. It was a symbol. A powerful symbol, yes, but still merely a symbol. Jesus was the real thing. Up until Jesus’ death, all the sacrifices merely covered over sin, temporarily. In Jesus things change, forever. Because Jesus was sinless, and because He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, now the way is open.