Believe Jesus: Qualified by Humility
We all know that humility is a good thing, and arrogance bad, but we can be surprisingly poor at identifying these traits accurately – both in others and (essentially) in ourselves. The subjective business of identifying humility is made objective when we look at Christ. Without qualification, Jesus displayed humility, and this humility has qualified him as our great high priest.
Under the Aaronic order a man was qualified to serve as priest most obviously by his ancestry, but Hebrews makes it plain that to be truly qualified as a priest he needed to be able to sympathize with those he represented and called by God to his office. The priest was chosen ’from’ men and ‘for’ men – priests are human!
A priest’s personal experience of human weakness was meant to condition his attitude towards others. At the same time, a higher standard was demanded of a high priest than anyone else, which was represented even in his appearance (Ex 28:4ff). The high priest was a representation of perfection; but he was not perfect! He was meant to live with awareness of his personal weakness and was required to sacrifice for his own sins as well as everyone else’s. That took humility.
When priests forgot this it was a disaster, both for themselves and for those they were called to serve. Such was the case with Eli’s sons, described as ‘worthless men’ (1 Sam 2:12). The story of Eli’s sons makes very clear what Hebrews itself makes clear: A priest cannot appoint himself to this position. Eli’s sons held the priesthood by birthright, but it always remained in the gift of God. It is God who does the choosing, and this, again, is something that should keep a priest humble.
At this point Hebrews is showing us how Jesus is a high priest who is qualified by humility. Jesus fulfils the two requirements of a high priest more perfectly, in his call by God, and his refusal to exalt himself. That Jesus did not exalt himself is extraordinary when one considers that he is the radiance of God’s glory (1:3), crowned with glory (2:7,9), worthy of greater glory (3:3), and bringing many sons and daughters to glory (2:10). As Philippians 2:5-11 makes clear, Jesus did not assume his position, but God spoke the appointment of his Son (Hbs 1:5). This was a declaration of appointment, not parentage, with the Father acclaiming the Son on the day of his enthronement. He who was the perfect Son of God from the beginning becomes the perfect priest for his people because he is perfectly qualified.
The extent of Christ’s qualification extends to his ability to sympathize with us. In this Jesus displayed a greater humility than any Aaronic priest because he is more perfectly qualified than any Aaronic priest. He is able to sympathize more completely because of the completeness of his testing.
The Greeks had a saying that, ‘learning comes by suffering’ (‘learn’ mathein; ‘suffer’ pathein – ‘No pain no gain!’) and Hebrews tells us that Christ learned obedience through what he suffered. But in what way did Christ need to learn obedience? His learning was not about grasping something new. Rather, his obedience was constantly challenged through his suffering. In order to qualify for something it is necessary to first submit to it and Jesus was qualified as high priest out of his suffering, obedience and endurance.
The remarkable humility of Christ is seen in how he responded to suffering, pressing into his Father and offering up prayers rather than turning supernatural tricks. Throughout his life on earth Jesus knew what it was to suffer and in this is able to sympathise with our suffering. This sympathy with us was ultimately tested by his tasting of death. Jesus didn’t employ supernatural means to escape death but submitted to it – though death could not hold him!
In doing this Jesus was ‘made perfect’ (v9). He was ‘qualified’, having passed every test. He is thus qualified to save us. He is the source and pioneer of an eternal, once for all, salvation. He is the perfectly qualified high priest; qualified by humility.